Monday 26 March 2012

The official launch video for the Hydrographic Academy

I finally got time to edit the footage I took for the official launch of the Hydrographic Academy. The Academy was very pleased to share the stand with the Marine Institute during the conference, with the launch being held at our industrial partners stand (Fugro).  This video shows some highlights at the both stands and clips around the conference, plus the speeches from both Andrew McNeill (Global Learning & Development Manager. Fugro), Barbara Bond (Pro-Chancellor, Plymouth University) and Dr Richard Thain (Project Manager, Hydrographic Academy).  All attendees were treated to a Plymouth Gin and tonic, to mark the occasion. More details can be found on the Hydrographic Academy Blog post 'Making a splash...'  Hope you enjoy the video.

Those interested in the technical elements of the filming.  I used a Canon 600D, 18-55mm lens throughout. The audio gain was set to manual and a Zoom H1 attached to provide stereo sound. All editing was performed in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Oceanology International 2012

Plymouth Gin at the Hydrographic Academy launch!IMG_0984IMG_0985IMG_0986IMG_0987IMG_0997

These photos were taken at the Oceanology International 2012. Which includes images of the vendor stands, the venue and also the Hydrographic Academy's official Launch.

Details on the Hydrographic Academy here:

Saturday 17 March 2012

What are Learning Technologists?

Mobile learning applications
There are a number of materials available that point to what individuals and organisations consider a Learning Technologist to be.  I refer to examples such as: David Hopkins excellent blog post, the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and articles like Shurville, Browne & Whitaker (2009)Shurville et al. 2009 paper is a very compelling look at the strategic importance of Educational Technologists (another term for Learning Technologists) within higher education (HE) contexts.

'...educational technologists have been in existence in HE for over 30 years...and professional practice has historical roots going back to the second world war and beyond...'   Shurville et al. 2009 p207 
Interestingly, ALT is not specifically directed towards learning technologists, but it's also about technologies in educational contexts, teachers and HE academic staff can also join ALT. Where Learning Technologists differ is that we are employed to be specialists in the field of learning technologies, to advise and train others and disseminated that new found knowledge to the wider community. ALT also go some way to defining what we do:
'Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology.' (ALT, 2010
Notably, ALT members with significant knowledge and experience are now able to apply for professional status CMALT. This involves a large amount of reflection and evidencing within a focused portfolio of skills and working practices - we are gaining momentum as a strongly recognised field of expertise. Notably, Learning Technologists are considered, quite rightly by some to have similar importance to the academic staff they advise and support Shurville, Browne & Whitaker (2009). In this respect they are generally expected to have some form of teaching experience or qualification, often at post-graduate level, which enables us to better understand our clients and advise appropriately. Equally, having an understanding for the 'digital literacy' of people within these organisations and wider afield, plays a large part in this process of getting user and learner working with technologies appropriately (Plymouth University TEL, 2010Guardian, 2012a).

Are you IT support?
There is often much confusion on what we actually do as Learning Technologists, hence the subtitle: 'are you IT support?'.  The reality is that we all have a very difficult balancing act of developer-mediator-educator-technical job to perform.  Learning Technologists offer a range of specialist skills, which combine: teaching, project management, learning theory, educational development and knowledge in the use of any electronic equipment (I'll stress these are only technologies which are ethically deployable in teaching and learning contexts).  When I get asked what we do, I try to describe our role as educational developers with technology as a 'bolt on', I feel this is much more in keeping with other terms such as 'Educational Technologists' used in other institutions. Most of us are degree yielding fully qualified teachers/lecturers (from primary right up to higher education), often possessing qualifications in social/educational research and with professional qualifications in Learning Technologies, such as CMALT mentioned earlier. Having these combined skill sets allows us to properly understand how people learn in educational contexts and how the institution will benefit from our expertise, tailoring technologies in ways that enhance or improve learning. This often results in us discovering ways of enhancing teaching productivity (electronically) which we can then share with teaching staff.  In a sense I like to think of the 'e' term used in most acronyms to mean: enterprising, enhancing, education and electronic all at the same time.  It's because of this unusual middle ground of the traditionalist educational developers and digital expert that I think there is a lot of confusion towards our role.  

