My response to ‘Falling between the cracks: in search of a mentor’

During last summer I reached peak frustration levels and posted a piece about the difficulties surrounding defining career paths and identities in the field of educational technology. Specifically, the difficulties around finding a mentor in such a field. Then life derailed for a time and I didn’t quite find the perfect time for a follow up but on a grey weekend following International Women’s Day and Open Education Week this feels as about right as it gets. I’ve also noticed on Twitter recently that others are having similar frustrations at the lack of conversations around identities of professional services and alternative academics in general so the issue is still alive and kicking.

Writing the post itself was pretty cathartic but I tagged in a bunch of people on Twitter that I admire and gain inspiration from, thinking I might get one or two hints and tips in return.

However, I was staggered by not only the level of response but just how quickly they all arrived in my notifications. Many people were on holiday and someone was even on maternity leave. Not only that but many others joined the conversation both on Twitter and WordPress.

So, what’s happened since? Well on paper absolutely nothing, zip, nada – same school, same office, same job title. However, I went through all the suggestions and advice and have been working on as much as practically possible. The SEDA route looks really interesting but it requires funds that I just don’t have at the moment, so it is definitely on the list for the future. ALT and CMALT were mentioned frequently and their 2017 survey results indicate that many of my peers would also value a mentoring element. I have since been participating with several of their initiatives including signing up to the Senior CMALT pilot which will hopefully be an informative adventure. I’ve certainly gained from engaging with CMALT so far so watch this space.

Other common themes that arose include the importance of trust, finding the best person, being comfortable with the person, having someone from a different field, not restricting yourself to one person and recognising mentorship even if it isn’t labelled as such.

People asked me questions and pointed me to resources which have all been really valuable and practical, yet, these weren’t the most valuable elements of the exercise. It was the responses themselves that lifted me back off the bottom. Nearly, every single one was from someone that I have never met offline, some I have never even conversed with. One comment has lead to a continuing conversation with thought provoking questions for me to answer. Many of us are becoming ever more critical regarding technological determinism and the data mining exploits of many platforms but achieving these honest, open and supportive conversations is literally incredible. I would never have approached people, I didn’t know, in a face-to-face situation and asked these questions and certainly not repeatedly.

Being open is still loaded with risk, in many, many ways, but the payoff can be huge. This then is my THANK YOU, to each and every one of you! As I said at the beginning, on paper everything is the same as it was in August but otherwise, everything is different, everything. I might not be clear about the short term, which is still as clear as mud, but the future is now pretty bloody exciting as I will starting a part-time PhD at the University of Edinburgh with the amazing Jen Ross in October 2018. There, I’ve said it out loud. It’s real (no more curve balls please). You all contributed in part to this.

Sue Watling summed it all up perfectly in the Tweet below and I know I will be turning ever more to that network when I begin this new adventure.

“We’re the Twitterati network of HE practitioners, making @twitter into what we want it to be!”

PS After I wrote the initial post my institution began a pilot scheme for professional services staff and despite replying within a couple of days of receiving the email I am somewhat ironically on a waiting list as they had so many responses, which made me smile!

Women’s Work

This week is pretty special for me as International Women’s Day and the Launch of the ALT Northern Ireland Members Group collide on 8th March, bringing technology, learning, openness and equality together.

I contribute to an online creativity task, the Daily Create (I would highly recommend checking this out) and one recent activity centred on colouring a page from an open source document, the Europeana Coloring Book. My eye was immediately attracted to one of women at work within a domestic setting. The title ‘Ouvrages Domestiques’ translates (via Google) to Household Items so I assume the intention of the pictures was to focus on the tools not the people using them and technological determinism continues to be a problem today.

Public Domain: The Studio Carl Larsson

What struck me most though is that nearly each tool, captured here between 1800 and 1854, remains part of my life, in one form or another, all these years later. I use an iron, stove, floor brush, sewing needle, toy and so on. However, it is transformative newer technologies that mean I live a very, very different life from these women. I have an electric stove so I don’t have to go out and obtain fuel to maintain a fire to cook, I have a washing machine so I don’t have to spend hours heating water over a fire in order to fill a basin to then hand wash each item, I have a vacuum cleaner to speed through the house, my father has a mechanical milking system to enable him to milk a dozen or more cows in the time this woman would have milked one, I buy butter churned mechanically and I buy my clothes online and get them delivered to my door.

