First week, first trip

Lindsay Donnelly
Tuesday 14 January 2020

As my second week working at the University begins, I thought it might be nice to reflect on my first five days here. In particular, I want to share my experience of attending the Inspiring Learning New Year Lecture, which was all about digital education.

Week one at a glance

My first week really flew by! I worked my way through induction activities, setup my workspace and devices, met many of my new colleagues (lots of names to remember) and toured lecture spaces to get a feel for the technology available around campus. All-in-all I felt fairly acclimatised to my new environment by Friday’s end and think that ‘newbie’ feeling will quickly disappear.

On the Wednesday I travelled to Edinburgh with Margaret Adamson to attend a keynote talk delivered by Sheila MacNeill, digital learning guru and Chair of ALT (Association for Learning Technology). It was a really great session, but we had to get there first and as you know, it’s been a cold start to 2020.

Given the weather we had hoped to make it to the venue smoothly. Unfortunately, we got slightly lost (Google maps was not on our side, though happily drained our batteries). Thanks to the help of a passer-by we made it there just in time and I’m pleased to report that the venue was lovely and warm – a very welcome thing at that point, as you can imagine.

Keynote slides and insights

Introductions were made before Sheila took centre-stage, diving into the timely theme of ‘how to make (and keep) our digital education resolutions in 2020’. Sheila’s slides are embedded below and more information can be reached on the HOWSHEILASEESIT blog. Interestingly, Sheila had delivered the same talk earlier that day to delegates in Dubai and Malaysia via webinar (there’s reason I mention this, but I’ll get to that later).



Stand out points and takeaways

The key messages that really resonated with me during the keynote were:

Narrative is key

When you know so much about a topic, so much so others may describe you as a subject matter expert on it, it’s easy to share that knowledge with others as you understand it. In our excitement to share we sometimes forget that the person or people we’re sharing it with may not know anything about it at all, or in fact, may not really care or be interested. By wrapping an effective narrative or story around the information we can make it more engaging and understandable, which makes the whole sharing experience more worthwhile. Sheila touched on this point at the start and I made a mental note to check in with myself across 2020 when sharing – let’s see if I can keep up the story telling!

Perspective is everything

We often forget to stop and think about whether something is ‘small or far away’ (yes, Sheila did reacquaint us with the classic Father Ted moment) in the bigger picture of things, tending to dive in head first. Before we know it we’ve got too many ‘big things’ on our plate, so many so we simply can’t juggle or deliver on them! Sheila emphasised the importance of balancing small changes with big ideas/strategies, in short telling us to ensure our practices take account of perspective. For me this really touched on personal workload management and acted as a reminder to self not to tip the scales, but rather, to aim for a sensible equilibrium.

Interactive works

As with anyone attending a 1 hour lecture, there are likely to be points at which you check out and lose focus, especially if you’ve travelled in and not had your trusted coffee yet. The talk can be super interesting, but your concentration span might be that of a goldfish, leading you to lapse mid-way through. Being honest with myself I would say I just described me in most lecture situations. Although I’ve managed to manage myself out of it over the years, I do very much appreciate the secret ingredient of interactivity during a long talk. Changing lanes awakens the senses and acts as a ‘concentration reset button’ for me, do you feel that way too?

We were asked to be mobile ready to use Mentimeter and share the first three words that came to mind when Sheila said ‘digital first’. As we each entered our words a collaborative word cloud formed on the screen showing our collective response. Who doesn’t love a word cloud? The cool thing was we got to see our cloud in comparison to that of the Dubai and Malaysia delegates, and they were oddly similar considering we’re a world apart. Distance doesn’t always mean difference! Sheila also encouraged us to share one thing we want to do this year in Padlet. If you’re interested in trying out either Mentimeter or Padlet, get in touch.

Well-being extends to digital

Defined as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’ (Oxford Dictionary), we all innately try to ensure our well-being. That said, we often inadvertently add to or detract from our well-being without even realising it. There are many factors that can impact our well-being, with digital services and technologies being within that pool of factors. Digital things are so ingrained in my day-to-day that I’m not usually conscious of their effect on my well-being, whether they’re encountered in a personal or educational context. The lecture got me thinking about what my daily digital habits are. As a result I’ve decided to give digital wellbeing tools a go. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Learning to learn is a capability

What we often don’t realise as a student is that not only are we learning about our chosen subject, we’re also learning to learn. Sheila touched on this, highlighting how critical a capability it is. It really took me back to my anatomy training where I first needed to really make the effort to learn to learn material in a way that worked for me. With anatomy comes a new language, with planes and positioning front centre. Neither were my strong suit, but with a bit of independent research I discovered techniques and tools that helped me get to grips with it. Without those quizzes, apps, open source videos etc. in addition to the lectures and irreplaceable experience of undertaking gross dissection, I don’t think I would have reached the same height. Sheila’s point made me think about what my University had done in my former years on the degree programme to help develop my initiative to ‘learn to learn’ – weird how you do things and don’t realise their importance until later, isn’t it?

Being ‘digital’ isn’t just about technology

There’s so much more to it, particularly in the learning environment. The Revised Conceptual Matrix and The Digitally Distributed Curriculum graphics shown in Sheila’s slides demonstrate that, as does the cited text ‘Conceptualising the Digital University: the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice (Johnson, MacNeill, Smyth, 2019)’ I’ve now started to read. I’m new to the world of being a Learning Technologist, so this gave lots of food for thought as I continue to deep dive into the field, and the theory and practice that underpins it. One thing that wasn’t out of my comfort zone was Sheila’s closing point, that we must put ‘humanity first’ when it comes to our digital reality. Of course, the word ‘digital’ makes me think of things like computers and software, but it also makes me think of people.

Although New Year’s resolutions aren’t really my thing, it was a great opportunity and I have taken lots away from it. Hopefully you have too.

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