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Collaboration amongst strangers is a tricky one. I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen it fail.

Fig. 1. Performing in an amateur production of the Caucasian Chalk Circle. The ultimate collaborative exercise?

1) It requires scaffolding in the form of rules, or guidelines, mentor or leaders, and incentives in the form of punishments and rewards i.e. the risk of failure as well as recognition and some kind of reward (which might be a qualification, a monetary award, or part of a completed artefact, or pleasure of participation).

2) It requires people with an obsessive common interest; I don’t believe having a common interest is enough. There needs to be an obsession, which means that the level of expertise can be mixed, indeed, thinking of the John Seely Brown concept of ‘learning from the periphery’ this might be best as invariably the natural human response IS to support those on the edge. The classic example is the young and eager student or junior employee keen to learn from his or her elders.

My concern with the role of collaboration in a module on e-learning is that the above don’t fully apply. We are not GCSE or A’Level students. Most are MA ODE students who need this towards their MA, but I’ll stick my head out and say the pass mark is, in my opinion, too low. I believe that it matters to be paying for it out of your own pocket or to have a commercial sponsor expecting results. I know that some working for the OU do these modules almost on a whim because they are free and they do the minimum to pass – I’ve seen this on various courses,  seen it myself and have had it corroborated by other students. Anyone who is along for the ride in a module that relies on collaboration is a weak link – of course plenty of OU people do take seriously, but some don’t and no line manager is looking over their shoulder. At Carnegie Melon they ran an MA course where students gave each other, on a rolling basis, a mark for collaboration – those with the lowest mark risked failing that module. In fairness some people are not born collaborators, whereas others go out of their way to be a participant, potentially at the expensive of other parts of their studies.

To my tutor group I’ve posted too long a piece on a collaborative exercise I have been doing on and off for the best part of twenty years – I’m researching and writing my grandfather’s memoir from the First World War. The Internet has exposed me (in a good way) to several sleuths.

I can however give an example of the learning design MOOC earlier this year that whilst having a good deal of scaffolding and human support relied on strangers each coming up with project ideas then joining forces to complete one. In a rush of activity, with some big name e-learning folk and too much formal theorizing, reading and activities to groups formed. I had no takers and joined a group of three that became five, but very quickly this became two of us … we gamefully pressed on but at some stage felt we were missing out on the real action so eventually pulled out as active participants.

Then there is a two week exercise in a subgroup of an MA ODE module where circumstances brought a magic bunch of strangers together – this has proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

Amateur dramatics, even volunteer cricket, to take a couple of examples, work because the show is the collective reward. We have bonfire societies here in Lewes that rely on volunteers too – though the complaint will be that it is always the same handful of people who do everything. In a work or academic setting should everyone be rewarded and recognised in the same way? It depends very much on a group dynamic or bond, a common sentiment that comes from working together in the flesh.

I believe that the First World War, now that I am an active member of a society and studying it on a formal course, is largely of the type 2 participant. We are ‘trainsporters’ in that nerdy, glazed eye way – with specialists who know everything about uniforms, or tunnelling, or submarines, or dental decay on the Western Front, or a particular general, or like me – a grandfather, or great-grandfather who was a combatant.

My worry about e-learning as a collaborative arena is that it is the process, so we are a cookery or gardening club. However, there is significant variation in each of these – vegetarian cooks, cupcake bake off specialists and Heston Blumenthal wannabes – amongst the gardens there are PhD research students growing dwarf barley and weekenders who’ve keep an allotment. Whilst we have interest and the module to sustain us, only in a conort of 1000 or more would for some, there be enough likeminds to form a team.

I’m off to the School of Communication Arts in London. It operates from a workshop like open studio. Students are put into pairs to work. There is collaboration here between an art director (visualizer) and copywriter (words). Whether students are forever looking each other’s shoulders when they are working on a competitive brief is another matter. I’ve noticed how one creative brief given to the whole studio has now become three. What is more, the ‘collaboration’ as such, comes from a couple of full time tutors, principal and then a ‘mentors’ who go in as a sounding board cum catalyst cum different voice or perspective. What these people are doing is ‘creative problem solving’.

Why, historically, does one band stay together while another falls apart? Collaboration is a tricky business – and maybe only in a business setting between employer and employee, or between contractor and client can it be sustained?

Does the organisation where you work have an accessibility (or similar) policy?

I’m going to consider this from three perspectives:

  1. a substantial learning provider that is migrating content to the web wholesale (no policy);
  2. an e-learning agency that produces modules for learning and design managers (the policy is the policy of each different client)
  3. at the Amateur Swimming Association who have a meaningful relationship with disabled swimmers (a policy toward athletes may not be as supportive and accessible when it comes to their own teachers and coaches).

In due course I’ll consider accessibility in relation to content and resources provided by the Open University whom one would expect to be leader in this field – indeed I believe they are and it is apparent as soon as you look at a page of OU e-learning content compared to the kinds of materials  typically produced for corporate clients. Having worked for or in such organisations I can identify differences and suggest reasons for the decisions taken.

If your organisation does not have a policy, why do you think this might be?

I would like to consider this from the point of view of three learning providers –  a substantial institution akin to the OU, a specialist niche trade association and from the perspective of an agency that creates e-learning.

Does your organisation have someone in a senior position whose job it could be to lead accessibility-related policies and initiatives?

The person responsible ought to be senior, ought to carry influence, have personal knowledge or training in relation to access and accessibility and demonstrate the leadership qualities that come from taking on something new and seeing it through.

Are senior management aware of accessibility issues and simply choosing to ignore them?

People are in love with the cutting edge of e-learning – desiring an advanced look and feel and the smart technology behind tracking personal development, e-assessments and accreditation, rather than standing back and favouring instead something cleaner, simpler, perhaps less fashionable, but more accessible – and potentially easier to scale, adjust and for assistive technology – to read. Effectiveness, cost effectiveness and accessible ought to be priorities rather than gamification, virtual worlds and all encompassing solutions where a smorgasbord of choices and decisions is a better reality.

If there are laws in relation to discrimination that have teeth then no person or institution has yet been taken to court.

Has a decision been made that policies are not the right tool to use to try to change practice?

Agencies will do as asked – issues of accessibility might be raised at the briefing stage and the client will say then to what degree accessibility matters and share how accessibility issues have been addressed in the past in their organisation- usually piecemeal and after the event rather than building accessibility in from the start. No one has consider an approach, whether a policy or a design and technical response. The difficulty faced by an agency pitching in a competitive environment for work is that the market too often favours used of the latest gizmos and the most compelling, potentially award winning design. The policy should be for effectiveness and value for money with a close look at cost effectiveness based on old as well as new media.

If so, how is your organisation communicating to staff any desire or intention relating to accessibility?

Will any individual or group of students be significantly disadvantaged if they are required by their programme or institution to use the proposed system? (Seale 2006:128)

This needs to be at the top of the agenda.

Just like a change in management practice or take over of or by a business communication with people should be thorough, timely and authentic. If attitudes have to be changed, developed or refreshed the effort will be all the greater. This requires commitment and resources from the top and engagement of people familiar with such exercises.

How might you improve on accessibility-related policies that exist in your organisation?

1) Find a champion and a leader – if necessary two different people.
2) Get disabled students involved in deciding and advising on policy based on their experiences
3) Know the legal position and comply – tie in with ISO and Plain English policy and compliance (best practice).
4) Organisations have to mean it and be professional about it
5) TEAM WORK
6) Purchasing decisions
7) Benchmark accessibility

CHAMPION

1) There has to be someone to champion the cause, needs, benefits and legal requirements of accessibility. This person needs leadership qualities – informed, persuasive, by example, with authority, credibility and presence. Seale (2006:128) suggests that supportive managers with a positive attitude are need, people with previous experience of supporting students with disabilities. Seale (2006:128)
Accessibility implementation needs to be actively managed (Lamshed et al. 2003) Seale (2006:128)

  • ensuring that the accessibility of e-learning material and resources is monitored and audited (see Seale (2006 chapter 7)
  • ensuring that there is ‘joined up’ thinking between the different specialist and mainstream learning support services within an institution (see Seale 2006 chapter 8)
  • ensuring that staff development opportunities are strategically targeted to raise awareness and that staff are able to respond to accessibility requirements (see Seale 2006 chapter 9)
  • developing and implementing procurement procedures to ensure accessibility of future technology purchases;developing and implementing institutional accessibility policies.

