Don’t think you are brilliant? Think again…

Certified Member of ALT

… and yes, I am thinking about you 😉

But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the beginning and how I came to (nearly) write those words on an assessment form.

As a Certified Member of ALT I act as a peer assessor for portfolios submitted by candidates hoping to gain the accreditation. It’s part of my continuous professional development in Learning Technology and in the most part it is a rewarding, equitable and collegiate activity that I really enjoy.

In recent months I’ve graduated from learning about the assessment process and gaining experience in collaboration with Lead Assessors to becoming a Lead Assessor myself and now that I am doing more assessments I have started to reflect on the professional practice I am seeing through various submissions. It’s interesting to see what others do, what they specialise in and how they reflect on their practice or research. Personally, however, I am often taken aback by how little confidence or sense of achievement is conveyed in the work being presented. So much that should be celebrated can be overlooked or left unacknowledged. So few seem to have the confidence or awareness to recognise their own achievements or even present them as such. In short, I often find myself wishing to convey congratulations or compliments alongside more practical feedback.

And then, there are the blog posts or thoughts of others in my field who seem to find it hard to feel their voice is important, that their perspective is worth listening to and that their work goes beyond the ordinary. Like so many before me I find again and again that those who shout the loudest about their own accomplishments are usually least deserving of our time and attention. Which makes it even more critical that those who need encouragement and support receive it.

I think a peer-based accreditation process like CMALT that has a strong element of self-reflection can help you realise that you’re brilliant (and yes, again, I do mean you…).

Why is that you ask?

Here are three examples:

Firstly, making a long list of all you have done can help you gain a sense of perspective. In Learning Technology we often move on from one project to the next so quickly that we forget to pause and recognise what we’ve achieved and what difference it has made.

Secondly, building a portfolio in a format and manner that you choose, that you can tailor to your preferences and style, can help you build a narrative of your professional development that you take ownership of. It’s not someone else imposing a structure or crediting specific actions – you choose and shape what you present.

Thirdly, reflecting on what you are good at might surprise you, might point you in a different direction than the one you thought you were heading towards. You might realise that you are great at something that you never even realised before. You might be able to see your professional practice in a new light.

You might not have time or the inclination to engage with a scheme like CMALT. But you should make time to reflect and recognise your own strengths and achievements.

Celebrating #AdaLovelaceDay 2017 and promoting equality

Ada laptop sticker

Today we are celebrating #AdaLovelaceDay and for me this is a good reminder to acknowledge all the brilliant women I work with in Learning Technology and beyond. We may have a lot still to achieve when it comes to equality, but there is something we can all do to help achieve it. Earlier this year I talked about how openness can be a tool for Learning Technology professionals to promote equality at the ILTA Annual Conference (slides and transcript).

The closing thought of my talk feels very relevant today:

Days like today give us that opportunity, to reflect on how we, as individuals, as a professional community, can take action to achieve greater equality through openness, to harness technology to do so – and then to go and make a difference.

Re-post #altc: my autumn report to Members as CEO of ALT

Maren Deepwell, Josie Fraser and Martin Weller

You can read all my reports to Members of ALT on the #altc blog by following this link. The blog is always open to new contributors, for full details about how to write for the blog, see the information posted here.

Dear Members

I’m starting this report by looking back briefly at the 2017 Annual Conference which took place in Liverpool in early September. If you haven’t already, I’d like to encourage you to explore the inspiring list of posts and resources shared by participants to get a flavour of this year’s highlights and read posts about the conference by keynote speakers and award winners. Equally recommended reading is ALT’s Annual Report which was approved by Members at the Annual General Meeting and this year contains a new report written jointly by Trustees reporting on progress made delivering ALT’s 2017-2020 strategy. I am proud to see how much progress we have made in the last twelve months.

A personal highlight for me was the Honorary Life Membership awarded to Josie Fraser, a richly deserved honour for an outstanding member of our community. As always, I am grateful that alongside the hard work and time contributed by everyone involved, my colleagues, Martin, Jane, Kristina, Tom and Jane, were recognised for their efforts making it all happen. You can read my personal take on organising the conference on my blog.

