My first Creative Commons Summit (in 10 Tweets)

This year I was able to take part in the Creative Commons Global Summit alongside my colleague Martin Hawksey, 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).

One of the strands I followed throughout the conference was around gender equality, visibility and leadership starting with Kelsey Merkley’s session on the UnCommon Womens project and later in a powerful keynote during the opening evening and running throughout all three days.

I also had the privilege to take part in some of the VConnecting sessions organised around the event, opening up the conversation to those not able to attend in person and I really enjoyed meeting participants from all across the globe in that manner as we sat in corridors and next to lifts, supported most capably by both online and onsite buddies (thanks Ken & Christian!!) who made it possibly for us to talk all things open across time zones and continents.

I also really enjoyed the more creative side of the Summit and I met makers and artists as well as platforms (Hello, CC-Create) that had never heard of before, opening up completely new perspectives on how art, music and design function in the Commons and how big an impact openness in these contexts can have from delivering education to making tools more accessibility and affordable.

As well as talks around creativity and equality I was able to participate in a number of sessions and workshops around digital literacy, staff development and copyright literacy, including this particularly fun session in which I learnt a lot of new things about copyright:

And one of the highlights of the final day was a critically inspired panel about AI (maybe the first conference session on the topic that didn’t leave me frustrated or angry) very elegantly facilitated by CC’s CEO Ryan Merkley:

The final highlight for me was that Martin & I were able to share some of the developments that are happening in our community with the Summit. It was a real privilege for us to have our proposal accepted and we really enjoyed our sessions and were really grateful for the interest & questions it stimulated:

Many custard tarts were eaten, there was rain, fog, wind & plenty of sunshine, there were many useful conversations, resources & ideas shared and I am taking back a lot of inspiration as I join on last VConnecting session from Lisbon Airport.

CC Summit, I certainly hope to be able to join in again another year and thank you for a wonderful experience.

Virtual Teams: Applying order to chaos

Hello and welcome to this month’s post on leading a virtual team. In this post (cross-posted here) the two of us, that is Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell), continue our series of openly sharing our approach to leadership.

If you are new here, you can catch up on earlier posts and podcasts or find out more about ALT, the organisation we work for as senior staff. We really appreciate comments and feedback and welcome questions or suggestions for future posts.

This time we’re talking about team culture, upgrading workflows, the ISO9001 Standard, the MIT90s Framework, our dislike of management terminology and the impact of being busy on communication and collaboration as a virtual team.

April

Maren: one of the themes we keep coming back to is how to improve our processes and I have been thinking about that in relation to my personal approach, what we do as a team and how we function as an organisation: first, on a personal basis I have been doing some upgrading to how I manage my own to do lists. This has brought me back to re-reading one of the first books on productivity I ever read, Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done and his “five steps that apply order to chaos” are still a useful reminder for me now. I’ve also been looking at the ISO9001 Standard and the seven quality management principles that inform the standard. Management speak notwithstanding these principles are very much what we do day to day, even if as an organisation we don’t articulate our approach in that manner. It’s useful to review these things from time to time, to remind ourselves of the baseline of how organisations function and how what we do aligns with that, similar to the Open Leadership Handbook we recently looked at. But the part of the puzzle I am most interested in at the moment is how we communicate what we do to our Members and the public in general and I have seen some interesting examples of how other organisations do that, for example the ETUG survey results and Open Education Week sharing its impact summary. One of the challenges we have as a small organisation is to balance getting things done with ensuring what we do is visible and I have the feeling that the busier we are the less communicative we become about what’s been achieved.

Martin: There is a culture aspect of this that is worth unpicking. Last month we highlighted the difference between ‘cultural fit’ and ‘cultural alignment’. Evolving our culture to make they way we communicate to our Members and the public needs us to consider how we adjust our cultural alignment as a team. With a smaller team resource is always a huge factor and change requires time. At the moment given we have two vacancies in our team that we are filling there is perhaps an opportunity to do something as the dynamic in our team changes. In a previous learning technology role culture was a hot topic, in particular, how do you change organisational culture. Something often discussed then was the MIT90s framework in which Scott Morton (1991) purposes that organisations are comprised of “five sets of forces in dynamic equilibrium among themselves even as the organisation is subjected to influences from an external environment”.

In revisiting the MIT90s framework I came across this in the conference paper “Thinking About Virtual Organisations and the Future

Seeing the organisation in this light has made business managers realise the importance for the organisation to transform to meet the needs of the time. But more importantly, underneath a successful transformation is two conditions that must be met for this transformation. They are: (1) the creation of a vision which must be clearly understood and supported by everyone in the organisation; and (2) the ability to align infrastructures (such as information technology, work structures and processes) with the business goals. No matter what form or structures the organisation takes, these conditions must remain true; even for the virtual organisation.

So in terms of developing a culture where staff are more focused on visibility and communication you could argue that the changing team dynamic is an opportunity for everyone to engage in a new vision and ensure our infrastructures (IT, processes, structure etc.) are aligned. I feel I’ve taken us down a bit of a rabbit hole with this but I’m interested to know if you have an answer to “the busier we are the less communicative we become”?