Each scene intrigues more every time I look at it; things are so different for me two hundred years later (not least being free of weighty garments) yet every single one features in my life in some form or another. Technology has changed dramatically and I am now freed from domestic work enough to be able to work and earn money doing something I love and find mentally challenging. However, I am not freed entirely, the majority of these chores still need done each day and I use technology to squeeze them into the few hours I have left in the week and to allow some of them to become my hobbies rather than essential to my existence. Thankfully, I am able to share these tasks with my husband, unlike these women. I think though that apart from paid work some of these women were using the technology for that same reason – for fun; musical instruments, embroidery, gardening depicted by women in fancier, elaborate outfits than those doing more laborious work.

Looking to the future for women and technology later in the week I will be thinking a lot about what technology can and can’t change and how we can get distracted by the transformative nature for those of us who are privileged. We have to remain cognisant that technology in and of itself isn’t the answer to equality, that women and those without access to it remain chained to thankless labours and, worse, may even have their jobs threatened by technology. We need to focus on the wins for everyone, rather than for a privileged few, whether in education, healthcare, communities or beyond.

My hope is that in another two hundred years this colouring book will at the very least have a diverse gender and social depiction. Have a wonderful International Women’s Day.

Boundless – #oneword2018

I’m not big on new year resolutions but the combined prompts of #oneword2018 and the Visual Thinkery Elemental Design tool have encouraged me to pick my word for the coming year: boundless.

Boundless – Visual Thinkery

Why boundless?

1. I spend a huge amount of time trying to curtail my children’s endless energy: running when they should be walking, bouncing when they should be sitting, cartwheeling when they should be listening. However, deep down I’m really just pretty darn envious and would love, love, love to be able to channel even a fraction of this endless fountain.

2. There are lots of changes and new projects on the cards in the year ahead and I don’t want to restrain or limit my expectations of what’s to come.

3. The world around me seems determined (still) to build walls and reinstate borders and boundaries – to my mind a crazy stance.

4. I hope this year to further explore ethnography for research. This is going to be quite challenging but it aligns with my boundless ethos:

Its aim is to observe a situation without imposing any deductive structure or framework upon it and to view everything as strange or unique.

Virtual ethnography really complicates the idea of ‘boundaries’ because it challenges spatial and temporal locations.

5. It brings Tigger from Winnie the Pooh to mind and that is always a good thing.

* Bs is a, tongue-in-cheek, reminder to myself to avoid the common meaning for it at all costs

2017: Risky Business

Confession: In true click bait form there are no dubious teenage antics, including dancing in underpants, to be found in this post.

I wasn’t going to do an end of year reflection this year because the entire year involved reflecting in a myriad of different spaces and also because it was a tad shit. However, when I sat down to write my goals for 2018, I was stuck as I kept thinking back so here are my thoughts in my ageing, rambling fashion.

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My 5 Take Aways from the ALT-C Winter Conference

These are my ‘notes to self’/to-dos after attending and presenting at the ALT-C Winter Conference 2017, this week. The two days had a packed programme, that was not only accessible from sitting at my desk but completely free as well. My thanks to everyone involved, and a special congratulations to the team for overcoming the initial technical hurdles.

I managed to attend a range of different session types and those I missed to due to work commitments or programme clashes, I am catching up with via the recordings. All the recordings can be accessed via the programme, embedded in each session.

These are my personal top take aways from the event.

Take away sign
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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Learning and Teaching through Play: A Play within a Play

Seamus Heaney quotation

Act I: Setting the scene

The words above are taken from an “ode to Adams House” that Seamus Heaney penned to as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of its founding in Harvard (Kiely, 2013). It speaks of the differences between our youth and our experiences during university. Heaney is clear in the belief that playing was a separate entity from higher education, it is relegated to our childhood memories. He ends the poem by giving permission to the students to play: “To-day’s the day For intellectuals to play.”. Where in history did this dichotomy occur?

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The Manifesto for teaching online and my postcard

This post is in preparation for a Creativity at a Distance Workshop by Tanya Elias and hopefully it makes sense outside of that context.

I have put down my thoughts about a postcard I created in the first module of the Digital Education programme at the University of Edinburgh as a way of linking the annotation of the manifesto itself. It is my personal take on it. Please keep in mind that I am writing this eighteen months after I created it and thus my interpretation may be coloured by the time since. Also it is one very small artefact generated for this course and is not representative of the whole picture, it was simply a fitting example for this exercise.

