Revisiting my position statement

By Matt Cornock

In May 2016 I submitted my application for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I did this through the University of York’s professional and academic development ‘YPAD‘ accreditation programme and was successfully awarded FHEA in June 2016.

Three years on, now working outside higher education, I am of course ineligible to renew. However, through an open professional practice lens, I thought this would be a great opportunity to revisit the ‘position statement’ I wrote about my learning technologist role (as was) and higher education.

Writing a position statement is quite a demanding task. It sets out your professional viewpoints, but is also something to be judged against (whether intentionally or not). Therefore a position statement is quite exposing, and invites conflict (or should we say critical appraisal) with those in the profession or academic discipline within which you work. However, a position statement is a crucial learning and development tool also. It is a marker in professional development and a framing mechanism to justify a current standpoint to reflect upon later. It is in that vein that I post publicly and will revise my statement.

My revised statement, which follows my older one captured below, sets out my current view of learning technology and the importance of education, drawing upon my more recent thoughts in my current role within the professional development sector. I’ve selected a few key quotes which help to illustrate my views, as they are at the moment. No doubt, through the professional learning that will continue to be part of my practice and through collaboration with others, my position will change. I expect to look back to this post in the future and disagree with myself, so perhaps I should warmly invite contrasting opinions to my views now, so that through discussion perhaps mutual learning will occur.


Position statement: May 2016

As a learning technologist I support staff in designing learning opportunities that engage students with their subject and offer ways of learning through effective use of technologies. Whilst the current UK policy agenda emphasises ‘excellence’ and ‘quality’ (BIS, 2015), albeit with limited specific detail, my view is that higher education should support students in developing their own forms of understanding, with opportunities to learn and contribute in an inclusive environment. These learning experiences can be enhanced through technology and blended learning activities, to enable: flexibility, accounting for students with differing learning needs and commitments; innovation and creativity, empowering students to proactively contribute; and collaboration, valuing perspectives to encourage learning from different backgrounds and experiences. My aim is to support critical adoption of technology-enhanced learning, aligning learning activities with learning objectives at the module and programme level, which I believe represents ‘excellence’ and ‘quality’ in learning and teaching.

As identified by the NMC Horizon Report (Johnson, et al., 2016), within higher education internationally there is an upward trend of blended learning and designed-in deeper learning approaches mediated by learning technologies. This trend has been long growing in the UK, with the HEFCE/NUS (2010) report on students’ perspectives of academic use of technology highlighting the need for considered use of learning technologies and skills development for teaching staff. My support of staff contributes towards institutional teaching expectations in terms of learning design, teaching contexts and creation of learning materials (University of York, 2015), and in turn towards the UK-PSF with particular emphasis on learning environments, appropriate use of learning technology and evaluation.

Influencing my practice I undertake pedagogical research projects that can contribute to not just my own development, but that of lecturers I work with and subsequently the learning experience of students. By being critical about the use of learning technologies, I develop effective teaching approaches that are student-focussed and enhance the quality of a course. My postgraduate studies in Online and Distance Education, which has provided a theoretical basis for my own practice and research skills training, underpins much of my recent work…


Renewing my position

With respect to the role of higher education as enabling and providing an inclusive space for all students to develop their own forms of understanding, skills, and importantly to challenge both themselves and others around them, I think this has never been more important. If I were to make any amendments it is that I would first expand this viewpoint more explicitly to academic and non-academic staff, and secondly attempt to avoid the view that learning only applies to students. Through this, I’m encouraging a learning culture within the organisations and institutions we work.

“Increasingly, educational contexts and leadership practices appear to exhibit the signs of a culture primarily focused on evidence that measures operational practices and students learning in a reductionist manner… Performance-related goals have the potential to usurp the formation of a humane and relational culture.”

(Giles and Yates, 2011, p.87/89)

It goes without saying that academic staff are experienced, knowledgeable in their discipline and have a crucial role as educators to scaffold, support and design learning. However, academic staff must be also enabled and empowered to continue their own learning and development. This includes, probably above all else, the opportunity to take risks and make mistakes. Giles and Yates (2011) described the tension that exists between individual accountability and collective change, that can limit professional development in an academic department. In an era of accountability to relatively short term, easily measurable outcomes, the long view of establishing learning cultures (as opposed to performance cultures) and the advantages thereof seem to be de-prioritised no different now than ten years ago. If I were to be bold, ‘excellence’ in education is defined not by results, but by the attitudes and attributes of both students and staff which evolve during learning and will continue to evolve long after. This can only be possible through education that is inclusive, welcomes open, informed debate and equips all involved with the skills necessary to continue to learn.

