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