I’m probably not what I thought I was (reposted)

I once explained to someone that I was an “advocate
for technology in education”, back in the day.

I can’t put my finger on when that changed but I don’t think it’s the case any longer. It hasn’t been for a while. So what am I an advocate for?

[Due to a problem migrating to a new server and updating PHP to more secure version this is a repost of Lesson: backup before things stack up, folks.]

Last week I realised something that’s been staring me in the face for a while. (Nothing gets past me, eventually.)

Next year I’ll have been working in the field of education technology for 15 years. In that time, I’ve had jobs that meant that I was working with teachers and others to incorporate digital technology into their practice.

I think once I explained to someone that I was an “advocate for technology in education”.

I can’t put my finger on when that changed but I don’t think it’s the case any longer. It hasn’t been for a while.

Frankly, technology doesn’t need my advocacy, or anyone else’s for that matter. Being an advocate for technology feels as unnecessary as being an advocate for buildings or carpets or something. None of these things need someone to stand up for them.

And I’m probably ambivalent about technology itself. I don’t particularly love using it, although it’s a big component of my life and work.

What I love doing is creating things, helping people to tell stories, communicate, collaborate and learn. I just happen to have a bit of knowledge and some skills in using technology to do those things.

It’s the work I’ve been doing at Jisc for the last few years that has changed my perspective on it, I think.

In the old days, I’d slavishly pay attention to what new tech tools and devices were appearing. I would only feel I was doing my job well if I was well at the front of the adoption curve and could demonstrate mad skillz in video editing and whatnot.

I’ve just got less and less interested in that side of things. What really interests me now, and I think is much more important is what happens when you bring technology and people together to do things. It’s a fascinatingly complex field that is as much about culture, politics, psychology, power and what it means to be creative and innovative.

So what am I an advocate for?

What, or more precisely, who?

Sometimes developing new practices where technology is involved can be exhilarating and rewarding. But any sort of change can bring anxiety and vulnerability as well as opportunity. Introducing technology into organisations and practices isn’t a neutral act.

And that’s where I think my job sits; it’s about understanding the dynamics and helping people to navigate the changing landscape whether they are leading that change or experiencing and adapting to it.

And my job certainly isn’t to advocate on behalf of vendors of systems and devices. Most of my salary is paid for from the membership subscriptions of HE and FE institutions in the UK as well as some finding from the taxpayer, so my my responsibility is to them. My ability to my job relies on the freedom I have to critically appraise technology and its uses.

[Full disclaimer: my team does have a small commercial target to hit every year but it’s not enough to cover our costs. Jisc, my employer, also creates and sells products to the education sector as well as providing inclusive membership services].

So, if I’m an advocate for anything it’s for the people involved in teaching and learning. I’m lucky that I’ve got a role in an organisation like Jisc that lets me explore that.

Update: I had some kind comments on social media from people I respect which was lovely. They said it was something that resonated with them so I should say I think that most of the people I work with in this field feel similar things. It’s a different story for people looking at education technologists from the outside where there’s a proportion of people who just see the role as evangelising for tech (proselytising as Sarah Davies has called it.)

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