Saturday, 13 April 2019

DarkLight Phoenix - rising to the surface

Before I head off on my travelling expedition to Costa Rica, I thought I would cram in what might appear as a hodgepodge blog post - a variety of thoughts collected and reflected over a period of time.

When starting my new role at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) as a Digital Practice Adviser, I sadly lost some confidence and inner belief due to being in a new environment and context (including moving home, 3 times in total) which I reflected on last March.  I am now maturing well in a higher education workplace and feeling more comfortable, confident and generally being more vocal about my views.  I'm coming out of the invisible shell I have recently withdrawn in.  In general I am feeling more settled and feeling my confidence and inner belief re-emerging to the surface.  I know my stuff and worth etc, but the whole small fish in a huge ocean drowned me a little.  When I worked at a further education (FE) college it was like a planet, but at a university it's an entire solar system.  I also felt I had to accept the fact what I knew before was great but not generally to acquired tastes and to compete with 'intellectual tennis' playing that I often see.  Saying that, there's a lot that higher education (HE) can learn from FE and many lecturers tell me they want more practical advice...  I may do a blog post on that in the future.

Leading with a message

Many leaders have a message they want to get out there to better the world.  I've carried many strong messages through my own self discovery (finding purpose - 'My Learning Is Your Learning'), independence, self-belief, proactivity, success and achievement.  However, being a leader is much more than the latter - it gets you to a position but is not the sole reason to why you are a leader, its why you do what you do which positively impacts on others.  Surely I don't do all of this to be successful and achieve.  I've proven that I'm no longer catching up from school days, I now need to invest in deeper understanding of my passions whilst reminding myself that I am a leader in my own right/context.  What is the true message I want to get out there?  Where does my passion for learning, teaching and Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) come into it?  What differences and changes do I want to make?  To what extent does this impact and influence others?  My message needs to underpin why I do what I do and that being visibly clear to others.

Through my years of experience in the education sector, a message that I do carry is to help people breakdown and simplify what it is they are trying to achieve.  Whether that be professional or personal.  I've strong emotional intelligence abilities in being able to sense others feelings.  I've always been about independence and want people to do things for themselves (when they are able to) and me being a guide on side through the process.  Perhaps I'm a coach in disguise - a people developer.  Is this my hidden message?  Well I am an educator at heart, helping people to see and grow their potential.  But a coach in what?  Learning, teaching, TEL?  I'm often told that I am helpful, enthusiastic, positive and resourceful.  I just like to help where I can, why wouldn't you want to?  None of us truly get through life on our own.  I guess it hangs off this from 2015 "Just had this conversation.  Person: are you quite an inspirational person to be around then?  Me: not sure about inspirational, but people do say it.  I do like to make sure people make the best of themselves.  So I encourage it."

I am a leader in my context of learning technology, something I need to graciously accept and not be shy in saying so.  I remember when I was younger, vulnerable and naive, I actually said to one of my friends "I am a follower not a leader".  Funny how over the last 9 years I have gone on to lead quite a lot of things.  Not only my own learning and development, but to leading niche areas of learning technology, i.e. Digital Learning Design apprenticeship being one.  I've exhibited and strongly led, managed and directed before in my previous FE college role by leading assessors and line managing apprentices.  Also including managerial duties: leading and managing learning technology projects; developing the team; conducting appraisals; return to work meetings; conducting interviews.

'Will the real Dan please stand up?'

As I am maturing in HE, my self-belief in my own confidence and abilities are growing stronger.  Recently, I was reminded by a colleague I can, do and have led well.  Just before the release of my book I said to my friend "I'm not ready for it at all.  I learn along the way."  My friend then said to me, "Well, you've coped and built on everything you've had thrown at you so far, I don't think you have much to worry about!"  It's an odd one this as I know that I am awesome 😉 and put heaps of effort into what I do.  Then at times I feel like a fake in my abilities, which is not how you should treat yourself.  However, if someone said that I was s**t at what I do, they'd be left knowing not to ask me that again that's for sure.  Maybe I have 'imposter syndrome'?  Well, I think everyone has different degrees of this within them.  I self doubt a lot and don't feel good enough - mostly when I compare stuff to others, mainly at work though not personal life.  My experience/symptoms of imposter syndrome are genuine, not modesty acting as a blanket to protect me.  Recently I said "We all feel insecure about aspects of our professionalism at some point, if not daily. Even those that appear at ease will be insecure about something. You can't be human otherwise. I often worry about how I articulate myself & dare I say it, compare myself against's the 'impostor syndrome' thing...".

