It’s not long before International Women’s Day on 8 March and whilst the work of the #femedtech network is not all about women, but about greater equality for everyone, the day is a great opportunity for us to share the work we do, spread the message and reach new supporters.
Like many of you, I’m looking forward to sharing ideas, inspiration and some hard hitting facts when I talk about #femedtech and so I am looking for contributions to a shared slide deck – shared with everyone and free to use for you all.
Please contribute something if you can, make a slide or more than one, adding images, quotes, references, figures or ideas that may help us better share the work we do and the things we care about. All contributions should be suitable for CC-BY sharing and include attribution.
Recently I’ve started to form a new habit, to give myself a break each day for something I’ve done or something I haven’t done. It was a kind of afterthought on a list of things, the sort of list you make at the start of the year, when the days are dark and you feel like turning over a new leaf.
Yet, it’s been a surprisingly impactful exercise, prompting quite a few realisations about how I work:
Being too self critical?!
The ease with which I find something each day made me realise that I’m more self critical than I’d thought. Having a regular reminder to give myself a break has made me take a kinder view.
Often things that turn days from good to bad are quite small. Still, they can have a real impact on how I perceive things to have gone. Taking one thing out of the equation often makes things a lot better. In retrospect that is particularly helpful – focusing on good things, rather than small, but annoying niggles.
Giving others a break
Giving myself a break makes it much easier to do the same for others, I find. It stops me from getting distracted by minor issues, gives me more headspace to focus on what’s important.
Being my own mentor
In the past, my mentor would have been the person who would remind me most often to give myself a break. It was liberating to hear and often cheered me up. Now I find reminding myself works, too. It still has the same effect.
Reflecting on failure
It’s more difficult to reflect on failure than success, partly because of the emotional element. I may feel bad about a decision I made or a particular action I took and that makes me feel less comfortable, less able to think clearly about how I could have done better or what I would do differently next time. It also makes it harder to talk to others about it, because I may get defensive or focus on how I feel rather than listening. In this context giving myself a break, forgiving myself for mistakes I’ve made, is really important. It helps me to move on, to better learn from what I did or didn’t do.
How to… give yourself a break
What works for me is to take a moment late in the day and think about how things have gone. Often one thing stands out as being annoying, something I wish I had done differently or something I wish I hadn’t said. It’s quite rare for nothing to come to mind. If they are too many things, I focus on whatever I feel most angry or annoyed about. Then, I take whatever it is, I acknowledge it, and give myself a break for whatever it may be. Sometimes that feels a bit like putting it in my own personal Room 101, sometimes it’s like putting it in the bin, sometimes it feels like letting go.
I know it’s happened, and I may have many more thoughts or feelings about my day but that one thing is now ok. Phew.
I found it’s much more effective than I’d expected. Maybe it’ll work for you, too.
This post continues the series on openly sharing our approach to leading a virtual team – a joint project with Martin Hawksey (cross-posted here) for which we write a monthly blog post and this time recorded a podcast for you, too.
What a year…
With the transition to becoming a distributed organisation and one year of leading our virtual team under our belt, we reflect on the highs and lows, the good and the bad and most importantly on what’s ahead as we continue to develop this project in open practice.
Maren: There’s so much I’d like to talk about that it’s hard to know where to start. First, I’m excited about how a transition plan on a spreadsheet has turned into reality, how the organisation we lead has changed over the past 18 months. Second, there’re 101 things I’ve learnt along the way, from how to set up a PO Box when you are a distributed organisation (harder than you think) to how to manage a virtual team and all that that entails. And then there are all the things I’ve discovered about being a home worker… during summer holidays, family emergencies and when things go wrong. It’s never been boring, that’s for sure!
How about how? What’s been most surprising and rewarding this past year? What are you most keen to develop next? This time next year… will we be millionaires?
Martin: Time has really flown by, it only seemed like yesterday that we started putting in place some of the operational changes for moving to a distributed organisation. It’s only the fact that I’ve started to receive renewal notifications for annual licences for things we didn’t require before in a host institution that I’m reminded of the realities of the changes we had to put in place. In some ways I have to say that the most rewarding thing in the past year has been the shared monthly posts we are doing. When we started I thought it would be useful to share with others the journey we as an organisation were on. I’ll let others decided whether it has been useful or not, but regardless I’ve personally greatly benefited from the opportunity to reflect on progress and consider where we go next. Reflecting on December something that stood out for me was in September’s post on the ‘serious upsides of working in pyjamas’, we discussed remote worker wellbeing. In December as the cold has set in it’s been noticeable how we’ve swapped pyjamas for thick jumpers and blankets. As a remote worker you’ve the benefit of having more control over your working environment. The downside I find, particularly if you are a skinflint like me, is you are reluctant to put the heating on if you are the only one in the property. As an employer our organisation is limited in what we can do. We all get a home working allowance but that is limited and it is up to us individually to decide how it is used. Seasonal variations in remote teams wasn’t something I had anticipated. Do you have any standout unanticipated moments?
