How I transformed from CMALT to Senior CMALT in less than 2 years

by Puiyin Wong, Trustee of ALT, PhD candidate at Lancaster University and Digital Learning Producer, CSM at University of Arts London

Hello, I am Puiyin and my first day working in learning technology was Monday 19 August 2019. The significance of this date isn’t the date itself, but how recent it is. That’s right, I have only been working in this field for a little over 4 years and this month I have achieved my Senior CMALT. The purpose of this blog post is to reflect on my journey from gaining my CMALT in February 2022 to less than 2 years later, achieving my Senior CMALT. I hope this can inspire you to feel that if I could do it, so can you.

First things first, what is the difference between a CMALT and a Senior CMALT? To put it simply, a CMALT is about your own learning technology practice, your understanding and commitments to various aspects in this field. It’s about you as a learning technology professional. Senior CMALT expects you to showcase the same elements of your practice, but via the impact from your institutional and/or sectoral leadership. So, it’s still about you, but it’s about how you have inspired, supported, encouraged and led other people in learning technology.

I first had the idea of doing the CMALT in early 2021 when I was working on my Senior Fellowship (SFHEA) with Advance HE. My reason for doing my SFHEA was simple; I wanted to reflect on my almost 20 years worth of experience working in HE. As I was writing my SHFEA application, I realised a lot of what I have been doing, even before I became a learning technology professional, was around digital learning and digital spaces. This gave me confidence, despite still being a baby in learning technology, I had more than enough for a decent CMALT portfolio.

The feedback from my CMALT assessors was very complimentary and that was what gave me the idea to dream big. Maybe I could start thinking about what’s next! I was a learning technologist at the Royal College of Art when I first decided I wanted to try for Senior CMALT. I nervously went to my boss Emma Bayne and asked if I could have some money to apply for Senior CMALT. I fully expected to have to explain to her in great detail why I wanted to do it or worse be told I wasn’t ready for it. Emma only asked me one question – “Will it benefit you?”, to which I said hesitantly, “I think so?”.

I went for it without knowing exactly what my leadership impact is, but as I started collecting evidence and writing my reflection, I began to see a lot of the little things I have done in the last 2 – 3 years are impactful leadership. For example, the occasional well attended conference presentations, the #EdTechOutlaws community of practice I co-founded with Abbi Shaw from UCL, my #TELresearchers webinars series originated from Lancaster University where I co-host with John Brindle. Let’s not forget my everyday, mundane business as usual projects that range from curriculum development to leading a Moodle audit to writing a business case for a new platform. As I started reflecting on what I have done, why I have done them, how I have done them and who benefited from my work, I soon realised I am a leader in the sector. It is worth saying, if you are a senior manager, it might be easier for you to achieve Senior CMALT, but it’s not a given. Being a leader and being a manager are two very different things; a good manager is often also a good leader, but a good leader doesn’t have to be a manager of any kind. The key is to critically and sometimes forensically examine what you have done to date. Below are some of the questions I have asked myself when putting together my Senior CMALT portfolio:

  • What am I most passionate about in my professional practice?
  • What tasks or projects in the past have excited me that I still talk about now?
  • What have I done that I am most proud of?
  • What are the projects or initiatives I have been involved in that have affected a number of people?
  • What can I talk about with conviction and confidence that can be backed up with evidence?

As soon as you are able to start identifying these little nuggets of gold in your practice, you will soon realise, you are more of a leader than you give yourself credit for.

For me, I am most passionate about sharing knowledge and experiences with my peers in the community. This passion is what has always driven me to present at conferences, start a community of practice, host a webinar series and so on. I expect nothing in return when I do these things, but because these are shared interests with my peers, the byproduct of my passion is my accidental sectoral leadership.

Of course, not everything in my Senior CMALT portfolio is about my extracurricular activities, I have also been involved in a number of key strategic projects in my learning technology roles. I am deliberately not using the word “lead” here, because you don’t have to be the project lead to have an impact in a project that you are involved in. For example, in my current role as the Digital Learning Producer at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, I was tasked to develop our brand new low residency MA Communicating Complexity with the Course Leader – Laura Knight. Is that something I would have woken up one day and go like, yap I will do that? Absolutely not. Am I the leader in this curriculum development project? Not exactly. However, my contribution that has led to the successful launch of the course and the early positive student feedback are classic examples of impactful leadership. Particularly, as this course is in response to our strategic plan to offer more low residency courses. Most things that are in response to an institutional wide strategy can be leadership examples.

I hope my little rambling here has given you some confidence that you too, can be a leader and can achieve your Senior CMALT. You just need to look deeper into your practice and reflect on your contribution to every little thing you have done. Be loud and be proud of your achievements in your Senior CMALT portfolios.

It’s very early days to know how the actual accreditation of Senior CMALT will benefit my professional development. However, the act of writing my portfolio and having a dedicated space to critically reflect on my practice has already led to measurable benefits. I have realised whilst I enjoy rolling my sleeves up and working as a “frontline” learning technologist/learning designer, my real passion lies in working with colleagues to examine and reflect on their achievements. I enjoy designing workshops, frameworks, contributing to policies that can help colleagues to realise they are more than they give themselves credits for. I am certain this actualisation is what drove me to explore a slight career change. As I embark on my new adventure in 2024 as the new Innovation & Scholarship Manager at the Queen Mary Academy, Queen Mary University of London, I will look back at my experience of writing my Senior CMALT fondly.

To conclude this blog post, I can say with 100% certainty, I would never have achieved any of this without the supportive leaders and colleagues in my professional life. This is why this post is full of names. It all began with Matt Lingard who gave me a chance in 2019 when I most needed it. In the four and a bit years that followed, the leaders who have supported and inspired me without ever asking for anything in return include Dr Julie Voce, Dr Martin Compton, Prof. Simon Thomson, Dr Mark Childs, Satanu Vasant, Regina Everitt, Dave Bracegirdle, Dave White, Dr Maren Deepwell and Lorna Campbell. I am pretty sure I have forgotten some names and will no doubt get into trouble. However, I want to show you this is a community full of love and unconditional support, all you need to do is reach out and ask. So, this is my open invitation to you, if you want to talk about your Senior CMALT portfolios or more generally exploring your leadership impact, my door is always open. All you have to do is make your first step and the rest will follow.

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