Maren: My response to that would be that the busier we get the more likely we are to loose perspective. In any busy team, or role, there is always a balance to be struck between getting things done and finding time to think about things – and different factors can make it harder to find that balance: lots of change, things happening outside of work, ill health, heavy workloads etc. Signs of not quite finding that balance in my experience are things like not using project plans or to do lists properly, but instead allowing one’s inbox to dictate what to focus on (we talked about noisy versus important things in a past post), arranging to catch up and not remembering what about, feeling stressed but not that things improve when you tick things off your list etc. Kindness towards one self and others is key here. Giving oneself a break is particularly important when things are busy and can be hard to do. And it always helps to go back to basics, like the to do list strategy I mentioned earlier, and use the processes you have in place to regain some of that perspective, which in turn makes it easier to communicate what you are doing, progress being made and importantly achievements to colleagues and stakeholders. One simple tweak we have made this year is to add to our Operational Plan a column that prompts everyone to consider how they would sum up the output of a task in 280 characters or less and a column which asks us to note what’s new in any given area of operations. We are just about to make use of these new elements for the first time and I am curious to see how useful that will be for us to gain that sense of perspective and balance as a team. I really like our plan and find it really useful to track strategic progress and operational load, and it’s been great to tweak things to try and make it even better. One of the things you talk about is shared vision and that is a really interesting topic when like us you are in the final phase of delivering a really strong, shared vision and strategy before creating a new one. When people get involved in an organisation at this stage in the cycle, how can we best approach that? Any thoughts?

Martin: For me I think it’s important to remember that there is a distinction between our strategy and our processes, recognising that they are still interconnected, but that our processes are likely to have more impact on our culture. It is obviously still useful if our team engages with our strategy but I don’t see that as essential if they are delivering, it being the responsibility of management to make sure they are delivering the right thing. That said, there is probably some overlap between our values and processes, for example, something like openness is hopefully reflected in some of what we do in terms of some of the practicalities of sharing resources (e.g. documents, slides and other outputs are Creative Commons licensed and publically shared), but again you could argue some are more engaged with the processes of finding sharing resources under Creative Commons rather than the underlying value of openness. So ultimately I don’t think the stage we are at in our strategy has that much impact on our culture or vision. Where it has a bigger impact is potentially around processes, for example, if our next strategy has a different focus there might be different performance indicators that our processes have to deliver. So in terms of bring new people in to the team I think by focusing on the processes there is an opportunity to give them a sense of our existing culture and vision. Something I think important to remember is new people may bring new culture and vision which can be greatly beneficial to the organisation.   

Maren:There is a lot to talk about here and I have many different thoughts in response that it could be interesting to explore, but in a nutshell, the key thing for me is for everyone to understand, established staff and new colleagues alike, why we do what we do. You are right that maybe where we are in a strategy cycle isn’t as important as long as everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen, why and how. I conceptualise the why as the strategic perspective, the how as reflecting our values and the what as the practical delivery. Maybe there’s a podcast in the offing for our next episode, so that we can talk about some of these questions in more detail, but one final thought I have on the communication front is a ‘Tell someone about it’ or ‘Who needs to know about this’ checkbox that could be added to everything.. reminding us to keep communicating as we start the busiest period of the year.

Crafting keynotes… an inspiration from #OER19

In June I am heading to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops on what is a long awaiting (first) trip to Canada. Thanks to the organisers of the ETUG 25th anniversary conference I have a wonderful and rare opportunity to meet with colleagues in British Columbia and visit a community that has much in common with my own organisation, ALT – both long-established Member-led professional bodies committed to Learning Technology and sharing similar values and priorities.

The ETUG Twitter account has been sharing news about the event, which has a movie inspired anniversary theme of Back to the Future: Looking Back, Moving Forward and so as one of the keynote speakers my own planning and preparations have long been underway.

You can watch a short video of me talking with Clint Lalonde here as we get very excited planning for my talk.

And that got me thinking about all the work that goes into crafting a keynote for an event like this and the opportunity it presents for me to read, research, remix, make and think about things. Back in January I contributed to the #SocMedHE18 conference and the talk I ended up writing (Community, Openness, Equality: a keynote in three hashtags #SocMedHE18) was the result of a really inspiring process in dialogue with the conference committee and following the Twitter conversation, creating new artwork and images along the way.

Whilst I do give a lot of talks the kind of opportunity to give a keynote of a more challenging or creative nature is rare for me and I value the chance to start from a blank canvas and re-imagine, re-think my ideas and views from scratch.

One of the things I like best about crafting new keynotes is creating the artwork or images for the slides and I usually use my own or remix them. This time, I am hoping to remix a lot of images and use them to underpin my argument visually. It’s a great creative outlet for me to make openly licenced slide decks that I can then share back for others to use or remix. It also allows me to give credit in my talk to all those whose work I build on.

But writing keynotes or planning them ahead of time is also very practical. After all, few people can create an engaging narrative with a strong argument on the fly and some of the speakers whose talks I have most enjoyed certainly write and think out what they will say well ahead of time. I find writing a summary at least, that I will then flesh out in the month before, adding slides and key points to remind myself is not only useful for me, but also provides transcripts for others to refer back to later or indeed remind myself of what I said or meant to say.

But this keynote that I am working on just now may end up having a playlist more than a list of references and I think that is to do with what I took away from OER19 and the collection of reflections I have been reading. For one reason or another I missed all of the keynotes at the conference this year and like many who were not able to attend themselves, I have been going through the programme and listening to and watching the sessions we recorded – but my strongest impressions of the speakers has been through the memories and reflections of others who have written about them. And that has been quite an extraordinary experience because much of what others took away from the talks seemed to be about values, about what the speakers and their practice stand for.

