Category Archives: TEL edvisors

Research update #39: Proposal writing Day 3: “Rest day” but with some interesting revelations nonetheless

Well it was more a day where I’d made a previous commitment to sit on an interview panel for an Education Technologist position for a friend, followed shortly afterwards by a farewell party for a friend in the same unit.

I was able to take a couple of hours to glance over some of my earliest blog posts relating to this research, which were helpful in that I could see how much my question has evolved over time but perhaps lacked a little something in terms of direct relevance to the work that I’m doing now. Fortunately, the responses to the interview questions themselves did align more closely, albeit more in terms of gaining some additional background insights.

My assigned question to ask was along the lines of what technology do you see having an impact on higher education in the next 3-5 years? Something calling for a little crystal ball-gazing and my inclination was far more to give extra points to those who were unwilling to commit to specific products or brands. It was more about getting a sense of who is keeping an eye on things than getting the (impossible) right answer. Responses ranged from mobile devices (fairly likely though parts of my institution seem mystifyingly resistant to this) to AI, AR and drones. One candidate tried valiantly to steer this conversation around to rubrics and assessment and points for trying I guess.

The more revealing question was what do you think the role of an education technologist is? This was interesting because these were all people that had applied for a position with a specified set of criteria but the responses were still relatively varied. Clearly advising on and supporting the use of technology was a common theme in the responses but from there we seemed to veer into whichever areas the candidates felt they were strongest in. Fair enough, the point of the interview is to sell yourself. This included research, production of resources and information management skills. When we asked some to expand on their answers, by differentiating the technologist role from an ed designer or ed developer, things got more interesting. Before I started digging down into this field, my take was that a developer was more like a software or web developer than the more commonly used professional developer. One candidate felt that the ed dev would be building apps. Most got that the designer had more to do with course or curriculum design to varying degrees but most also recognised that there is a lot of overlap between all of these roles and the fact that they all had slightly different takes was good for me in that it reinforced what I’ve seen in the literature (and experienced in the day to day) about the fuzziness of most of these definitions.

I guess another interesting aspect of the interviews was in seeing where everyone had come from. We had people that had entered the field from graphic design, web and multimedia design, teaching and librarianship. For me, none of this disqualified anyone though the harsh reality is that in looking for someone able to hit the ground running, it’s hard not to favour someone with experience working with academics. How you get that experience in the first place is the real challenge I guess and I think I can probably expand a little on the pathways/entry point ideas section – though I don’t feel that there has been a lot of discussion of this in the literature that I’ve seen to date.

So while I didn’t write much and I didn’t find a whole lot in my previous note-taking blog posts, I still feel like I came away with a few more ideas.

Research update #37: Proposal writing Day 1 – Edvisors lit review

writing plan dates

I’ve booked in two weeks leave from work to get at least a first draft of my thesis proposal together. There’s a loose structure in place and I’m all about just getting the words down at this stage. As a first draft, I’m allowing for it being relatively terrible – which is probably the hardest part because I do like the words that I use to work well together – and the plan is to have something to send off for feedback just before Christmas.

Given that I’m aiming for between 750-1000 words a day mostly, I think I’ll be spending the morning pulling together the various ideas, quotes and references in the morning and doing the writing writing in the afternoon.

Today the focus is on edvisors in the literature, which isn’t as easy as I’d thought given that part of the reason for the thesis is their lack of visibility in the research. Or, more to the point, the fact that a lot of what I’ve been looking at is more closely related to where they/we sit in the institution, our relationships with institutional leadership and academics and the strategies that we do and could use to improve this. What I’m left with is more the descriptive, defining kind of work. Breaking this up into the three core role types of academic developer, education designer and learning technologist should help and there’s still plenty of time to move things around.

Mostly I just need to remember that this is the literature section, so I’m really only to talk about what other people have been talking about. I guess I can talk briefly about what hasn’t been discussed but that seems like a trap in some ways as maybe it has and I just missed it. (Pretty sure this is a universal refrain among PhDers though)

If you do read this post and are aware of a strikingly significant article or book etc about the nature of edvisors (academic developers etc – I wonder how long I’m going to need to add this), please let me know.

