Learning to fail

I often feel out of my comfort zone, working in ed tech. Sometimes there is the expectation that you know how to work every piece of software ever made or can pluck suggestions on what tools are out there off the top of your head at a moment’s notice. There can also be the expectations that you are an expert videographer, editor, instructional designer, web developer as well as having an in-depth knowledge of pedagogy and educational theory.

Part of this may be down to people’s knowledge and expectations of technology, particularly the educational technologies that are often made available in universities. For many, technology = efficiency and ‘quickness’, but thinking about how technology might work in any given educational situation can sometimes require some time to think, experiment and, indeed, fail and make mistakes.

I also know that a big part of this feeling is down to my own Imposter Syndrome and feeling inadequate or feeling like people will think a lot less of me if I make a ‘mistake’. I also didn’t come from a computer science or IT background and have learned everything I know on the job. My own digital confidence and capabilities has grown massively over the last 4 years and I wouldn’t be able to do half as much as I can do now if I hadn’t ended up in this line of work. My history degree, despite how much I loved it, definitely didn’t give me the kind of digital skills needed for many modern workplaces. I still sometimes feel a bit of panic and lack of self-confidence when I’m asked a difficult question at work and often need time to go away and think about it before I can figure out the ‘right’ answer.

I started a PG Cert in Academic Practice a few months ago and have been reading books such as ‘What the Best College Teachers Do’ by Ken Bain and reflecting on the outcomes of the research he conducted. Bain describes the best teachers as being able to create a “natural, critical learning environment” – situations that challenge students but also give them the support and time to try, fail and receive feedback in ways that are completely separate from any kind of final grades or marks. This, as well as some projects I’ve been working on recently, got me thinking about how staff in universities don’t always have the option to work in the kind of natural, critical learning environment that they are supposed to be cultivating for students. The time pressure of the academic year and the stress of working within departments with fewer staff and resources doesn’t exactly cultivate an environment where trying, failing and having to start all over again is actively encouraged. That sort of thing takes up too much time and may impact negatively on ‘student satisfaction’. It’s also one of the main challenges up against jobs like mine. We want to encourage people to try new things and experiment, but do they feel confident and secure enough in their environment to be able to do it?

Our neoliberal society prioritises efficiency and ‘value for money’ over all else and, in my opinion, such values are completely at odds with what a university is supposed to stand for; knowledge creation, curiosity, discovery and collaboration. From a young age, children are conditioned into perceiving failure as the worst thing in the world. I remember feeling stressed about wanting to reach the ‘correct’ level in my Year 6 SATs or worrying that I wouldn’t achieve the 5 Cs or above at GCSE. You’ve got to make decisions about the rest of your life at 16 and then again at 18 and the implicit message is that if you drop out or change your mind you’re a failure. Take this from a former university drop-out who thought her life was over at 18 and that the ‘failure’ would remain a black mark on my record forever. It took me three years to get the confidence to apply to university again after that. Now, I would always advise any young person to try things out and not worry too much if it doesn’t work out or if they want to do something else a year down the line. It’s all really valuable experience.

I’m willing to hold up my end of the bargain and admit that I can be a bit of a perfectionist and I do suffer terribly from Imposter Syndrome. I’m working on all of that and I am learning that sometimes, good enough is good enough and certain tasks and bits of work don’t need to be perfect. I’d also rather explain to someone that I do need some extra time to think and look into something, rather than bullshitting my way through an answer or forcing them into a rushed solution that isn’t suitable for what they need. However, I also believe that feeling the pressure in the workplace isn’t always a matter of individual ‘failings’ and is a by-product of a toxic neoliberal, overly managerial culture that doesn’t value taking your time and having room to fail and learn from it. This isn’t just within education – I think it could probably be applied to most sectors in the Western world. I refuse to spend the next 30-40 years of my working life in this way. We can always do better and we can definitely learn to take our time, think and fail more often.

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Are you the Moodle help?

I started drafting this post last month after I attended a White Rose Learning Technology forum at University of Huddersfield and there was some discussion around learning technologists and professional identity. The discussions took place in the context of a workshop on gaining CMALT accreditation, but some further discussions about learning technology roles more generally at Digifest last week spurred me on to finish the post.

The main question that’s been hanging over me is: is learning technology/technology enhanced learning suffering from a professional identity crisis? As a relative newcomer to the profession (less than four years) and after spending around 5-6 years before that working towards becoming a librarian and building a professional identity in that field, I’ve often found it difficult to feel like I know where I fit in terms of the learning technology profession.