The Annual Conference sets the tone for the next few months at ALT and one of the outcomes of this year’s event is a renewed focus on policy, which was reflected in David Kernohan’s Wonkhe article ‘Edtech? It’s all about policy’ and my keynote contribution to the FELTAG 2017 Forum, on workforce development to maximise Learning Technology impact . Also this month, ALT Trustee Lorna Campbell and Ambassador Joe Wilson alongside others took part in the 2nd World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia, sharing their insights via social media and reporting back to the wider community. This focus on policy across sectors will continue in the run-up to this year’s ALT Annual Survey and the now established Winter Online Conference in December.

The work of ALT is largely led by Members who give up their time to get actively involved and lead ALT’s governance and activities across sectors. It is always important to acknowledge how much Members contribute, but sometimes a special thank you is in order. That is why I’d like to join the Trustees of the Association led by Prof Neil Morris, Chair of the Editorial Board, would now take this opportunity to say a thank you to the Editors of the journal, Lesley Diack, Amanda Jefferies, Peter Reed, Fiona Smart and Gail Wilson. Throughout the unprecedented difficulties with the journal the Editors as a group have played a key part in supporting the journal during this year of transition and their tireless efforts have ensured that we have weathered the transition as well as possible and supporting authors and readers throughout. Having published eight articles since July and processed dozens of new submissions I am glad to say that the journal is now operating fully.

In October we convene ALT’s Operational Committees and the Editorial Board of the journal as we begin the work of the new academic year. More Members are now actively engaged in the work of the Association, taking part not only in our governance, but leading activities and establishing new Members Groups across the UK, most recently in the North East of England.

This year’s Annual Report reflects that alongside our efforts to meet our strategic aims, we must continue to put our values into practice. In addition to what we set out in our strategy, that we value participation, collaboration, openness and independence, we also work to achieve greater equality and diversity in our community of Members and helping us champion this are this year’s winners of the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards.

Leading professionalisation in Learning Technology is about setting standards and recognising achievement on a national scale. It is also an opportunity to shape our professional identity and this year’s conference really brought home to me how powerful an example our Members are setting.

Talking about #FELTAG: keynote on workforce development in Learning Technology

This week I am contributing to a conference called FELTAG 2017: Embracing Digital Technology in Further Education and I am pleased to have been invited to give a short keynote as part of the programme. My talk (slides) will focus on workforce development to maximise Learning Technology impact in three ways: first, I set out what questions we need to ask about skills and capabilities, second, I explore how and open online course can support workforce development and third I showcase how ALT’s accreditation scheme, CMALT, can help increase intelligent use of Learning Technology.

This sets out the context for the talk and draws on other things I have recently written, first for FE News in an article about Digital Skills development in the workforce , and then also on the Efficiency Exchange in a post called Accreditation fit for a (digital) purpose?

ALT Strategy Aim 3 (visual thinkery)

The ALT strategy places a form emphasis on professional development and recognition for different roles in Learning Technology and the broad range of professionals who need different levels of skills and capabilities is something I am particularly interested in. CMALT, ALT’s accreditation framework is one of the topics I will be exploring in my talk.

One of the projects I am involved in via ALT is the development of the Blended Learning Essentials courses, led by Prof Diana Laurillard and Prof Neil Morris. These open online courses run on the FutureLearn platform and the next one to launch has a focus on developing digital skills.  It’s a useful example of how such initiatives can support individual and institutional CPD across the sector.

 

As I was part of the original Ministerial FELTAG Group and a contributor to the recommendations made in 2014 the opportunity to speak about what’s happened since and how much progress we have made is welcome. However, while I can see much positive change, there are also mounting challenges not just in relation to Learning Technology, but the FE system more generally.

Using technology for learning, teaching and assessment continues to be of increasing importance and its potential grows  each year. Yet technology by itself is no answer to some of the larger, structural challenges facing learners, teachers and providers and those continue to mount. So whilst I am looking forward to being part of a conference that encourage participants to embrace Digital Technology in FE and look forward to contributing, I think it is the people, the teachers and trainers, that we really need to focus on.

Making it happen… leading a community conference

Where do we go from here

It’s the weekend before the biggest face to face event that the organisation I lead runs each year. It’s our Annual Conference and between an inbox that doesn’t sleep, aching feet and a planning spreadsheet with a row for every detail my excitement is mounting. This is the week of the year when both online and in person our community comes together.