We may see other people and think wow they're incredible then immediately think how you should or could be like that.  But it's important to realise that you don't know how they were inspired/became like that, maybe they were inspired just like you were seeing them.  A strong reminder though, don't try to be someone you are not, just be you as it's much harder to imitate.  A thought - perhaps imposter syndrome is about doing things that are not genuinely us.  The feelings we get from this is our soul telling us it's not right?  Well either way, a good thing in imposter syndrome is that we continuously look to improve our abilities.


Whilst I contribute and share thoughts, my best thoughts and ideas come when I reflect.  But when in an immediate face-to-face conversation there's less time for reflection.  As I summed up recently: A snippet of how #edtech supports me. I'm largely a reflector & work best thinking stuff through. I feel I'm not as quick with critical responses face-to-face & articulating myself. Without my blog & other digital spaces, I wouldn't be able to express myself as clearly.  My manager signposted me to Minto's 'The pyramid principle' to help me structure and frame my thinking.  This could help me enormously when communicating my thoughts both face-to-face and written - I need to dedicate time to understand it.

Like everyone, I realise I am quiet at times.  "I can often be viewed as quiet and not be loud (maybe I should more) like some. I sometimes have 'tunnel vision' - just focused on stuff really."  Alongside this, in my team I often feel my expertise isn't valuable, i.e. I'm rarely approached for my experience.  Maybe I don't have anything that others need from me.  Which doesn't make it easy for me to contribute and share to others, which I am hugely conscious about - sharing my wisdom as others do to me.  Of course I bring a wealth of experience, but am I not vocal enough for people to hear this?  Am I not saying the right things they want to hear?  Could I not be with the right like-minded people?  As a result,  I am left feeling that many of my contributions hold little value and feel the need to contribute more, but cannot easily due to the above.  It seems to be much easier collaborating with people externally than internally, which can't be right can it?

Get over yourself

So, enough of self doubting.  With a little spur from a BBC article I read, I'll: continue to be open about my feelings of this with others; recognise my successes - it's not all just luck and effort but my abilities; continue to learn from failures as they are successes in disguise; try not to compare myself to others but where I was this time last year.

I often think about how I am inspired by the work of others, how I build and apply my own thinking on it.  Much of my work is a result of what I have experienced and a part of that could be small and large nuggets I have seen in a variety of places.  I am able to inspire myself with new topics, themes and areas of thinking - again all in this blog.  A recent Tweet I wrote helped clarify this thought:

Me - "Random (odd) thought that has just popped into my head. What will we do when all our favourite & incredibly talented #edtech & #eLearning #bloggers, #thoughtleaders & #keynotes etc pass over? Wait for a successor to inspire us? P.S. I'm not going anywhere yet, I hope. 😉 #altc"

Elaine Swift - "I think you've just answered your question, Dan. We all have the power to be incredibly talented #thoughtleaders and #bloggers. It's about building on those great insights and taking them to the next stage. #altc. And asking each other 'So how can I help you achieve?'"

Me - "I guess I did! You're right though, we should all collaborate more on our joint efforts - help one and another to achieve our goals/ambitions/targets. Give wholeheartedly and take by giving credit where needed. All part of being open. 👍"

I'm ambitious, that's true, however complacency has no presence in my work, improvement and self-development never end!  I've recently made a list of goals around treating myself as a senior professional.  I feel I reached this a few years ago, but now is the time to act on it.  To set this in motion I came up with a title for this goal "Plan, act, work, be a senior" with a strap line of "Got the attitude, knowledge, skills, willingness and status to be a senior".  Under this I placed objectives which some are broadly covered in the following.