 

Research update #23 – The ‘troublemaker’

I went to a cross institute training thing last week and for some reason we did an icebreaker exercise where we had to introduce the person that we were sitting next to to the room.

I was sitting with a long-time colleague from the central IT unit, who said that he was going to introduce me as a ‘troublemaker’. At first I laughed and suggested that ‘disruptor’ is probably a better term. I won’t deny for a second that I care about what we do and how we do it as a university and I will ask challenging questions and push for change where I think it’s necessary. I certainly don’t buy into the logical fallacy of appeal to authority as a source of all wisdom.

He did say that he appreciated the fact that I was reasonable and put forward logical arguments in my advocacy. He said it was also appreciated that I wasn’t overly demanding and didn’t constantly hassle the IT team. This just made me wonder if this wasn’t why I generally don’t feel like I’m actually achieving much of what I set out to in my dealings with the central teams. Maybe I need to be less reasonable and more persistent.

The fact that I’m considered to be a ‘troublemaker’ rather than an engaged participant in the system suggests to me that our system is flawed, particularly in terms of the relationships between the central units that ‘own’ the systems and people in the college teams that work the most closely with the people that the systems are intended for – well, the teaching side of this at least. This isn’t to say that the central units don’t work with teachers and students but it’s rarely a long term relationship. For all the talk of cooperation and collaboration, the communications and governance structures are very much set up in such a way that the central units dictate the conversation and the policy directions – and I’ve been told directly by them that they don’t exist to serve the needs of the teachers and learners, they exist to serve the university executive.

Fortunately this reinforces a discussion that I had with my supervisor Peter last week, where I mentioned once again that I feel like the work that I’ve been doing and the things that I’ve been reading are all heavily oriented to ideas around how H.E. institutions work and particularly in relation to TEL edvisors / Third Space TEL workers. I feel that this is an important part of the question (what can TEL workers do to better support TEL practices in H.E) but it’s far from all that I want to cover. That said though, the broad vision that I have – what do TEL workers do, how do they sit in the organisation, what do teachers do, what are the overlaps that create opportunities for better collaboration – is probably far too large to do justice to in a thesis. Peter suggested that a solid mapping of how different TEL support units in Australian institutions work could grow to be a significant piece of work in itself. I think this still lets me explore what TEL edvisors/works are and do, so maybe this is enough. I’m sure there’s also a decent discussion to be had about how different universities create opportunities to support TEL practices by the ways that they structure their support teams. All of this seems a little removed from teaching and learning per se to me – considering that it’s a PhD in Education – and almost more tied to organisational/management type ideas. Maybe it’s just broadly sociological or anthropological or something.

Anyway, it’s given me more to think about and should make it easier to dive into the literature once more.

On a side note, I came across an article about some anthropological research into why professors don’t adopt innovative teaching methods – which was kind of the initial premise of my research – and, surprise, it’s at least partially to do with not looking foolish in front of their students. (Which I’ve suspected for some time – my reasoning being that one’s capital in a university is one’s intelligence and looking like you don’t know something appears to be regarded as a cardinal sin. Which is crazy because it’s impossible to know everything – particularly when it’s not your discipline – and admitting this (and trying to rectify it) is clearly an indicator of intelligence. Anyway, it’s well worth a read – I do wish they’d cited the actual research though. (I also recognise that it’s a more nuanced issue than I’ve painted)

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/07/06/anthropologist-studies-why-professors-dont-adopt-innovative-teaching-methods 

 

Research update #19 – small ideas

Research this week has mainly involved a continuation of working on the concise paper relating to TEL edvisor (though we’re not using this term because, well, we kind of made it up) roles and meanings connected to practices.

After chatting to Peter, a few extra ideas have emerged – not really for the paper as much as things that I just want to file away to think about later.