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Creativity, Distance Learning & Connections

This is an overview/tour of some of the creative elements that I have experienced over the last two years as a student on the MSc in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. It has been on my to-do-list for a while but a recent post by Tanya Dorey-Elias, Creativity at a Distance,‏ was the perfect prompt to actually pull things together in one reflection.

I have completed four modules to date, Moodle being the main space for two and open WordPress sites for the other two. Connection with my fellow students across the globe was through private discussion forums, Twitter hashtags, Twitter chats, WordPress comments, synchronous Hangouts, synchronous Skype calls, synchronous text chats (Skype), TogetherTube, email and various other outside sites including Instagram, Padlet etc.

Creativity was at the core of all the modules although this was not explicitly fore fronted, indeed checking back over the learning outcomes, creativity is not mentioned once. These artefacts are samples of my own personal work and I want to be clear that the objects themselves are not what I am showcasing. The point I am making is that whilst making and sharing these with my tutors, classmates, even the wider world in some cases, I was connecting and learning. Crucially I learned that high end technical know-how is the skill least required for wonderful creativity and I was constantly amazed by what my colleagues produced.

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Can’t Crochet, Won’t Crochet

This post was an assignment for #mscde – Understanding Learners in an Online Environment. It is my reflection of a learner challenge, a new motor skill. It was submitted in March 2017.

Starting out

Upon initially reading the assignment I immediately thought of crochet, a skill that has alluded me from childhood. However, examining the details I worried this would not be enough of a departure from knitting, a skill I already possessed. Turning to the discussion forum to check out the feasibility it was interesting that a difference of opinion from each tutor transpired. Weighing this up together with the practical realities of being extremely short of free time I decided to forge ahead with crochet.

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Falling between the cracks: in search of a mentor

Zoshua Colah

Over the last couple of years I have been reading about the benefits of mentoring and colleagues have shared the many positive experiences they have gained from having a mentor. So what’s the problem? Simply put, as an education technologist, as with many other aspects of my professional life, I fall between the cracks. Internally, there are mentor schemes for academics, postgraduate students, administrative/clerical staff and technicians. I have asked about an equivalent scheme for professional support a few times without success and was directed to a coaching scheme instead.

However, having looked at this I simply couldn’t see how it was equivalent, it seemed to be about having a set number of sessions with a stranger to work through issues or problems within the work environment. This isn’t what I was envisioning, I think of mentoring as a longer term relationship with someone with whom you build trust, who has had similar experiences and can then advise me in my goals and directions, where I am going right and where I am hurtling off in the wrong direction. Big picture guidance not small picture problem solving.

I then turned to external sources again without success so I abandoned ship at that point. However, a recent Twitter conversation together with a personal review of 2017 brought these thoughts back to the front of my mind and I am taking a new approach to the problem – writing in the open.

At one point, I was asked ‘who do you have in mind?’. This surprised me, is it not the very point of an official scheme that mentors and mentees are matched by backgrounds and needs combined with interests (at least this is how I see it from the outside). How on earth do I know who is best suited? Having a foot in academia and a foot in technology (and being part of neither group) with no clear routes regarding professional development doesn’t make things easy.

This question then starts the snowball effect. If I were to find the right person how on earth do I cold-call a request to be my mentor? How much information do I need to give upfront? Am I going to look super needy? What do I do if this person either ignores my approaches or outright declines? What if I pre-empt this and ask more than one person and get more than one ‘yes’? I live on a small island and would have to rely on virtual connections, would that put people off? What if everyone says no???? Is this an act of total self-harm?

So in lieu of any rules or guidance I am throwing caution to the wind and directly asking the people* I most admire for their work and achievements, for their strength and openness in my online network – not to be my mentor but their thoughts and advice on the whole conversation. *This list is potentially huge and I am starting small to keep things manageable initially so please feel free to forward to anyone you think I have should have tagged and apologies to anyone who did not appreciate being tagged.

Before signing off I want to be clear that I am surrounded by incredible, supportive friends and colleagues who are mentors in many different ways – but it is back to being an education technologist, we don’t have clarity about our roles never mind expect others to understand and provide advice on our complex journeys. I think this post is therefore just the start of a series tackling identity and perceived identify but that is for another day.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your stories