USER GROUP ENGAGEMENT

2) Talk to and engage with end users – be proactive, learning to accommodate and work with the broadest church or representative disabled students.

From US. (Oregon) Accommodations in postsecondary education are governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Students with a documented disability have a right to receive reasonable accommodations. Additionally students have responsibilities which include:

  1. Providing the DAS office with appropriate documentation
  2. Responding to requests for information
  3. Scheduling and completing a required DAS orientation
  4. Making requests for accommodations according to the DAS Timeline for Service Requests before and during each term of attendance
  5. Following the policies and procedures which are available in the DAS Student Handbook

KNOW THE LEGAL POSITION

3) The legalese must be understood – ignorance of the law is no excuse – ideally a legal advisor will inform the CEO and Board, or trustees should seek advice and exirt pressure – that or responding to demands from society and individual campaigns. People need to believe that an organisation could be taken to court for failure to comply to accessibility legislation. Compliance. Level Double-A Conformance to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG1AA-Conformance

Comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 Part Four (as amended by Special Educational Needs Disability Act 2001) and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. All of the Priority 1, 2 and 3 accessibility checkpoints across websites, as established in the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The WAI promotes a high degree of usability and accessibility for people with disabilities.

It is possible that some of our older pages (those not within our new visual identity) might not currently conform to these standards. However, we are actively engaging with our website team to ensure that all future web pages are compliant with W3C guidelines for accessibility.

Like compliance to IS0 9000 and 9001

http://www.praxiom.com/iso-intro.htm

And PLAIN ENGLISH CAMPAIGN

http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/awards.html

CLOUT

4). Purchasing decisions need to take accessibility into consideration – so someone with control on budgets needs to have a say. All new purchases of learning management systems, courseware and networked equipment is accessible (Rowland 2000; McCarthy 2001). He who pays the piper, plays the tune.

MISSION STATEMENT

5). Some organisations could or do put issues into their mission statement or reflect specific brand values – just as companies have ‘gone green’, so too they ought to be looking at both accessibility and equality as part of their corporate and social responsibility mix.  Anderson (2004) argues that practice will only change if the policy is actively implemented:Developing campus Web accessibility policies, guidelines or standards is often thought of as a way to meet legal obligation, however, implementing Web accessibility policies can be a means for creating a campus e-culture of inclusion. While developing a policy has numerous challenges – implementing, supporting and updating a Web accessibility policy is where the rubber hits the road and separates those who succeed in Web accessibility efforts and those who have a policy. (Anderson 2004)

  • embedding accessibility across all institutional activities and systems, from procurement to student support services;
  • addressing whether and how the development of an institutional accessibility policy will encourage such embedment;
  • identifying a team of key stakeholders, across the whole institution (and not just specialist disability services) who are willing and able to work towards embedment.

This may or may not be a ‘tall order’ (Wilson et al. 2002: 20), but without leadership from managers the task will not get any ‘smaller’.

TEAM WORK

6). It is a grave error to make access the responsibility of one person – and the cliche is to give the role of ‘Disability Officer’ to the one person in a wheelchair. Rather to be effective an ‘action team’ needs to be created so that from across the organisations there are partnerships with a range of representative stakeholders. it must be both a collaborative and a team effort.

Byrne (2004) suggests that in setting up a ‘Web Accessibility Policy and Planning Group’ the following stakeholders (among others) should be included: management, student representatives, disabled students, administrators, web designers, lecturers and learning support staff.

  • involve all stakeholders, including top-level support (Burgstahler 2002a; Smith and Lyman 2005);
  • organize an accessibility committee (Smith and Lymann 2005; Hriko 2003; Byrne 2004);
  • provide training and technical support (Smith and Lyman 2005; Burgstahler 2002a; Brewer and Horton 2002);
  • promote institutional awareness (Burgstahler 2002a; Brewer and Horton 2002);
  • evaluate progress towards accessibility (Smith and Lyman 2005; Burgstahler 2002a; Brewer and Horton 2002).

MEAN IT

7). Organisations have to mean it – not pay lip service, but set SMART goals, adhere to plans, be open with failings and strive to make things better. Whilst mission statements and guidelines are a move in the right direction, they will not necessarily ensure or mandate that practice changes. In order to ensure accessibility, policies need to be specific, detailed and directive.

i.e. SMART goals

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Relevant
Time Bound

Advice from a number of accessibility advocates would suggest that accessibility policies need to:

  • define the scope of the policy (Johnson et al. 2003; Brewer 2002);
  • delineate a specific and official technical standard (Johnson et al. 2003; Bohman 2003d; Brewer 2002; Smith and Lyman 2005);
  • indicate whether compliance is required (Bohman 2003d);
  • indicate a timeline or deadline for compliance (Bohman 2003d; Brewer 2002);
  • define a system for evaluating or monitoring compliance (Bohman 2003d; Brewer 2002; Smith and Lyman 2005);

[page 132]

  • indicate any consequences for failure to comply with policy (Bohman 2003d).

Seale (2006:131)

BENCHMARK

8). Benchmark accessibility annually and raise the bar each year too, with comparisons tolike institutions – are we doing better or worse – and particular with those those organisations the ‘action team’ admire for what they are doing or have achieved. A useful exercise would be to look at the history of adoption of access in the physical world, the debates, legislation and practices. Change to be done appropriately and to be permanent takes time.

Develop the view that making accommodations for students with disabilities forms part of the institution’s engagement with learning technologies, can provide efficiencies and improve business agility and performance.

REVIEW – Visitors using the centre are taken through a structured questionnaire that enables them to review their learning practices and compare their level of performance against evolving good practice.

COMPARE – Three key performance indicators above.

ACT – Once you have identified where you can improve , the centre contains over 200 resources to help you take action in your business.

TOWARDS MATURITY (2012)
http://www.towardsmaturity.org/static/towards-maturity-benchmark-centre/

If none exist, what might you include in any new accessibility-related policy within an organisation?

It would be an interesting activity to hold a meeting and hand out books pertaining to contain text that are blank, to be handed a laptop on which all the keys have been glued down, a radio that scrambles the audio.

Design with Assistive Technology (AT) in mind. ‘As technology evolves, Assistive Technology (AT) often becomes outdated, leaving developers scrambling to produce new forms of AT to “catch-up” to IT. In the meantime, individuals relying on AT are left with obsolete equipment and consequently, reduced access to information and services. Although AT does catch up, inevitably, the accessibility cycle repeats itself as technology is too often developed with little or no thought to accessibility’. KATSEVA (2004)

‘Typically, technology is designed for functionality from the outset and made accessible only after-the-fact, either with AT or with retrofitting. This process excludes those for whom access to information and services is already difficult, as well as being terribly inefficient and costly. This process is akin to building a house without the electrical infrastructure, only to have each room wired individually, as new appliances are purchased’. KATSEVA (2004)

Does your organisation have other policies that should refer to accessibility?

If so, do they refer to it? If not, in what ways should they refer to it? Kelly et al. (2004) note that IT Service departments usually aim to provide a secure, robust managed environment, which may conflict with the flexibility many end users would like. (Seale 2006:128) The same is likely to occur with the strict adherence to web accessibility policies. There will need to be a compromise. The IT department, as they are used to managing and even policing IT should perhaps become the guardians of accessibility policy too as it would impact on design and programmining choices.