Being a keynote speaker can be a powerful thing particularly if you choose to use the platform it gives you for a cause that chimes with your audience. And it seems that in the case of OER19 that definitely happened. So much emotional investment and enthusiasm is rare at conferences I attend and as we are now nearly two weeks after the event and the posts and discussions keep on flowing this is further reflected in the continued engagement and activity. So there are fresh role models for me to be inspired by, keynotes to relive that really struck a chord and transcend what you can normally expect from an hour in a lecture theatre. And indeed there are many involved in making OER19 happen whom I have been inspired by in the past, like the Co-Chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz, alongside Jim Groom, Lorna Campbell and Sheila MacNeill, or Bon Stewart, Martin Weller and Maha Bali and Jane Secker. All of whom have kept their audiences spellbound at previous OER or ALT’s Annual Conferences and I remember sitting back, listening, enjoying what each contributed to those events and to my own thinking. Some of these talks opened up my perspective to completely new concepts or problems, others inspired me with their example and encouraged my own practice. But each have made the hour I spent listening and participating very special, a moment stuck in my mind.

We have all met speakers and participants who turn up for their session, who seem to have missed all instructions or information provided beforehand, who run over time, who don’t answer questions, who don’t speak on what they promised and who don’t really contribute.

Fortunately, there is also the opposite of that. Keynotes who make the best participants and participants who make the best speakers and OER19 felt a lot like everyone’s places could be swapped around every few hours because everyone was working so hard to contribute, to listen, to make it happen for everyone else.

And that is a big inspiration for me to take away and apply to participating and contributing when I head to Canada in June. And I am remixing and making and crafting to a soundtrack of inspiring working songs. Because sometimes music says it better and the mood from OER19 is not easily contained in words or even pictures.

Virtual Teams: Things that don’t look broken still need fixing

Things that don’t look broken still need fixing

Hello and welcome to this month’s post on leading a virtual team. In this post (cross-posted here) the two of us, that is Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell), continue our series of openly sharing our approach to leadership.

If you are new here, you can catch up on earlier posts and podcasts or find out more about ALT, the organisation we work for as senior staff. We really appreciate comments and feedback and welcome questions or suggestions for future posts.

March

Maren: this month I’m keen to pick up on a couple of things we started talking about in the last podcast, talk about all things open as we get ready for OER19 and also discuss a book you recommended, Invisible Women. It’s an awesome read full of interesting facts and laugh out loud moments (car manufacturers’ advice to lower my voice to help AIs understand my ‘atypical’ high female voice made me giggle it seemed so ludicrous) and there are many things that really chimed with me in the context of this series on open practice, starting with how important it is for women & men to each contribute their perspective to policy, research and practice equally. The joint keynote we wrote for International Women’s Day at UHI is a good example of this – neither one of us could have written the talk on their own.

It’s the open collaboration, the dialogue, that produces deeper insights. Gender data gaps discussed in the book provide countless examples of where that kind of dialogue is lacking from workplace practices (biases in recruitment software) to disaster relief (male only committees designing shelters without cooking spaces). Another point the book prompted me to reflect on is how important transparency and openness are for promoting equality. There are countless examples of complex technologies, especially AIs, that are proprietary and don’t permit us to investigate potentially biases much less address them. The two overarching thoughts I took from the book are that firstly, in one way or another, women, and by extension anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘template’ is made to adjust in order to fit – even if changing the underlying policies/design/structures would have bigger benefits for all. And secondly, how we always prioritise something else, focus on the next crisis, instead of focusing on gender equality ‘because we see the rights of 50% of the population as a minority interest’.

Martin: ‘Fit’ is an interesting topic. As part of our talk at UHI I thought I’d look at the findings of the ALT Annual Survey to see if there are any notable differences for survey responses based on gender. This was a very quick analysis so I can’t say if the results are statistically significant but it was interesting to see differences in areas such as enablers/drivers for the use of Learning Technology by male and female respondents. Fit, and in particular culture fit, features as a chapter in ‘The Open Organization Leaders Manual’, which you recently shared. In this Jen Kelchner’s writes about “Stop hiring for culture fit“. As part of this Kelchner argues that instead of cultural fit organisations should recruit for ‘alignment’:

“Fit” implies that your organization seeks to indoctrinate new members into its specific way of life—to clone its vision of the ideal member in everyone who joins it. When we talk about “fit” we create the potential for exclusion. It prompts us to seek someone who already embodies the values and principles we think are best (then seek to “fit” them into a pre-existing spot in our organizations), and ignore others.

Achieving “alignment,” however, is different. Alignment involves embracing diversity of thought and building inclusive, innovative, community-driven teams that are all oriented toward shared goals, even if they look and think differently from one another.

‘The Open Organization Leaders Manual’ uses five principles as part of it’s Open Organization Definition: transparency, inclusivity, adaptability, collaboration and community. In terms of transparency it’s highlighted that:

In open organizations, transparency reigns. As much as possible (and advisable) under applicable laws, open organizations work to make their data and other materials easily accessible to both internal and external participants; they are open for any member to review them when necessary (see also inclusivity). Decisions are transparent to the extent that everyone affected by them understands the processes and arguments that led to them; they are open to assessment (see also collaboration). Work is transparent to the extent that anyone can monitor and assess a project’s progress throughout its development; it is open to observation and potential revision if necessary (see also adaptability).

