Friday, 30 March 2018

The mountain and mountaineer ⛰

Since starting my new role at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) as a Digital Practice Adviser, I've been opened up to a whole new world of challenges, opportunities and new office germs - which to date I have avoided successfully.  This role has been a big step up for me, not just in workload, but the depth and context of it - as well as getting used to the daily travelling by commuting into Nottingham.  Along with my new job I also moved home.  Yes, that's two major life stresses on the go and I am trying to keep my head above water - which I feel I have coped well with.  However, as much as this new role is exciting and where I want to be, it's not all plain sailing.  I've a lot to learn, understand and adapt to.  A smooth transition is what I am aiming for, however I have to be flexible with that.

It's been about 6 months since I started my new role, context and environment and I feel I am settling in well.  At the beginning, I felt like a fish out of water and feeling that I may not fit in, which might have made me appear a little timid.  I noticed that I appear to be taking time in believing in my transferable abilities too.  I've had a few occasions of gormless or stuttered conversations (quite typical) - most likely too many cogs turning in my little head!  The majority is down to the usual new job anxieties which is a matter of gaining confidence and acceptance which grows in time.  It's about getting comfortable with people and processes before making a firm position before asserting yourself.  Similar sort of feelings when I started in my last role in the commercial sector.  I need to assert my confidence and lead myself without appearing incapable or 'clingy'.  I know that is all down to the change in environment and I need to believe in myself and not just think I am lucky to be here, but I belong here.  I've worked and pushed myself extremely hard to be here.  So that's more than enough to say I belong here.  So it's time to stop doubting myself or seeing myself as something different, or people will view/treat me different.  I shall stand up and declare my confidence! ✊

Accepting the challenge

During my first week back in October 2017, I attended a department away day that included all Human Resources (HR) staff.  As part of this event there were some carousel activities by visiting various tables from senior staff promoting what their teams do and such.  I went to one table that offered a different way of discussing how their team can support others in the department.  This discussion was around a set of tarot-like cards.  We all chose a card and the lead staff gave us a brief reading of what it meant and how we can approach the situation.  I received a mountain card which was signalling a lot of challenges ahead and obviously a mountain to climb.  Whilst this was about the department's challenges, I interpreted it for me as well.  Meaning that as I am new I have an humongous mountain to climb in knowing and doing my role to the best of my ability as well as working for a university.  I decided to accept this as a challenge as me being a mountaineer and my new role as the mountain.

The climb

Because my new position is a step up from anything I have done before, it has brought me many challenges, the biggest one understanding new and wider complexities of this diverse role in a large university.  As I was learning my new role, team and the university and identifying any grey areas I was unsure of.  I thought I would try to help myself by asking the following questions and coming up with some potential solutions for them.  There are some that I have done and some that I am still tackling, but it's good to be aware of potential barriers and keep working to reduce them.

What are the issues/barriers to my new role/environment?

  • Working at a higher level - more intensity.  The type of work I am doing is more in-depth that what I have done previously.  Which requires consulting and modelling to be applied
  • Understanding team/university culture, language, vocabulary and terminology
  • Conversations are more analytical and critical
  • Thinking holistically before getting to specifics
  • Transitioning from FE to HE work environment.  I've gone from corporate administration, FE learning technologist, then commercial eLearning Developer to a HE Digital Practice Adviser
  • Working in a large-scale HE environment
  • Working across multiple large projects and getting to know peoples working habits as they are well established within the team
  • Establishing myself in the Digital Practice team and wider department and the university
  • Understanding, supporting and delivering training on new systems like NTU Online Workspace (NOW) - Desire2Learn and PebblePad.  I know the systems but often question myself on; is it me intellectually conveying what I am saying or is it the degree of confidence in what I am trying to introduce?

What can I do to overcome these issues/barriers?