Fieldwork voting system
Geology students at Plymouth
Why does this happen? In a sense, and somewhat unusually, I find that the term 'technology' takes president over the term 'learning'.  Perhaps it's because we are adept at: using computer systems, creating software packages, programming or writing in mark up languages (HTML), able to programme mobile devices and explain and demonstrate these in layperson terms that your typical learning technologists are seen as handy IT specialists for quick fixes. Many times we get asked to fix problems with software and hardware which is outside the context of our role.  Granted we have these skill sets, but we need to use them specifically to understand how these technologies can be utilised in teaching and learning contexts.  Sometimes roles are blended, requiring a crossover. This is more likely in smaller institutions where learning technologists may be required to lean towards a more server side development with some support of University systems, however, they are still required to advise on learning technologies making it an even tougher job.  However, most of us are not actually meant to fix every broken component in the university fleet or software patch operating systems, we have IT system specialists for this purpose. Our relationship with IT system specialists predominately involves discussing the wants and needs for any given project with the view to establishing where any learning technologies can work within existing systems, thus allowing us to advise academic staff appropriately.

In reality, all of this background work is a means to achieving an electronic educational development: be it building a standalone virtual learning environment, building a component within that environment or working with staff to develop a technology enabled distance learning course. On a grander scale this may require us to perform a consultative/facilitative role, particularly when it is linked to a virtual learning environment (VLEs) development across faculty or potentially institution. Such processes usually involve Deans and Associate Deans at institutional level.

Fun with technologies?
It's just all fun and games, right?
We enjoy our work, but it's not just about playing with electronic toys (as some may think), fun as they are, it's also about evaluating technologies in the educational contexts they were intended. All this with the goal of providing evidence that they work and then disseminating this through meetings, conferences and journals to the wider teaching and learning communities. It's all about Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) practice. A fair amount of this dissemination is achieved at Plymouth University through TEL days and Vice Chancellor teaching and learning conferences. There are of course other conferences around the world, ALT have their own annual conference and we even have the increasingly popular PELeCON (Plymouth e-learning conference) hosted on our campus yearly, for which I am a committee member. PELeCON boasts an international audience for learning technologies and educational learning theory. 

Take it from me, there is an incredible amount of research and development that goes into ensuring that technologies work appropriately in teaching and learning contexts!  The school of thought is generally that technologies should be transparent in their use.  For me (as others I'm sure), unless the learning is specifically about the technology, students should be thinking less about operating the devices/software and more about reaching their learning outcomes from using those technologies.
I have heard others coin the phase 'transparency', whether this is fully obtainable is open to debate, but there is no harm in trying. 
Where we can help is by enhancing digital learning environments with such things as training on podcasting (adaptable solutions), bespoke problem based learning software, employing virtual 3D learning environments or just simply advise on using simple formative digital tests that can be held on the institutions VLEs (to name a few...). It's all about the best ways to empowering academics to create the digital content they need in order to enrich the learning experiences for their students. substantial amount of the work in developing any learning technology is the content, as we often say: 'content is king', and it is up to us to advise others how these can be placed efficiently into digital learning platforms.  Ultimately it's the academics who posses the expertise in their disciplines, they are the content creators - we empower this process. However, when working in much larger projects, this may also involve building components or working out ways in which this can happen efficiently. This is certainly the case for one of my projects helping to develop and advise in the e-learning processes for the Hydrographic Academy (a distance learning solution for the marine industry). 

The future?
Immersive vision theatre
Plymouth University
The role of the learning technologist has always been surrounded by the constantly changing worlds of both digital technologies and educational theory, they are both inextricably linked, inseparable.  The benefits that our specialism brings to academia will continue to enhance learning in many enjoyable ways, technology is constantly changing, a fact proven across our modern history of development. The future is already here, and Universities that embrace educational technologies are becoming the true educational leaders (Guardian, 2012b).  Granted there will always be the traditionalist arguments towards teaching approaches and this can sometimes slow progress. However, rest assured, we are not about taking down sound theory and practice, we are about enhancing and matching this theory appropriately in new digital formats. We are also not about replacing teaching, we are about enhancing and providing wider opportunities. Certainly my own experiences show there is an incredible community of learning technology theorists and practitioners across the world, who are beginning to realise the importance of learning technologies and how vital our roles are to academia and beyond. With this, of course, comes a greater clarity as to the benefits to technology enhance learning, allowing us all to provide cutting edge digital learning environments for all our students to learn. 
Learning Technologists are the 'interface' between learning theory and technology, the ambassadors for the future of learning in the digital age, we can help shape the future of our institutions.

UPDATE - Since writing this blog article you maybe interested in the following paper in the context of the above:

FOX, O. & SUMNER, N. 2014. Analyzing the Roles, Activities, and Skills of Learning Technologists: A Case Study From City University London. American Journal of Distance Education, 28, 92-102.