I feel to our members and the general public that our operations are very transparent (our joint posts being a case in point). In terms of our distributed team it feels like more effort is required to be transparent, as in “to the extent that anyone can monitor and assess a project’s progress throughout its development”, than if we were all physically in the same office. We’ve previously talked about the challenges of virtual operations and the removal of some of the affordances of being physically co-located. Even though we are over 12 months into our move to operating as a distributed team this feels like one of the areas where we have the most continued evolution in our systems and procedures. This is also an interesting time as our staff team will have a number of new faces and I’m interested to see how candidates align to ALT’s values.

Maren: I like the concept of ‘alignment’ instead of ‘fit’ and it is a useful way of thinking during recruitment in particular. But whilst I found the open org manual really useful, its perspective comes from open source/software companies. In our context, in a small charity with a wide breadth of projects it’s harder to make the kind of internal ‘joined-up-ness’ work for everyone than when you are all focused on making a product shipping deadline. There’s a balance to be struck between enabling individuals to get on with their work and effective team communication. And it can be hard to determine how much information is actually useful and why. For instance, I’m finding it rewarding to develop and improve our internal processes for reporting, budgets and project overviews. It’s part of the ongoing effort you refer to helping us as a team work together even better. Like you, I have a lot of enthusiasm for an iterative approach to designing processes. That said, I’m also acutely aware that any change requires time and effort that would not be needed if we just kept doing things the same way. It’s a big ask (and one that requires a strong common understanding of the reasons behind it) to spend time and energy changing things when there’s so much to be getting with. Especially when things don’t look ‘broken’ but still need ‘fixing’ to avoid disaster in the long run it can be a hard argument to make. As well as requiring time and effort, changing internal processes can also temporarily rob us of the comfort and confidence that comes with familiarity. Which leads me to reflect on what alternative sources of comfort I turn to when uncertainty and change are a constant. One example of what I do is to look beyond a period or process of change, and thinking ahead to what things might look like 3 months into the future or a year ahead. And it can be useful to do that as a team as well to create a greater measure of the kind of transparency you speak about. Here’s one such approach, similar to a SWOT analysis, that I found interesting and maybe we can try something like this at our next team day in April.

Martin: Your comment on things that “don’t look ‘broken’ but still need ‘fixing’” made me smile. I’ve some wooden decking at home that falls into that category thanks to some rot, but I get we are talking about something very different here. Having recently gone through my annual appraisal thinking ahead is still fresh in my mind. It’s interesting to reflect on personal goals and I can also see the benefit of exploring and articulating team goals. As often with these collaborative posts they are an opportunity for me to start googling for answers to questions that pop into my mind. Something I started wondering was the impact of churn as staff move on and new faces join virtual teams. I didn’t find anything in particular that talks about this and I suppose the stronger influencer in this instance is less on whether or not you are dealing with a virtual team but the size of the team you are dealing with. As part of my search Google Books did throw up ‘Leading Effective Virtual Teams: Overcoming Time and Distance to Achieve Exceptional Results’ by Nancy Settle-Murphy. As part of the uniques challenges of virtual teams Settle-Murphy highlights that “it’s harder for team members to tell whether they’re out of alignment about important issues … and once out of alignment, it takes virtual teams much longer to pull back together”. Settle-Murphy goes on to highlight one of the challenges for virtual team leaders is “ensuring that all share the same understanding of team goals”. The modified SWOT approach you mentioned looks like it should help with identifying goals, the issue I see is the timing as we’ve potentially got two new starters joining us after April. In a team of six, two new starters make a big impact and with a high percentage of the team changing it’s going to be interesting times but the timing is good as whilst not a lull it does mean we are not throwing our new starts straight into our Annual Conference.

Maren: ever since I took on a leadership role I’ve waited for the right timing for all those things, for the mythical steady state, that blank slate from which to start planning and doing afresh, ideally with all aims clearly defined and understood by everyone. But leading organisations or teams, working with technology and with people is always messy. There’s always history, legacy, mess you inherit, missing pieces of the puzzle and my favourite – the unknown unknowns. Our work is always work in progress. That’s why when you have a moment when things work out, when you achieve something or can enjoy something, it’s worth pausing and revelling in the moment. Send a hug, share a smile, take a breath. And then take that next step towards the inevitable chaos that will no doubt put an end to that peaceful moment.

More to read and listen to

OER19 preview post: openness in the fabric of things

OER19 is nearly upon us and as part of the organising team the next two week will be really busy for me. I am really excited about the event this year and so while there’s still time, I want to share my thoughts in this preview post.

I’ve also been reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (it’s an excellent read) and one of the points I took away from the book was how women’s rights and gender equality more broadly are treated as a minority interest, something that is never at the top of the list of priorities for government or industry even though we have evidence that shows why it should be. Instead it’s treated as a ‘nice to have’. This is far more eloquently expressed in the book, but my own day to day experience reflects this attitude very clearly: every time I speak about the issue somewhere there are those who roll their eyes or those who nod along patiently waiting until the talk turns back to things that really interest them, things that really matter as if they’re thinking ‘who cares about the gender data gap when there’s an AI revolution to profit from’.

Now, openness I find provokes a very similar response, and is equally demoted to the bottom of the list of things to do, because it also seems like a ‘nice to have’. To those who don’t know better openness is the domain of the dreamers, the prerogative of the privileged, a idealistic idea that doesn’t fit into the education industry of today other than as window dressing, as a veneer to enhance current business models.

In both cases short-sightedness, self interest and lack of imagination present real barriers for meaningful progress – but that isn’t to say that there is none. Fortunately for all, those committed to driving forward the open agenda are succeeding in winning many arguments, changing policy, winning funding and developing viable business models all across the world. This year’s conference programme is filled with examples (https://oer19.oerconf.org/programme/) from a broad spectrum of practice, research and policy making. From institutional case studies and national reports to individuals collaborating on open projects the programme includes sessions that set out to tackle the difficult questions and dilemmas that will come to define the future of openness.