Who are the key people who have a role in managing accessibility in your organisation?

What helps or hinders them working together on accessibility-related issues?

Leading an institution’s response increases the visibility of accessibility as an issue, makes it easier to dedicate the necessary resources to the issue and makes the monitoring of compliance more of a probability (WebAim n.d.b).

At Cranfield University, we try to ensure that our services, products and facilities are available to all – irrespective of any disability. This applies to our website, too. Our website has been built following expert disability advice. (http://www.cranfield.ac.uk/ prospectus/ note.cfm) SEE APPENDIX 6

Oregon State University provides on its website a set of general web accessibility guidelines:

The universal access to information is a part of the University’s ongoing commitment to establishing a barrier free learning community at Oregon State. These guidelines have been established as a part of this commitment, and to meet the ethical and legal obligations that we have under The Americans with Disabilities Act, The Telecommunications Act of 1996, and The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.

The Oregon State policy has been replaced by Disability Access Services Mission and Goals, http://ds.oregonstate.edu/ about/mission.php (last accessed 24 May 2012).

Integration not segregation

Given that many advocates argue against ‘add-on’ specialist services that segregate people and issues from the mainstream, there would seem to be merit in considering whether accessibility should be integrated into existing policies or whether existing policies can be applied to e-learning accessibility.

Using this argument, perhaps accessibility should be embedded into a range of policies and strategies including: e-learning strategies; teaching and learning strategies; non-discrimination policies; inclusion policies; widening participation policies and learning resources policies.

FURTHER LINKS

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Guidelines
http://www.w3.org/WAI/guid-tech.html

REFERENCE

Anderson, A. (2004) Supporting web accessibility policies: creating a campus e-culture of inclusion at UW-Madison. Paper presented at CSUN ’04. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.csun.edu/ cod/ conf/ 2004/ proceedings/ 20.htm> (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Burgstahler, S., Corrigan, B. and McCarter, J. (2004) Making distance learning courses accessible to students and instructors with disabilities: a case study. Internet and Higher Education, 7, 233–246.

Byrne, J. (2004) An example: UK university accessible web design plan. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.mcu.org.uk/show.php?contentid=85&gt; (accessed 5 October 2005 but no longer available).

Katseva, A. (2004) The case for pervasive accessibility. Paper presented at CSUN ’04. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.csun.edu/ cod/conf/ 2004/ proceedings/ 114.htm> (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Lamshed, R., Berry, M. and Armstrong, L. (2003) Keys to access: accessibility conformance in VET. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/ projects/ resources/ accessibility-conformance.doc> (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Tinklin, T., Riddell, S. and Wilson, A. (2004) Policy and provision for disabled students in higher education in Scotland and England: the current state of play. Studies in Higher Education, 29, 5, 637–657.

TOWARDS MATURITY (2012) http://www.towardsmaturity.org/static/towards-maturity-benchmark-centre/

WebAIM. (n.d.b) The important of leadership. If not you, who? Online. Available HTTP: . (Now available at http://www.webaim.org/ articles/imp_of_leadership/, last accessed 23 May 2012.)

Wilson, A., Ridell, S. and Tinklin, T. (2002) Disabled students in higher education. Finding from key informant interviews. Online. Available HTTP: (accessed 5 October 2005 but no longer available).

Serendipity took me to Space Ed when I had just started H807 ‘Innovations in E-learning.’

English: The front of Balliol College as viewe...

English: The front of Balliol College as viewed from Broad Street, looking west. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Price Kerfoot is an alumni of Balliol College and he was featured in the College Magazine.

This Balliol and Harvard trained doctor had considered ways to improve the way in which medical students learn. A great deal must be learnt rote, you have to know your anatomy (to start with). This means dissecting a cadaver, making the information stick, then testing yourself relentlessly so that exams can be passed.

Here is a professional educator using e-technology to solve a problem.

As an innovation in e-learning nothing compares. It may not use second life or 3D animation, but is addresses a learning problem and offers an effective solution – good-bye factoids on Rolodex cards, hello 21st century email and text alerts probing you to answer multi-choice questions correctly. If you get it wrong, you receive the right answer and an explanation. This question will be resent in due course and sent repeatedly until it is self-evident that you now know the correct answer.

I’m signed up for Core Anatomy.

I haven’t a clue but using Google and go into research mode. It is staggering the wealth of visual materials to support learning, beautifully rendered images of the human body, podcasts from doctors, definitions of the terminology with audio so you learn how to pronounce these things. I still get the first couple of questions wrong, but never mind. I understand what the right answer is, I am building a corpus of knowledge that will in time enable me to answer 100 questions rather than only 25.

Give it a go.

Better still, build your own Space Ed programme. The platform is free to use and you are free to offer the results of your endeavour for free … or for a fee.

REFERENCE

TESTING NEW INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS

Interactive Spaced-Education to Teach the Physical Examination:

A Randomized Controlled Trial

B. Price Kerfoot, MD EdM1,2,3, Elizabeth G. Armstrong, PhD2,3, and Patricia N. O’Sullivan, MD3,4

How would you define the professional in e-learning?

eLP Venn Diagram

 

This looks good on a flip chart, I even took photos of it.

I wish it were more dynamic, on the paper version the reverse side of each category has a set of industry related quotes.

How would you jiggle these terms around?

How do I create a classic Venn Diagram with a piece of software?

Is there the means to play with diagrams like this collaboratively in a wiki or Google Docs?

I’ll produce a reverse image of this with the references.

I also realise that I have about thirty items that would appear where professional, ‘e-‘ and ‘learning’ cross. Sometimes a handwritten essay with a hand-drawn diagram is so much easier to produce and correct 😦

How about handwritten essay produced with a stylus on a Wacom board?

Spent the morning walking along Cuckmere River to the Channel where it became remarkably mild in the sun. Chewing over reasons why efforts to raise finances to produce high-end, TV docu-drama programmes linked to interactive ‘edutainment’ never got off the ground in 2001, despite fullsome praise from the likes of a founding director of Cisco (John Cage) at NABS where he had the keynote speech and we were presenting.

Cost.

We wanted to wow viewers and spend a great deal and thought there was a way for this to make money. The broadcasters, stalwart supporters of Atlantic Productions with whom were were developing product, were at this very time pulling away from the websites as pits of financial loss. Commercialisation is everything.

It is therefore timely that there was an hour long discussion this morning on the rise of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the ‘Innovations Lab.’ I was in one once myself, the BT Think Tank. If anyone will have me I’ll join a new think tank, if not, I’ll form my own.

Cost still matters a great deal:

  • How to radically cut costs by going down the e-learning route (pure online and blended).
  • How to make money creating learning for a global market.

This is how to educate 50% of UK school-leavers. They leave school, but they don’t leave home. They take their degree through the OU or some similar while working.

A new generation with a new set of concerns and motivations.

What makes an e-learning practitioner professional? Qualification? Codes of Practice? Track Record?

A crude way to determine whether something is a Profession or not; in the Western, 21st century work context, could we do without any of the following?

  • Lawyer
  • General Practitioner
  • Accountant
  • E-Learning Practitioner
  • Estate Agent
  • School Teacher
  • Veterinary Nurse
  • Pharmacist
  • Civil Engineer
  • Architect
  • Soldier
  • Priest
  • MP
  • PM
  • Royal
  • Land Argent
  • Surveyor
  • TV presenter
  • Moderator
  • Facilitator
  • Sports Coach
  • Actor

… and if we could do without them, might this be a reason to exclude them from any ‘professional’ status?

I repeatedly feel that the skills expected of an ‘e-learning professional’ are readily available through a web where learning design and programming, let alone copywriting, art direction, video production and production management skills are each a separate role. The ‘e-learning practioner’ in this sense is a one-man band and my suffer from skill dilution as a result, you cannot be a master of all these ‘trades.’