Maren: It often feels to me like this whole year has been one long unanticipated moment. There’s definitely a lot we could talk about in that whole area of remote working and wellbeing. Writing these posts has helped us both become more aware of the complex issues involved and it’s interesting just how much there is to unpack here, both from the perspective of a small employer and ourselves as individuals. Another question you touch upon is whom this kind of open leadership practice is for. Our readers include our own team, the Board of Trustees whom we report to, Members of ALT and our professional networks. On Twitter, LinkedIn and our own blogs as well as at events we’ve been getting comments, questions & feedback – and many of them are about open practice rather than the virtual org transition. Senior staff don’t often adopt the approach we are taking, to discuss the inner workings of their organisation as they happen. Bringing our Learning Technology open practice into how we lead the team and managed the transition feels like an important step forward. It’s prompted me to think differently about innovating, about improving things even if they are new/in progress. No one gets to start new things on a blank slate or with everything in steady state very often. There’s usually legacy issues, deadlines, risks etc from the outset. By making time to focus on how we run the organisation we’ve been able to innovate much more in that area and that’s been exciting.
Martin: You touched upon space in terms of time and locations such as various social networks. Something I’ve been thinking about more is mental space. This is an area we’ve talked about a couple of times, but a recent experience reminded me how important I find it to compartmentalize my workspace and personal space as part of being a remote worker and also how difficult it can be sometimes for others to understand this. Recently my parents were staying with us for the holidays. At home my ‘office’ is also the spare bedroom. Having a dedicated space for me to work is very important, not least it means I can just go to work each morning and not have to set up anything, I just switch on and go. This year my parents wanted to stay a little longer which meant they’d still need the spare room while I went back to work. As part of this they said they would make sure they would be out of the spare room/my office by 9am each day. Initially I didn’t say anything but in the end had to say to them it wasn’t going to work for me. The issue I had in my own mind is going to the office as a remote worker is more than just being at your desk at 9am. With suitcases and clothes lying around I was worried it was going to feel less like an office. Knowing my parents were in the house I was worried it was going to feel less like being at work. I appreciate for many these things sound trivial, but for me they are very important. If I worked in a traditional office in my own mind I knew it was going to feel like having my parents sitting in reception all day. I think this aspect of remote working can be hard for others to appreciate. Have you had any similar experiences?
Maren: I’ve not worked from home for as long as you have and regular travel is a big part of my role, so I come to this from a different angle: I have created a mental work space that I can function in properly on a train, hotel room or at an event. I feel comfortable in that space. And it’s probably why I have a strong attachment to my chromebook, stickers and all. That said, creating that space in my head at my home has been tricky! Trickier than I had anticipated especially given how rarely I was desk based before working from home. And like you I prefer having physical space that’s ‘mine’ for that – but limited space, my cat, family etc really challenge that at times. I hated strongly disliked working in an office and I feel working from home is a hard won privilege. I love working from home and it suits me really well. Still, I have had to rearrange my set up at least 5 times in the first year, moving furniture, changing equipment, adjusting to how the sun comes in through the window and so forth. I have ended up with a yoga bolster as a footrest and using the windowsill as a temporary standing desk. I’m also a carer for my parents so my work/family lines are already blurry, but working from home has made that more… prominent in my mind. I may have also come to the conclusion that I would ideally need a bigger house! My work space is adjacent to the family bathroom and the main space to dry laundry as well as the notional spare room. Like you, I have to try and articulate my workspace not only in my own mind but to family, friends, guests & my cat. It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode in which George is talking to Jerry about his new girlfriend making friends with his other friends, how those two parts of his life are starting to mesh and he feels panic because he fears losing space to be ‘Independent George’ and end up being ‘Relationship George’ all of the time he shouts: ‘worlds are colliding, Jerry!’ I feel similarly about working from home – sometimes it seems like worlds are colliding.
Given that it’s early in the year and a cold, dark morning in Nottingham, UK, I felt it would be useful to start this talk with a sunnier view of beach near Sligo, Ireland, a place to feel the sun and the sea on your skin, a place to take some time to reflect and breathe and take a break. Those aren’t things that I generally associate with social media, in particular in Higher Education. 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. So if you are already a place in your year where you feel your digital shadow is looming large, maybe it’s time for a digital detox https://datadetox.myshadow.org/en/detox . I came across this useful tool via Mozfest a few years ago and I found it helpful as a way to check in with my relationship to social media.
It’s important to think about because social media is powerful, it’s personal and pervasive. It’s part of our personal lives and professional practice in education. It’s part of what our colleagues do, how our learners work and part of our social reality from citizenship and dating to job hunting and even death and remembrance. As human beings we rely on our social interactions no matter how they are conducted and in this age social media is part of how we live for an increasing proportion of the global population. Because it is important, we can’t leave it up to others. Because it’s important, social media needs us. Social media needs us to question, investigate, reflect on, engage with, challenge, shape, control, monitor, analyse, track, investigate, govern and take ownership. And that’s what I’ll explore in this talk in three hashtags:
How is social media changing professional practice? How does social media support openness in education? Social media for social good?