Openness is many things to many people and the vision that the conference co-chairs have brought to the event has really inspired me and helped me reach a new understanding of the challenges we face by including more diverse voices and perspectives and also by ensuring that openness has been stitched into the fabric of OER19.

In turn, that has inspired the work that ALT does to support this conference in the run up to the event such as tweaking our systems to encourage more sharing, the Board of Trustees funding more scholarship places for students than ever before, contributing to global events during Open Education Week led by the Open Education Special Interest Group, and post-OER19 to the Creative Commons Global Summit.

Openness is a very practical core value for ALT as an organisation but it’s also become a more practical and fundamental aspect of my own thinking and practice in particular on open leadership and also contributing to the oer19 open space for femedtech has been inspiring.

Thanks to everyone involved, everyone who puts time and effort and resources into making OER19 happen, I feel like actually getting to go to the event in Galway is just the finishing flourish. OER19 has been a living, breathing, inspiring part of my professional practice for over a year already. But when I watched the sun rise over Galway Bay nearly a year ago, I didn’t realise how rich, how thought provoking and nourishing a journey working on this event would be. I’m grateful that I have been able to contribute, and I look forward to playing my part in making it happen and to build on what will be shared at OER19 to continue to promote openness and support those involved in the coming year, weaving a stronger thread of openness into the fabric of things.

Galway Bay, May 2018

Reflections from a keynote seminar: speaking about realising the potential of Learning Technology

This week I spoke at a keynote seminar on realising the potential of technology in Higher Education and it was a valuable opportunity to share the work of ALT and its Membership. Whilst ALT is growing and the number of Members has more than tripled over the past 10 years, I always include some key points at the start, including our definition of Learning Technology and Learning Technologist and our shared values that inform ALT’s strategic aims. It’s useful for anyone who hasn’t heard about us before, but it also helps situate the perspective I speak from: representing 3,500 individuals and organisations from across sectors and a broad range of professional and learning contexts. It’s key to convey that there is a huge spectrum of practice, research and policy making in Learning Technology when it comes to infrastructure and adopting new technologies and also when it comes to pedagogy, practice and research. This may seem like an obvious point to make, but I find that many discussions about ‘the future’ or policies for technology in education often make the assumption that those involved are all in the same boat or starting from a blank slate, when in reality the fast pace of innovation leaves behind a messy trail of upgrades, legacy systems, gaps and transitions that make interoperability standards such a key issue.

It’s important to at least acknowledge the messy underbelly of the shiny, efficient future that many edtech narratives have been promising for decades. From my perspective there is great strength in really understanding the dynamics in Learning Technology over time as we can’t master what we don’t understand. So in my 10 minute keynote, I focused on some of the messy aspects of Learning Technology and some of the critical questions that we have been asking, sharing examples from ALT’s Annual Survey and the work that our Members have been leading for the past year, to demonstrate how all across the UK the future of Learning Technology is being negotiated. Specifically, I spoke about:

  • Defining our relationship to Learning Technology
  • Working with industry to tackling the challenges of scaling up use of Learning Technology
  • Professionalism in Learning Technology

Drawing on the results from the survey ( https://go.alt.ac.uk/Survey2018 ) I first looked at the dual emphasis on learner engagement (which was been identified as the key driver for the use of Learning Technology over the past five years) and the crucial role of staff supporting each other (time, knowledge sharing, support, cpd) as the other main enabler. More professional roles in education now have a Learning Technology component, including more senior and leadership roles, so it is not surprising that staff time, development and recognition continues to grow as a critical factor. One example I shared is ALT’s input for the inquiry into Technology and Data Ethics, which highlighted that Learning Technology professionals have an important role to play in advising policy makers, helping institutions develop informed and effective use of data and analytics, and supporting educators and learners to develop critical data literacy skills.

In the second part of my talk, I focused on ‘Working with industry: Tackling the challenges of scaling up use of Learning Technology’ and shared some recent work of how ALT has facilitated Members from across sectors including industry working together and sharing knowledge to tackle some of the most challenging issues identified as important areas of change in the Annual Survey. Those include for example accessibility, relating to the new legislation on accessibility for VLEs, a community-sourced guide for Learning Technologists working with edtech start ups and in relation to tools for lecture capture and learning analytics in particular, compliance with GDPR. One of the strengths of an independent professional body like ALT is that we can act as a central exchange for information from different vendors, providers and users, creating an opportunity for institutions to collaborate on joint priorities and then providing a consistent reference point for the resources that are created for all to refer back to.

In the last part of my talk I focused on professionalisation in Learning Technology and the crucial role of staff. Referencing the 2018 Horizon Report, which identified the future role of educators as a ‘wicked’ challenge (“complex to even define, much less address”) I shared insights from the trends in role development from the Annual Survey, this time adding a separate analysis by gender. This new analysis forms an important part of ALT’s effort to close the gender data gap in Learning Technology. We recognise promoting equality as a priority for a professional body not a minority interest.

This post provides only a brief summary, but you can access the full slide deck with links to all references https://go.alt.ac.uk/2FFvk33 .

A day in the life of a #femedtech guest curator

It’s my second time to volunteer as a guest curator for the @femedtech Twitter account and in the past year, since my last time as a curator, much has changed.