And why do we assume that being a ‘professional’ is a good thing? Some say we need professional MPs, some say not. Is a career MP ala William Hague who’ve known little else and desired nothing more since they were 14 a good or bad thing?

The very nature of working using the latest technologies requires the freedom to chase whatever comes along, rather than being confined to a set or potentially limiting parameters set by others – that could exclude perfectly able peope.

Reflection on e-learning

Coding

Coding (Photo credit: Omer van Kloeten)

  • Something happened.

I don’t like the way text is sometimes displayed here. Simple HTML coding. I may have prepared notes in word that I paste here and find large gaps between headings and paragraphs. Hardly a coding nightmare but I resist any attempt to drill into the code because it reminds me of the barrier I hit in 1999 or 2000 creating web pages in Dreamweaver.

  • What happened?

On reaching a barrier rather than seeking a way beyond it, I may give up. A little disingenuous that, I started a producer job in a web agency where coding was done by programmers and there was an IT guy who made sure the computers sang. Code was not my domain. Nor was IT.

  • So what?

Fine in an office, but of yo and your wife work from home you cannot keep hiring in the ‘Lewes Computer Guy’ when something goes wrong. Time was I felt on top of some of the basic fixes, so when did it all become too much? Time was you could lift the bonnet of a car and see the problem, now you need to plug in a laptop and run through the diagnostics.

  • Now what?

Though it hardly makes me tech savvy I am opening up the HTML codes on these pages and deleting lines creating breaks between paragraphs. The patterns are surprisingly easy to spot. Immediately I’m taken back to lines of colour coded commands. My way to differentiate the code.

My wife said I’m the kind of guy who thinks they can run a marathon on day one having done little exercise. She has a point. My impatience can be my later undoing. When I aim too far, or too high and fail I may give up. I may make excuses that ‘this isn’t me and do something else. The answer is to take things in gradual, incremental stages.

  • Conclusion

Is this reflection? Do I need to show ‘my workings?’ How hard can this be to translate into the H808 reflection tasks relating to course wikis and e-portfolios?

On this basis, like it or not, I can tackle a new platform or piece of software from scratch. If I want to be an ‘e-learning professional’ taking command of a variety of tools for my sake, and for that of my clients and/or students, will be crucial.

It also matters that I have in my mental tool-box a simple method of self-analysis that serves its purpose for the MA ODE and its modules, and becomes second nature.

  • Something happened.
  • What happened?
  • So what!
  • Now what?
  • Conclusion.

The skills you need as an e-learning practitioner

The skills you need as an e-learning practitioner

Training as a TV producer I picked up some skills editing, writing and directing. A project was never too small that a person fulfilling each of these tasks wasn’t required. Indeed, the ‘one man band’ was frowned upon. Some TV crews were still unionised so you had a cameraman, assistant and sound engineer, minimum. Today in TV production a producer may not only direct and write, but operate the camera and edit the piece. To be a TV professional in 2010 you need this variety of skills. I do. I did the courses. Camera, editing … even six months as a sound engineer.

To be an e-learning professional it strikes me that as well as research, design and planning skills, with a healthy foundation from an appropriate course that takes in learning history, theory and practice, that you will also need more that just a modicum of IT skills. IT literacy is a given, but further familiarity, even a confident working knowledge of a variety of 21st century e-learning tools and platforms will be necessary, as well as that 20th century skilling of touch typing.
I have that.
With this in mind I am tackling some software that I have to date resisted. I managed without Outlook, now I’m using it through-out the day. I hadn’t moved away from my original blogging platform of 1999, so have in the last two months started three new blogs in three different places, as well as continuing with the OU blog. I wanted to feel confident I know what these are doing. I signed into Facebook a few years ago but have let it pass me by.
It may feel like the exclusive domain of my children, nephews and nieces, but I am now determined to master it, instead of it having control of me.
And finally, though I have grown familiar with MyStuff and have mine well stuffed … I must decide on a second e-portfolio system to embrace. I want to try one, two at most. I’d like to run with Filemaker Pro as I’m familiar with it, but there is a cost and it won’t be of any use to others who don’t have it installed.
Time to look at the Tutor Group Wiki.

 

Professionalism, Collaboration and the one-man band

Are there industries or careers where it is only possible to be ‘professional,’ let alone a ‘Professional’ if you are part of a team?

(This is part of a debate/discussion on little ‘p’ or big ‘P’ professional in module H800 ‘The e-learning professional’ as part of the OU’s Masters in Open and Distance Education).

A GP can operate alone. A solicitor could operate on their own. But a surgeon cannot. Despite the tools available, making a movie is not a solo-job. (There are exceptions I know).

Were I a client commissioning a piece of e-learning would I be inclined to work with the one-man band? Can one person design, copywrite, design, programme and project manage? On a small scale, to a degree.

I don’t think an individual can be good enough, or engaged enough with all of these things. What is more, they would benefit from the input and insight of others (let alone the cover).

In the various marketing, communications, TV production, web-design, online learning production and publishing businesses where I have worked there is at least a four way split between writers, visualisers, programmers and project managers. In e-learning the same four roles are required, levels of understanding need to overlap to some degree, but it is not absolute. Indeed, I would consider it a failing in someone if they felt they could fulfil all of these roles and were determined to do it all themselves.

The e-learning professional – H800 (Masters in Open and Distance Education)

The podcast H808 e-learning SMEs.

(Makes them sound like a prog rock band of the 1960s. Perhaps they were?)

[V. Long version here. 4,000 words +. 1,000 or under in H808 Tutor Forum.

Edited versions in the next 24 hours/couple of days in EduBlogs at www.mindbursts.edublogs.org]

Week One

I may be a professional swimming coach (amongst several things), but my head coach told me ‘I think too much.’ Think less and get the athletes to do more. Keep it simple. If there is any context however where thinking is the currency, literally if we are talking professionalism, then the more I think the more professional I become.

(Or not).

Many would say that a 3,000 word blog entry is ‘unprofessional.’

I call it shared reflection, the ‘uncut version.’ It is the outcome of over five hours thinking on the topic. Hours banked. Ideas turned into cash. By definition when I have made two years worth of regular deposits I may call myself and even be defined as an ‘e-learning professional’ with the MA to suggest I have joined that club, and a job that for the remuneration I receive makes me a professional rather than a wishful thinking wannabe.

It is unprofessional as a post-graduate student to be flippant and/or verbose.

A professional would keep this down to 500 words, yet I am stretching it to 3,000. The uncut version. Reflection in action. My mind at work. Not the athlete sharing a few ‘mots justes’ after a successful race, but the race itself and all the training before hand. The choice words, bullet point form only with an abridged commentary goes into my Tutor Group Forum. Under 250 words there, is my targert. Under 1,000 words per OU blog had been my thinking too. Blown that then.

Watching the TV I fall asleep.

Listening to the radio (i.e. any audio) I do something else – I’d be distracted anyway, I have to.

In an effort to get into my head the points being made by OUr E-learning Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) I first read the transcripts provided and then listened to the podcast while reading the text.

What shocked me was how much I had missed.

I do less than skim read it appears, all I must do is to look at patterns and shapes. No wonder I learn so little when I do nothing more than read.

Lesson learnt?

This isn’t an ‘airport thriller’ I can read at break-neck speed chaisng the protagonist as he is in turn chased; this requires a different kind of reading.

It requires effort.

I must work with the text, make notes. Just highlighting choices words and sentences isn’t enough either. Effort I can do. It is consistent effort unless I am working under exam conditions where I struggle. There is always something more interesting to read.

