CMALT Portfolio – 4. Communication and Working with Others

Communication

Key to being able to drive and catalyse academic staff engagement with ELT is having an effective communication mechanism through which to signpost and disseminate pertinent information. In my role this includes mechanisms by which this information is disseminated cross-institutionally, in the localised context of the Faculty of HLS, and between our CELT team.

In terms of a my approach to effective communication in my faculty support context; I publish a monthly section in the HLS newsletter called ELT Signposts, an example of which can be found at:

I also author a section in the Health and Life Sciences Faculty Teaching and Learning Committee website which offers key information about my Faculty support role, Faculty ELT training sessions, and links to our centralized support services.

I actively participate in several Faculty-based committees and groups, which are key communicative conduits in relation to my ELT role in terms of outward and inward communication: HLS FLTC, the HLS IT User Group, and the Nursing and Midwifery eLearning SIG. I attend Programme and Module team meetings where necessary. I also liaise with an appointed academic ELT Champion in each of the schools.

I collaborated with one of my CELT colleagues in organising a Cross-Faculty Sharing Practice session, bringing together academic staff from Health & Life Sciences and Art, Design & Humanities to share effective practice in ELT. These types of sessions can be very effective in terms of establishing a communication network between staff who are active in the use of ELT, but who might be unaware of each others’ work due to the sometimes isolated nature of working in a particular faculty. Below is a poster about the event.

In terms of the broader institutional mechanisms by which the CELT team’s work is communicated and disseminated – as discussed previously, I lead the development of our CELT hub. A key strategic purpose of the hub is for it to be the primary mechanism through which we communicate and disseminate our ELT support services institutionally, and beyond. Given the growing strategic importance of Communication and Dissemination in terms of the services that we (CELT) provide; in December 2014 I authored a Communications and Marketing strategy for CELT which looked towards the implementation of enhancements that take into account resiliency and scalability of Communications and Marketing in correlation with ELT as an expanding practice across the institution. The CELT team is discussing the potential for implementing this project over the coming year (2015/16).

Not only is outward communication key to my role, but the ability to intercept and gather information that is being communicated by others which might inform and enhance my ELT knowledge. To facilitate this I actively monitor sources of communication that concern ELT. For example;

Several Blogs that I keep an eye on (this is not an exhaustive list):

I am subscribed to several ELT user groups and news lists – some of which relate to core technologies that I support at DMU:

  • The Blackboard User group [blackboard-usergroup@jiscmail.ac.uk]
  • Midlands Blackboard VLE users group [m-blackboard@jiscmail.ac.uk]
  • Campus Pack digest [campuspackuk@jiscmail.ac.uk]
  • Turnitin UK User Group [turnitin@jiscmail.ac.uk]

Others that are more general sources of information concerning learning technology:

  • The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) list [alt-members@jiscmail.ac.uk]
  • The ALT news digest [alt-announce@jiscmail.ac.uk]
  • Heads of eLearning Forum [http://helfuk.blogspot.co.uk/]

I endeavour to attend national conferences whenever the opportunity arises. I find conferences an excellent environment in which to network and learn from my peers in the field. In recent times I have attended:

  • Open Educational Practice: making best use of free resources – The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE)
  • HEA – Innovation, Simulation and the Evolution of Technology Enhanced Learning in Healthcare Education

I am also on the steering group for the East Midlands Learning Technologists Group. I find this network an excellent resource for informing my practice, and raising my awareness of broader issues concerning technology in education. An example of how this particular network has had a direct impact on my work is the blog post by David Hopkins about his CMALT journey.

This blog has been an important information resource for the development of my own CMALT portfolio – particularly the list of other publicly available CMALT portfolios that David provides on his personal blog space.

I have not always been so active in monitoring external networks of communication as means of information and knowledge gathering. When I began as a learning technologist I was reluctant to engage with these networks as I felt that I should develop my own ideas and thoughts independently and via formal knowledge-bearing resources (books, journals, internet-based knowledge repositories, etc.) and not seek inspiration or answers or information from these informal, discursive spaces – I felt like it was cheating. I’ve now come to realise that my reluctance was misplaced, and that one should actively seek out all potential sources of information and knowledge that will ultimately enhance your abilities as a learning technologist, and that you yourself can pass on to others to enhance their knowledge and abilities. The power to affect change locally (institutionally) and across broader sectors comes from the collective knowledge we share and can access as part of our networks of communication.

Collaboration

Although there are aspects of my work in which I independently conceive and develop projects, collaboration is inherent in my day-to-day work – whether it be working with an individual member of staff on the implementation of ELT for their teaching, to larger scale strategic institutional projects and research projects. Most of the work evidenced in this portfolio has, to lesser or greater extent involved collaboration.

Effective communication is a key component of successful collaboration. What I have found in my work as a learning technologist is that engaging in an open and transparent dialogue, one that includes all potential stakeholders is key in terms of establishing an effective and efficient working environment in the implementation of ELT. Being able to take on board multiple perspectives, opinions and ideas that emerge from formal and informal situations, and to synthesise these towards the intended aim or goal has been, in my view paramount to the success of much if the collaborative work that I have been involved with.

Our CELT team operates through a distinctive model of collaboration and communication. Indeed, in January 2015 we had an article accepted for publication in the March 2015 edition of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (JLDHE). The article offers an overview of how the CELT team utilises a simultaneously co-operative, connected and distributed model for staff development in seeking to bridge the gap between digital know how and the effective pedagogic implementation of digital technology as part of a curriculum.

http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/index.php?journal=jldhe&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=282

Some examples of my collaborative projects:

I have collaborated with academic staff on their innovative use of the DMU Commons, for example:

I worked with a member of the Nursing staff to develop an online scenario-based learning object.

I collaborated with my CELT colleagues on the development of the CELT Hub

I collaborated with the Nursing programme team in the development of the High Street teaching and learning resource

During the time that I have been working as a learning technologist I have found my approach to communicating and working with others to have changed quite significantly based on my experience as to what approaches work most effectively. When I first began the role I tended to take a somewhat formal approach to communication and collaboration. I’d send out blanket emails and newsletters asking for staff who had interesting ideas for using technology in their teaching to contact me so as to discuss the idea further. This solicited a few responses here and there for which I’d then schedule formal meetings in board-room type spaces with specially prepared documentation for capturing ideas. The majority of potential projects identified using this approach either didn’t get off the ground or progress very far. Perhaps because this very formal approach tended to stifle creativity at a very early stage in the process, rather than giving the creative process space and time to breathe, to allow the initial seed idea to naturally evolve.

What I’ve found over time is that I’ve had much more success in terms of identifying and developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning from discussions that have taken place in less formal spaces. Rather than solely relying on actively soliciting ideas from staff through formal channels of communication, I use other less formal approaches. Sometimes I’ll simply pop my head round the door of a member of staff, whom I know has an active interest in using technology, just to say hello – on the off chance that they may be thinking of trying something out – or invite them for a friendly chat over a cup of tea. Indeed, now when I’m approached by an member of staff to discuss ELT I tend to suggest that we chat in a nearby cafe, and mind map on the back of a napkin.

As evidenced in the sections above – I still utilise formal mechanisms for communication, however I am now far more active in the use of less formal mechanisms. It’s often in these informal spaces, outside of the professional environment during a general, friendly rather than work-related chat where (in my experience) the most exciting things emerge. Chance discussions emerging from informal ’round the water cooler’ moments can be highly effective, particularly in brainstorming innovative approaches ‘in the moment’. Once these ideas have been given a bit of informal air time one can then bring more formal organisational mechanisms to bear in terms of taking the ideas forward.

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