As part of a new series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this third post I talk to Peter Reed, Lecturer (Learning Technology) at the University of Liverpool.
DH – Hi Peter. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?
PR: Massively. Beyond it being part of the day job, I use a variety of different tools and technologies to make my work more efficient and effective. I use things like Dropbox, Evernote and Mendeley a lot as they synchronise across my devices so I can access things whenever I need to. I see my use of these tools as part of my own little backpack or toolbox to call on. Interestingly the tools I use haven’t really changed much over the past 3 years or so, which I think is because I’m quite critical about new software/technologies when my existing workflows are effective for me personally. Ultimately, I think that’s a big part of being a Learning Technologist – rather than using tools/technologies for the sake of it, there’s some thought and critique to apply the right tools for the job.
DH – Evernote is one of those tools that I wish I knew more about – I’ve just not had the time or reason to do anything with it. But, if these tools have enabled you to improve efficiencies and your effectiveness what would be your one recommendation, or one highlight, others ought to be aware of for anyone, like me, looking to change or improve their own working practices?
PR – I think ‘persistence’. It’s so easy to just do what you’ve been doing for a long time, whereas when some things are about changing established practices, you need to go for it 100% to really see if it can be useful to you. So with Evernote for example, I use it to take notes for literally every meeting I attend (which seems a lot these days). I have a few different notebooks set up to help organise these notes into some kind of order e.g. home, work, PhD, food recipes with Evernote Food, etc. Having said that, the search feature is pretty strong (via tagging) so you could even get away with being untidy in this space. The ability to search back to meetings you’ve had is great, and for those arty types who take visual notes, then there are tablet apps such as Notability that link in well. And of course, the fact that the notes I take in meetings on my iPad are seamlessly sync’d to both my work iMac and my personal Macbook Pro. This worklflow is exactly what I need and now I’m more or less paperless. Having said all that, Evernote offers loads more features that I haven’t really explored, like Shared Notes, for example.
DH – Is it possible, in this modern world of connections and networked professionals, to be effective without these tools? Those of us who are active and engaged know the benefits of the connections and collaborations (like this #EdTechBook), but how can we engage those who, for whatever reason, shun the connected approach to their learning technology roles? Indeed, can they be effective in these roles, when students and staff are increasingly connected as well?
PR – Well they’re three difficult questions. Firstly, I do think it is possible to continue to be effective – people have succeeded through the ‘traditional’ approaches for years. After all each of us are completely unique and what fits for me might not fit for you, or similarly, the reader of this interview. However, whilst people can indeed still complete their roles without the connections and collaborations, I believe those who are engaged in this area will continue to be more ‘desirable’ in the job market.
My own role for example, employed on an academic contract at the University of Liverpool, requires me to have and develop an external identity. This external identity, largely built through (social) networking, has supported me in my role and offers a lot to the University – whether that be related to finding out what other Institutions are doing in relation to, say, Lecture Capture, or indeed in investigating how other Universities are approaching VLE minimum standards. But after all that, what’s to say someone who doesn’t engage in such networks couldn’t do the job just as well? Or even, better?
DH – I totally agree and, as someone who’s changed roles a couple of times over the past three years, I am very conscious of my profile and digital footprint. I like to think it’s had a part in getting me these roles, firstly at the University of Leicester and more recently at Warwick Business School – if nothing more than showing that I can back up my application with real-world examples and a professionalism on which they can rely or trust.
Does that mean, then, that it is harder for those without an active online presence to get the roles? Whilst, as you say, they are probably just as good in the role, they are just not ‘out there’ shouting about it on social platforms, but just getting on with the job. The theme of professionalism and the ability to do the job, in whatever combination of terminology or responsibilities, is one covered by a yourself and few other author in the book, but how has your experience been altered or affected by this ‘always-available’ and ‘always-up-to-date’ CV, if at all?
PR – Well I think it depends on the role. In my chapter I’ll be discussing the variations of Learning Technologist teams as well as the variations within the Learning Technologist role itself. The external identity could be more suited to a role like mine rather than a more technical variation, but either way if you’re on an interview panel and have come across me and my work (hopefully in a positive light) through networking, surely that’s a good thing right? On the flip you touch on another important aspect – the implications that such networking has. I guess it’s evidenced none-more-so than most of this interview where we are both responding to each other on a Sunday night. Call it always-on, call it convenience. Is your glass half-full or half-empty? Many of the richest experiences I’ve come across have been during so-called, out-of-hours, such as the #BYOD4L initiatives. As a professional embarking on/in a career, this is a small price to pay in (hopefully) becoming a better learning technologist/academic/professional/person.
DH – Even better than that, as an example of remote and networked working, while you’re at home I’m sat in a hotel room, 80 miles from my home (on really really bad free hotel wifi, but a thankfully reliable Google Doc) being super quiet as I’m sharing with the kids, who’re are nearly asleep! This is a perfect example of what is possible. But is this too much, have we let this technology take over more than our working day, so it merges and blends with our family, social, or private lives?
PR – Well yes and no. Over the past few years I’ve come to believe that a career is a significant part of your life. A career isn’t ‘just a job’ so you don’t (or can’t) leave everything at the office – not “can’t” because of any requirement, but “can’t” because you’re always engaged. You read books, see programmes and speak to people, and relate all these things to your role. It’s something you care about beyond just a pay packet each month. You might get an idea that would work in implementing a strategy or a cool idea for a staff development programme. These happen at all hours of the day, on every day of the week!
Further to that, many LT roles are increasingly flexible these days. As an academic, I actually don’t have set working hours so this automatically blurs the boundaries in the work/life balance. I arrive at the office between 7.30-8am every day, and generally leave at around 4.15 (unless I have meetings, etc). Although I easily fulfill the 7.15 hours per day that non-academic staff have to work, I value this flexibility. If I have a few emails to attend to of an evening then I’m ok with that. Of course, and as I discuss in the chapter, some roles and teams are more or less flexible than others. Since my first iPhone I’ve always had my work email sync’d. Responding quickly to an email whilst waiting for Mrs R to try on a dress is nothing unusual for me. I just wonder how this approach differs as I embark both on a part-time PhD and full-time parenthood!
DH – Good luck with both Peter, we all feel your impending pain ;-) Peter’s chapter for The Really Useful #EdTechBook will look, as he says, at the structure and roles of Learning Technologists in Higher Education, touching on the aspects of institutional versus departmental perspectives. Read more about a Peter Reed on his blog (thereeddiaries.blogspot.com) or Twitter (@reedyreedles).
More news about the Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here, Google +, Twitter, Flickr, and on other social media platforms using the #EdTechBook hashtag.