My job as CEO, at least on paper, is to carry the responsibility. To manage risk, to keep oversight, to make decisions and provide leadership. But alongside this, after nearly a decade of Annual Conferences, I have also developed my particular approach to leading the way through this busiest and buzziest of weeks in my calendar. This year again I have tried to improve what I do, so in this post I want to share with you some of what I do to get ready #altc:

Everyone has a voice, so listen: one of the most valuable aspects of the conference for me is to hear all the different voices from across sectors, different institutions and professional practice. Whether it’s an apprentice just starting out in Learning Technology whom I sit next to during dinner or an Awards winner from a prestigious institution, I try to listen.  It’s critical discussion of current issues that I am most interested in – finding out how we are approaching some of the difficult questions around ethics, consent, equity, skills or policy.

Only 400-500 people can participate in person, so this year I have worked directly with supporters to open up the conversation further, for example via podcasts, radio broadcasts, virtual participation, articles and tweet chats in which speakers, organisers and participants can all get involved openly.

Make time to enjoy meeting people: the most common way in which my conference conversations start is by someone saying “I know you must be busy”… or “I know you don’t have time…” – and sometimes that is true. If there is a problem I need to deal with, then you will have to excuse me. But that’s not usually the case and I try to make myself as visibly available as I can and meet as many people as I can, both in person and virtually (and you can always tweet @marendeepwell and say hello). I serve the Association and its growing membership of over 2500 individuals as well as the interests for the wider community we work with. I am here to meet you, find out how your first presentation went, what product you are pitching or what research you are looking for. During most breaks you will find me at ALT’s stand so look out for me and say hello. On the last day of the conference you can also meet me virtually via VConnecting.

Conferences are not about perfect: together with a regular army of volunteers, Co-Chairs, Trustees and a small team of colleagues I get to host hundreds of people next week and we have worked for 18 months to try make everyone have the best possible experience – but conferences are not about perfect and more likely than not I will be the recipient of any grumbles or complaints so that we can deal with them and improve. There’s always small things that can go wrong and so I try and pick a handful of things for each day I really focus on and if they go right, then the day is a success. I use the same approach when I attend an event as a participant, and it works well for me. Meet 2-3 specific people, get to a few particular sessions, ask a question – have some fun… and you have had a good day. I have read many of the blog posts others write about preparing their presentations, planning their programmes and getting ready to network, share and connect. If you are contributing, good luck to you and I hope it is a rewarding experience.

‘C’ stands for Community: for me, our conference is all about community, a community of shared values. Yes, there is a rigorous peer review process, an emphasis on research and academic knowledge sharing, networking and showcasing innovation. But with 24 years of leading professionalisation in Learning Technology behind us we also get to influence and shape our part of education. We help set the tone, we colour the future, we point the way to what Learning Technology is through research, practice and policy – but also through how we put the values we share into practice. Values of openness, independence, collaboration, participation and, at the heart of it all, the Members of our Association.

Earlier this year when we launched our new strategy, Bryan Mathers helped us articulate these values afresh through visual thinkery, and for me the conference is the biggest opportunity I have to put those values into practice. So while you may not see me wearing actual ALT trainers (although I may have some of those…), I will be doing my best to walk on the path that our vision set out. And I am really, really looking forward to it.

P.S. If you’d like to read what I have written about in the run up to the conference, including recent articles on skills development, accreditation and professionalisation, see my previous post.

Catching up ahead of ALT’s Annual Conference

snapshot of a mic and presentation slide

This is my busiest time of year, not least because it’s the run up to  ALT’s Annual Conference.  But however busy things have been, I have been writing and talking about all things Learning Technology and ahead of September here is a quick catch up:

Yesterday I took part in a Radio Edutalk broadcast presenting an ALT Annual Conference preview together with Sheila MacNeill and Lorna Campbell. I really enjoyed talking to the host John Johnston and his audience as Lorna, Sheila and I were reflecting together how many people contribute to making this event happen over the course of a year. I felt the same when I read James Clay’s guest post about the conference – there are so many aspects of the community getting together that I am really looking forward to.

One of the things we talked about on the show was skills development and accreditation and I have been writing quite a bit about that recently, first for FE News in an article about Digital Skills development in the workforce , and then also on the Efficiency Exchange in a post called Accreditation fit for a (digital) purpose?.

With so many new fellow CMALT Holders getting accredited just now, my own interest in developing the accreditation framework further is growing stronger and I really hope I’ll get to catch some of those sessions at the conference. There are plenty in the programme including a CMALT Zumba class. Better pack my trainers for that one!

