Interview with Wayne Barry, #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 second post I talk to Wayne Barry, Education and Social Technologist at Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent.

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

WB – Hi David. That’s an interesting question and one I hadn’t considered before as technology is so much a part of our lives that we don’t always stop to consider it’s role and impact.

My day, like most peoples, starts with an alarm clock waking me up and telling me that I need to pull myself from the warm cocoon that is my bed. So, there is a piece of ‘technology’ that is already interacting with me to ensure that I am up and starting the day afresh. I tend to have a “technology-free” breakfast, eschewing mobile phone, radio or television for an hour of peace and quiet to collect my thoughts, reflect on the previous day and to mentally plan for my day ahead.

As soon as I am in the office, I am surrounded by a plethora of technologies: telephones, personal computers, photocopier, printers, iPad, mobile phone, wi-fi connectivity and a range of software and web-services which provide a rich and eclectic toolbox for communication, collaboration, creativity, presentation, writing and research. No single day is the same, so it varies which ‘tools’ I pick up from my ‘toolbox’, though e-mail, web browser, word processor and RSS reader (I’m a big fan of RSS feed) are used on a daily basis, even after working hours.

So whilst I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I am totally ‘wired up’ to all this technology, I am totally immerse in it both personally and professionally.

DH – Do you find this pervasive and connected ‘self’ a distraction to the job or an enhancement? Do you find yourself pulled between the different networks and content or have you worked out a strategy?

WB – I personally don’t find this as a distraction at all. It enhances my job very much and has provided me with an opportunity to connect, communicate and collaborate with my peers, not just in this country, but around the world. This #EdTechBook is an actual testament to that. If it wasn’t for my “pervasive and connected ‘self’”, I would not be talking to you about it or, indeed, participating in this book chapter.

The advice I give myself is the same advice I give to academic staff and postgraduate students who are considering using social media: start off small, make it relevant, always evaluate it, and allocate time to it. I use a lot of different social media services, some more than others, for very different purposes and audiences. Invariably, I sign up to new services, such as ‘ello’, just to see what all the fuss is about and whether it can be useful to me personally or professionally.

Over the years, I have developed an acute “critical filter” that has enabled me to pick and choose what is of interest to me. The MSc in e-Learning (now Digital Education) at the University of Edinburgh and various Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have helped me hone my “critical filtering” faculties. I also recall that you gave some good advice to people who were considering taking part in a MOOC?

DH – If you’re referring to my post ‘Why I failed a MOOC‘ from 2012, then I found a few simple techniques for giving yourself half a chance. Whilst these tips were primarily for MOOC participation you could quite easily adapt and apply them to any online activity.

How do you relate to changes in technology? I can’t remember a time before I had the Internet in my pocket, whether it’s a smart phone in my pocket or tablet in my bag. What do you think these changes doing to education, both for staff and students?

WB – That is certainly the post I am referring to and useful it was to myself and others who had started to dip our toes into MOOCs.

(Un)fortunately, I do remember a time before the Internet and smartphones [laughs], on one level life and society seemed to be more simpler and less distracted with people seeming to be more aware of their surroundings. We see a lot of people these days with their noses and eyes glued to smartphones or tablets and it is you that needs to navigate around them as they are so blissfully unaware [laughs].

However, from an educational perspective, there is a lot of potential and opportunities to be had for both teachers and students. I think the challenge, certainly for me as a learning technologist, is making teaching staff aware of these tools and technologies and how these can be embedded into the curriculum.

For the students, that’s an interesting one as I am not entirely sure that students are (a) aware that they can use their personal mobile devices for learning purposes and (b) more crucially, are comfortable with the idea that the devices they use for recreational purposes should be used for educative purposes as well – it’s almost a hardware version of the “my space” issue, i.e. students were not terribly keen on their tutors being in their social media spaces, like Facebook. I think there is quite a bit more to be done on that front to understand this more, but I don’t think it is quite as clear-cut as some of the research would like us to believe.

Interview with Wayne Barry, #EdTechBook chapter author

I do think that there is an opportunity for teaching staff to make their students aware of the benefits of using these technologies not only in terms of research, but also as a way of creating different forms of learning and teaching encounters in different types of spaces (physical and virtual) that supplement the more traditional “sage on the stage” approaches.

DH – So, with this in mind, how do you see the role of educational or learning technologists growing? Are we better aligned to the students, to help them understand the technology in their pockets and how they can use it to learn, or to the teachers where we need to firstly inform and educate them as to what technology is available, then on how it can be used to better the learning experience?

WB – Given that the Higher Education Academy is championing it’s “Flexible Pedagogies” agenda, and that Universities are expected to be innovative and entrepreneurial, I think the role of the learning technologist is going to be tantamount to these initiatives. We are going to be a very important partner in the next few years to come. In my institution, we are working towards a “Partners in Learning” philosophy where student and teachers are co-partners in the learning process. I see no reason why this cannot be extended to include learning technologists, librarians and other learning professionals who can work and learn together to form a kind of “learning commons” – it’s already happening elsewhere. I think this could be a very powerful collaborative process, but it will require a change of learning practices, teaching cultures and working styles.

DH – Do you think this partnership will result in a shift of direction, and background requirements, for Learning Technologists? Are we becoming more ‘academic’, more of the ‘digital pedagogues’ that David Walker and Sheila MacNeil are exploring in their chapter?

WB – I think as a profession and as a field we are growing much more confident in terms of our identity, direction and values – so yes, I can see us becoming more academic. I am becoming more academic, but I must not lose sight of the practical element of my job; so I need to find the right balance between academic and practitioner. My chapter explores the ‘troublesome terminology’ that exists when we try to explain to someone what a ‘learning’ or ‘educational’ technologist is and what that job entails. When you say to people that you are a ‘teacher’ or a ‘plumber’ they know exactly what you are talking about, but that is rarely the case when you say that you are a ‘learning technologist’. So whilst we are growing more confident in ourselves, I think there is still a bit of work to do to raise awareness of what we actually do, rather than what people think we do. But I am looking forward to that particular challenge.

DH – Indeed, thanks Wayne. Good luck with your studies and chapter. Wayne’s chapter for The Really Useful #EdTechBook, looks into the terminology and interpretation of names and job titles, and how this impacts on how we, as learning professionals, work within (and often outside) this remit.

More news about The Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here, Google +, Twitter, Flickr, and on other social media platforms using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in.

Image source: Chung Ho Leung (CC BY-ND 2.0)