Historically, when successful academically, it has been a huge effort and very time consuming for me. I have to take notes (long hand). Then I have to take notes on the notes. I have to make lists, take quotes and re-order the material. I may still not make sense of it. I need to chase up a few references. I need to find my own patterns. I need to discuss it. Argue about it, agree and disagree. And then, gathering up a wad of papers and scraps of paper the whole lot needs to compost for a few months. Then, and only then, might I start to ‘get it,’ and have something constructive and original to say.

Do any of us have this kind of time anymore? Did we ever?

(My late father, my daughter and a friend, a partner in one of the world’s leading law firms, all have/had photographic memories. They would have read the transcript and been able to pick out its salient points after the first swift reading. Not so me, not so us?)

The process you see playing out here is an attempt to mulch the content, slow cook it and hope that I can achieve something in five hours that would normall require five months.

Keep cooking.

The second time round with the SME podcast I first worked with the text, highlighting points and generally trying to get my head around it. If you’ve come across Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Writing for the Web,’ this is what I did – isolating sentences and ideas, creating headings, sub-headings and bullet points, in a word ‘chunking. In fact, I begin to get close to doing what Richard Northridge recommends in the ‘OU Guide to Studying’ (1990) note taking, creating concept cards and then even looking for links and patterns in the text itself.

Lesson learnt?

This takes time and requires effort. I’m not great on effort. My modus operandi is (or has been) to take in volumes of material, but if this is only at a surface level no wonder I am often more frustrated than informed.

Lesson learnt?

Less is more. Rather than chasing a reference, another report or book, I need, at first, to ensure that the text I have in front of me has been dissected, not consumed, not afforded nothing more than a passing glance, but pulled apart, then reconstructed.

Lesson learnt?

Effort

Not the expected outcome of this simple task – my faltering approach to learning laid bare, but a valuable lesson at the start of the module.

At last I’m listening to the podcast.

I made myself think, made myself listen, I ‘sat forward’ (the technical term for interacting, for engagement.) I made myself read and take notes, made me list the contrasting ideas, the arguments for and against, the justifications … and to cluster these ideas and adjust my own thoughts accordingly based on my experience.

I had something to think about as I listened.

Do I have anything in common with these e-learning professionals in relation to assumptions and aims?

  • Do I have different understandings of what it means to be an ‘elearning professional’?
  • Is there a distinct elearning profession, or is elearning simply an aspect of other professions?
  • The profession of teacher?
  • The profession of a university lecturer or academic?
  • The profession of a trainer or staff developer or a human resources developer in private corporate bodies?
  • Is there an elearning professional?
  • And should I be describing my job as that of an elearning professional?

My short reply, given my background in sports coaching, is simple.

  • If you are paid you are a professional.
  • If you are the athlete and not paid you are an amateur.
  • If you’re the coach and not paid you are a volunteer.

Therefore, if someone is good enough and experienced enough (or simply good at selling themselves and their ideas) – and they are remunerated for their efforts, then they are a professional.

Rebecca Addlington is a professional athlete. Bill Furness, her coach, is a professional too.

At my swimming club all the swimmers are amateur, though some through bursaries to pay for County and Regional development training are by definition quasi-professional as they are receiving benefits if not in cash, then in kind. Some of the coaches and I do not define myself as a swimming coach; it’s a hobby that’s got out of hand.

I have ‘put in the hours.’

(Which I can qualify by saying I have put in the appropriate hours. i.e. time will not make you a professional, the enduring focus of your efforts will)

One of the key themes of the podcast made by each of the speakers is that a professional has put in the time.

They have put in the effort, gained experience that is directly or indirectly relevant to their e-learning expertise – and by dint of this expertise (and being paid by the OU, for books and reports, lectures and workshops too perhaps) they are all professionals.

At the swimming club many of us (its the biggest club in the South of England) have earned our places through years of experience, gaining qualifications and attending regular courses (CPD) to retain a licence to teach or coach aquatics. Many of us, paid or not, can call ourselves ‘professionals.’

Just as I’ve reduced my core thought to that of the contract between a professional and an amateur, by picking out the ideas of each speaker and doing something similar a number of interesting points regarding what it means to be an ‘e-learning professional’ emerge.

In this see-saw of ideas the protagonists have a habit of changing places.

By defining professional we should also think what it means to be unprofessional.

I’ve allowed this dance to play out as it leaves me with an image of a professional being circled by the professional wannabe, the unprofessional (as yet), the layperson, the naive, virgin student. A mass of non-professionals clamoring around the few.

The points and arguments frequently fall into another diametrically opposed set: the qualitative vs. quantitative, an objective point vs. the subjective, a value judgment vs. the facts. Everything overlaps – a Venn Diagram of the points would show sets within sets.

Adrian Kirkup

· Amateur vs. Professional (there are many highly ‘professional’ amateurs)

· Ineffective vs. effective.

Robin Mason

· Hasn’t done it for long vs. been doing it for a long time

· Undergraduate vs. PhD (A sub-set of the above)

· Hasn’t put in the hours vs. has put in the hours (more of the same)

· Immature vs. Mature (a variation of the same. Though professionalism is not a consequence of maturity)

· Inexperienced vs. Experienced.(Experience that takes time to acquire, and a certain manner to be effective)

Gill Kirkup

· A new field vs. an established field. (Disagree. Though a new field of subset of a professional activity would be definably professional).

· New vs. Established. (as above)

· No established standards vs. abides by general and specific received standards.

· Acting alone or part of a professional association.

· Part of the UK Higher Education Academy or not. (a subset of the above)

· Part of a legitimate community or not. (as above)

· Committed vs. Uncommitted.

· Respectful vs. Disrespectful.

· Respect for the individual learner, incorporating research and scholarship, the development of learning communities online is a hugely strong component in professional elearning practice. (successfully combines the subjective and unquantifiable with the quantifiable and objective)

· Juvenile and professional vs. professional only if matured. (as Robin Mason)

· Unlicensed vs. Licensed.

Robin Goodfellow

· Genuine vs. not genuine.

· Unrecognised vs. Recognised.

· Inexperienced vs. Experienced.

· Independent vs. tied (to government or a business).(disagree)

· Technical foundation vs. no technical foundation

· No need for a label, e-learning professional vs. professional enhancer. (strongly agree)

Chris Jones

· Takes time vs. no time.(as Robin Mason and Robin Goodfellow. You have to put in the time to become a professional. Which I guess applies as much to the professional criminal, as the Professional lawyer. Little p, Big P- see below)

· Part of the mainstream vs. Specialist. (disagree)

· ‘Lone Ranger’ and early stages of innovation … vs. early majority and established (themes of Rogers)

· Enthusiasts vs. the not interested. (strongly agree)

· Society and the professionalisation of modern life (quotable)

· Sport in the 20th century and professional vs. amateurs in sport

· Traditional and modern professionals

· Autonomous vs. dependent

· Trustworthy vs. (spin/PR/Branding/Agenda)

· Not part of a trade association or governing body vs. part of such an association

· Generalist vs. specialist

· An outside vs. part of something

· Formalised standards vs. none

· Unmonitored vs. monitored

· Is there a distinct elearning profession, or is elearning simply an aspect of other professions?

· Little ‘p’ pr big ‘P.’

Jonathan Vernon (moi)

· Doesn’t look the part vs. looks the part.

· Lacks form vs. has form.

· Self-taught vs. ‘done a course.’

· Qualified (with the piece of paper to prove it) vs. Unqualified (however expert they may be).

Some thoughts on the points identified above

It is worth reflecting on Robin Mason’s point about ‘putting in the hours.’