The first hashtag is #altc and it’s probably the biggest hashtag in my working life. To begin with the hashtag was used only during events, mainly ALT’s Annual Conference and it changed each year. Since 2014 however the hashtag has been used not just for the conference, but increasingly throughout the year. To begin with the “c” stood for “conference”. Now the hashtag has come to mean more than that thanks in large part to the vision of ALT’s Martin Hawksey, now the “c” stands for community, conference, create, collaborate, communicate and so forth. And it now generates more tweets in a single week during the Annual Conference than we previously recorded for an entire year. It’s developed far beyond the single use event hashtag it started out as and that reflects how the activities it supports have expanded also. As a membership body for Learning Technology professionals, ALT has become very active on Twitter and our network and the conversation is growing – you can see how this is visualised here on the TAGSExplorer view of #altc .
The community is now active throughout the year and the way that social media is used really varies and includes individuals actively using the network to share practice, ask questions and celebrate achievements. ALT as an organisation is powered by its Members many of whom volunteer for the Association and one of my favourite examples of using social media and the #altc hashtag last year was celebrating ALT’s 25th birthday. We wanted everyone to be able to celebrate whatever is important to them, to add their own voice and for the anniversary to reflect some of the diversity and breadth of the community we serve. On social media you could thus create your own celebration postcard, including your message and image, remixed under a Creative Commons licence using the Remixer developed by Bryan Mather/Visual Thinkery (go to https://remixer.visualthinkery.com/ and have a go at remixing yourself). It’s a small way for individuals to have a voice in ALT, be able to shape the organisation and reflects its values and aims to encourage participation and collaboration and openness.
Beyond individuals we have leveraged the power of our hashtag to collaborate with others and to enable relationships between Member-led initiatives and the centrally supported network. That’s particularly important in Learning Technology as much of the work we do reaches across disciplines, sectors and often beyond the UK. This approach to social media isn’t about distributing marketing messages or one way communication. Our aim is to support and develop a positive online space, a social media channel that Members and the wider community can make us of and have ownership of, a space that supports our work in strengthening professional recognition and advocate for our Membership.
Our Members meanwhile have a strong open ethos and much of what we do is consequently openly accessible to the benefit of the wider community. Openness is so important in Learning Technology because the tech landscape develops at such a rapid pace that the most effective way to keep pace with it is in collaboration with others, by sharing resources, research and reflection. Like social media, openness is not unproblematic and like social media openness has great potential in education. And that brings us neatly to hashtag number two and also to my second question: How does social media support openness in education?
But are policy developments such as these making a difference in practice? Has policy changed much since 2014 when for example The Metric Tide by HEFCE was published (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rereports/year/2015/metrictide/#alldownloads)? It’s aim was to “reduce emphasis on journal impact factors as a promotional tool, and only use them in the context of a variety of journal-based metrics that provide a richer view of performance. Publishers should also make available a range of article-level metrics to encourage a shift toward assessment based on the academic quality of an article rather than JIFs.”
Social media plays an important role in the alternatives to the traditional Impact Factor and is increasingly used not just by publishers and authors, but to recognise the important role of peer reviewers and support their recognition, too. Research in Learning Technology, the journal ALT publishes, is of special interest to me because I was part of its pioneering transition to become the first Gold Open Access journals published by a UK professional body. Since then I have had hands on involvement in two further transitions between publishers, leading to the journal now being independently published by ALT, financially supported by Members and edited by a group of volunteer Editors who lead peer review and author support.
It hasn’t been awarded an Impact Factor to date and we are actively investigating all alternatives, how their are used, how they are developing, what their longevity is and how sustainable they are. Open Access has seen the readership and reach of the journal increase from hundreds to hundreds of thousands. Social media supporting innovative ways of measuring impact may help its impact grow further. For now, openness helps ALT influence policy makers, increase the impact of research for public benefit, build a shared vision for the future of professionalisation in Learning Technology and grow our community of Members.
I now want to look beyond organisational boundaries to focus on individual professional practice and how social media supports open practice to foster criticality and enhance scholarship. In my experience there is no better example of this than the work that is happening around the #oer hashtags, no, conferences, and the way in which social media is used here to address some of the most difficult questions including how privileged participation in such events is, how we can find and support the voices of those we are not already hearing and how we can meet some of the global challenges that education faces through openness: access to education and equity.
It’s become somewhat of a social media tradition that the blog posts and tweets start long before an actual OER Conference, last year reaching such a large volume that there was more conversion online than anywhere else. It connected those who couldn’t attend in person (to some degree) and enabled a much richer discussion, more criticality and scholarship than before.
And as an open practitioner myself I am inspired, challenged, prompted to try and step up in my own work, to contribute something, to question how I could do things differently, better. And last year was very much a year of collaboration in the open for me, with many projects taking place on social media, including twitter chats and many blog posts.