Imposter syndrome aside (and I’ve got another post dedicated to that also in draft at the moment – you’re in for a treat!), the discussions I’ve been part of at recent events have made me realise I’m not alone in feeling this way. Many people in learning technology/ed tech/TEL roles, whatever you want to call them, have come from such a variety of backgrounds that it’s no wonder there’s a perceived struggle to assert ourselves as a collective and consistent ‘voice’. Often, it’s even a struggle to get staff across our institutions to understand what we do and where our expertise lies. People have come from library backgrounds, teaching, IT Support desk and training roles, even academia. Some are actually academics and have lecturing roles and others are on professional services/support staff contracts. I think part of the issue could be the language we use to define ourselves. I saw Melissa Highton speak at Digifest last week and they raised some good points about the semantics around terms like ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ and ‘Virtual Learning Environment’. Melissa’s latest blog post goes deeper into some of this.

Even when you look at jobs that are advertised through the ALT newsletter and various mailing lists, there are some that have a stronger focus on instructional design work, some that have a strong focus on supporting systems and others that focus on staff development, training and pedagogical knowledge. I know that mine is a combination of all three and is likely to evolve over the next year or so, depending on the projects I’m going to be working on.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like working in this field and I’ve met some of the most intelligent, forward thinking and professional people I’ve ever worked with during my time in learning technology roles. I’ve also loved being able to work with teaching staff in both FE and HE and I’ve learned so much in the last 3 and a half years. I also think the work of organisations like ALT and Jisc do allow us to find common ground and a common language across institutions and sectors.

In an attempt to be more optimistic in 2017, I do think there is more that connects us than divides us. Perhaps this isn’t a ‘problem’ that necessarily needs to be solved and we just need to celebrate the diverse nature of our roles and the messy nature of education. Maybe the old librarian part of my brain was wanting to categorise and catalogue everything so it made sense. Who am I kidding, though? I was never any good at cataloguing anyway…

I’m interested to find out what other LT people think and whether my identity crisis is entirely of my own making!

Open Badges – the start of a new adventure

Earlier this month I started a new job at York St John University as a Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor. Have a look at our team’s blog, it’s pretty good. As part of my new role I will be leading on existing and new projects across the university that are utilizing digital and Open Badges. As part of me trying to learn All The Things about Open Badges, I am working my way through the Open Badges 101 online course, and will be earning some Open Badges myself along the way.

What are Open Badges?

Open Badges are digital credentials backed up by metadata to show who issued them and what the earner had to do to actually receive the badge. In effect, they are a digital version of a certificate that you can earn by displaying certain skills/meeting certain criteria. Because they are ‘open’ i.e: built on the Open Badges Infrastructure, any Open Badges that you earn can be added to something like Mozilla Backpack or Open Badge Passport and displayed online, regardless of where you earned them from.

What’s the difference between an Open Badge and a digital badge?

Any regular online gamers might be accustomed to earning badges or achievements, but these are usually not transferable outside of the platform where they were earned. The same can be said for online credentials that might be earned within an institutional VLE at a university or college; once a student leaves and loses access to these systems, evidence of the digital badges is lost forever. Open Badges are not ‘trapped’ within one particular system or platform and can be displayed wherever the earner wants to display them, such as on a blog, LinkedIn profile or Facebook profile.

How could Open Badges be used?

From an educational institution’s point of view, students could earn badges related to extra-curricular activities throughout their time at university and be able to provide evidence of the skills they’ve gained to future employers.

Organisations could also use Open Badges for staff development activities, to enable staff to take evidence of their development with them if they move on to other jobs. At York St John, Open Badges have been used by the TEL Team for their SEDA: Supporting Learning with Technology award, with badges issued via Moodle which can then be exported straight to Mozilla Backpack.

I’m looking forward to working on projects with staff at York St John over the next year and will be blogging about some of my work both on here and the YSJ TEL Team blog.

Stay tuned!

Update: 16th August 2016

I had some technical difficulties with the badge issuer that the Open Badge 101 course was using, but I’ve now managed to get the embed code for my badge. I’m not a fan of this particular badge issuer, and I don’t think the Open Badge 101 people were either, so I think they have since moved to another badge issuer.

//badges.p2pu.org/en/badge/view/765/embedded/?rendering=normal

Featured image licensed under CC by the talented @BryanMMathers: What’s inside an Open Badge?

Applying for jobs as professional development

I’m about to start a new job as a TEL Adviser at York St John University and I was reflecting recently on the whole process of applying for the job, preparing for the interview and then reflecting on the interview and presentation after the event.

