Perhaps I’m not one?

There have been discussions on blogs and ALT members mailing list recently about what makes a learning technologist. For the record, my job title is Service Owner: Academic Technology, which means I’m a manager of an elearning team in IT Services that runs the platforms/tools as well as supports people using them in effective ways.

I’m feeling a bit outside the frame of the discussion about learning technologies, because:

  • I work in IT services, because that’s the way we’re organised here, and I often hear learning technologists refer to IT Services as “them”
  • I’m not an academic or a teacher and I’m certainly not a “pedagogue”

If that’s what characterises learning technologists then perhaps I’m not one?

What I *am* interested in is:

  • the place of digital technology in the student experience
  • solutions development and architectures that support the workflows of academics and students
  • the way that organisational cultures and individuals’ practices change
  • what the web means to the creation and sharing of knowledge

I’d like to think that in my 15 years+ in the field I’ve developed some expertise in some of that. I don’t have a templated answer to any situation, I have an accumulated pot of knowledge and approaches that I apply (with varying success!!).

I see the occasional moan on the ALT members list about the senior managers who write their strategies and spend their money and don’t understand how the world is changing. That’s not my experience at all. I hear plenty of interest and passion from our senior team. We’ve just had endorsement of the Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy that we’ve developed, through the TEL Steering group that I chair, and there was plenty of recognition of the importance of TEL.

I think what some people are experiencing is a shift in the point of engagement and the type of support offered by a central learning technologist team, or a departmental elearning lead. Here’s what I mean, with some examples of the types of activity in each zone (this is absolutely not comprehensive):

learningtech_diagram2

With a very broad brush, I’d characterise it broadly as follows. From the mid 90s to the mid 00s, there was an emphasis on the bottom left hand corner and it favoured the skillset and mindset of the crafters. There were some great crafters who worked at Becta 15 years ago who were a good fit to the needs then, and have since left educational technology to do other crafting things. The approaches of working with individual academics also became richer, filling up the left hand column. People with great interpersonal skills and curiosity came to the fore. In parallel over the last 15 years or so we’ve had the maturing integration of platforms so that there are some learning technologists dedicated to the IT side of things but they are still driven by the values of teaching and learning. And there are managers like me who, hopefully, know enough about the tools and the practices to try to ensure that university level provision is good.

Incidentally, parts of my team also support research, and I anticipate a growth in types of research technologists. Maybe it is following a similar pattern.

I don’t think it’s just that the content development is being absorbed by academics, I think there’s more to it. In fact I suggest that in addition to the classic learning technologist, and the TEL-skilled academic, there are already several other flavours of learning technologist in my own university:

  • the staff developers and educational developers who are comfortable with learning technologies
  • the learning technologist systems analyst/architect
  • the student experience manager, also comfortable with technology: it’s not their job but it is part of their skillset and mindset
  • the orchestrator who might be a group/departmental administrator or a programme lead, they are at ease with technologies and know how to use them when
  • the content developer (they might be in the library, student skills, webteam) – they have learning technologist skills but wouldn’t call themselves that
  • the researcher/technologist who has half a foot in implementation and half in research – they pay more attention to evidence and theory than their IT colleagues, even when they’re doing similar things – skillset might be similar but the mindset is different

I’m sure there are more. Do I want to draw a clear line between them and the classic learning technologist? No, why sweat it? It’s great that so many people are engaged with the effective use of technology in education.

And another thing: I’m not an academic and I don’t teach. I consider myself to be a para-academic. (Like a paralegal, or a paramedic 😉 ). I have a particular skillset which has a place in universities. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions I’ve been in at elearning conferences over the year where the presenter asks “how many people in the room actually teach?”. Cue a few hands raised and the majority looking down at their feet, embarrassed, as if the 5/10/15 years experience in education counts for nowt. Universities are multi-professional places and learning technologists, in all their flavours, have a rightful place at the table. People like me shouldn’t have to pretend to be something we’re not.

Hopefully this post gives a voice to other learning technologists who feel like they don’t fit the standard description.

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