I’m not a Learning Technologist…
Or am I?
Before I started to teach in higher education, I had never heard of the term/job title of Learning Technologist. It is a term that I have been considering for some time from the perspective of am I a learning technologist? do I want to be a learning technologist and, if I do, then how do I achieve this. I have also considered if it should or shouldn’t have capital letters! What follows are my own personal views about the title and job role.
Apart from leadership titles there are very few titles within the primary sector. Most of these relate to management roles, e.g. team leader, phase leader, assistant head, or specifically to coordinating subjects, e.g. mathematics or literacy coordinator. Most of the time the title we hold is teacher. Although this covers a large variety of roles and responsibilities the title suffices and everyone appears to be happy. While still working in the primary sector, I did once hold a ‘title’. This was ‘Leading teacher of Intervention’ something which sounded much grander than it sounds. This title I achieved almost as a qualification from completing a year long course and I never used it save when applying for jobs. Although I have changed my subject responsibility several times one role which has always stayed with me was ICT coordinator. In this role, not only was I responsible for the teaching and learning of ICT (now called Computing) throughout the school, I was also the ‘go to person’ for any IT problems/difficulties – including the dreaded printers – and ideas of how to support learning within the classroom. Technology has always been one of my tools to support learning and, working within higher education, has only allowed me to further enhance this. But does this make me a Learning Technologist?
Reading David Hopkins book – ‘The Really Useful #EdTechBook’ I have come across different people’s perception of what a Learning Technologist is (including my favourite – part super hero!) and their roles within institutions. From this, and if you haven’t read it you should, it is apparent that people’s views and roles actually differ and there appears to be a range of different views about both the title and role. In order to decide if I am, or could possibly achieve the title, I need to actually decide myself what I consider the role to be.
- Pedagogy– When people ask what discipline I work in, they often assume that I am a mathematician or scientist. Although my qualifications might support or suggest this, I consider my discipline to be teaching and learning. It is a very strange discipline since, unlike areas such as anthropology or astral physics, it is less defined in the ‘facts’ and assurance of theories. Yes, there are many theories about teaching and learning but there also exists a dichotomy between actual theory and practice. In some situations a theory works perfectly in practice, in other situations it comes nowhere close. This gap (or in some cases chasm) makes the whole discipline difficult to be an ‘expert’ in since advice is mostly subjective. The title Learning Technologist, obviously contains the word ‘learning’ and so must relate to pedagogy, but is this the pedagogy of e-learning or the usual ‘learning’ and is there a difference? E-learning often shares many of the ‘standard’ theories relating to pedagogy, but it also has some of its own which relates specifically to the use of technology to support learning. There is an overlap, but it is possible to be an expert or teaching solely in the discipline of e-pedagogy which I consider to be the realm of the Learning Technologist.
- Technical Expertise– As I have mentioned earlier, part of my role of IT coordinator was providing solutions or answers for a range of technical related questions. One of my favourite types of question was – “I want to do this – which technology can help me?”. In order to answer this I needed to have not only an understanding of e-pedagogy, but also an understanding and working knowledge of a range of software and devices. This allowed me to consider the requirements of the teacher or learning situation and suggest an appropriate piece of technology. Knowledge of this type meant that I needed to ensure that I was always up to date with the new technologies and software. In order to achieve this I spent some of my continual professional development (CPD) attending courses and training. This allowed me to not only recommend solutions but also the appropriate training to support the member of staff. This is mirrored in the role of the Learning Technologist since they not only need to consider the actual pedagogy behind the technology but also have to have the expertise to support its implementation, including staff training.
- E-practitioner – This is probably not a ‘real word’ but it is one which I feel needs to be discussed in order to complete my understanding of the role of a Learning Technologist. As well as knowing about the new technologies and e-pedagogy, for me, it is important to also have a working knowledge of these. Working not in the sense of technical working, but working as in actually using it within the process of teaching and learning. While supporting members of staff (colleagues) it is important to have a complete assessment/evaluation of technologies. In order to achieve this, technologists need to not only understand how they work but also how to implement them into practice. Although there are many theories associated with this (see the section on e-pedagogy) there is the aforementioned ‘chasm’ between theory and practice which needs to be engaged with and reflected upon. This is the role/title of the e-practitioner. Someone who has actually implemented the technology on several occasions, often in different situations, and who can assess and comment on its actual implement and effectiveness. Many Learning Technologists (from reading the aforementioned book) actually complete this role. For me, this is essential for anyone working with technology – we often think that technology ‘looks’ great – but it is only when we actually use it that we understand the advantages and disadvantages of the approach – which also of course links to practitioner research.
As I continue to consider the role of a learning technologist it is becoming clearer to myself at least, their role and involvement in the education process. As I continue to progress professionally I hope to become an effective e-practitioner. The definition of an e-practitioner is someone who uses technology to support effective teaching and learning. They have a working knowledge of many theories and research relating to both pedagogy and e-pedagogy and combine these ensuring that the focus is always on the teaching and learning. At the moment, through my qualifications and experiences, I have a ‘pillar’ which I would call ‘Teaching and Learning’. On top of this pillar rests, horizontally, the plinth of e-practitioner. And, as you have probably guessed by now, the other support pillar is that of Learning Technologist. There is no doubt that many learning technologists are actually, via my definition, e-practitioners. Others remain experts within e-pedagogy, supporting others to implement technology into their practice.
Can I achieve the title of Learning Technologist? As I complete my CMALT, I feel that I am currently working on that support pillar. Unusually for a construction process I feel that I am working top down, but hopefully I’m currently over half way and soon will reach the base and further support what I would like to achieve. What is that? Well the acknowledgement and title of being an effective e-practitioner.
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