But the last month started really with my visit to the Edtech Podcast: where I joined host Sophie Bailey as a guest on episode 76 talking about ALT,  Open Education and Star Trek. Like Radio Edutalk, the Edtech Podcast is one of the supporters of the conference this year, and as part of that community initiative there is still have more in store, so plenty more writing for me to do.

Talking edtech, ALT and Star Trek on the Edtech Podcast

Logo of the Edtech Podcast

For my first podcast I was invited by Sophie Bailey to talk about ALT, our upcoming Annual Conference and what’s happening in the industry more generally on the Edtech Podcast.

I really enjoyed doing the recording and we ended up talking about Star Trek, cats and a few other things besides technology and education.

Thanks to Sophie for the opportunity to spread the word about ALT and what we do, and happy listening #altc.

Re-post #altc: my latest report to Members as CEO of ALT

Images from ALT Annual Conference

You can read all my reports to Members of ALT on the #altc blog by following this link. The blog is always open to new contributors and at the moment there is also a special call for new editors to join the Editorial Team.

“Dear Members

I’d like to start this report with a warm welcome to everyone who’s joined ALT this year. It’s great to see the number of Learning Technology professionals growing across sectors and we are pleased to have you on board!

As a Member we’d like to encourage you to get involved and we are currently inviting expressions of interest for a range of different roles, including our governance, events, publications, professional development and accreditation. Following the launch of our strategy for 2017-2020 earlier this year, there are a lot of new initiatives getting underway as well, so whether you have just joined or are an established member there is, I hope, a rewarding way for you to engage.

Further particulars are available on ALT’s website and you can also to sign up specifically for Pathways to CMALT, expanding the accreditation framework.

I’d also like to use this opportunity to give particular thanks to Members who edit and run this blog. Since its transition from newsletter to blog the readership and output has increased significantly and from event reports to case studies and reports the blog is going from strength to strength. I invite you to meet the editors and consider joining the editorial team or to write for the blog.

Another important development in the last month has been around ALT’s journal, Research in Learning Technology, and our new partnership with Open Academia.

As a Member you also have the right to vote in the elections run by the Electoral Reform Services which determine who becomes a Trustee of ALT and joins the Central Executive, the committee that governs the Association. Look out for an email with details of who is standing for election and how to vote. The results will be announced at the AGM on 6 September.

As I am writing this we are also preparing for what looks like a busy Annual Conference in Liverpool in September. The largest of our three annual events, with the OER Conference in April and the online conference in December, has received a record number of submissions this year, 230 in total, which is the biggest number in five years. Full information, the programme and registration is on the conference platform.

As a staff team we look forward to supporting the conference this year and since my last report we have welcomed our new Events Manager, Jane Marsh, who will be running the event this year. We are also pleased to be supporting one of our senior staff, Martin Hawksey, through a period of research leave, and you can read more about what Martin will be doing on his blog.

Together with my colleagues and Trustees I am heartened to see our work make a difference and our community grow despite the significant challenges we are facing as individuals, within institutions and on a national scale. I look forward to meeting many of you in Liverpool and more online as we gather, discuss and critically reflect on the role of Learning Technology in our future – ‘beyond islands of innovation’.”

You can read all my reports to Members of ALT on the #altc blog by following this link.

Comedy & competition: putting a virtual race app through its paces

Photo of road in early morning

I was interested to read The History of the Pedometer (and the Problems with Learning Analytics) by Audrey Watters, published on 22 June 2017, in particular as this week I was putting a virtual race app to the test.

The virtual race I took part in was a paid for race, for a charitable cause, and its premise is that you can run wherever and whenever you choose, tracking your progress and then adding your results to the ‘global leader board’ – raising funds in the process. I signed up because 1) I was curious to try out the app/virtual race concept, 2) I wanted to support a good cause, even if in a small way, and 3) the idea of taking part in a race without having to physically go to one appealed to me as someone who isn’t particularly competitive and prefers running at dawn.

The marketing around the race & app was very similar to the kind of things you read in Learning Technology press releases but the reality did not quite measure up to its vision of being part of a global army of empowered fundraisers each experiencing a fun & inspiring ‘personalised’, celebrity endorsed run. Instead I came up against a lot of small, technical niggles that made using the app less than ideal and required giving it access to a lot of information on my phone before the running had even begun. The account I had to create and the data I had to share only added to this.