I wanted to progress leadership as an open practice – which, incidentally, is one of the sections in my CMALT portfolio and something for which I get a lot of feedback and input on social media. But the collaboration which has prompted me to reflect the most on the pros and cons of open practice on social media is my work with Martin Hawksey on leading ALT through its transition to becoming a distributed organisation and establishing a new working culture as a virtual staff team. Our monthly series of posts has been at the heart of all my work last year, touching on everything from people management and well being at work to the technical challenges of remote working and the nuances of working in the open. Writing these posts whilst everything is actually happening, rather than sharing output from work that is in the past, felt far more scary than similar kinds of work I had done before. There is much of what I do day to day that I hadn’t managed to make part of my open practice before this collaboration – leadership, management… these are not the most straight forward topics to share (especially when you are everyone’s ‘boss’). There are a lot of pros for me in this kind of approach, but also some downsides: sharing work in this way puts you in a vulnerable position, for example if someone personally attacks you, if you are not performing well, when you make mistakes or when things go wrong. Social media can be a scary place when you are not sharing success. It’s always personal and there’s a limit to how well you can protect yourself once you are out there, in the open. But on the other hand, I want to be open about how to lead, how I work. I want to show that things do go wrong, that mistakes happen and how to work through them. It’s important to share questions and doubts. It’s part of my ethos, my approach to leading a team, to leading an organisation, and I want my presence on social media to reflect that. When I first became a CEO I found it really difficult to find role models on social media (and indeed in real life) and alongside all the people who have inspired me along the way, I want to try and help others find the right way of building their professional identity.
And on that point, thinking about identity, we arrive at the third and final hashtag and the last part of my talk: #femedtech. The challenge here is using social media for social good. And in terms of equality, and equality in Learning Technology in particular, we still have a long way to go. Equality is for everyone, it’s in everyone’s interest and it’s everyone’s look out. Femedtech is a growing network and I am a volunteer and supporter, giving my time and voice to help promote a cause I believe in.
It’s only one example of how we can use social media to engage and empower in education and to make use of the digital, critical and technical skills we have to take some ownership of how we grow, support and chart the development of our network. And that is an important point to consider, because it is the skills and knowledge that we have that enable us to do that – the fact that we know quite a bit about social media, technical infrastructure and how data is generated and used. It’s our skills that enable and empower us to use the tools and platforms to enable and empower others – hopefully leading to greater equality along the way!
With that, we are not just going against the grain of the traditional power relationships that govern education and by extension Learning Technology. We are also going against what social media and online platforms in general wish us to do. They want our data, our attention, our engagement and in return they promise us much.
Now, I should pause here briefly, because the relationship between Victorian burial culture and digital infrastructure may not be immediately obvious, and I suggest if you are interested to read my blog post on the subject – but suffice to say that I have a PhD in cemeteries and with that comes a frame of reference that I find is very applicable indeed to thinking about our relationship with technology.
One commonality between Victorian burial culture and digital infrastructure, for example, is that a lot of digital infrastructure gives a promise of permanency in order to secure our engagement and content and Victorian entrepreneurs created urban cemeteries with the same promise. In the digital realm and in particular on social media your posts, pictures or updates remain in place while their are valuable to the platform, but can disappear or become inaccessible with little or no notice. The newly created burial space in Victorian cities would similarly be described as a place for eternity, not just safeguarding bodily remains, but securing status and remembrance for future generations. And like its digital counterpart, cemeteries, too, could disappear for building projects or urban development with gravestones stacked unceremoniously against a wall or used as paving material.
A domain of one’s own (alongside the aforementioned skills and knowledge) is key in my mind to a more empowered relationship to technology and social media. Post on your own domain, repost everywhere else – and when everywhere else stops their service, you still have your posts on your own domain. I am really inspired by the work Jim Groom has been doing in this area and I suggest you read his post on a related project.
The kind of relationship that I envisage us to have with technology and social media has a lot to contend with: we have questions about who controls the dominant discourse and how to foster diverse voices inside filter bubbles, we have a lot to work out around privacy and the right to be forgotten, the ownership of data and data literacy and the future of social media.
I hope that brings us to a point where we can explore these questions further, putting the emphasis not on the technology, but on human agency:
How can we use social media to enhance our professional practice? How can we use social media to support openness in education? How can we use social media for social good?
A big thank you to all whom I work with, who I have been inspired by and in particular the participants and organisers of the #SocMedHE18 conference for listening.
I started running a few years ago and unexpectedly found I love it. Ever since, I am grateful for every mile and every moment it brings me.
Whether I’m catching the last light of the day or the first… I run to get some head space, to escape, to move, to breathe, to reflect, plot and plan. Sometimes I solve problems or work out talks whilst I run, other days I follow a training plan, sometimes I run to achieve a certain distance (hello, first few Half Marathons!) but most often I run to keep things balanced in my life, to be in the landscape in different seasons, feel heat, cold, wind or rain on my face.
This year had a lot of running lows, like struggling with breathing (yep, asthma) and dusty, noisy building sites springing up along every route (affordable housing being built where I live starts at 560k and requires a 4×4… otherwise I would positively welcome new developments) and also various injuries, aches and pains.
But there were more joyful, positive moments, a few races run, many sunrises seen, cats met and running friends made. There were light bulb moments as good ideas suddenly came to me at mile 4, improvised water stations prepared by my dad for long distance training during the heat wave, there were new trainers & kit (more than I would care to admit, but who can say no when it’s such a pretty colour ;)…
Besides the highs and the lows, there were all the miles that simply went past below my feet, step by step. Most were covered on roads and paths, some on more adventurous terrain, very few fortunately on the treadmill.