As I was filling in the application form for the job I became aware – probably more than I have ever been with applications in the past – that thinking through all of the things you’ve done and trying to put them into a coherent order that aligns with the person specification is really worthwhile in terms of taking stock of everything you’ve done in your current and previous jobs.

Perhaps I feel this way because I’ve applied for a lot of jobs over the years and have ended up transitioning from one field of work (libraries) to another (technology enhanced learning/e-learning/educational development – whatever you want to call it) so I’ve really had to think about how the skills and experience I’ve built up over the years are transferable.

I would definitely say that applying for jobs, or even going through the process of reflecting on what you’ve done and mapping it to a person spec for a job in a similar field or perhaps a job that would be a step-up from your current one would really benefit anybody from a development point of you. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day stuff at work and get frustrated or feel like you’re stagnating and nothing ever changes. I saw someone on Twitter a few days ago tweet something about how change is one of the only constants in life. Perhaps it’s just that we don’t notice it at the time and we don’t make time to reflect on how far we’ve come and what we’ve achieved.

Even if you like your job and have no intention of leaving, but on occasion feel a bit frustrated or stuck, doing a ‘skills audit’ would maybe be a good way of making you think about all the things you’ve done and perhaps help you see things from a different perspective.

What does everyone else think?

You OK hun? Why I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

I’ve had this post in my head for a while and had not given myself the time to write it. Yesterday I think I wasted at least 2-3 hours of my day on Facebook and was annoyed at myself for doing that, so I thought enough was enough. For some reason, Facebook is the only social network that I have this kind of up and down relationship with. Twitter I love – I only ever really use it for stuff related to my work or to education in general and dip in and out of it when I need or want to. I never feel pressure to keep checking it and can easily go days without it. It is rare that I look at it on a weekend and whenever I do engage with Twitter, it’s usually for something useful.

I also love Snapchat, Instagram and Whatsapp. I suppose the latter is more like texting anyway and Snapchat is a bit like texting but with added fun. I enjoy living vicariously through friends and relatives of mine who are still students and keep their ‘stories’ updated with their midweek night out antics, while I go to bed at 10pm. Instagram is brilliant too. I never have a bad experience when I look at Instagram. There’s some nice photos, I can like them if I want to, I can comment if I want to, then I leave. I go through phases where I don’t add photos myself for days or weeks at a time but I do always like to go back to it.

Since both Instagram and Whatsapp are owned by Facebook anyway, they probably don’t care which platforms I’m using – despite them claiming to care about me and the memories I share. Look! Here’s a memory from 8 years ago! We really love you, Rosie!

Photo of my friend and aunty from a party in 2008.Ever since I read Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together a few years ago, it’s really made me re-think my relationship with technology and how I want to ‘be’ in a world filled with different devices and constant ways to get in touch with people electronically. If you can’t be bothered to read the book, there is a 20 minute TED Talk you can check out instead. Turkle’s work has involved decades of research into humans’ relationship with technology and warns us to be critical and mindful of how we relate to each other and communicate via technology. Turkle suggests that smartphones and tablets have changed us psychologically and have made us behave differently. I am inclined to agree. I have yet to read her latest work, Reclaiming Conversation, but there is also an hour long Talks at Google video on that if reading a book is too much of a commitment. The jist of her latest work basically suggests that we are currently in a crisis of empathy because of the methods of communication we now use and the way we ‘present’ ourselves online. We’ve forgotten how to relate to each other in one-to-one conversation. On Facebook, we can curate a perfect version of ourselves and only show the highlights, the ‘best bits’ of what’s happening in our lives. We can edit what we write as part of our updates or as part of an online debate and the nuances of conversation are lost.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. Why wouldn’t I want to show people how much of a good time and how much of a fun person I am? I don’t post anything on Facebook unless I want people to react to it or comment on it. What would be the point, otherwise?

I’ve also been on the hurtful, receiving end of being blocked because something I have written down has been taken out of context. In this online world, we are absolutely not allowed to make a mistake and, in some cases, we’re not even able to back up what we’ve said or explain how something has come out wrong without someone deciding that that’s it. Our presence in their online world is no longer wanted.

My professional life is all about how technology can enhance teaching and learning. Lecturers approach our team with a teaching and learning ‘problem’ or ‘need’ and we advise on tools that will help them achieve what they want. However, we would never just recommend a technology for technology’s sake. The teaching and learning need ALWAYS comes first and no single tool or technology is a magic fix.

