Friday, 16 November 2018

Describing my learning technologist role

Describing and explaining the role and purpose of a learning technologist has long been a challenge.  Especially, when you are in a room with seniors or executives who say they "get it", but obviously don't for many reasons.  Learning technologists like myself are often labelled as just trainers and showing people how to push buttons.  Quite laughable isn't it really when we know there is more to our processes than just 'show and tell'.  The challenge of this is very real and still exists today.  However, this is not just a challenge with our seniors but also with colleagues.  It feels like a constant never ending battle to prove my worth to new and existing audiences.  The questions are a) how do we eliminate these perceptions, and/or b) how can we make this a less draining and more seamless thing to communicate?

When we are at work it's always about our role, what we actually do, what we contribute to, who benefits etc.  Describing ourselves and your role is important for people to connect to and get a familiar with what you do and how that contributes to the organisation and possibly others work.  I briefly detail what a learning technologist does but there is a better introduction in Chapter 2  'Making the most of learning technologists' in my book.  When asked by colleagues and even friends and family what I do, I find it a very difficult thing to explain, so I generally say something like "I support academic staff using digital technology in their teaching" or "I support academics and professional services staff in using a range of digital technologies in their roles."  It's not enough is it and it really plays down my entire role.  It's no wonder some people think we just train people on how to push buttons.  Well that's in there, but it's more than that.

In this reflective exercise, I'm going to unravel what my role really is and how I am going to articulate this to people - a statement that I can use to introduce myself that is not otherwise seen as just a trainer or uncertainty of what I do.  Let's start of with a couple of questions to help me clarify what I am doing and why it is needed to help me articulate my role.

What is my role made up of?

Like many have, I've got multiple 'hats' for my role; educator (teacher), non-academic, learner/student, assessor, internal verifier, project manager, strategist - to name a few.  My Digital Practice Adviser role (which is essentially a learning technologist role - an overview of my role is on my LinkedIn profile) covers all aspects of learning technology across all academic, professional services, leadership and management and research staff roles, that being:

  • Technology Enhanced Learning (planning to evaluation)
  • Blended learning
  • Learning design
  • eLearning design
  • Project management
  • Delivering training/facilitating
  • Systems support (end user, ideally not technical)
  • Operational issues
  • Problem solving (pedagogical and technological)
  • Strategic planning and implementation (influencing decisions, driving change)

At a very core minimum as a Digital Practice Adviser (as well as what is on my job description), I need to ensure that I do the following:

  • Understand what staff are intending to do with digital technology (pedagogical or task purpose)
  • Consult with staff to expose/scope options and highlight pros and cons - provide staff with options to choose from
  • Scaffold the thinking that helps staff to determine the right tool for the job
  • Ensure that staff choose/use the most appropriate digital technology for the job (i.e. online based polling tools over classroom polling devices for off-site use)
  • Create/develop use of digital technology/online activity (ideally in a test zone for reality checking) before going live
  • Support staff by staying informed on their progress, application and development

If there is scope to:

  • Explore some tools that are not required for the activity/task in hand, but may help make a better job of what you are trying to achieve - more on this here

What anxieties do I have within my role?

There are many anxieties that come with being a learning technologist.  Recently I came across a Twitter thread from Kerry Pinny that lists many anxieties - "❤ this thread. There's a lot of truth in the points and it's not exhaustive either. However, I like a challenge and some these still present opportunities to be made positive. The work of a learning technologist truly never ends..."