  • Asking for what I need and not being afraid of saying I don't understand.  My colleagues have been a great source of support.  It's great to back working with a highly supportive team and wider teams that genuinely want to help.  They have helped me to understand my team and the wider university with their invaluable knowledge and kindness
  • Reading up about literature behind my role, such as 'The Digital Academic' book that I bought, as well as department documentation and literature on the university website.  On Friday afternoons I set time aside to read up on related literature to keep up to date and sharpen my knowledge
  • Networking with others at NTU - I have involved myself in a employability Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) group and the LGBT+ Staff Network to get to know more people from around the wider university.  However, I still need to further establish myself by making myself known and building professional relationships to collaborate with and lean on when needed
  • Delivering sessions to test my abilities to know what I am capable of, then reflect, adapt and deliver again.  Now delivering to a new audience, I need to find a style that is suitable to me and appreciate it.  I also need to re-examine my 'classroom management' skills and assert them positively

As well as embracing the new challenges afoot, I am involved in many exciting tasks and duties which came rolling in thick and fast.  All of which have given me new experiences and opportunities to bring new expertise into the team.  As well as giving me new areas to reflect upon and share here.  What I am really enjoying so far is working on projects that surround changes in behaviour and practices like the digital capability stuff.  Whilst it's heavy stuff to get your head around it's really interesting work and a lot of it I can reflect on my own professional development to challenge my own digital capabilities.  Following is a list of some small and large projects I have been involved in so far;

  • Report - I was asked to investigate and evaluate on NTU's induction to digital practices.  This is delivered on NOW where new staff access induction material.  I was assessing the effectiveness of how the information is articulated to people.  My report concluded with the following areas; understanding digital practice, need for a digital induction and access to a digital induction
  • Digital induction - a wider HR piece of work developing a framework to be used to support staff delivering inductions new to NTU or new to role.  I have been working on determining core digital capabilities for generic, learning and teaching, research, professional services and leadership and management
  • PebblePad pilot - NTU is undergoing a pilot in implementing the online learning space/ePortfolio tool PebblePad with a view for site wide implementation.  I have been learning the system and assisting on doing training sessions to introduce and support tutors with it
  • 5 Stage Model - in a planning meeting for the PebblePad training sessions, I suggested providing an adapted version of the 5 Stage Model as a way for tutors to introduce and facilitate learning.  I intend on developing this further by expanding on the activities at each stage
  • Digital Taster - me and the Digital Practice team put on an NTU-wide event to showcase snippets of online tools and systems they have access to.  Me and my colleague ran a session on the use of Panopto for recording videos at your desk.  In the new year we delivered a polling masterclass together which was very successful
  • Digital Practice surgeries - staff can book onto to ones relating to any queries regarding online tools or systems we have at NTU, such as NOW, Office 365, Panopto.
  • Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) - this is an internal programme to NTU for people new to teaching in HE and is aligned to aligned to the Higher Education Academy (HEA) scheme.  I attended a small scale research poster session for one of the modules.  I went around all tutors research posters and asked them questions and gave them feedback to progress their research projects
  • Degree Apprenticeship Symposium - me and a colleague attended the PebblePad Supporting Degree Apprenticeships conference held in Birmingham. We learned a bit more about policies behind degree apprenticeships as well as good practices shared by others that are making progress with this in their organisations
  • Developing and embedding a 'data management' process for our department staff to make informed decisions of where to store and how to access digital files.  This is a large project I am heavily involved in at the moment that aims to improve efficiency and effectiveness of storing and accessing digital content.  The project will ensure that staff are saving and finding their files in the right place.  It also ensures that NOW is being used for learning opportunities only then other files should be stored on other platforms, i.e SharePoint.
  • Lynda - a website that has a multitude of instructional videos suitable for CPD/upskilling or embedding within a learning programme.  NTU has a site wide licence and we are now offering training on this. I did my first blog post on our team blogging site about this
  • HTML editing - I returned back to some technical skills in making changes to a NOW learning room that was built on unique embedded webpages.  I then supported a member of staff in learning how to do this for themselves.

There is so much more I have been doing which I am sure I will share here as I go on.

Topping the mountain

I have to remind myself that I am still new and that it takes time to get fully embedded within a new job.  As I have done before, if I keep involving myself in everything I can related to my role, I will increase in confidence and grow my abilities.  It's a good time to start setting myself new professional goals and orientate myself further around my new environment.  A lot of this comes down to familiar grounds of being proactive, so it's here where I need to start back at the beginning and see what and who I can work with.  Looking at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I can see what feelings I have experienced and how I am growing in confidence to reach self-actualisation.  The mountain has not yet been scaled in it's entirety, but it's more understood on how to navigate it to find an appropriate pathway to reach it's peak. The expedition continues...


A later but related post I wrote 'What HE can learn from me and FE'.

Similar experiences shared in 'Out from the shadows - My first year in HE' by Adam Elce.