“The adoption of what we might call ‘situated learning’ is powerful because it locates the act of learning within the experience of working… In the knowledge economy, we learn while we work, and out work informs what we learn. Learning is an intangible asset that becomes both a commodity for organizations to exploit and a means of capacity building.”

(Wheeler, 2019, p.32)

I believe that the role of digital and educational technologies is integral to a learning culture that is relevant to the modern world. The ‘blended’ approach that I included in my original position statement reflects that online and offline spaces interact. Treating one learning space in isolation from the other makes the assumption that whatever is learnt in one space doesn’t transfer or connect to the other. Yet, that simply goes against constructivist viewpoints that learning builds upon prior learning. Those connections, transferability and contexts across spaces are key.

All learning takes place within the context of the learner (one of the biggest arguments I think against certain research methods which homogenise learners). Learners, as individuals, bridge many spaces and identities. The connections between learners, their identities, their interactions with others in their community or work, are all of great interest to me in terms of how I can best support learning that draws upon and relates to each. Whether or not specific activities, learning outcomes or technologies connect across different domains, the learner most certainly does. I’ve been increasingly aware of the importance of social and situated learning, which Meyes and De Freitas (2007, p.18) summarised and identified an underlying “assumption that learning must be personally meaningful.” Therefore, reframing blended learning centred on the learner, as a context-aware and context-situated actor in the learning process has really informed my approach to learning design.

“The social perspective on learning has received a major boost from the gradual reconceptualization of all learning at ‘situated’. A learner will always be subjected to influences from the social and cultural setting in which the learning occurs, which will also, at least partly, define the learning outcomes. This view of learning focuses on the way knowledge is distributed socially. When knowledge is seen as situated in the practices of communities then the outcomes of learning involve the abilities of individuals to participate in those practices successfully.”

(Meyes and De Freitas, 2007, p.18)

In addition, I continue to find the interplay between learning and technology fascinating as it provides opportunities to bridge spaces, identities and learning or development objectives. What is learnt through an online course or activity will inform how the learner then engages with a situation offline. Tasks that might form part of discipline or professional practice, may indeed draw upon digital technologies, online search, videos or communication methods that are not discipline-specific. I would probably argue more now than previously of the importance of digital literacy, both for educators and learners, which should include developing a personal approach to online learning.  My current thinking leads me to suggest that personalisation of learning, which itself is dependent upon context, is intrinsically connected to learners’ capability and capacity to personalise the process of learning. With technology-enhanced learning, the individual learner needs the digital learning skills to be best placed, as Selwyn (2017) suggested, to exploit how, who with and when to learn to meet their educational needs.

“…A key benefit of technology-based education is seen to be its positioning of the individual at the centre of the learning processes. In particular, digital technologies are often described as increasing the freedom of individuals to choose the information and people appropriate to their particular educational needs and circumstances.”

(Selwyn, 2017, p.24)

As much as we need to develop the digital skills of both learners and educators, part of the role of education is the empowerment of individuals to best learner they can be. Technology can enable this, as much as be the focus of enablement, particular as Wheeler (2019) implied the strengths of technology to provide immediacy of learning opportunities and professional training situated within the workplace. I want to enable learners to cross spaces, domains, connect and utilise forms of learning to meet their learning needs. This includes considering how everyday technology, learning technologies and subject-specific digital skills complement each other.

Formal and informal learning are so interconnected that to separate them by saying that specific technologies are suitable for one, but not the other, forces digital learning into a silo. In some cases, ‘technology-enhanced learning’ is still seen as distinctive and separate from ‘learning’. Whilst technology-enhanced learning does have professional and academic specialism, it is still part of education as a discipline. Professional roles, teams, and even businesses and government strategy, sometimes reinforce the position of technology in education as something beyond baseline practice, something to aspire to or requiring further development, rather than placing its critically applied use firmly as an expected norm.

