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

[Due to a problem migrating to a new server and updating PHP to more secure version this is a repost of https://t.co/zAz5T4vFBT. 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.)

Week 1 of home working

The sun is setting on my first full week in my new job as a Subject Matter Expert for Jisc. This is the first time in 10 years I’ve been home based. It didn’t enjoy the experience last time around so with that at the back of my mind and the fact that I’m starting a new role in a new team in a new directorate I’ve been anxious to make a good go of it and spend time reflecting on the experience.

Importantly, I’ve enjoyed it this week but here are a few other things that struck me:

Creating space is important

My homeworking arrangements aren’t ideal at the moment. I’m installed on a table in our unheated conservatory which will be lovely in July. In January, not so much.

It is, however, the only space in the house that I can work in without getting everyone else’s way and can shut the door on when I finish for the day. We’re considering extending into our attic, something we were going to do in the medium term but getting this job has spurred us on to thing about more urgently.

Psychological space is important as well. I’m trying to create a hard boundary between work and personal time. When I shut down at the end of the day the work phone goes off as well and my emails don’t come through to my personal phone. I’m also learning to subdivide my work time, making myself uncontactable when I want to get my head down. Hope I can be disciplined with myself about that.

Connect as much as possible

Being a technology company we have a plethora of tools for staying in touch with colleagues; things like Lync, Yammer, Horizon, Skype and so on. We’re still working out the best way of using these but I’ve been in pretty regular contact with Scott Hibberson, my counterpart, and the small sub team we’re part of. Many of us are new to home working, more used to a social office situation, so being able to see people’s faces has not only been a good opportunity to exchange info, but also just as a reminder that you’re not alone and that other people are finding their way too.

I’ve always been a bit nervous using the phone or Skyping people but I’ve just had to get on with it this week, otherwise the work wouldn’t have got done. It’s actually been quite energising.

Face to face is good too

Halfway through the week I had to pop down to London to pick up some of my homeworking kit. During the trip I bumped into a few colleagues from Netskills, two of whom also work for Jisc now. I was genuinely thrilled to see them and it made what could have been a dull couple of train journeys pass much quicker. There’s also been a couple of coffee sessions at home with colleagues, a trip to the Jisc office in Newcastle and a lunch with a few friends before one of them moves down to Bath.

I’m a natural introvert but that doesn’t mean I’m a recluse. Meeting up with people is an important way of staying in touch with reality for me.

Offices are serendipitous spaces

I’ve been in the Newcastle office today, just to get the lie of the land, see what the space is like and meet up with Chris Young, the new training manager.  That was all good and useful but it was also the accidental stuff that was interesting. Gemma Elliot is the new Marketing Support Officer for Jisc, having previously worked for Jisc infoNet,and is based in the Newcastle Office. I was talking about something with Chris that she overheard and was able to throw in a few really important bits of information that were both helpful and opened up some interesting new areas to think about.

Not something that would have happened easily if I’d been connecting with Chris from home.

That’s not to say that I think home working is a problem, just that working from a range of places can lead to accidentally useful interactions.

Also:

  • I need to have a backup plan for powercuts.
  • I estimate I’ve spent just short of an hour working out how to turn off all the notifications across my new devices to stop the small orchestra of beeps and whistles whenever someone in my contact list breathes. 😉
  • My wireless headset’s range get me to the kettle but not the fridge. Seriously thinking of giving up milk in my tea.