Devolving the empire of the ‘learning technologist’

Most colleges and universities have some sort of centralised area of expertise regarding the use of learning technology. For some this will be 1 person as part of many other roles that they fulfill, at bigger organisations it will be a team of individuals dedicated to this area of work.

One problem with this model though is there becomes an unhealthy over reliance on those individuals – which if they leave or are off work for a period of time stops things happening. Also the gap between the abilities of the learning technologists and the average lecturing staff is widening due to the speed of change in this area of work, and only the technologists have the capacity to keep up.

I was lucky enough over the last year to work on an LSIS funded project with Loughborough College looking at a different model, where the expertise for certain technologies is devolved to teaching staff, which has the effect of building confidence, spreading the expertise, and putting the expertise into the teaching staff room.

The experiment involved the ‘learning technologists’ within the sports team mentoring lecturing staff as they explored and used a chosen technology with the idea that they became the ‘expert’ in that technology and the first point of call for other staff wanting help. The outputs from this project can be found a http://thehub.loucoll.ac.uk/lsistechnologyproject/ The outputs include at least 2 screencasts for each technology, and a simple user guide in that technology.

The next question is was the project a success? The short term indicators showed that the staff were more confident as a result, there was a noticeable knowledge shift away from the learning technologists to the teaching staff which was positive and staff were certainly using a wider range of technologies and using them better. The real test though will be in another 12-18 months time – to see if the teaching staff that became these experts are still ‘experts’ and are still influencing others around them.

From what I have seen though having worked through the process with the college, I think there is definitely merit in this ideology. It is challenging for many, as it does involve the technologists letting go slightly, and some may see this as a threat to their employment future – although I see it as an opportunity, I think there will always be a need for the technologist, it is just their role may change into including more mentoring and facilitating rather than just doing. This model would also require careful strategic planning and direction, and in the short term would take longer than sticking with the current model, which would be a real threat to is adoption else where, but if people could see the benefits of this model, then it certainly has potential.

Why I use WordPress rather than IfL’s reflect tool

This morning I read a blog post by David Hopkins on the idea of the bPortfolio replacing the ePortfolio which made me look back at my blog to see what I had written about ePortfolios in the past and came across my post about the ePortfolio conundrum from January 2010. I don’t think we are any closer to solving the problem that I presented back then, but David’s post does back this up, and is for me my reflective portfolio of choice.

Like many other educators in the FE sector I am a member of the IfL. Personally I get no benefit from being a member, and when I asked them to justify the value for money before renewing my subscription, the top item on the list was my access to the IfL Reflect tool. This didn’t help convince me as I chose not to use it, for a variety of reasons:-

Reflect is based on the tool PebblePad which some people really like, and has some very good qualities but the way it works is very personal (which is it’s intention) but by being personal it means that some people will like the way that it works, and others won’t. I for some reason fit into the category of it not working for me.

However more importantly the reason why I choose to use WordPress for my reflective practice, is I am in complete control of the area, and I can personalise it to the way that I want it to work. Also it can never be taken away from me. With Reflect, if I ceased to be a member of the IfL I would lose that area, which to me goes against the notion of Continuous Professional Development. Defenders of Reflect will tell me that I could export my portfolio if I did leave IfL, but that isn’t the same as being able to continue using it as it is, which is what I want.

There are different ways to use WordPress. I use the wordpress.com site, which hosts my blog for free me. If I wanted to (and had the technical ability to) I could download the wordpress software onto my own server and run it from there. If I wanted to switch from one to another, I could easily back up the blog, and then re-import it into the other environment. With WordPress I have so many options

  • I can write and edit entries easily from my iphone.
  • I can send an email which updates my blog.
  • I can integrate images, video, sound easily.
  • I can attach files easily.
  • I can keep the blog private, or public.
  • And the list goes on.

So it will be interesting to see if the idea of the bPortfolio (blog portfolio) that David Hopkin’s mentions does replace the ePortfolio. If it does then I am already converted.