In 2018, I followed Helen Beetham, being only the second person to try out how to be a guest curator. At the time, the account had 122 followers, had tweeted about the same number of tweets and we were just in the process of writing some guidance for the activity, making it up as we went along and learning from the wonderful examples of networks around us. Frances Bell contributed the slide below to the community-sourced slides for International Women’s Day 2019.

So what is it like to be a guest curator now, that the following is ten times bigger and the network is growing rapidly, organising activities around events and interests?

I start each day by checking in with the account, checking first on the notifications and new followers. Following back those who are new and welcoming them is one of the key things I try to do each day. It’s fascinating to see who follows the account and often I come across individuals and accounts I also want to connect with in my personal capacity.

Then I look for new tweets that have been tagged with the hashtag #femedtech and like or retweet those. This can open up quite a few new rabbit holes down which my time disappears as I find a new book, artist or research that I want to learn more about. In contract to my own Twitter world, there is a much more varied and unexpected range of things being posted. Here are some examples from recent days:

You can see, there is a really varied range of things being posted, so I strongly recommend you follow the account yourself and join in.

Then, each day, I try and find and contribute something new, something from my own network or frame of reference, and which I can share to enrich the conversation or open it up to include new accounts. So this week I posted:

And I also work to communicate from what the network does in my day job, for example this week I had the opportunity to speak at the 13th Research and Innovation in Distance Education, and eLearning (RIDE) annual conference  and I included a section on promoting equality in my talk, specifically focused on new analysis my colleague Martin Hawksey did of ALT’s Annual Survey focused on comparing gender perspectives, and his related post makes for interesting reading.

Being a guest curator for the #femedtech network really opens up new perspectives for me, it helps me get into the mindset of being a volunteer (and my day job relies heavily on the goodwill of volunteers, so that is particularly helpful for me) and it’s a powerful reminder that whilst we are making a lot of progress, there is always so much more to do to create a more equal and equitable society.

And on that note I’d like to mention a last opportunity to make your voice heard, to join in the conversation, which is a new open space for femedtech created in the run up to the OER19 conference. You can read all about it here and consider the following questions:

  • How do we balance privacy, openness and personal ethics?
  • How do we mediate our place in the open community, aspects of which might conflict with our personal ethics?
  • Is openness an act of conformance and / or defiance? And are there performative aspects to openness?
  • Do we feel pressured to be more open than we are comfortable with, or do our boundaries constrain us?
  • How do we manage sustainable spaces for exploring challenging issues around open?

People-powered innovation: #RIDE2019 keynote

This is a summary post for my keynote at the 13th Research and Innovation in Distance Education, and eLearning (RIDE) annual conference which takes place on 14 March 2019 in London. This year’s conference focuses on the themes ‘Professional development and student experience’ and my talk aims to consider these as challenges for digital education. You can access the full slide deck at https://go.alt.ac.uk/2EUioER.

Title slide
People-powered innovation: overcoming challenges together

It’s a pleasure to talk to an audience with a long history of addressing the challenges of scaling up technology used for teaching, learning and assessment, familiar with what it takes to engage all learners and staff at scale and passionate about the potential that innovation has for distance education. I am particularly grateful for the warm welcome from Dr Mary Stiasny, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) at the University of London and Professor Alan Tait, CDE Fellow and Professor Emeritus of Distance Education and DEvelopment at the Open University.

My perspective and how it is informed by working with ALT Members: practitioners, researchers and policy makers

It’s particularly interesting to contribute to an event where the understanding of who learners are is more diverse, more nuanced than in a traditional undergraduate only context and where there is also a focus on understanding the the changing role of the distance learning practitioner. I chose the title for my talk because one of the key points I want to make is that change and innovation are people-powered, that it is human agency and drive that sets the pace of technological developments in education and beyond. It is easy to feel at times that we are at the mercy of technology, that it is the machines and technological progress that drive us forward and that we are constantly playing catch up. But we do have power to shape our paths, for institutions and individuals alike, and encourage each other to make use of it. To work together, across some of the traditional boundaries that can contain our practice in silos. With that in mind, here is an overview of what this talk covers in four parts:

  • Critical context and the challenges technological innovation presents
  • Insights into professional practice and trends in Learning Technology
  • Professional recognition and accreditation fit for a fast moving landscape
  • Promoting equality and working together to enhance the student experience
Part 1: Critical context and the challenges technological innovation presents

First, I’d like to briefly set out some of the critical context and look at examples of how what’s new in Learning Technology, what kinds of technologies we are currently seeing come into learning and teaching and what’s new on the horizon. It’s the interplay between learning and technology, how they effect each other to change our understanding and our practice, that is of particular interest.

Learning and Technology
The interplay between learning and technology

One of the areas of high priority identified across sectors 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 make 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, the Association for Learning Technology, does is so important. We have been leading professionalisation in this context for over 25 years, charting the changing role of professionals across sectors, and these insights is what I will draw on in the next part:

Insights into professional practice 
and trends in Learning Technology
Part 2: Insights into professional practice and trends in Learning Technology

The main question I want to ask here, is how do we chart the changes in professional practice and what insights do we have. A good place to start to find answers is ALT’s Annual Survey, which in its current form has just been run for the 5th year. The survey is designed to enable us to understand current and future practice, show how Learning Technology is used across sectors and help map the ALT strategy to professional practice to better meet the needs of and represent our members. You can access the full report and all data openly, see https://go.alt.ac.uk/Survey2018 .