Investing in me

At the beginning of this year, I said "Took a page out of #LTbookFE, not literally. A focus this year - commit energy to my specialist knowledge & sharpen my thinking in line with my own advice in this chapter. 👍"

Something that really motivates and energises me is when I look back on my career to see where I started from to where I am now.  The memories of the effort and extra things I involved myself in to push and challenge myself further come flooding back.  When I think more about those memories, it fires me up to do more.

I know one thing for sure is to 'critically' read more...  It's important that I am informed and up to date on current thinking and research.  As well as practising it to experience and write about it here.  It's also good to revisit favourite literature too to see how things have moved on or not - all leads to critical thinking and practices.  Recently I have been asking myself questions of things I want to know and finding answers to them in the books I have - it's working as you can't expect yourself to sit and read an entire book end to end, except mine that is. 😉

Embedding knowledge

Like we encourage NTU staff, I will be engaging in embedding knowledge in a variety of things I have listed which include knowledge building and skills development.  What I mean by this is choosing stuff I need to develop and applying it rapidly into situations that support day to day activities, which a lot is around what is needed at the time: evaluate current skills gaps > identify areas for development > identify resources (materials/people) > apply immediately in projects > reflect on practice.  To me, professional development is all about horizontal increments not a vertical straight line.

I've a lot of knowledge qualifications, so I don't necessarily need to do more.  As realised a long time ago, there is much richer value in the conversations and collaborations with fellow peers.  We can easily work in silos and have 'tunnel vision' which I said I do earlier.  It's refreshing to be open and working with fellow people on a like-minded level.  As stated a few years ago "I wielded the support I gave to others and executed as a vehicle to my own understanding and practices".  That doesn't imply 'all take', it's giving and receiving through openness, team work, effective communication, collaboration etc.  I'm feeling more confident to have bigger conversations to exert my own knowledge and experience to question and challenge them further.  It's also important that I increasingly involve myself in conversations to positively question and challenge my own thinking, as well as others.

It's worth reminding myself I learn best by doing.  For example when cooking (not gifted with the enthusiasm for it) I can't read a recipe and cook at the same time.  I need to watch someone do it or do it with.  I think that's why I am very keen to collaborate with others as it's joint and practical.  Moreover, as with teaching, presenting and public speaking, doing these makes me learn more as I have to explain to others as well as not looking an idiot.

Refining my interests

It's an interesting time for our team as we are in the midst of redefining our goals and direction.  Which is ideal for me to revisit my own individual goals/direction.  I had a conversation about this with Marcus Elliott (my senior), his forward thinking nature and ability to ask the right questions at the right time have helped me immensely with this.  Like me, he's got a unique quality that helps everyone around them to improve themselves.

Me - "I know it's all about what I want to do and direction I want to take, but one thing you could hopefully help me with is to define a focus on where I can concentrate my energies towards (university and me).  I've a very broad skill set which is good, but sometimes it's my biggest enemy as I can lose focus on specific things."

Marcus Elliott - "I guess it depends on what sort of thing you want to do in the future; not always an easy thing to pin down admittedly. Is there anything surrounding our work that really catches your interest, or something you particularly look forward to doing?  I'll more than happily support you to develop in that area.  If you change your mind or direction, that's fine, because it is still useful..."

Me - "Good questions, I'll have a think. I've things on a list, but not sure how I would prioritise them. 🤔"

Marcus Elliott - "I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up. If that helps..."

Me - "It does and seems to get more difficult as you get older, well for me it does. 🙄"

​Marcus Elliott - "Yeah... there are so many interesting things.  I'm trying to find things that make me happy/satisfied, but also improve other people's lives too."

Me - "That's a good way to see it, the way it should have always been really.  But sometimes you get changed course through organisation and other people's agendas."

Marcus Elliott - "If the new course doesn't meet your personal needs, then you decide whether you want to carry on doing it or not.  Personally, I don't think I could do a job I didn't believe in just to take home a wage, but I have options.  Sometimes you have to set agendas yourself and shape the space you want."

