things I like

Messy human problems… blogging about Gettin’ Air with Terry Greene and a bit of #LTHEchat

A few weeks ago I recorded an episode of Getting Air with host Terry Greene. This excellent podcast series is focused on all things technology-enabled and open learning practices and I was delighted to join Terry and really appreciated the opportunity to have this conversation. If you haven’t discovered this podcast for yourself, browse through the episodes and you are sure to find a conversation that is not to be missed… starting with the recent one featuring Audrey Watters, oh and Jim Groom, and Mia Zamora, and Autumm Caines… well, I think you see where this is going. There are 78 episodes to choose from, so get stuck in.

Terry started out the conversation with a question about the work I do and what ALT does: “So, tell if I am misunderstanding what ALT does, you try to solve messy human problems with technology, is that right…?” and that made us laugh as well as giving us a humorous way into talking about empowered professional practice in Learning Technology. But the question has stayed with me ever since, partly because I come across so many examples each day, of people trying to do or more often promising to do, precisely that.

In the podcast, one of the things we talk about is community and the commonalities organisations like ALT and ETUG have. We talked about what gives communities or events a ‘heart’… . One of the things many try to do is to build sustainable communities of practice without giving any thought about what they are for and whom they are made up of. For example, when organisation A wants to disseminate its projects or organisation B wants to market its new products or organisation C feels it would be of strategic benefit to demonstrate its sector engagement then more often than not a community of practice, preferably a sustainable one, is the answer. Sustainable in this context means that it is being used as long as the funding lasts, rather than that there is a long term commitment to support it for the benefit of its members. And as with other free services the old “if it’s free you are the product” rule applies here, too. The messy side of this is that actual communities of practice need a lot more than that to become sustainable: things like a viable value proposition for its members, a purpose, a code of conduct (whether explicit or implicit), a business model that members understand and have a say in, ability to adapt and change, room for different voices and different views… and ways to grow and change over time. Such undertakings are all about people not the platform, they need a heart, however superficial that may sound, to really survive and thrive in the long term.

Things you need to know…
Terry and I talked a lot about professional practice and what it means to be a Learning Technologist or work in Open Education and one of the things that stayed with me is that there is a lot more you need to develop your professional practice than you can learn from a ‘3 minute video’. I use the video as a metaphor for a lot of the quick fix, tick box exercises in professional development that I come across again and again. These have headings like …”all you need to know about…” or “improve your teaching in 3 simple steps…” and so on. In a twitter chat (the special #altc edition of the LTHEchat recently) one of the questions that we discussed advice for new professionals and here are some of my favourite answers:

There were many more examples I could have included here, and I suggest if you have a look yourself on the #LTHEchat hashtag – but one thing is clear is that professional practice is a lot more messy and complicated and interesting than can be captured in bite sized chunks.

One of the things I reflected on afterwards was how easy it was to have this conversation with Terry. Although we have never met in person and most of our interaction previously has been online through VConnecting, Twitter or blog posts, I felt we had a really good rapport. Terry had done a lot of reading and I had done some listening and between us we established enough of an understanding to have an interesting conversation about things that matter to us, that interest us, and we ended up in some unexpected places, including cemeteries. Terry made an effort to engage with my work beyond the headlines and wasn’t afraid of getting into the messy creativity that lurks below.

Thank you, Terry 🙂