Running for me is a largely solitary pursuit but I like taking a picture when I spot something that I like on my way. So here are some of my favourite snaps from 2018, some of my favourite miles and sunrises – from me to you with my best for 2019.
It’s been interesting to reflect on the year in Learning Technology (previous post) and that has brought about the realisation that much of what I have done this year has been in open practice and collaboration (and all the better for it!). It’s also brought about another blog post… 🙂
Some of the work has been around governance and policy, for example in collaboration with Lorna Campbell, Martin Weller and Joe Wilson we produced a policy paper for ALT on openness in education. Since the paper was published I have been working to disseminate this call to action and one such effort was a recent post on Wonke, entitled Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers, with Lorna Campbell which was published on International Women’s Day. In the post, we examine the practical recommendations from the policy paper, how they could be implemented and discuss what policy makers could do to realise the benefits of openness in education in different sectors in the UK.
Or together with the Chair of ALT, Sheila MacNeill, I wrote a Joint Report on strategic progress, 1 Feb 2018 – and we continue to publish minutes from Board meetings alongside all our governance information. Open governance is one of the most interesting areas of work and I have been particularly enjoying talking to other membership bodies like UCISA, ILTA and ETUG about their approach or sharing expertise in groups like ALT’s strategic working group for our journal Research in Learning Technology (some of which I shared in this Gasta at EdTech2018).
Collaboration beyond my #altc colleagues led to this collaborative project, about how Learning Technology professionals and start-ups can work together. It started with a blog post call to action written jointly by Anders Krohn, CEO of Aula and myself, and led to a series of consultation sessions with academics, technologists and innovators, resulting in contributions to the first version of the Edtech start up guide, which was published early in 2018. Anders and I then followed up with a second blog post on the altc blog, including a contribution from Peter Bryant, LSE, to launch the guide, share some of the case studies and lessons learnt we collated and to look ahead at future work with start ups on the guide and in the community.
And also, later this year, as part of my commitment to an open approach to leadership, I’ve asked my mentor Margaret to collaborate with me on a three part series to share our insights into being a mentor and what it’s like to have one. This project turned out to be much more intense than I had first anticipated and reminded me that even with experience sharing practice openly can be really challenging. We focused on different aspects of mentoring, reflecting on what it takes to get through tough times, how we built a blended approach to mentoring and the real benefits of having a mentor.
One of my favourite networks to collaborate with this year has been the growing #femedtech community and I have been advocating for the network at every opportunity at events as well as volunteering as a guest curator of the @femedtech Twitter account. Promoting equality in all its forms in Learning Technology is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work and there is always SO MUCH more to do. I also set up a TAGS Twitter archive and TAGSExplorer for the #femedtech hashtag, to help chart and visualise the conversation as it evolves:
This year I have published 30 blog posts on my blog and about half of these this year have been chronicling how my colleague Martin Hawksey and I have led ALT through its transition to becoming a distributed organisation and establishing a new working culture as a virtual staff team. Our monthly series of posts has been at the heart of all my work this year, touching on everything from people management and well being at work to the technical challenges of remote working and the nuances of working in the open. Writing these posts whilst everything is actually happening, rather than sharing output from work that is in the past, felt far more scary than similar kinds of work I had done before.
There is much of what I do day to day that I hadn’t managed to make part of my open practice before this collaboration – leadership, management… these are not the most straight forward topics to share (especially when you are everyone’s ‘boss’). It feels easier to share ideas, innovations, practical things others can use or read up on. Sharing how we lead a team is a completely different proposition and I am glad that following Martin’s initial prompt I have taken up the challenge to create an open approach to share and reflect regularly. In previous years I have blogged about it… this year it feels like I am actually DOING it.
It’s also taught me much about the value of collaboration itself, about really leveraging what each person brings to the table and to create something that goes beyond anything that could have been created on an individual basis – and that, I am particularly grateful for.
On that note of gratitude to ALL of my collaborators this year, I am going to end this post and make plans for 2019… .
Against a backdrop of much political, social and environmental upheaval I have spent the past year working hard for all things Learning Technology – always on a mission to make better sense of how we relate to technology as we learn, teach and live. Learning Technology is so interesting and challenging because the work we do is happening at the intersection of education and work, constantly negotiating our relationship with technology as a society, as human beings. It brings into focus some of the biggest questions that we face in this age, questions about the role of machines in our world, artificial intelligence, about how knowledge is produced and ultimately the forces that shape our lives.
Day to day the reality of supporting lecturers with a VLE or teaching adult learners how to get online is a little more prosaic than that, but if there is anything we have learnt this year it is that the legal, ethical and moral dimensions of Learning Technology are becoming ever more important. From the role of lecture capture in labour disputes to implementing GDPR and to safeguarding well-being online there is no shortage of examples that Learning Technology has indeed come of age and that we have to face these important questions in a manner that is not only practical, but equitable and fair for generations to come. And although this year has certainly brought with it much to be dismayed about, in Learning Technology there has been a new cause for hope as our work to create a more nuanced, a more critical and reflective discourse has gained momentum. No longer do we focus primarily on advocating for technology as a solution but on a more holistic approach that acknowledges the importance of people, of learners and teachers in every learning context.
