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Artwork by Giulia Palladino, LCC

Guest post: ‘Grow your own learning technologists’…by Melissa Highton

As soon as our institutions realised that the initial flip to remote teaching was likely to become a longer term necessity, the urgent need for more learning technologists became clear.  At University of Edinburgh we needed a new strategy to create a lot of learning technologists, fast.  In addition to the new posts we advertised we also set about up-skilling and growing our own learning technologists from amongst the IT staff inside our university. we also recruited a large group of students as learning technology assistants in an attempt to start a sustainable pipeline.

During lockdown it quickly became clear that some of the staff who work in IT and libraries could not do their roles from home. In some cases this was true for whole teams, e.g. our staff who manage the library shelves, our staff who work on drop-in help desks, our staff who manage buildings and facilities, and our staff who fit AV and IT equipment into teaching rooms. One of the advantages of working in a large, converged service (IT, learning technology, libraries, museums and collections together) is that we could take a holistic view and look across the organisation to find new opportunities. I was in no doubt that we needed many more people to help with the huge shift to hybrid teaching for semester 1, so it simply made sense to re-skill in house. Instead of putting all our staff on furlough we offered new roles for colleagues to move into: Learn VLE Assistant, Web Editor and Subtitling Assistant. We offered a job description, training and support for working from home. The result of this re-organisation and re-skilling is that we had a dozen colleagues from other departments working in the learning technology team over the summer to do accessibility audits in our VLE, adding captions to public facing video content and editing our websites. Alongside these staff we recruited 40 students from within the University’s returning cohorts to help migrate content in the VLE. These students worked from home to co-create the online environment their peers will discover when they begin semester 1 in September.

All of these roles bring with them a chance to learn new digital skills and to understand the challenges our diverse groups of students face when they use our online content.  To ensure that everyone had the right knowledge and skills our training teams came up with a new learning technologist training toolkit. This toolkit provides learning design and digital skills development resources and training for those new to working with learning technology, whether they have just joined the University or have moved internally from another role. It can be used as part of an on-boarding plan, or more generally for skills development.  The toolkit aims to build a foundation level of knowledge across our pool of learning technologists, covering the core learning technologies used at the University alongside learning design practices. It is flexible so that specific tools and practices can be added locally.  The teams worked hard to ensure that new colleagues felt part of our team even when starting their new role from home.

ALT has for many years led the work within further and higher education to establish learning technology as a profession and our roles as those of accredited professionals. The support and development of the CMALT scheme means that colleagues are now able to join to a community of practitioners who have reflected upon and evidenced their practice in ways which pave the way for others to follow. Additionally at Edinburgh the toolkit aims to develop and maintain the University’s network of Learning Technologists through which we can meet colleagues in similar roles, keep up to date with the fast-changing teaching landscape, share good practice and support each other.

If you would like to read more about the strategies we use for growing our own learning technologists at University of Edinburgh you can do so on my blog https://thinking.is.ed.ac.uk/melissa/2020/06/10/grow-your-own/ and I’ll be part of the panel at the Summer conference panel on Learning Technology in times of Crisis, Care and Complexity 

Melissa Highton is Assistant Principal and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at University of Edinburgh.