Me - "Exactly and I've been lucky enough to mould things to how I want and need in previous roles.  If/when the situations change and you can no longer believe in what you are there to do, you move on. I'm just ready to really narrow down on specifics now."

I'll cover my specifics in a future blog post that will prepare me for SCMALT.  As I'm in need of 'career clarity'.  I'm definitely in TEL for the long haul.  I came from FE and have much cross-sector experience.  I'm now in HE but I need to keep my toes in FE and skills sector as that's where the passion for TEL was born.

Here's what I came up with that makes me tick (all subject to change/evolve) and still need to narrow down:

  • Researching about TEL theories and models of practice (reading, writing and disseminating - I seem to be a dispenser for all kinds of TEL related information)
    • Determining purposes of learning technology
    • Theory to practice | analysing pedagogy to digital technology
    • Developing subject (TEL) pedagogy and understanding
    • Developing teaching, learning and assessment methods in the use of TEL
    • I'm an interpreter and that I really enjoy translating to others how to better understand pedagogy meeting technology. Just like my latest muses in developing a PebblePad and H5P pedagogical frameworks
  • Creating, shaping and structuring thoughts and online courses and resources (leading, organising, project managing)
    • Writing learning outcomes, activities, assessments
    • Designing eLearning materials
    • Helping people to realise and consider things they haven’t previously through:
      • Vision/purpose
      • Digital capabilities
      • Learning design
  • Delivering sessions on practical use of learning technology. Things that have real benefit and impact on people and processes (training, teaching, facilitating)
    • The prospect of lecturing/facilitating on TEL excites me a bit - but need skills for this as I am more pragmatic)
  • Talking about learning, teaching and assessment approaches and processes (online/blended/distance, learning design, eTutoring, digital capabilities needs analysis, face-to-face, work-based learning)
  • Quality assurance - ensuring that standardisation is being done and that quality is maintained and improving (could be programmes, learning objects, services)

Revisiting a passion

Although a qualified teacher and assessor, I've found myself recently getting hung up on my depth of teaching knowledge.  I need to accept the fact that I can't know everything about teaching, hence why it's important to work closely as possible with them to understand as much about their productivity, needs, issues and challenges that they face every day.  This led me to thinking about my passion as a teacher and the recent blog post 'Facilitating my teaching philosophy'.

In the last week or so, I jotted down down the following thoughts I had to help me define my aim in teaching.

  • If I'm a teacher at heart, what am I trying to teach others?
  • Why do I do what I do?  Not just talk about what I am doing, but what approaches am I taking?
  • Help people to understand TEL clearly as it's a very complex process.
  • Helping make the link from pedagogy to technology more clearer and purposeful.
  • It's such a difficult, challenging and time consuming thing to do, if you want to do it right and have impact.  Hence why learning technologists are here.
  • Why do I like to teach teachers?
  • Does my passion lie within supporting beginners/new comers to teaching?

It led me to put out this in Ann Gravell's online teaching community:

"Hello all,

So, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reflecting on this recently...  I left FE in December 2016, although I am still active in keeping up to date in this sector (now in HE) I have become somewhat distant with a former passion – supporting those on Education and Training/initial teacher training courses.  As well as the Level 4 learning technology qualifications I taught.  At the college I used to work at, on evenings I would guest talk for Levels 3, 4 and 5 Education and Training students on the effective use of learning technology.  Plus supporting teachers of these courses in embedding learning technology throughout them.  I miss being involved in doing this.  I miss showcasing/modelling learning technology possibilities that student teachers could try.  Seeing developing teachers’ faces in amazement of what they can do with their own learners…

I’m looking at ways to get more involved in the Education and Training qualifications, i.e. guest speaking, mentoring, supported experiments, developing the courses, assist in research etc. Anyone know of any opportunities for me to do any of this?"