Changes in important current areas from ALT Annual Surveys in 2014-2018
Changes in important current areas from ALT Annual Surveys in 2014-2018

Over a period of 5 years, the survey shows how for example different areas in Learning Technology become more or less important. And one of the areas I have picked up for today specifically is Learning Technology related to assessment and also the student experience. Learner engagement has consistently been the most important enabler for the use of Learning Technology in all surveys over the past 5 years and underlines how central that is to what we do, how important people are to driving innovation and changing practice. We have that in common, no matter how different the institutions we work for, the projects we are involved with or the technologies we manage may be.

ALT Annual Survey graph

So from setting out the context of current developments in Learning Technology and the changing face of professional practice, I now want to come to talk about professional recognition and accreditation fit for a fast moving landscape.

Professional recognition and 
accreditation fit for a fast moving landscape
Part 3: Professional recognition and accreditation fit for a fast moving landscape

Established for over 10 years, the CMALT accreditation framework is the example I will focus on in this section. CMALT is a peer-based accreditation framework for all Learning Technology professionals and from the outset one of the key challenges it had to address was how to provide robust and high value professional accreditation in a context where practice changes rapidly and in which our definition of what ‘best practice’ looks like develops very quickly. One of the ways in which we solved this challenge was to set out, and to regularly revisit, shared principles that everyone, regardless of role, could relate to:

CMALT Core Principles
CMALT Core Principles

ALT’s definition of Learning Technologists is this:

You don’t have to be called a Learning Technologist to be one.

We define Learning Technology as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment.

Learning Technologists are people who are actively involved in understanding, managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of Learning Technology.

Delving deeper into what that means for professional recognition, I share examples of over a hundred different specialisms individuals have demonstrated their capability in since the scheme was launched, and specifically how specialist areas have developed in relation to engagement with learners and also how innovation has shaped the development of new specialisms. One of the areas of change that has really gained momentum is management and leadership and in particularly in the last few years we have seen increasingly senior roles, decision making roles, requiring a Learning Technology component or even focus. That is why we have piloted a new pathway for accreditation, Senior CMALT, which is due to launch in the coming months and from which I want to share some early findings.

CMALT for senior/advanced/research professionals

The new pathways continue to build an accreditation framework that empowers professionals to critically reflect on their practice and use of technology for teaching, learning and assessment. It provides robust, scalable recognition mapped to other national frameworks including the UKPSF, Jisc’s Digital Capability framework and Blended Learning Essentials. I took part in the pilot of the new senior pathway last year, and for my portfolio I chose to focus on an advanced area of practice about promoting equality in Learning Technology.

Fostering a culture of equality: Professional recognition

Some of the examples I share from my own portfolio include this, how the recognition of Honorary Life Members has changed over the past 15 years: focusing on gender balance since I become chief executive of ALT in 2012.

You can access my portfolio openly https://marendeepwell.com/?p=1805. Take a look for yourself and see how I approached the new pathway. And that brings me to the last part of my talk, which is about unpacking some of the challenges we are still facing when we work together and in particular the issue of gender equality in Learning Technology.

Part 4: Promoting equality and working together to enhance the student experience

I chose to focus on this aspect for working together partly because gender inequality is rife in the tech sector as a whole and even shapes how new technologies are developed, the data sets that AIs are trained on and the vision of the future that we see presented to us with technology. It’s also a continuous issue in this country and many others across the globe, even if we hear again and again that greater equality and more diverse workforces perform more effectively and deliver many benefits for organisations. Much of this part of my talk builds on the analysis my colleague Martin Hawksey did of ALT’s Annual Survey, and I encourage you to read his related post. This was written for an event on International Women’s Day at the University of the Highlands and Islands and presents new insights into professional practice from a gendered perspective.

ALT Annual Survey 2018

It’s interesting to see how the responses differ, particularly as we have a nearly even gender balance across all 5 years of data. So both in terms of what the areas of importance are in Learning Technology and also the enablers and drivers for the use of Learning Technology. This is the first time we have analysed the data from the survey in this way and it’s opening up new perspectives for our understanding of gender equality in our community.

Coming back to one of the key themes of the conference, re-examining the role of long-distance educators, I would like to draw you attention to the part of the survey that charts the development of professional roles amongst respondents.

As a women in a senior leadership role in Learning Technology I am reminded every day that we still have a long way to go when it coa mes to gender equality, and the broader challenge of addressing the structural inequalities in our institutions, in national policies and also, in an ever more connected world, on a global scale. I feel this has particular relevance for distance education as at the heart of our endeavour is to provide greater access to education for all, to create greater equity for all learners and how we can use technology, in an informed and reflective way, to help us achieve those aims together with a focus on learners and staff leading innovation.

Thank you for reading and if you’d like to see the full keynote you can access the CC-licenced slide desk here https://go.alt.ac.uk/2EUioER and join the conversation #RIDE2019 on Twitter.

Promoting equality in a distributed organisation

Today for International Women’s Day Martin Hawksey and I joined an inspiring day organised by the University of the Highlands and Islands Women’s Network. We contributed a joint keynote on promoting equality in a distributed organisation.

The keynote focused on sharing our perspectives on promoting equality on three levels: promoting equality as a challenge for Learning Technology professionals, promoting equality as key value in our organisational culture and promoting equality as a personal commitment.

You can access the full slides deck, including crowd-sourced slides from the generous #femedtech community https://go.alt.ac.uk/IWD19altc and all slides are openly licenced.

Martin’s part of the talk focused on a new analysis of survey data from ALT’s Annual Survey, that highlighted some very interesting differences in how male and female professionals views differ and he’s written a blog post that includes all the graphs and links to the full data set.