So here is my year in Learning Technology in ten highlights for you to share, make use of and be inspired by:
My favourite part of this handbook (read the review) is that is has a section on evaluating what you are doing and reflecting on it. It’s useful for many beyond Further Education and it’s written by someone who really knows their stuff – Daniel Scott. If you haven’t come across it yet, put it on your reading list for 2019.
Beyond advocacy for change: developing critical & open approaches in Learning Technology #LTHEchat #altc
This twitter chat, which Martin Hawksey and I worked on together, brings together many of the themes from this year around the role of Learning Technology, how our work is changing and how we can take a more critical, open approach. You can explore the chat itself on Wakelet or read up on the follow up blog post.
Policy Making in Action – A Senior CMALT portfolio by Melissa Highton
Melissa Highton‘s approach to achieving Senior CMALT was particularly inspiring as Melissa describes how she “delivered a session at AltC 2018 exploring the interplay between technology and teaching, and learning technologists and academic colleagues. In it I talked about the importance of working alongside colleagues from different backgrounds and I used a ‘learning from critical incidents’ framework for my reflection.”
The topic of Melissa’s work was “experience of writing, and consulting on, an institution-wide opt-out policy for lecture recording” and the context that “work with technology for teaching and learning… comes into contention during a strike” as was discussed in these blog posts [written during] during the strike can be found here.
When I grow up I want to be a Learning Technologist by Clint Lalonde
Skip to 22.28 min in for Clint‘s talk or even better sit back and watch all of them compered by the inimitable Tom Farrelly.
How and why should Learning Technologists engage with start-ups? A collaborative guide…
Working with industry in Learning Technology is not always easy and one of the collaborations I led this year was to write a guide for Learning Technologists about how to work with start-ups. At the outset of the project, we wanted to find out what makes a successful collaboration between Learning Technology professionals and start-ups, what barriers may get in the way and what experiences we can learn from. We also asked the question why this is important and how it might be useful to the wider community, both individuals and organisations. You can now access the guide http://bit.ly/altcstartupguide and read the related blog post.
25 years of EdTech by Martin Weller
In Learning Technology we have the history, evidence, research to shape a more critical perspective and there are an increasing number of voices that articulate how things are changing. Martin Weller’s inspiring series on ‘25 years of Ed Tech’ is a great example of this (and definitely worth reading if you haven’t come across it yet). Martin emphasises the need for taking a critical approach to our thinking in Learning Technology, to examine the (commercial) interest that influence its development, ‘for example, while learning analytics have gained a good deal of positive coverage regarding their ability to aid learners and educators, others have questioned their role in learner agency and monitoring and their ethics.’
A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018
…”Our session is based primarily on two perspectives.The first perspective is rooted in our analysis of the past 24 years of ALT’s Annual Conference — as represented in published websites for later conferences, and for earlier conferences, references to the conference in ALT’s Journal (now Research in Learning Technology). The second perspective is our own personal histories that both exist beyond that narrative and intersect with it. Our initial analysis of the conference has identified Open/Active Learning and Community/Communities of Practice as themes that have persisted over several conferences and many years. We will summarise the themes and trajectories, highlighting how these ideas have been represented within ALT’s Annual Conference, how they have evolved, which perspectives have persisted and which have become irrelevant or have fallen out of favour. In addition, we acknowledge that the personal is political. Our respective critical approaches to this work reflect our own varied histories within and beyond HE, IT, and learning technology.”… by Frances Bell and Catherine Cronin.
#CMALT #altc Twitter chat
This year has seen a lot of work on professional recognition and cpd for Learning Technologists and this twitter chat at ALT’s Online Winter Conference formed part of a broader effort of consultation and development to forge two new accreditation pathways. With input from over a hundred Members, work has progressed so that Associate and Senior CMALT are launching in February 2019 – exciting times ahead.
Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers
And finally…. in my own words: who shapes the future of Learning Technology?
This year I have a handy way of letting my work do the talking because much of what I am most interested in and many of the things that I feel are important came together in my keynote talk. This was a very special keynote to me and I was grateful to the Trustees of ALT to invite me to speak at ALT’s 25th Annual Conference. This post shares the slides and some of my notes for the talk and you can also watch a recording from the conference here . Thanks to James Clay for this video sketch note of the talk.
This post continues the series on openly sharing our approach to leading a virtual team – a joint project with Martin Hawksey (cross-posted here) for which we write a monthly blog post.
This month we discuss checklists, how each of our staff invented their own scale to rate their week and treating others with kindness.
Maren: I’ve been thinking about how to make time for both urgent and important things, and at the same time to reserve enough space for impromptu collaboration. This article on using G Suite to improve team performance via intermittent interaction for example argues that agile communication and collaboration is more effective than regularly scheduled interactions – but it’s much harder to do well in my experience. Following on from last month’s post in which we discussed trello and jamboard one of the things we have since implemented are some new checklists, for areas like payroll, GDPR and tech maintenance that cover regular, important tasks for the team, but aren’t related to urgent deadlines. I’m a big fan of checklists (and their history in aviation and healthcare in particular) and find them very effective in a team like ours and in particular for things that we don’t work on every day. We complete the checklist individually but we have a prompt at team meetings and then review the results together, which gives us space to raise questions. For me, another upside is that I spent less time on something that’s routine, if important, freeing me up for other things. As a recent development in our approach to leading the team, what are your thoughts on this?
