leadership,  Learning Technology

2019 – the year on my ‘I love me’ wall

Now, an ‘I love me’ wall is something Jim Groom introduced me to, ‘basically a space dedicated to all the stuff you’ve done..’. And I’ve come to embrace that concept wholeheartedly in my work space at home. Home working has never looked so stimulating and that’s a major plus on days when the heating is broken, the cat has been sick on the carpet and the doorbell rings with yet another delivery for next door. 

In that spirit, this is the ‘I love me wall’ of the past year, celebrating the stuff I’ve done, been part of, am proud of and am inspired by… 

Photo by Sandra Huskinson (@FieryRed1)

One of the absolute highlights of my year was giving a keynote at the Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference in January, which led to conversations and collaborations that last for the whole year including this excellent webinar Academic online identity and social media .

I really enjoyed working on this ‘keynote in three hashtags’… it was a great way to start the year, thinking about  how social media often comes with a general sense of the superficial, showing just the best side of myself, trying not to avoid being vulnerable for social media can be a toxic space for many, particularly for women, for people of colour, for anyone whom the trolls choose to single out. The talk focuses on three questions:

  • How is social media changing professional practice?
  • How does social media support openness in education?
  • Social media for social good?

You can access the slide deck at https://go.alt.ac.uk/SocMedHE18Keynote or read the summary post here.

A completely different kind of conversation started a month later, when I took part in a panel discussion at the Royal Society in London on Human Transformation Remembering and Learning alongside Diana Laurillard and Diana made a point that really resonated with me: Diana reminded us of the enormous scale of the demand for education (at all levels) worldwide. Diana reflected on how many hundreds of thousands of teachers will be needed to provide education and training as more and more learners in the global South in particular gain access to education and come online. 

Keynoting at the RIDE Conference. Image: Sarah Sherman

One of my favourite talks of this year was at the at the 13th Research and Innovation in Distance Education, and eLearning (RIDE) annual conference which took place on 14 March 2019 in London. This year’s conference focused on the themes ‘Professional development and student experience’ and my talk examined these as challenges for digital education.

It was the interplay between learning and technology, how they effect each other to change our understanding and our practice, that is of particular interest. One of the areas of high priority I discussed is measuring learning, an interest in assessment and in a wide range of methods to quantify, track and chart all aspects of the learner experience. There is always a promise that with enough data and dashboards we can gain insights, leverage the power of learning analytics to understand more about how what we do impacts on progress, skills development and learning outcomes. It is up to us to develop our own capabilities in order to be able to understand fully how the more complex systems we use work, what determines when a ‘red flag’ goes up and how we should interpret and act on the information we gain in this manner. One of the last points I mad in this part of the talk picks up on a section of the 2018 Horizon Report, which describes rethinking the role of educators not as a solvable or even a difficult challenge, but a wicked one, as ‘complex to define, much less address’. This is why I think the work that my organisation does is so important, charting the changing role of professionals across sectors. This particular was a really valuable opportunity for me to explore this further with experts in distance education.

You can access the full slide deck at https://go.alt.ac.uk/2EUioER or read the summary post.

April had many highlights and a particularly special moment for me was to be joining #PressEdConf19 for a session that explored a conversational post format can be used to support reflective practice (read more here). The idea for the session came from an ongoing blog project in which Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and I write a monthly series of blog posts to openly share our approach to leadership. You can catch up on earlier posts and podcasts on this blog.

It was a great experience to present at a Twitter only conference. I took part in quite a few virtual conferences this year, as a speaker and a participant and it is extremely useful to have those experiencing when you are have a role in organising events yourself.

Later in the year we revisited the topic of conversational blogging in an unconference session at OEB Global. You can access the full slide deck here: https://go.alt.ac.uk/tts242 . 

Gearing up for a @VConnecting session at #ccsummit with @MarenDeepwell & @dbeloved #CEOshoes #shoetweet (Photo by Christian Friedrich)

May brought both online and in person interaction with the Creative Commons community as I was able to attend the CC Global Summit for the first time and it was a fantastic experience. I have long been involved in the Creative Commons community and various activities but this was my first visit to the event which is at the heart of it all and I was met with real warmth and welcoming acceptance. The creative and joyful atmosphere of the conference, from the handmade designs on the badges to the samba music playing throughout the museum conference venue conveyed a sense of celebration and joy at this meeting of so many in the Commons but also motivated to pull up your sleeves, get stuck in and do plenty of work (and there was A LOT to be done). Here I wrote about my experience in 10 tweets.

