Life choices

Not too long ago, Lawrie Phipps created another one of his hilarious versions of the faux Penguin children’s books for “The Learning Technologist”. Most of it was wryly funny, painfully funny, knowingly funny or just plain funny. One image didn’t sit easy with me though:

This post isn’t about Lawrie, or his hard work in the service of making us all smile. Rather, it’s about the amount of IT-bashing I hear when talking to friends and colleagues in various institutions both inside and outside the UK.

In most cases I find this kind of stuff in practice speaks to a clash of organisational or institutional cultures, or a lack of joined up strategy and resource prioritisation, but it gets dressed up as “IT people are bad”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure somewhere there’s another version of “The Learning Technologist” where someone from IT has to go liaise with the Ed Tech people and they’re probably wearing a funny hat and questioning their life choices too. My point however (that I’ve ranted about in the past) is that as learning technology has become mainstream in many institutions, there is an ever-decreasing distance between being a “learning technologist” and being an “IT person”. I also believe there is increasing evidence that some of the skills and knowledge required to be a learning technologist of the near future are changing, as the use of computation and data pushes into many more subject areas.

When a student’s life at an institution is mediated through technology and much of the learning technology we use relates to larger institutional processes – we need to think in joined up ways. There is an intimate and obvious relationship between assessment and student progression for example, but the tech in these spaces exists in organisational silos and the interfaces – human or machine – are often where the crap human experience happens. The people who run our student systems should be people we work with regularly (amongst others). Even if it’s not financially or technically possible to wire systems together, if we know each other and have good working relationships, when things go wrong for students or our academic colleagues, we can make it better faster. (In my institution the same team also administer the survey tools used for end of course surveys – often a useful source of insight into how learning technology has been experienced by our students).

In general we can’t spend our time convincing our academic colleagues and students to use technology (leading or bleeding edge) in learning and teaching and not be thinking like IT people and working with IT people to deal with scale, service quality, support, ease of use etc. That’s where the crap human experience will happen if we don’t.

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