Further to this, I made contact with Nottingham Institute of Education, where I work at NTU.  Making myself known and what I can bring to them as a team and lending myself individually through personal interest.  I'm looking forward to getting involved in this area again.

Recognising a forgotten gift

During the writing of the bite-size certified online training modules for Education and Training Foundation's 'Enhance platform'.  I was reminded of a strong skill set that I was procured for - a good simplifier and straight-talker.  The nature of this project is to make these modules easy to understand, so that's where I came in.

Bob Powell - "Just looked at your 31.  It's great - exactly what I want.  I need to get others to do something more like yours - and less reliance on the examples and a bit more straightforward text.  Having said that the examples are really great so it's finding the middle ground which is needed.  Carry on as you are going.  Thanks."

Bob Powell - "A bit of feedback - been working on 33 today and it's been great - text was just right.  I've done my usual hacking and shifting and adding and moving, but you made it easy for me - and the examples worked really well.  I cannot tell what a difference that makes to what I am trying to do."

Life is complicated as it is, let't not make things harder for ourselves.  You can debate, justify philosophy and 'play tennis' with our knowledge all we want.  But if our target people don't get it, they don't.  Which led me to say "Debates. We all have and join them. However, it's important to recognise their place and not let them dominate productivity. As an extremely pragmatic person they're time consuming. It's crucial to not only criticise, but to action your critique. #HigherEd".

Through my experience, many educators want simplified words/advice not long over complicated stuff where they have to unpick meanings - totally fine for studying, but not in practice, they have busy jobs as it is.  It's all about language - make it straightforward and simple as possible.  There's a time and place for complexity and that that is usually trying to understand something before you an make it simple for others.  Another strand to my role is about making the balance and joining of pedagogy and digital technology.  I take the complex ideas of learning technology and break them down to easily digestible chunks.  I actually enjoy making sense of complex theories and practice and simplifying things - which I can innovate within that, I'm pragmatic and realistic in practice.  Recently I feel I need to be explaining in more depth in various things.  But as I was reminded I have a strong gift in straight-talking and simplifying things, so I need to be careful not to change that.  I speak for those that need simplicity in their work.  I consider myself simple somewhat and I always say "if I can't understand the audience can't", I'm a good fool proof!  A good thing I was told recently by my manager was to not always angle my communication from my benefit, but from their (client/stakeholder) benefit.

The Winner TakesGives It All

After hearing Lady Gaga's Oscars 2019 speech, a part of it (below) hit me.

"I've worked hard for a long time, and it's not about, you's not about winning.  But what it's about is not giving up.  If you have a dream, fight for it.  There's a discipline for passion.  And it's not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you're beaten up.  It's about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going."

I totally relate to what she is saying as I have took my self through the same journey, otherwise I wouldn't be where I am now.  The reason I am successful in my endeavours is because I am disciplined and focused on my approaches and learning to work.  Not forgetting the kind wholehearted people seeing something worthwhile in me.  Opening doors rather than slamming them in front of me.  But in some ways I need to discipline myself more.  The word discipline struck me, I need to discipline myself more to my 'craft', hence investing more in myself.

I have devoted a lot time on developing my career and my specialism.  I have had a lot success in my milestones, through qualifications, my accolades and my book.  However, I am not at a position where I feel I am in competition with anything or anyone other than to keep bettering myself.  I'm passionate about and enjoy what I do and doing a great job of it.   Passion is passion and you don't have to innovate for the sake of it.  I don't consider myself a strong innovator, I am just extremely proactive and pragmatic in getting stuff done.  A lot of this comes back to my blog post '30'.   Saying that, it's probably just my inner Yorkshire..."After hearing a comment on this topic. Partner: "It really is a Yorkshire thing to want to prove yourself". Me: "Well many were brought up in this culture that dream jobs won't put food on the table". Reminded me of this blog post I wrote.".

Similar topic with helpful words, Rachel Challen shares her experiences in 'The most valuable lesson I ever learned' as part of the #OpenBlog19 challenge created by David Hopkins.


I reflected on imposter more deeply in this blog post 'Imposter - phantom in self or environment?'.