I took the list and I've since refined and added a few new points to it:

  • Constantly justifying our existence
  • Working towards a 'digital revolution' that I feel started decades ago?
  • Fighting for buy-in
  • Maintaining buy-in (keeping stakeholders)
  • Managing and influencing opinions of others (known or sudden)
  • Fear of seniors seeing something new (just a buzz) with little critical evaluation
  • Not being technical enough
  • Being too technical
  • Being too academic
  • Not being academic enough
  • Being too generalist
  • Being too specialist
  • Not reading/researching enough literature (practice underpinned by current research)
  • Doing research that's too small and niche to be worthwhile
  • Worrying that we have no power
  • Worrying that the power we do have is taken for granted
  • Worrying we're not innovative enough
  • Justifying that innovation isn't always needed
  • Finding and justifying data that demonstrates engagement and impact
  • Explaining that online/distance learning isn't cheaper or easier
  • Explaining that online/distance learning still requires someone to teach and deliver content
  • Explaining that digital technology i.e. VR/AR shouldn't be used as a gimmick
  • Explaining that the institution isn't ready for learning analytics because the data doesn't exist
  • Resisting to comment on assumptions that 'if it's IT related we can do it all'
  • Declining requests to build apps as it's not generally not in our skill set
  • Explaining that lecture capture is not a surveillance service
  • Explaining that digital technologies change and it's inevitable
  • Asking to be involved in key necessary meetings and networks
  • Fighting against being involved in unnecessary paper-work, processes, meetings
  • Testing way too much, to the point that you can make it worse
  • Being asked for pedagogical evidence
  • Stating that systems/service maintenance is necessary
  • Planning system downtime doesn't work for everyone
  • Focus groups that turn in to 'show and tell'
  • Not having anything 'new' to present at conferences (you can just speak what you're passionate about)

Why is it important to describe my role?

  • To support and upskill people
  • Reaffirms my position, knowledge/skills and status within individuals and groups of people
  • How people interpret my role (both positive and negative)
  • Help people connect and relate to my role so that they know why to contact me and what for

How should I approach this with people?

Describe (in meetings or one to ones - if the conversation or situation is appropriate to) a short statement of my role.  But don't make it sound complicated or over complex as people won't understand which will turn them off

So here's my re-worked statement of my role to introduce myself  to people.  It isn't long as I am not providing a speech but just enough that describes more than just a trainer.  However, I'll most likely adapt it over time as I see how people respond to it.

Describing my role/work

*Audience depending*

Hello, I am Daniel Scott, I'm a Digital Practice Adviser in Organisational Development.  It's my job too ensure that academic and non-academic staff are provided and supported with up to date options/opportunities to gain knowledge and practice in the effective use of digital technology.  Such as critically planning, designing and implementing/applying the use of Virtual Learning Environment, PebblePad, eLearning creation tools, classroom technology, Microsoft suite/Office 365.

If it seems ok to:

Stating my impact

  • As a result of my contributions and efforts to the <insert project>, it was a success <insert what I did/made happen> which made significant differences, such as <insert what and how>.  They have been well regarded by <insert who>.

Gracefully accept praise (if given)

  • Smile, say thank you and perhaps state my dedication towards the project.

Why is the goal...  Something for later

In our team we are currently reinvigorating our identity. where we are having many discussions on our purpose and stakeholder analysis with wider NTU colleagues.  The team were asked to watch the TED Talks video of Simon Sinek's 'Golden Circle' in preparation for our identity meeting.  Basically Simon says "The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe." and "People don't buy what you do they buy why you do it."

Some thoughts:

  • But that's focusing and preaching to the converted - what about those that don't believe in us?  How do we make them believe in us?  How do we capture new people?  How do we reinvigorate dormant relationships?
  • Do we concentrate our time and efforts on the people who believe in us or fight convincing non-believers?
  • I/we have got to have something they believe in and equally what I believe in.  It is a play on key words that hit people at the core of what they do?
  • I need to talk about what I believe as that will attract people.  How can we voice our passion and beliefs more?
  • Reverse the order of information we communicate to people - rephrase to make it sound like it is something colleagues need?
  • Do we align our roles to our strongest passions?  Or are we doing that already?

This is something for the future and I am sure I will reflect on this new chapter that the Digital Practice Team is undergoing.

EDIT: a great related read 'Do we still need Learning TECHNOLOGISTS?' by Simon Thomson.
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CC-BY Daniel Scott. Unless otherwise stated this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.