The suggestion that genius and expertise requires 10,000 hours of effort is no urban myth. A study carried out at the Berlin Music Conservatoire identified three groups of graduates. Asked to estimate how many hours of practice and playing each student had put in since picking up an instrument they were then divided into three distinct categories: up to 4,000 hours, up to 8,000 hours and up to 10,000 hours. The first became teachers, the second category got places in orchestras whilst the tiny number who had put in 10,000 hours (takes around 10 years to do this) were most likely to be the solo artists, the concert pianists, the mavericks, the Vanessa Maes and Mozarts. Whilst all these categories are professionals, they are paid for their skills, the use of the word ‘professional’ to distinguish those who are expert, who have attained a certain standard, would in my view apply to the musicians who have made it into a top orchestra – with the soloists in a category beyond the ‘professional.’ Our ‘OU H808 E-learning SME professionals’, given the decades of thought they have put into what we now define as ‘e-learning’, have been part of this ‘orchestra’ of professionals for some time, and who knows, we may have a Mozart amongst them. Personally, I’ve not read enough from any of them yet to know any better. I look forward to hearing what they have to say and how they say it.

Interestingly, Robin Mason returns repeatedly to a theme of time passing, of gaining, requiring or acquiring maturity of thought. Though I feel as if I am clutching at ideas in an amorphous cloud here, my sense is that whether it is professional with a big P or a little p, that the word ‘maturity’; might say it all.

What does maturity imply?

Growing up, lessons learnt, age, growth, adult hood, a way of behaving, able to fit in and contribute to a community and so on.

I disagree with Gill Kirkup

If I have understood her correctly regarding her suggesting that only in an established field is something professional whilst in a new field this is not possible. We can all think of (or at least imagine) an unprofessional ‘professional.’ The corrupt lawyer, the doctor struck off the medical register, the TV food expert who is not a doctor at all (and so a sham professional).

In 2000 I would have defined myself, as some of the panel here would have done, as what is now termed an ‘e-learning’ professional. After fifteen years in corporate communications, training and learning, creating linear, then non-linear and ultimately web-based materials the companies and government department for whom I worked through various production companies had to see me as ‘professional.’ I hadn’t done the post-graduate studying, but I’d learnt through observation and experience (first carrying video kit into the changing rooms of a nuclear power plant age 17 assisting with a training film for BNFL at Sellafield).

Interestingly, I don’t currently consider myself to be an e-learning or a learning professional and even with the MA I hope to gain in 2011 I will by my own definition not be a professional until I am being paid for my expertise.

To use a horse-racing term I lack ‘form.’

I’m literally out of the race (for now).

Being studious here and building my confidence is part of the plan to regain the ‘professional’ tag.

Does a barrister on retirement cease to be a professional lawyer?

Socio-econonmically he/she would still be defined as a ‘professional’ would they not?

I agree however, very much, with Gill Kirkup’s views regarding ‘respect’ and her definition of an e-learning professional within the academic community.

Respect for the individual learner, incorporating research and scholarship, the development of learning communities online is a hugely strong component in professional elearning practice.’

(This, for me, successfully combines the subjective and unquantifiable with the quantifiable and objective. i.e. you can be a professional Professional).

I disagree with Robin Goodfellow’s view that a professional must be independent vs. tied (to government or a business). If we look beyond e-learning professionals and academia it would be quite wrong to say that someone is not professional simply because they represent the interests of an organisation or government department, let alone are being paid to take a certain stance or have a strongly held view (left or right wing politically, religious or atheist and so on).

If nothing else, I believe I have shown above that there is a natural dichotomy, if not a debate even an implicit conflict, between views on whether a person, or institution, or field of study, can be defined as professional or not, worthy of study or not.

It is engagement in such a debate where a professional proves their credentials.

A professional is a match for anyone, whilst the unprofessional would not play by the rules, make excuses, bow out…

Dare I imply that all the above are differentiating between the educated and uneducated?

Is it so black and white? Students at school, scholars as Edwardian’s would have defined them, and undergraduates, graduates too, in terms of education can never be defined as ‘professional.’

Or can they?

The government pays students to go to college, to stay on in secondary school after the age of 16 – does not this make them pros, like a boy of a similar age getting paid to play football in an academy, they literally ‘turn pro.’

I agree with Robin Goodfellow that there is ‘need for a label’, that what is currently the e-learning professional may be the ‘professional enhancer ‘of the future if the UK HE Academy has their way (though I doubt the term will stick). Just as Robin was (we were) once web-based learning professionals, or learning professionals, or professionals in education…

Big P, little p (Chris Jones) is the most memorable expression of an idea in relation to the professional Professional that I take from this and a worthy talking point. And 2,500 words in I could sum it up with a Twitter count.

Professional is an adjective and a noun.

Anyone can be described as ‘professional,’ (adjective) by dint of their behaviour and experience, however to be a ‘professional’, (noun), various criteria should be met. Depending on how your measure up, by Chris Jones’s definition, you are either Big or Little P.

(I can think of other categories where a similar way of looking at things could be applied, for example, ‘engineer’. The person who fixes my washing machine may call himself an ‘engineer,’ but Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an ‘Engineer’. A sports psychologist is no longer allowed to call themselves such, they are sports scientists. So Psychologist, if not professional, not has a legally binding form of expression and use).

I disagree however with Chris Jone’s view that Professionals (big P you notice) have to be specialists whilst implicitly, if they are professional at all (little p) they are not, or unlikely to be so if they are part of the mainstream.

Or do I?

(I’m changing my mind as I write this, reflecting on a matter tends to do this. You twist yourself in so many knots and then find you are looking in the opposite direction – and happy to do so)

Onwards

Is there an implicit elitism here that makes me uncomfortable, an obvious them and us?

As a Professional I am not ‘part of the mainstream’ ?

Yes, that’s it.

You see the ‘mainstream’ is the population, everyone, in the universe that we are discussing. Professionals are of the mainstream, of society, even if they are a subset community within the broader community.

The likes of Richard Dawkin and Stephen Hawkings are ‘professional Professionals’ by their engagement with the world, not because of an elitist, hide-themselves away hermit like attitude to knowledge acquisition. Do Simon Schama and Neil Ferguson fall into the same category of professionalism?

Be published and damned, broadcast and be damned even more?

But you don’t have to be famous to be Professional (though I dare say you’d cease to be professional if you became infamous).

Or have I been making a mistake through-out this internal debate … this reflection – that we have always only been discussing Big P professionalism ONLY as part of ‘the whole thing,’ i.e. the specific category of the ‘e-learning Professional’ and just as this time round I haven’t given a moment’s thought to ‘e-learning’ as a term, I have nonetheless unnecessarily dissected the term ‘professional.’

I’m yet to click through the OED online.

I daren’t. It may be my undoing.

Back to my idea of a Venn Diagram.

If ‘professionals’ is the universe then we have two subsets, Professionals (Big P) and professionals (little p) (the noun only). Far smaller, and intersecting both these sets, we have ‘e-learning.’ There are in e-learning little P and Big P professionals.

Still with me?

But there are also non-professionals, and even  the unprofessional to consider. Can they also be defined as Non-professionals (Big N) and Unprofessionals (Big U).

Final thoughts

Might a professional be defined as someone with ‘qualified confidence in their field?’

Not finished yet

I’ve got a Venn Diagram to draw, some visualising to do.

Can a loner be a professional?

I enjoyed Chris Jones’s point about the ‘Lone Ranger’ that in early stages of innovation there are maverick, loners having a go at something new way ahead of anyone else – think Dr Emmett Brown in ‘Back to the Future’ tinkering away at the construction of a time-travelling automobile. Are such people professionals or even professional? Does this ‘odd-ball’ behaviour disenfranchise you from the professional community, even if you have the mind the size of a planet?

A consultant escapes the hospital ward for a couple of years to undertake research. Just because they are beavering away on their own, being a ‘Lone Ranger’ doesn’t disqualify them from the category of ‘Professional,’ (Big P), or even ‘professional Professional’ (little p, Big P).

Dare I suggest that our panel of e-learning experts are ‘professional e-Professionals’ ?

I don’t even begin to delve into the thinking behind innovation diffusion. This is an entire module in its own right. It is called ‘Innovations in E-learning’, or H807 for short.

