Category Archives: TELT advisors

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)

Why it’s better to be a TELT Advisor than an Education Advisor

For people working in roles like mine in tertiary education – education designers, academic developers, learning technologists etc – one our greatest challenges is being listened to and having our skills and knowledge recognised.

I think that adopting an overarching term for our roles such as TELT (Technology Enhanced Learning & Teaching) Advisor might be one way to address this.

Celia Whitchurch (2008) describes a sector of the workforce in Higher Education whose day to day work overlaps the teaching and administration areas – the so-called ‘third space professionals’. She refers to a broader set of staff members than I am here – she includes curriculum developers, student study skills advisors and more – but people who support and advise academics/teachers about teaching practices without actually teaching themselves certainly fit well into the third space category.

I’ve been involved in many discussions trying to find an umbrella term for people in these roles – the academic developers (people who train academics in teaching and learning), learning technologists (people who support the use and implementation of educational technology) and education designers/developers (people who help to design and build courses and learning resources). All of these people do more than the minimal descriptions that I’ve offered and the vast majority tend to do all three of these things at different times.

In the course of discussions with my colleagues, we have settled (for now) on Education Advisor as an umbrella term for our roles. Using Advisor rather than Support person was an important distinction for more than a few people because they felt strongly that Advisor puts us on a more equal footing.

We are frequently (but not exclusively) professional staff members which means that while we may have extensive experience in teaching and learning and qualifications to match, in the academic-centric culture of universities, because we are not teaching (or researching), we are not part of the tribe, we are not peers to the teachers we work with. We are Other. Even the academics that move over to roles in this area are sometimes jokingly referred to as having ‘gone over to the dark side’.

On a personal level, none of this bothers me overly. The vast majority of academics that I work with are decent people that appreciate my support and I enjoy the work that I do. Teaching & Learning and Research are the core reasons for being of universities so I can understand how the culture of the institution tends to privilege the people working directly at the chalkface – or Screenface if you will. (And the research-face as well, of course. Yes, this term started well but…).

This culture also means that there is significant pressure on academics to demonstrate their value, both in their research and (to a lesser extent still, sadly) in their teaching practice. Knowledge is the currency of the academic. To admit that you don’t know something is therefore to make yourself vulnerable. It is assumed then that academics are experts in their field (reasonably so) and also in teaching.

The assumed expertise in teaching seems curious in some ways, given that teaching is a profession and a craft in its own right and people working in this area at any level other that higher education are mandated to have relevant qualifications. There are, of course, many fantastic teachers among academics, but it’s often more by luck than design. Some do choose to undertake teaching qualifications or training but in an institutional culture that strongly favours research over teaching, there is little incentive to do so.

Education Advisors however, do tend to have these qualifications and training, as well as years of experience in teaching and learning. In spite of this, there is an intense reluctance from academics to seek or take pedagogical advice from education advisors. I don’t understand why this is but I have some theories. Seeking or taking advice on teaching, I believe, is effectively seen as sending up a signal that they lack some of the core skills that define their value to the university. It might also come down to basic tribalism in some instances – education advisors aren’t in the teaching tribe, they’re professional staff (mostly) and therefore what could they really offer. I’m sure there are other factors and this may not mirror the experiences of all of my colleagues but I’ve had university leaders say to me directly “I’m going to hire an academic to support this project because they understand pedagogy”.

This is where being a TELT advisor is an advantage.

Yes, it grows a little tiresome being seen primarily as the first port of call for technical questions relating to the use of the LMS or the lecture capture system or any of the other institutional ed. tech tools when we know how much more we have to offer BUT academics are far more willing to admit that they need help with education technology than with education. They’re not expected to know the tech and this liberates them to be learners.

TELT knowledge is our ticket to the conversation about teaching and learning in our institutions. Rather than burning energy trying to demonstrate that we know more about teaching and learning than just the TELT side (which, can still be what we make it), we should make the most of our niche.

Another key reason to do this is that the higher up the chain you go in tertiary education institutions, the more excitement there is about ‘innovation’ and the promise of education technology. Sometimes the excitement is because the executive actually see the benefits in teaching and learning terms and sometimes it is because it represents ‘doing something’ (and being seen to be ‘doing something’) and sometimes it is even just a matter of keeping up with the Joneses – or one-upping them. Whatever the reasons, and I hope I’m being pragmatic rather than cynical, being the local ‘experts’ in ed tech and innovation in TELT practices gives us more perceived value in these terms than other teaching support areas and creates more opportunities to do good.

So in a nutshell, we’re better off self-identifying as TELT advisors because it creates a niche, academics are more open to seeking advice and support in areas tied to technology and we sit comfortably in the innovation space, which is so hot right now.

(I’ll concede that it’s a clunky term but I’m yet to hear a better one that truly reflects our knowledge, skills and practices and which keeps the focus on teaching and learning)