However, the same is not true of informal learning environments. These are learning spaces woven into daily life and work. There is no technology silo, our everyday lives are permeated with technology. Formal learning using technology needs to embrace the reality of discipline technologies and real-life applications, and avoid the specialist label that implies digital learning can only be achieved through specific, #edtech-branded tools.

Learning technologists are best placed to normalise the use of technology, not by evangelical technological determinism, but by exploring the technology already part of educators and learners lives. We can do this by identifying the technology context of learners, empowering them and their educators to build upon what they know, and then to extend their understanding of how they can learn through new technologies, where appropriate. This is crucial role to play, to connect learning spaces, technologies and co-design learning experiences.

“Coupled with the gap between the potential and actual use of technologies is a failure to apply effectively the range of learning theories that have emerged in recent years, in particular those centred around more socio-cultural and constructivist perspectives which emphasise learning by doing and collaboration.”

(Conole, et al., 2007, p.103)

Formal and informal learning spaces cross online and offline environments, centred on individuals’ contexts. The blend is there, but it does require thoughtful realisation of how best to draw upon it, both from an educator perspective in the design, and in the learner perspective as participant. As Conole et al. (2007) suggested, application of a range of learning theories is needed, but what is often missing is the appreciation of any formally designed learning being placed within the un-designed personal learning context of the learner. Blended learning design that draws upon the forms of learning activity, forms of collaboration and interaction, and forms of media that work effectively in different spaces must be the way forward for education. This empowers both educator and learner to meet learning needs through processes which complement the formal and informal learning environments and develop a learning culture that bridges both spaces. Not just in higher educational, but beyond, in professional and lifelong learning too.

Post-script

Having a brief look at the latest EDUCAUSE Horizon Report 2019 (Alexander, et al., 2019), I’m contented that it refers to three themes that I have discussed above. Invariably, ‘blended learning’ remains one of the short term trends, as it has done in many previous annual reports. Two trends driving technology-enhanced learning adoption in the medium and long term respectfully are ‘advancing cultures of innovation’ (a trend since 2015) and ‘rethinking how institutions work’ (absent in the last couple of years, but returning again). These go hand in hand, and both require the type of learning culture I believe all organisations need to create and sustain in order to thrive.

References

  • Alexander, B., Ashford-Rowe, K., Barajas-Murphy, N., Dobbin, G., Knott, J., McCormack, M., Pomerantz, J., Seilhamer, R., and Weber, N. (2019). EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: 2019 Higher Education Edition. Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE. (last accessed 2 June 2019).
  • BIS (2015). Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, November 2015. London: HMSO. (last accessed 12 May 2016).
  • Conole, G, Oliver, M., Falconer, I., Littlejohn, A. and Harvey, J. (2007). ‘Designing for learning’, in: Conole, G. and Oliver, M. (eds.) Contemporary Perspectives in E-Learning Research. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Giles, D. and Yates, R. (2011) ‘Re-culturing a university department: a case study’, Management in Education, 25(3), 87-92.
  • HEFCE/NUS (2010). Student perspectives on technology – demand, perceptions and training needs. Report to the Higher Education Funding Council of England by the National Union of Students (UK). (last accessed 12 May 2016).
  • Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Hall, C. (2016). NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. (last accessed 9 May 2016).
  • Meyes, T. and De Freitas, S. (2007). ‘Learning and e-learning: the role of theory’, in: Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (eds.) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Selwyn, N.(2017). Education and Technology (2nd edition). London: Bloomsbury.
  • University of York (2015). Statement on Teaching Performance Expectations, v.5.1. (last accessed 9 May 2016).
  • Wheeler, S. (2019). Digital Learning in Organizations. London: Kogan Page.

One thought on “Revisiting my position statement”

  1. “If I were to be bold, ‘excellence’ in education is defined not by results, but by the attitudes and attributes of both students and staff which evolve during learning and will continue to evolve long after.” Be bold Matt, there seems to be a lot o mixing-up outputs with impact in the sector’s attempt to achieve excellence, while the numbers look good, the rumblings from staff and students tell a different story. Thinking about future career options, in light of your shift out of HE, working in the culture of ‘excellence’ does not always seem like such an attractive option….

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