For more read ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ E.M.Rogers. (2005) 5th edition.

Nor am I going to teach the definition ‘e-learning.’

Is there a professional ‘look.’

Forgive me if I make a comparison here between the need for barristers to put on the appropriate garb in court and so look Professional with a big p, compared to those wishing to be called professional and seen as Professional who don’t look the part. Poolside as coaches it is expected that all teachers are appropriately dressed in the club colours and well groomed – this looks professional. There was once a time when teachers wore a jacket and tie, so looked professional like fellow professionals such as lawyers and doctors. Don’t academic look the part, ‘look professional’ in their gowns and mortar-boards?

And having addressed ‘looks’ can someone sound ‘professional?

Think how a director chooses actors to play a role. Look at Michael Cane in ‘Educating Rita,’ is this the stereotypical professional Professor?

Another discussion, but coming from corporate communications we have been through exercises of using authentic presenters (people who work at the place) compared to buying in ‘professional’ presenters. To do justice to the message in the TV medium the professional broadcasters were far better at putting over the points the client wanted to make.

As I said, another discussion, a different thread.

P.S. It would be unprofessional to post such a long entry into a tutor forum, where a 500 word, even a 250 word version will be posted (the bullet points, or just my thoughts on the key bullet points … or just where I strongly agree or disagree).

Lesson Learnt ?

Professionals put in the time and effort, and follow rather than ignore guidelines for the community in which they operate.

It strikes me that academics, like creatives, are more interested in reputation and recognition than money.

Is it not striking that not one of our panel mention it?

Can you be a professional without it?

And what about spelling and grammar?

The ability to communicate. Have I mentioned that. Can the professional spell?

I may be a swimming coach (amongst several things), but my head coach told me ‘I think too much.’

English: Jakob Nielsen, web usability consultant.

English: Jakob Nielsen, web usability consultant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Think less and get the athletes to do more. Keep it simple. If there is any context however where thinking is the currency, literally if we are talking professionalism, then the more I think the more professional I become.

 

(Or not).

 

Many would say that a 3,000 word blog entry is ‘unprofessional.’

 

I call it shared reflection, the ‘uncut version.’ It is the outcome of over five hours thinking on the topic. Hours banked. Ideas turned into cash. By definition when I have made two years worth of regular deposits I may call myself and even be defined as an ‘e-learning professional’ with the MA to suggest I have joined that club, and a job that for the remuneration I receive makes me a professional rather than a wishful thinking wannabe.

 

It is unprofessional as a post-graduate student to be flippant and/or verbose.

 

A professional would keep this down to 500 words, yet I am stretching it to 3,000. The uncut version. Reflection in action. My mind at work. Not the athlete sharing a few ‘mots justes’ after a successful race, but the race itself and all the training before hand. The choice words, bullet point form only with an abridged commentary goes into my Tutor Group Forum. Under 250 words there, is my targert. Under 1,000 words per OU blog had been my thinking too. Blown that then.

 

Watching the TV I fall asleep.

 

Listening to the radio (i.e. any audio) I do something else – I’d be distracted anyway, I have to.

 

In an effort to get into my head the points being made by OUr E-learning Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) I first read the transcripts provided and then listened to the podcast while reading the text.

 

What shocked me was how much I had missed.

 

I do less than skim read it appears, all I must do is to look at patterns and shapes. No wonder I learn so little when I do nothing more than read.

 

Lesson learnt?

 

This isn’t an ‘airport thriller’ I can read at break-neck speed chaisng the protagonist as he is in turn chased; this requires a different kind of reading.

 

It requires effort.

 

I must work with the text, make notes. Just highlighting choices words and sentences isn’t enough either. Effort I can do. It is consistent effort unless I am working under exam conditions where I struggle. There is always something more interesting to read.

 

Historically, when successful academically, it has been a huge effort and very time consuming for me. I have to take notes (long hand). Then I have to take notes on the notes. I have to make lists, take quotes and re-order the material. I may still not make sense of it. I need to chase up a few references. I need to find my own patterns. I need to discuss it. Argue about it, agree and disagree. And then, gathering up a wad of papers and scraps of paper the whole lot needs to compost for a few months. Then, and only then, might I start to ‘get it,’ and have something constructive and original to say.

 

Do any of us have this kind of time anymore? Did we ever?

 

(My late father, my daughter and a friend, a partner in one of the world’s leading law firms, all have/had photographic memories. They would have read the transcript and been able to pick out its salient points after the first swift reading. Not so me, not so us?)

 

The process you see playing out here is an attempt to mulch the content, slow cook it and hope that I can achieve something in five hours that would normall require five months.

 

Keep cooking.

 

The second time round with the SME podcast I first worked with the text, highlighting points and generally trying to get my head around it. If you’ve come across Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Writing for the Web,’ this is what I did – isolating sentences and ideas, creating headings, sub-headings and bullet points, in a word ‘chunking. In fact, I begin to get close to doing what Richard Northridge recommends in the ‘OU Guide to Studying’ (1990) note taking, creating concept cards and then even looking for links and patterns in the text itself.

 

Lesson learnt?

 

This takes time and requires effort. I’m not great on effort. My modus operandi is (or has been) to take in volumes of material, but if this is only at a surface level no wonder I am often more frustrated than informed.

 

Lesson learnt?

 

Less is more. Rather than chasing a reference, another report or book, I need, at first, to ensure that the text I have in front of me has been dissected, not consumed, not afforded nothing more than a passing glance, but pulled apart, then reconstructed.

 

Lesson learnt?

 

Effort

 

Not the expected outcome of this simple task – my faltering approach to learning laid bare, but a valuable lesson at the start of the module.

 

At last I’m listening to the podcast.

 

I made myself think, made myself listen, I ‘sat forward’ (the technical term for interacting, for engagement.) I made myself read and take notes, made me list the contrasting ideas, the arguments for and against, the justifications … and to cluster these ideas and adjust my own thoughts accordingly based on my experience.

 

I had something to think about as I listened.

 

Do I have anything in common with these e-learning professionals in relation to assumptions and aims?

 

  • Do I have different understandings of what it means to be an ‘elearning professional’?
  • Is there a distinct elearning profession, or is elearning simply an aspect of other professions?
  • The profession of teacher?
  • The profession of a university lecturer or academic?
  • The profession of a trainer or staff developer or a human resources developer in private corporate bodies?
  • Is there an elearning professional?
  • And should I be describing my job as that of an elearning professional?

 

My short reply, given my background in sports coaching, is simple.

 

  • If you are paid you are a professional.
  • If you are the athlete and not paid you are an amateur.
  • If you’re the coach and not paid you are a volunteer.

 

Therefore, if someone is good enough and experienced enough (or simply good at selling themselves and their ideas) – and they are remunerated for their efforts, then they are a professional.

 

Rebecca Addlington is a professional athlete. Bill Furness, her coach, is a professional too.

 

At my swimming club all the swimmers are amateur, though some through bursaries to pay for County and Regional development training are by definition quasi-professional as they are receiving benefits if not in cash, then in kind. Some of the coaches and I do not define myself as a swimming coach; it’s a hobby that’s got out of hand.

 

I have ‘put in the hours.’

 

(Which I can qualify by saying I have put in the appropriate hours. i.e. time will not make you a professional, the enduring focus of your efforts will)

 

One of the key themes of the podcast made by each of the speakers is that a professional has put in the time.

 

They have put in the effort, gained experience that is directly or indirectly relevant to their e-learning expertise – and by dint of this expertise (and being paid by the OU, for books and reports, lectures and workshops too perhaps) they are all professionals.

 

At the swimming club many of us (its the biggest club in the South of England) have earned our places through years of experience, gaining qualifications and attending regular courses (CPD) to retain a licence to teach or coach aquatics. Many of us, paid or not, can call ourselves ‘professionals.’

