Interview with Sue Beckingham, #EdTechBook chapter author

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs 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 first post I talk to Sue Beckingham, Educational Developer at Sheffield Hallam University.

DH – Hi Sue. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?

SB – It’s an integral part of my daily routine. By this I mean that I make use of the affordances of my mobile phone to access a wide range of apps to help organise my day, provide me with news, information as part of my research and of course social networking places where I keep abreast of what’s happening out in the field via my personal learning network (PLN). 

My day starts with a skim through Twitter and LinkedIn. Time permitting I will also take a look at Google+ and Facebook pages. As I travel to work by public transport I use this time to favourite/like/RT etc. anything I wish to save and also share information that I feel will be of interest to my PLN. Why keep it to myself?! I check my diary via my phone and can make a start on a to do list using the notes app.

DH – Have you ever got to work, or on the journey to work, only to realise you’ve left without your phone …and turned round and gone back for it? I have, many times! Can you see a positive change to your work priorities through the affordable and forever-connected device in your pocket. Have you ever felt like it’s taken over?

SB – Oh yes! Had to jump off the bus, run back up the hill to go home and retrieve my phone! I rely on it so much I’d be lost without it!

Having this mini portable device with me at all times provides me with much a computer offers. I can access email, make notes, plan a meeting or class, research a new topic, draft a blog post, and so the list goes on. These tend to be short bursts of activity. The affordances are there, however the small screen is not ideal. Where there is WiFi available, I tend to use my iPad mini. For me this has enabled me to be better organised.

Does it feel like access to my device has taken over? Well to some degree. Having access to work email 24/7 can be both a blessing and a curse! On the one side I can address the quick replies and filter out the emails I don’t need to keep each time I dip in. On the other it can prevent you from switching off from work – something we all need to do!

DH – Is this enough for the ‘blended professional’, the title of your chapter? Is there more to just being connected and having the devices? I’m sure we both know of, and see, many examples of people with this amazing technology, but not using it to its fullest potential. While I acknowledge that this world of connections is not for everyone, is it even possible to be an effective educator in this world without the connections?

SB – Yes of course we can be effective educators without the technology, but the connections with others are invaluable for our own development. In fact I’d go as far as to say connections are essential. We learn from and with each other. The technology however can help to extend those connections and provide so many new ways to communicate and collaborate.

Do we all use our devices to their fullest potential? I’d say definitely not! If we look at our phone for example, it comes with a variety of useful tools as standard, however I’d bet not many are even aware of all features and may only use text and phone calls. If it’s a smart phone, then there are literally thousands of apps to download. This is the point where as an Educator we can play a valuable role by initiating the conversation around “What do you use your phone for (besides the obvious)? Have you seen this app [demo] – I find it really useful to…” Substitute phone for tablet or laptop.

DH – I’ve followed the rise of popularity of the AppSwap Breakfast with interest, and have many discussions with colleagues to see if there is interest where I’ve worked. There is plenty of interest in the idea but not everyone is at, or near, a place where they are ready to be involved or share their App-use yet. Do you think we do enough (Learning Technologists and other interested parties) to induce staff and students to this ‘new’ approach to eLearning? It’s as much about the packaging as it is about the materials themselves these days, do you think?

Interview with Sue Beckingham, #EdTechBook chapter author

SB – My colleague Julie Gillin and I have talked about this and planned an Appy Days workshop to share favourite apps. The key obstacle is as you say not a lack of interest, it is finding a time and space that works. Maybe we need to think of other approaches to deliver any kind of technology enhanced practice, be this for learning and teaching or our own personal development. I’d like to see this integrated into CPD and aligned to ‘remaining in good standing’ for the likes of FHEA and CMALT. This could provide the incentive to engage but also recognition of what has been achieved.

DH – Do you think that us Learning Technology-type people expect too much from our academics? I know you’ll go into more of this kind of stuff in your chapter, but is is an unreal expectation, lack of interest or apathy to technology or change, or something else, that is stifling inventive and engaging learning practices? Don’t get me wrong, there are some great things happening both with and without LT involvement, but they are the exception rather than the norm – it’s the other silent majority we need to capture and talk to that eludes me.

SB – Well this is where I can empathise as the ‘blended professional – jack of all trades and master of some’! Technology can be scary and it is often easier to dismiss it than hold your hand up and say “I need some help here”. I’ve found many a new use of technology difficult, but have not been afraid to ask questions and have done this by going to trusted Learning Technologists who I know can speak in non tech-speak, who don’t tell me it’s easy, and who check that I can go through the steps needed after a demo. Taking this approach with colleagues does seem to open doors and pique curiosity to learn more. I feel they need to be reassured they will have support going forward and not just within a one off workshop.

DH – You are well known for your love of technology and no-fear attitude to what you use, and how you use it, but have we stretched ourselves too far already in directions that have made it too difficult for others to catch-up with us? In trying to see what is available, and how we can use it to make it easier and less scary for the non-technical among us, have we inadvertently made it unreachable and unfathomable for them?

SB – I think to get folks on board we need to provide opportunities to help them see how technology can help in relation to organisation of their own lifewide learning. Once they see how useful it can be, they can then have the confidence to look at how it might be applied to enhance the students’ experience as a means to both engage in learning and organise their learning.

DH – Indeed, thanks Sue. Sue’s chapter for The Really Useful #EdTechBook looks at the ‘blended professional’ who is keen advocate and early adopter of technology for learning –  “From small, centrally located teams of learning technology support to fragmented faculty or department teams, these ‘blended professionals’ often need to balance the needs of the department or faculty with the needs of the institution. Such posts are often fractional and carried out alongside a substantive role and other priorities.”

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Image source: Alex Dulaunoy (CC BY-SA 2.0)