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.


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.


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?

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.