For my part, I want to add some reflections of my own on key parts of what we spoke about:

First, building on the perspective that Martin explored through the survey results, I shared parts of my professional development portfolio which has been accredited through ALT, making me a Senior CMALT Holder:

We heard much today about how important professional recognition and career progression is to fighting structural and organisational inequalities and in this context I felt there was an added significance to recognising different forms of promoting equality as not only a valid, but essential role of leaders at all levels, not ‘just’ specialist staff. One of the speakers today, Dr Susan Engstrand, reflected on how even small matters like keeping meetings running to time and chairing in a manner that encourages participation from everyone can make a significant difference and promote a positive culture change. It was inspiring to hear so many different voices, students included, from such a diverse university population as the communities that the University of the Highlands and Islands serves and the closing slides of our keynote added more voices from the #femedtech network to today’s discourse:


Especially as this year International Women’s Day happens during Open Education Week, it’s been a pleasure to receive contribution for this crowd-sourced slide deck, enabling volunteers within the network to help share ideas, perspectives, inspiration and practical resources. Thank you to everyone who has already contributed – and more contributions are always welcome.

As an extension of the monthly series of blog posts about leading a virtual organisation this keynote built on a recent post and podcast, focused on Martin’s and my own experiences. And so I felt it was appropriate and important that the talk followed a similar conversational format, giving our audience the opportunity to join into reflecting on our different points of view, contrasting experiences and also the similarities. It reminded me powerfully that meaningful progress can only be made if we don’t have the conversation about equality ‘just’ amongst women, or indeed any discourse about inequality of any other kind. It’s not a ‘women’s problem’ or an issue that only concerns those of us who identify as female. It’s an issue for everyone to be concerned with. In some contexts, we may make an economic argument, that mixed teams are more effective. In others there are legal, social and political realities to be confronted. But on a daily basis, there is also the difference we can each make, affecting change on a small scale, within our personal sphere of influence, as part of our families, our communities, our institutions, our networks. Thank you to everyone at the UHI International Women’s Day event for so many examples of enthusiastic, passionate and compassionate people doing just that. Every day.

Virtual Team outtakes: tools, superstructures and keep asking ‘why’?!

I really appreciate following the work of Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) on Twitter. I learn something new from her every week and find the tips and ideas being shared extremely accessible and easy to use. So when I saw this tweet recenlyt, proclaiming “I WANT my tech tools to become OBSOLETE” I sat back and paused – because I was just in the process of spending a few hours making one of the tools I use at work obsolete and it felt like a good point to remind myself why that is a good thing.

When we wrote about cpd and digital well being for our series on leading virtual teams, Martin Hawksey and I talked about how important it is to revisit our relationship with technology as personal habits change and professional practice develops. And I mentioned some of the more frustrating aspects of constant iteration, of ‘agile’ approaches to developing software and hardware. What we didn’t get around to talking about is what Alice’s post picks up on, the opportunity to start from scratch, with a blank slate, to improve, to re-imagine – rather than to simply edit or update. Alice’s post reminded me that it’s sometimes good when platforms or tools change because we are then forced to take a fresh look at what we are doing and why. But some processes that I work on are so fundamental, so much part of the fabric of my working world, that there’s rarely an external prompt to start from scratch.

The structures that shape workflows, processes, thinking… usually they are either complex and technologically challenging, in which case I need others to actually do the re-imagining with and for me, or they are very simple and tend to disappear into the foundation. This second category is rarely rocked by obsolescence. As tools go, spreadsheets and documents, in one form or another, don’t often change dramatically enough to really make you take a fresh look at things. So this time I am going to not focus on the ‘how’ but the ‘why’. What do I need this to do? Why is it being produced? Why is it being read? Why is it important to know? Or is it?

It’s a good thing to do, to take a fresh look at something and consider how it could do better. How it could be more efficient. Or more engaging. More transparent. More impactful. How it could be cheaper or more expensive. How it could be more fun, more enjoyable, more rewarding. And whether you need it in the first place. Does it still serve a purpose?

I am not a great fan of doing things because they have been done before. Or of doing things in a certain way simply because that’s how it was done before. That’s not a good enough reason. I always want to know why. Why, why, WHY???

There are some problems with this approach: you don’t have the comfort of accepting things as they are (and that is not to be underestimated), you can waste time and effort on something that is not worth it, you need to make sure you don’t change things for the sake of it and it’s a lot more work to constantly trying to improve everything than to simply repeat it.

There are much bigger upsides (for me): it’s not boring. You develop judgement. You can achieve more (I think). It’s fun learning new things all the time. You get to re-invent the structures that determine the shape of your work.

When I was a research student, I worked part-time in my department’s archive. A small collection of materials that students could borrow from a room filled with book cases and filing cabinets. I worked there for two years and left a new cataloguing system, the first complete catalogue, a new lending process and loans up by 100% when I left. A few hours a week sitting in a small, boring office where activity was not at all incentivised presented an opportunity for me to reinvent things from the ground up. Given time, space and a particular problem, I had enough freedom to… make things change. It never occurred to me to ask for permission.

And that’s why I liked that post from Alice and her thinking about changes in tools and platforms as opportunities to ask ‘why’? Any catalyst that get’s us to ask that question, to reflect on our work and our aims and the underlying systems, the assumptions is to be welcomed. Not ‘just’ for teachers, but for each of us.

If you have missed it, go back and read the most recent post on leading a virtual team.