A big one is that the roles of TEL edvisors (academic developers, learning designers, ed technologists etc etc) are generally named and advertised by senior people in institutions who may or may not have a full understanding of what the position entails or what they actually need from it. The point was also made that the dearth of ‘thought leaders’ (it really is a terrible term) in the higher levels of institutions with a rich understanding of TEL is a big problem and it’s perhaps why we get stuck with the ‘MOOC panic’ and ‘the infectious spread of flipped classrooms’ in the absence of strategic leadership. (Both of these approaches clearly have their place but they do seem to be latched on to as some kind of silver bullet far too often, when a more nuanced appreciation of the full range of TEL options would be preferable)

I’ve also been thinking again that I prefer TELT to TEL because it’s important to recognise that Teaching involves a very different set of practices and meanings than Learning does. Learning is clearly the desired outcome but there must be a Venn diagram somewhere that shows that there are clear parts of the act of teaching that are removed from learning. The thing is though, that our warm and gooey feels are all meant to to revolve around students and learning and so there is an inherent bias in the common language to focus only on this. TEL flows off the tongue a little easier as well, which probably has an effect on a subliminal level. In my day to day though, I work with teachers and I know that this is where my attentions lie. Teaching should be designed to create the right conditions for learning but it is not learning in itself.

One other thing – we’ve been looking at the practices that might be specifically attributed to (and which define?) TEL edvisors and came up with¬†a list of seven (more on this another time) based on unpacking the meaning of duty statements. One practice that I think we haven’t covered but which TEL edvisors do a lot is advocate/innovate (maybe these are different). We are often in a position to try to move an individual teacher or the entire institution forward towards things that haven’t really been tried before. Making this happen requires advocacy. Arguably this could be bundled in with research but research rarely seems to be about actually enacting things, more about noting them. No idea what I want to do with this particular thought at this time but I suspect I’ll be coming back to it.

 

Research update #17: Making connections, learning from others

I’ll write a fuller post on this but I’ve recently helped launch a SIG (special interest group) for TEL edvisors through ASCILITE. I have a lot of different reasons for doing this, chief amongst them is the fact that there are a lot of incredibly smart and talented people working in this sector (education designer/developers, learning technologists, academic developers etc) doing fantastic work but it’s largely in isolation.

Given that I’ve chosen to focus my research on this area, because I believe that we can do a lot of good, I do hope that being a part of this community will make my research better and make it more practically useful. (I get that a PhD is a research apprenticeship but the thought of spending years working on something that is then only read by 3 people and buried deep in a library really scares me, particularly when I don’t know that further post-doc research is the direction I want to take afterwards. It might be, I just don’t know)

Anyway, a lot of the last month has centred around kicking the SIG (I prefer network) into gear. We held our first monthly webinar last week, with a great discussion about minimum standards for online course design (to put it in overly simple terms) and had three contributors – Lynnae Venaruzzo from Western Sydney Uni, Leanne Ngo from Deakin and our own Kate Mitchell (one of the co-founders and organisers of the network) from LaTrobe sharing their work and ideas.

Between this and the usual busyness of the start of a semester, there wasn’t as much other work on my studies – specifically reading – but I am getting back into it and am happy to have passed the hump of the most complex chapter of the Dynamics of Social Practice Theory book.

I haven’t heard anything from my supervisors and don’t have much to report or discuss just yet, though I feel as though I’m close to being able to write up a post about what I’m hoping to explore that will give us something to discuss. I’m still caught in this dilemma of what to talk about when I meet/Skype with them – I don’t want to ask them what I should do because surely this is for me to work out and I’m a grown-arsed adult. But when I tell them what I’m doing, the response is generally just keep going with a reading suggestion or two. (Reading material I am not short of, though I do need to remember that if I’d followed the advice to explore SPT sooner, I might be further along. Then again, maybe I wasn’t ready for it until I was. )

Next of the list of Pat Thomson’s PhD journalling topics:

How stress affects my ability to get things done.

Not well, really. Not well. Between being told the owner of my house is selling up and discovering that I’m kind of too old (or have too much furniture – seriously, almost every share place now is fully furnished) to share a house any more (I like living in a house and in the inner ‘burbs and it’s cheaper) and also having a close friend waiting on health news, I haven’t been feeling the study love. Progress is being made here though – just signed a lease on a flat, it’ll be my first time living alone, which will be interesting – and I’m slowly getting back on with things. The distance of the finish line makes it easy enough to say “tomorrow” – though there’s still the proposal itself to write and have accepted which is far sooner.

Garbage (sugar) stress eating definitely doesn’t help – it just smashes my ability to concentrate, so taking steps in the right direction there has been a positive move.

So yeah, stress and studying, not great allies. (Surprise)