Lately, I don’t feel that Facebook enhances my personal life at all. I actually feel like the sheer amount of information on there has made me care less about those who are posting it. I can’t put my finger on why it is only Facebook that makes me feel this way and not other social networks. There is definitely something psychological about posting something on there and then going back to check for ‘likes’ or comments. Perhaps the problem is me and not the tool? I’ve had a Facebook account for 9 years. That’s longer than I was at secondary school, longer than I was studying for a degree, longer than any job I’ve ever had. Perhaps I expect more from Facebook than I do from the other social networks that I just dip in and out of because of the sheer amount of time I’ve spent on there and how embedded it is in my life. It worries me that the more time I waste on Facebook, the less time I’m talking to family, friends or my partner. The more I see ‘broadcasts’ about people’s perfect lives, the more I become desensitized and less empathetic towards posts because I don’t necessarily feel like I would want to present myself that way online. It has become a bit of a laugh to joke about ‘You OK hun?!’ type posts where people post something, fishing for attention and then say ‘I’ll inbox you, hun’ when someone asks what’s wrong. Why has it become funny when people might actually be really struggling and don’t know where to turn to for help?

I’m not trying to say that I all of a sudden don’t care about friends or family. I can see many benefits of Facebook. I’ve been able to stay in touch with friends who live in different countries in ways I would never have been able to 20 years ago. You can keep in touch with those who you would have otherwise lost touch with and use it to organise social events quickly and easily. However – now that there are so many ways to get in touch, it can be all the more difficult when we expect people to reply quickly. We’ve all been there haven’t we? When the Facebook message has been ‘seen’ but no reply comes? And what’s the first thing you think? That they don’t care or can’t be bothered with you and obviously don’t want to prioritise your message. Not that their internet might be broken, they’ve dropped their phone down the loo or might actually be going through a hard time. I do think that, for all its benefits, technology has made us more demanding of each other and less empathetic. My aim from now on is to be more aware of this and attempt to be better. For now, this will probably mean having a cool-off period from Facebook until I can learn to love it again and use it in a way that doesn’t make me feel negative.

Blog post featured image from mkhmarketing on Flickr CC

Hare of the Blog

Well, I ultimately failed at participating in Digital Writing Month in any kind of meaningful way. Two days after my first post, my laptop broke and I have only just regained access to a working computer at home. I still had my iPad mini but I didn’t fancy being hunched over that and typing for extended periods of time – my poor neck and shoulder muscles!

Instead, I will crack on with what was going to be one of the longer term aims of this blog anyway: blogging for professional development. I am always lamenting the fact that the working days/weeks/months are whizzing past and I haven’t had any proper time to sit and reflect on the work I’ve done and where I’m going next. Plus, a blog is a great space for the longer stuff that doesn’t necessarily fit on Twitter or Facebook. Someone (Ned Potter) suggested that I call my blog ‘Hare of the Blog’* but I feel like the novelty will soon wear off with that, as funny as it is, so I just thought I would name my first blog post that instead.

I recognise that I am in the fortunate position to be in a job where, on occasion, I have the time to think about and read around the subjects that impact directly or indirectly on my profession. One of my resolutions for 2016 is to use this space to reflect on my work and the wider issues in Technology Enhanced Learning, Higher Education and education more generally. I imagine that the 3 people who end up reading this blog will no doubt be working in TEL or related fields, but I also like to be aware of the ever-looming ‘bigger picture’ so expect musings and stream-of-consciousness style posts on the impact of politics and social and cultural change on education and communities. I don’t have any other hobbies.

For those who are wondering who the hell I am and what I do, you can visit my team’s website to find blog posts from me and my colleagues and more information about the work we do in UK Higher Education. My aim is to blog around once a month, so watch this space!

*For posterity, I will put this in writing here: when I open my dog grooming business in the future, it will be called Hare of the Dog. Got to love a surname that you can build puns from.

#DigiWriMo or Digital Writing Month

November is Digital Writing Month and I had never heard of it until last week. However, it spurred me on to re-start a blog, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages and I’m going to try and blog as much as I can about things that interest me, particularly in relation to things such as learning technology, digital literacy, the politics of education and information and other related musings. This site is a work in progress and I will no doubt mess around with the theme for weeks on end until I’ve got it how I want it, but I wanted to just get something up and written tonight otherwise I’d never get started.

Later this week I’m going to have a go at creating an Alternative CV, as recommended by the facilitators of this year’s Digital Writing Month and I’ll generally try and blog at least once a week throughout November. I better keep up my blog habit for as long as possible, since I’ve gone to the effort of getting a domain and everything! Watch this space!