Martin: An aspect of checklists, particularly if they are shared, I hadn’t really considered until recently was how they can be used to ‘nudge’ team members. Nudge theory was something I first heard about many years ago talking to a contractor who worked with the UK Government, in part supporting the British Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team, also known as the “Nudge Unit”. It was only recently at the Scottish ELESIG that I first heard it being referenced in a learning and teaching context. This also got me thinking about nudges in distributed teams. I’ve no experience in behavioural science and I should also say I can see the dangers of going down a ‘nudge management’ route, but I can also see the value in exploring some aspects of ‘nudges’. An interesting paper I came across was Nudge management: applying behavioural science to increase knowledge worker productivity (Ebert and Freibichler, 2017). This paper highlights a number of nudge tactics and it’s interesting to see that things like quarterly reporting of goals/milestones is something we already do. I can also see parallels with some of the examples reported and the G Suite article and models of collaboration you mentioned earlier. It is unlikely we will get a Google style micro kitchen and I always wonder if there is more we can do to create opportunities for the informal exploration of ideas. Back to checklists I see one advantage of using these is it becomes easier for us to see who has and hasn’t completed activities … nudge, nudge, wink, wink say no more.
Maren: I don’t like the term nudge management much, but it’s a very useful idea and so is the article once I got past the terminology. One benefit of using approaches like this in a small team rather than in a huge corporation like Google is being able to take an agile, informal approach to reiterating checklists: for example when a colleague added something new to their own checklist this week, we identified this as a gap and added it to the template for everyone. Two minutes work resulted in an immediate improvement. Similarly, being able to see an overview of everyone completing a monthly GDPR checklist makes the process more transparent and shows that everyone is participating. It improves communication in a very time effective way. Being a small team we can sometimes take a more playful approach as this week’s team meeting demonstrated. We often incorporate a check-in into team meetings, where we quickly and informally share how we are doing and how busy we are. That started as rating your week out of 10 (10 = the busiest) and has gradually turned into everyone rating their week on their own scale, be that a colour or phrase or similar metaphor. With a small team, that works because it still fulfills the purpose of the exercise: taking a step back and checking in with yourself, sharing that with everyone without being competitive and giving us a better sense of how everyone is doing. How individuals choose to rate their week, what scale they apply, also tells you a lot: it reflects their personality or mood, how they integrate with the team, how much of a sense they have of how they’re doing… it helps to fill the gaps formal reporting or catch ups can’t. We have established such a strong foundation in the team meetings process that we can now have more freedom to ‘personalise’ parts of it, like the check-ins. The way I see it, the better the structures we as a team have are and the more we trust them, the more freedom we have. I’m really interested in the relationship between those structures and the agility they can bring. Does that make sense to you?
Martin: Being able to express ourselves is a good thing, I’ve never considered if it was more or less important for distributed teams. I think it certainly helps when there is work pressure on and the degree of informality perhaps provides a foundation in creating a culture for the ‘informal exploration of ideas’. I can also see the benefit of moving to a more abstract and personal scale. I think one issue with a 1 to 10 scale is it can potentially become a little divisive, particularly within a virtual team context. For example, Bob says he’s a 9, Margaret thinks ‘how is Bob a 9!?’, in part because in a distributed setting it’s hard to see how hard Bob is working. Equally John might feel like a 6, but at the same time feels guilty that Bob is a 9. With everyone using their personal scale it becomes less quantifiable and more of a personal reflection which is less open to judgement. Using scales hopefully also creates opportunities for the ‘humble brag’. I know this month you’ve shared a post on the ‘Virtual no Distant’ blog on sharing success. In this post it highlights, perhaps on questionable research, the increased importance of sharing when things go well. As someone who usually has to be reminded to share my achievements I can see the benefits of this approach. In particular, where I see this fitting in is you might be ‘code red’, but that because the thing you were working on has been a huge success, the downside being it’s created more work. How do you feel about the ‘humble brag’?
