Monday, 11 November 2019

What HE can learn from me and FE

My 2 year work anniversary at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has just passed.  I feel I have transitioned well into university life, still climbing the mountain though but feeling more confident about what I am scaling!  I still remind myself every day that I work at a university and a prestigious one of that.  Having the opportunity to work with an abundance of colleagues in academic, professional services, leadership and management, research roles, brings never-ending opportunities for me to challenge and assert my experience and wisdom.

It's great to see many universities, especially NTU recruiting ex-FE workers plus those from the private sector.  I know others that came from both sectors and have successfully integrated into a university.  I feel that it adds great pragmatic value to the organisation and encourages different ways of working that might otherwise not be seen or done at a university.

I'm not new to working in Higher Education (HE).  I've worked on many HE projects whilst in Further Education (FE) and in the private sector in an online education role.  Also, working at a university at some point in my career has been a long-term ambition.  Since been in HE, I have had to learn the university life cycle and all that goes with that - not too dissimilar to FE.  Alongside this, the team I am situated in has undergone many changes, which at times has left me feeling a tad lost and needing a sense of belonging, but I/we've got there.  As part of this progression I have been challenged immensely on fitting in and settling into the university, i.e. understanding new ways of working and motivations of people/teams.  I'm sure the ol' Barnsley/Yorkshire thing contributes to that, with a dash of academic snobbery - which led me to expressing this recently...  Just a thought... 🤔 If you define yourself as an academic, therefore you're an educator right? It's really not cool for educators to demean others knowledge and abilities, but to empower and cultivate them, whether that be a learner or colleague.  I've an issue with those people that mask themselves as an educator, just because they work in education does not mean they are one.  Through my experience, I've met many that label themselves as this but don't actually have the compassion, values, skills and will to share wisdom to educate others.  But do know how to take, demean, disempower and dictate.  They may well challenge perspectives and the status quo, but that is not to be disguised as an educator.  Where is the commitment and dedication to ensuring others are well informed through knowledge sharing and collaboration.  Coming off my soapbox.

Walking the talk

An overall goal when progressing to NTU was to bring and express my pragmatic experience to develop Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) and staff digital capabilities and truly progress their digital learning and practices.  I honed in and focused on the practical needs of the university and how I can help deliver and inspire these further, like my work of introducing H5P and implementing PebblePad.

As I demonstrate throughout this blog, I like to walk the talk not just talk the talk.  I'm an extreme pragmatist and enjoy thinking things thoroughly and meticulously.  Then simplifying it all so that others can understand it, i.e. the often complicated and complex TEL and digital capabilities.  I like to think that this was one of the reasons why I was offered the position.  I strongly feel that HE needs to widely accept, embrace and focus more on practical aspects to assure the progression and transformation of universities.

In HE I am exposed to more debates around purposes, the why etc.  I enjoy many of these discussions as they are helpful to understand, make sense and meaning of our endeavours.  Plus they encourage my professional development - sharpens my thinking and practices and does my peers too.  However, I feel there is a time and place for debates and academic discussion - too much time being spent on this which affects productivity and the purpose of specific meetings.  Which I often have to say during meetings.  Sadly, some aspects of HE are not easily for pragmatism and prefer to talk a good game - but you can say that happens in most organisations, irrespective of the sector.  As universities are obviously and respectfully academic, it often results in discussing too often 'what's wrong with it'.  Rather than being solutions-focused and getting stuff out there, i.e. iterative working.  In not doing so I feel this can often constrict creativity.  We need more practical solutions which can be amplified by involving the right people/roles across the university to rationalise and to put a good case forward.  HE have the support, funding and resource to test new initiatives.  That's why I develop my consultancy skills as it is the main responsibility to make sure the solutions happen.  I'm bringing the best of my pragmatism to HE as it needs doers, not just talkers and justifiers.  Politicians do enough of that!  😂

The HE environment is often intense, which appeals to many to work in, including myself.  However, I hear more staff asking for simplicity and practical techniques and even language itself - keeping it simple.  Some recent examples: language of a digital literacy self-assessment tool - needed to be more simplistic for academics to relate, understand and use; a blended learning workshop - feedback from staff say they preferred practical techniques rather than theory itself.  So why are we making processes and practices complicated and complex for ourselves?  To encourage more debate and reasoning?  We must respond to this and not make things complicated for the sake of it - I talk more about this in the section 'Recognising a forgotten gift' in the blog post I introduced at the start of this one.

From my experience thus far, some brief overall differences between both sectors:

Less funding, cope and find ways of making things work.

Red tape on funding, resource, time etc.
Better funding but sometimes
not used in the right place(s), at the right time(s) or using to justify a resource/something.

Less red tape on funding, resource, time etc.
Practical, solutions-focused and more creative as a result of funding.  'We've no funding for this resource, but if you would like to develop it...'

Stricter consequences.

More open, supportive and collaborative in working as a team and encouraging to develop one and another.
Process, debate-focused and often less creative/innovative as a result, make complicated when people want it simple.  'What’s more important, the final outcome or the process of getting there?'

Less likely to challenge/pursue consequences.

More serious, autonomous and somewhat a political style in responding - often justifying poor decisions to make it sound better.  Less encouragement of each other, more focus on your role/position/stance and ego.
More open efforts towards change and innovation with a 'yeh let's get on with it' attitude.

Emphasis on co-collaboration in working with tutors both inside and outside of the classroom, not just educate staff.
More rationalising and strategic thinking for change and innovation.  There needs to be a good balance of both the FE and HE side.

More independent, educate and self-service support.

Return to FE?

I often get asked if I would I ever go back to FE.  I'll not say never on returning to FE.  However, I'm comfortable in HE and as said earlier it was a long-term ambition to work in HE.  I'm not leaving HE in the foreseeable future.  If an opportunity presents itself as worthy, I'll consider it, just like other roles.  Some might disapprove and say it sends mixed messages that I keep involved in FE.  However, it's where I started out and developed my career, I've lots of colleagues and friends there and I published a book for the sector based on my experiences.  So to me it would be extremely mean to just cut ties.  I don't think it's wise to quickly to turn your back on FE as if it wasn't significant to your career.  As I said recently: "My full-time work may not be in #FE, but it's where I started out and will always support it where I can. View #LTbookFE as my leaving fuddle contribution."  I stand for education of all kinds, not a 'glory supporter' of whatever's in for moment.  Like a good educator, I'll challenge the conscious/unconscious bias of peoples perceptions and continue to defy them.

I continue to be involved in FE and adult learning by writing and sharing to them.  Like my recent  projects in writing The Education and Training Foundation's Enhance modules and Essential Digital Skills resources.  Plus, my continued work with growing younger learning technologists, which was through Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Associate Certified Membership (ACMALT) pathway.  We're all striving for the same thing at the end of the day, just different contexts/demographics.  I think it's good to keep your hand in both sectors, but with more focus to to the role and time you spend most time in.  That's why I have #HE | #FE on my Twitter profile.  Take DigiLearn Sector Community for example, developed in HE for HE but has opened it's doors up to all sectors.  Allowing all sectors to collaborate and contribute to each others projects.  Resulting in an active, vibrant and diverse online community with progressive outcomes.  Cross-sector collaboration at it's finest and it's incredible to see people come together.

I'm in HE for a long while and while I am here I will bring my strengths of simplified, accessible and practical ways of working.  Many can argue and debate the need for this, but what I receive on a day-to-day basis is that staff want to understand and do things more easily, without compromising the nature of academia.