Photo: Clint Lalonde

In June I had the pleasure of participating in the ETUG conference in Kamloops, Canada. It was a real privilege for me to be there, to have been invited to contribute a keynote ‘You are more than a data point. Weaving a tapestry of hope and humanity’ to ETUG’s 25th Anniversary Conference, and also to have the honour of taking part in National Indigenous Peoples Day. I learnt a lot from my time in Kamloops and I wrote a couple of posts reflecting on the experience and the keynote I contributed:

“I felt very much at home at the ETUG conference because just like the ALT community it is all about collaboration, reflection and sharing of best practice. After 25 years of working together (celebrated with a great donut birthday cake) this community has come to hold dear very much the same values as I do, recognising the power of sharing practice and research and working together to make change happen for students and staff alike.

And you could tell that this event was very much organised with heart. Little touches everywhere made participants and speakers feel welcome from the start and created a space in which the moving narrative from Elder Mike on National Indigenous Peoples Day found an equally receptive audience as the newest members of the community sharing research findings or #femedtech conversations about equality and women in #edtech.”

This talk was one of the most satisfying pieces of work I did this year and it brought together some different elements of my thinking that I subsequently published as a rewritten article in Educause Review.

#altc staff team portrait

As you may know, we are a virtual team and everyone works from home (even during a heatwave). This way, we can better work with Members throughout the UK. Being a virtual team has many upsides but one downside is that I don’t get to see my colleagues very often. When we do get together, as we did in July, we sometimes create a team portrait (alternatives to photos as we are mostly a bit camera shy) and this is one of my all time favourites. I enjoy planning our team days and I put a lot of effort into the preparations, just like I would for an event. Writing about the Annual Conference Martin Weller called our approach ‘meticulously informal’ and that captures not just the way we run events but also the way we work together precisely. 

In early August, when the weather was hot and most people were on their summer holiday, I went to our monthly online Members  Assembly meeting. Most of these meetings are virtual and the reason why I took a screenshot was that I found it so inspiring that despite the heat, holidays and probably a heavy workload, the room was full of volunteers, engaging, taking action. That’s the secret sauce of building sustainable communities of practice: share power, have a purpose, provide consistent, robust structures and put the time in. Even in August, during a heatwave. 

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology on Flickr

This community portrait taken at the ALT Annual Conference is the first of it’s kind for us. The moment of that photo means a lot to me. It captures a few hundred participants. I keep it on my desktop to remind me each day that we serve ten times as many Members. It helps illustrate the scale of the core community I represent, it makes something that is largely a virtual network more tangible. Over the past ten years I have probably met more than half of our Members in person or connected with them directly online. Each voice matters. My job is to listen and to make them heard. 

This is a photo I took of the Extinction Rebellion Protest in Westminster on a day I had a meeting with senior Edtech policy officials. We sat inside the building discussing essentially how to make change happen whilst outside, on improvised barricades, thousands were singing songs of fear and hope. 

From left to right: Christian Friedrich, Maren Deepwell, Lorna Campbell, Laura Czerniewicz, Martin Hawksey, Christina Rupprecht (at the cat wall, Wikimedia Deutschland offices), Source: Tweet

Working in partnership with Wikimedia Germany I was involved in organising an event in late November, an evening of discussion and debate on education, open participation and democracy and critical reflections. It was a very special collaboration and part of our work for the OER20 coming up in April next year.

There is one more big item to add to the ‘wall’ for this year, and that’s ALT’s Impact Report 2017-20 which was published yesterday. Because, of course, the whole ‘wall’ is green… the tapestry through which bright threads of my year are woven spells #altc.

It is a huge privilege to be a CEO and it most definitely is hard work as well. Being in a leadership position brings into focus all elements of who I am and that is reflected in the way I think and work. Borrowing from my ETUG talk to close my reflections on 2019:

…”That brings us back to my own story, my own perspective and professional journey as a Learning Technologist, an Anthropologist, an Artist, Star Trek fan, a carer and a woman. Some of you may be familiar with the OER Conferences that we organise and with the wonderful work of Kate Bowles who gave one of the keynotes at OER19 this year entitled ‘A quilt of stars: time, work and open pedagogy’. Kate and many other speakers and participants created a strong narrative of hope, a thread of open practice that stitches us together, a tapestry, a patchwork, a weaving together. In her blog post about the conference, Kate described her reflections as “a scrap of practice that makes sense through the labour of others who take time to read it, think about it, share it, ask questions of it, extend it” and I feel her words eloquently highlight all the invisible work, the unbilled effort, that is so often crucial to making change happen, from grassroots activism to academic practice.

And this message of hope and kindness very much inspired my year. It reminds me that … we are all more than the data we create and our professional practice is more than can be tracked in time spent, papers marked or support tickets answered. Our practice becomes fully realised when we adopt a more mature and reflective, a more critical perspective that is informed by our stories and recognises the importance of the labour of others. Communities such as ALT are key to us collaborating and communicating in order to create a future for Learning Technology that is more open and equitable for all, to weave that tapestry of hope and humanity.”

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