The actual running was supported by a prerecorded soundtrack of comedy commentary from celebrities sharing their ‘race progress’, something along the lines of “I just made it to the halfway stage – keep going!”. Personally I thought it was too simplistic to be really amusing. You could listen to your own music as well, although I failed to make that work. For runners who were more competitive and wanted to know how they were doing, the app did not deliver either. Despite tracking your progress via GPS it was unable to tell you how fast you were going, which made the whole idea of competing with the celebrity runners from the soundtrack a bit pointless. You could guess how much time had elapsed since they passed a particular time marker, but that was it. Given that the soundtrack was so limited, it seemed to me that neither comedy nor competitiveness were served well.

My 5k run was soon approaching the finish line and the end of the race was for me the most disappointing moment: a half-hearted soundtrack of cheering was interrupted by a signal and then “You can how stop running”. That was it.

When I turned to check the app I also realised that the timer had kept going, counting the minutes, although I had already crossed the virtual finish line. For a race app this seemed a fatal flaw as it felt frustrating to not have an accurate race time even for a casual participant like myself. I can only imagine what more serious runners made of this.

Having used a lot of different running apps and gadgets over the past year I think you could do a much better job building a virtual race app and organising a race – indeed I think it could be a really good experience! It has great potential. But in this particular instance neither the technology nor the delivery measured up. It was a soulless experience for me that seemed to fall flat and left no scope for the imagination and seemed to not even try to cater for or understand its users. If any actual testing of the soundtrack took place, I would be very surprised. I hope at least it raised funds for a good cause.

Politics v personhood: #iltaedtech17 conversations

iltaedtech17 poster

This week’s  EdTech 2017 Conference, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) had the theme: TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies. Some very interesting conversations have come out of the event, and you can explore the conversation on Twitter #iltaedtech17 or explore the hashtag and archive on TAGSExplorer as well as ILTA’s webpages for the programme and live streaming links with videos to follow shortly.

Last year at the event Audrey Watters gave a keynote talk called ‘The Rough Beasts of Education Technology‘ and at the time Audrey was looking at a future before the Brexit referendum or the Trump administration. One of the themes from Audrey’s talk last year that continued to resonate with me when listening to this year’s speakers was the role of machines in the future of education. Whether it’s AI, AR, VR or machine learning, one of the dominant narratives is one of inevitability, of machines taking the place of human beings, of technology dominating how we meet the challenges of our age. At the same time, there were many sessions I attended that a a focus on up-skilling and supporting staff in the deployment of Learning Technology, with the aim of building competence, confident and leadership.

Reflecting on the keynotes and breakout sessions I find myself exploring the tension between the politics of globalised, technological capitalism on the one hand and how our sense of being a person is defined by how we learn and teach on the other.

I heard of many examples of technology being used to scale up provision of teaching and assessment, to deliver content in more personalised, flexible ways, to collect and analyse data and make use of it to increase retention or enhance outcomes. The use of technology in this context is a response to solving the challenges presented by the labour market, the political climate, the shareholder – and reflects a transactional relationship between the learner and the institution that accredits the outcome. There is a sense of inevitability, of technological determinism, that points to a future in which we as human beings only find a use in education for ‘what we are good at’ or rather for what machines are not yet deemed good enough, like providing guidance or critical dialogue.

At the other end of the spectrum where a range of sessions that were focused on putting Learning Technology in the hands of the teachers and learners in more creative, empowered ways – to enhance not replace human learning and teaching. These highlighted how difficult it is to keep up with innovation and use of technology, how big a challenge it is to address ethical implications or build critical approaches while keeping pace with an ever changing technology landscape. And there were many, many examples of Learning Technology at its best: broadening access, supporting learning, transforming teaching and connecting people. One of these was awarded the Jennifer Burke Award at the conference for the #coolPE project, ‘focused on preparing pre-service teachers for the inclusive classroom in a digital era’. It showcased powerful examples of using Learning Technology to address issues like body image, bullying and confidence.

My own short talk at the conference was about how openness in professional practice in Learning Technology can promote equality. Before the conference I did a lot of reading about efforts to promote equality in different contexts, such as gender equality, pay equality, marriage equality and so forth. After the conference I thought more about how our rights are affected by the decisions of those who control the technology that increasingly shapes our understanding of who we are. These kinds of questions have been explored by writers far more eloquent that what I can write here, but it is important that events like this enable us to reflect as part of a community and continue the conversation.