Maren: Hmmmm. I’ve written posts like How to share credit and praise yourself… reflecting on the value of (deserved) recognition and Don’t think you are brilliant? Think again… – so I have given this quite a lot of thought. Alongside terms like ‘imposter’ or ‘lurking’ I have ambivalent feelings about ‘humble bragging’ (i.e. to make an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement with the actual intention of drawing attention to something of which one is proud). On the one hand, modesty and humility are good qualities to have. On the other hand, it’s essential to learn how to assess one’s professional achievements and articulate them. Too often, particularly in our cultural context, professionals are unable to do that effectively (and incidentally this is something I come up against frequently as a CMALT assessor). I find that sometimes ‘humble bragging’ is less a reflection of personal modesty and more to do with not really reflecting on progress, or not being able to understand one’s role within a team, one’s contribution and why it is important. Not being able to say ‘I did this…’ or ‘It’s my responsibility to…’ can make it much harder for others to understand what the other person’s role is and to respond accordingly. That’s why a few years ago we introduced 360 degree feedback for everyone as part of our annual appraisal process. It’s a regular opportunity to practice giving and receiving feedback, both good and bad. That said, any form of sharing the highs (and lows) of our work is important and welcome, ‘humble brag’ included! I’m generally very communicative at work and I’m confident enough to share both success and failure. I try to be honest about things that go wrong because I want to show that it does happen and how to deal with it. But I appreciate that this is much harder for some and at times maybe a ‘humble brag’ is the best strategy, maybe the only way to communicate. Our job, leading a team, is to listen and acknowledge that achievement no matter how loudly or quietly it may be voiced. For me, it’s also about treating others with kindness (which is also why I am mentioning our postal Secret Santa, sending a little kindness to each other each December).
Martin: As tempting as it is to put ‘Secret Santa’ under the lens of ‘nudge management’ perhaps we should end here and show dear reader some of our own kindness and wish you all a wonderful holiday season and we look forward to sharing more of ALT’s journey in becoming a virtual team in 2019.
Since we started this monthly blog series openly sharing our approach to leading a virtual team, Martin and I have often talked about how useful the process of writing the monthly posts in itself has become: it makes us make time to focus on things we may not otherwise dedicate as much time to, it prompts a joint process of reflection and improves communication.
I’ve often written about how important reflection is to my professional practice, and I use different tools for different types of reflection: this public blog, a private blog, some drawing/making activities, walks and conversations and I value each one for different reasons. But recently I have found that I have struggled to write down/type everything I have on my mind, and so I have started to use the dictation tool on my phone – with interesting results.
Mobile instead of laptop: First, using dictation allows me to use my phone rather than a laptop to write my reflective posts. I much prefer that, particularly at weekends or in the evenings as it makes it feel less like work. Although the interface for one of the blogging platforms I use isn’t optimised for mobile, I still find this way of producing a reflective post much more convenient and comfortable.
I talk faster than I can type: and thus, I now add a lot more than I did before. The posts are longer and more spontaneous because instead of carefully constructing sentences, I speak my mind more. It’s a different tone and takes less time than typing the same amount of narrative would have done.
Less self-editing: although most of what I use dictation for ends up in a blog which I don’t share with anyone else, I find the process of talking about my day or week is far more frank now than when I was typing. Not something I had expected, but it is an interesting by-product of this way of working.
More like a conversation: one of the real benefits of writing collaboratively is that it is more like a conversation. But not everything I reflect on lends itself to being shared and I find talking to my blog rather than writing in it is much closer to the kind of dynamic that I might get from having a conversation or telling someone about things on my mind. I say more things that I may not have expected, realise that things are important or have bothered me more than I would have done when I was typing the words. I have hundreds of posts to compare from the past few years and the tone of the voice posts is very different.
Saying it out loud: for me, reflective blogging has always felt quite similar to writing a journal and over the decades I have written many journals in different formats. But sometimes being good at writing things down can make it harder to talk about something, to say it out loud. Dictation like this can really help you practice articulating your thoughts to someone else as well as to yourself. It also improves self realisation in my case. The other day I felt angry about something and when I said it out loud I realised how angry I really was. It helped me better reflect because it helped me understand more fully how I felt – to pause and realise, that is how things are in my mind. The feelings dissipated quickly, but the realisation stayed with me.
Some pitfalls: dictation does require privacy. At least in my case there would be no point doing this if I felt someone else might be listening. Also, the voice recognition in iOS, which is what I am using, is pretty good – but it’s not perfect. It’s worth reading along or reading through the text afterwards as there can be some funny mistakes to correct. It takes only a few minutes, but still effort.
It’s actually recording a podcast episode earlier this year that made me try voice recognition for reflective blogging and I am curious to see how future editions of the joint series may develop as we revisit that format. For now, I am going to keep experimenting in my own practice.
I was delighted to be invited to speak at this year’s SEDA conference. It’s a special honour this year, as both SEDA and ALT are celebrating their 25th anniversary and my talk followed inspiring keynotes by Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Teaching and Learning, from Plymouth University and also Julie Hall, Professor of Higher Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Solent University Southampton as part of the conference programme.
Here is the abstract of my talk:
This talk will address the major themes of the conference – ‘meeting challenges’ and ‘supporting staff’ – from the perspective of learning technology, exploring recent developments in this area and discussing their relevance and implications for educational development and for the work of educational developers. For example, my review of initiatives and key developments from the work of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) will include exploration of our new pathways to professional recognition and accreditation and discuss how these are mapped to other frameworks, including the UKPSF, QTL and Jisc’ Digital Capabilities. There are significant strategic challenges facing the sector and this talk will critically reflect on how we are solving these, sharing examples of research and practice from the ALT community and relating these to the larger questions they pose in relation to ethics, student welfare and the future of technology in education.
As well as looking at some of the challenges, my talk explored how we meet them and how things are changing, specially in relation to how we engage students – and how that has changed professional practice.