 

Just as I’ve reduced my core thought to that of the contract between a professional and an amateur, by picking out the ideas of each speaker and doing something similar a number of interesting points regarding what it means to be an ‘e-learning professional’ emerge.

 

In this see-saw of ideas the protagonists have a habit of changing places.

 

By defining professional we should also think what it means to be unprofessional.

 

I’ve allowed this dance to play out as it leaves me with an image of a professional being circled by the professional wannabe, the unprofessional (as yet), the layperson, the naive, virgin student. A mass of non-professionals clamoring around the few.

 

The points and arguments frequently fall into another diametrically opposed set: the qualitative vs. quantitative, an objective point vs. the subjective, a value judgment vs. the facts. Everything overlaps – a Venn Diagram of the points would show sets within sets.

 

Adrian Kirkup

 

  • Amateur vs. Professional (there are many highly ‘professional’ amateurs)
  • Ineffective vs. effective.

 

Robin Mason

 

  • Hasn’t done it for long vs. been doing it for a long time
  • Undergraduate vs. PhD (A sub-set of the above)
  • Hasn’t put in the hours vs. has put in the hours (more of the same)
  • Immature vs. Mature (a variation of the same. Though professionalism is not a consequence of maturity)
  • Inexperienced vs. Experienced.(Experience that takes time to acquire, and a certain manner to be effective)

 

Gill Kirkup

 

A new field vs. an established field. (Disagree. Though a new field of subset of a professional activity would be definably professional).

 

  • New vs. Established. (as above)
  • No established standards vs. abides by general and specific received standards.
  • Acting alone or part of a professional association.
  • Part of the UK Higher Education Academy or not. (a subset of the above)
  • Part of a legitimate community or not. (as above)
  • Committed vs. Uncommitted.
  • Respectful vs. Disrespectful.
  • Respect for the individual learner, incorporating research and scholarship, the development of learning communities online is a hugely strong component in professional elearning practice. (successfully combines the subjective and unquantifiable with the quantifiable and objective)
  • Juvenile and professional vs. professional only if matured. (as Robin Mason)
  • Unlicensed vs. Licensed.

 

 

 

Robin Goodfellow

 

  • Genuine vs. not genuine.
  • Unrecognised vs. Recognised.
  • Inexperienced vs. Experienced.
  • Independent vs. tied (to government or a business).(disagree)
  • Technical foundation vs. no technical foundation
  • No need for a label, e-learning professional vs. professional enhancer. (strongly agree)

 

 

 

Chris Jones

 

  • Takes time vs. no time.(as Robin Mason and Robin Goodfellow. You have to put in the time to become a professional. Which I guess applies as much to the professional criminal, as the Professional lawyer. Little p, Big P- see below)
  • Part of the mainstream vs. Specialist. (disagree)
  • ‘Lone Ranger’ and early stages of innovation … vs. early majority and established (themes of Rogers)
  • Enthusiasts vs. the not interested. (strongly agree)
  • Society and the professionalisation of modern life (quotable)
  • Sport in the 20th century and professional vs. amateurs in sport
  • Traditional and modern professionals
  • Autonomous vs. dependent
  • Trustworthy vs. (spin/PR/Branding/Agenda)
  • Not part of a trade association or governing body vs. part of such an association
  • Generalist vs. specialist
  • An outside vs. part of something
  • Formalised standards vs. none
  • Unmonitored vs. monitored
  • Is there a distinct elearning profession, or is elearning simply an aspect of other professions?
  • Little ‘p’ pr big ‘P.’

 

Jonathan Vernon (moi)

 

  • Doesn’t look the part vs. looks the part.
  • Lacks form vs. has form.
  • Self-taught vs. ‘done a course.’
  • Qualified (with the piece of paper to prove it) vs. Unqualified (however expert they may be).

 

Some thoughts on the points identified above

 

It is worth reflecting on Robin Mason’s point about ‘putting in the hours.’

 

The suggestion that genius and expertise requires 10,000 hours of effort is no urban myth. A study carried out at the Berlin Music Conservatoire identified three groups of graduates. Asked to estimate how many hours of practice and playing each student had put in since picking up an instrument they were then divided into three distinct categories: up to 4,000 hours, up to 8,000 hours and up to 10,000 hours. The first became teachers, the second category got places in orchestras whilst the tiny number who had put in 10,000 hours (takes around 10 years to do this) were most likely to be the solo artists, the concert pianists, the mavericks, the Vanessa Maes and Mozarts. Whilst all these categories are professionals, they are paid for their skills, the use of the word ‘professional’ to distinguish those who are expert, who have attained a certain standard, would in my view apply to the musicians who have made it into a top orchestra – with the soloists in a category beyond the ‘professional.’

 

Our ‘OU H808 E-learning SME professionals’, given the decades of thought they have put into what we now define as ‘e-learning’, have been part of this ‘orchestra’ of professionals for some time, and who knows, we may have a Mozart amongst them. Personally, I’ve not read enough from any of them yet to know any better. I look forward to hearing what they have to say and how they say it.

 

Interestingly, Robin Mason returns repeatedly to a theme of time passing, of gaining, requiring or acquiring maturity of thought. Though I feel as if I am clutching at ideas in an amorphous cloud here, my sense is that whether it is professional with a big P or a little p, that the word ‘maturity’; might say it all.

 

What does maturity imply?

 

Growing up, lessons learnt, age, growth, adult hood, a way of behaving, able to fit in and contribute to a community and so on.

 

I disagree with Gill Kirkup

 

If I have understood her correctly regarding her suggesting that only in an established field is something professional whilst in a new field this is not possible. We can all think of (or at least imagine) an unprofessional ‘professional.’ The corrupt lawyer, the doctor struck off the medical register, the TV food expert who is not a doctor at all (and so a sham professional).

 

In 2000 I would have defined myself, as some of the panel here would have done, as what is now termed an ‘e-learning’ professional. After fifteen years in corporate communications, training and learning, creating linear, then non-linear and ultimately web-based materials the companies and government department for whom I worked through various production companies had to see me as ‘professional.’ I hadn’t done the post-graduate studying, but I’d learnt through observation and experience (first carrying video kit into the changing rooms of a nuclear power plant age 17 assisting with a training film for BNFL at Sellafield).

 

Interestingly, I don’t currently consider myself to be an e-learning or a learning professional and even with the MA I hope to gain in 2011 I will by my own definition not be a professional until I am being paid for my expertise.

 

To use a horse-racing term I lack ‘form.’

 

I’m literally out of the race (for now).

 

Being studious here and building my confidence is part of the plan to regain the ‘professional’ tag.

 

Does a barrister on retirement cease to be a professional lawyer?

 

Socio-econonmically he/she would still be defined as a ‘professional’ would they not?

 

I agree however, very much, with Gill Kirkup’s views regarding ‘respect’ and her definition of an e-learning professional within the academic community.

 

Respect for the individual learner, incorporating research and scholarship, the development of learning communities online is a hugely strong component in professional elearning practice.’

 

(This, for me, successfully combines the subjective and unquantifiable with the quantifiable and objective. i.e. you can be a professional Professional).

 

I disagree with Robin Goodfellow’s view that a professional must be independent vs. tied (to government or a business). If we look beyond e-learning professionals and academia it would be quite wrong to say that someone is not professional simply because they represent the interests of an organisation or government department, let alone are being paid to take a certain stance or have a strongly held view (left or right wing politically, religious or atheist and so on).

 

If nothing else, I believe I have shown above that there is a natural dichotomy, if not a debate even an implicit conflict, between views on whether a person, or institution, or field of study, can be defined as professional or not, worthy of study or not.

 

It is engagement in such a debate where a professional proves their credentials.

 

A professional is a match for anyone, whilst the unprofessional would not play by the rules, make excuses, bow out…

 

Dare I imply that all the above are differentiating between the educated and uneducated?

 

Is it so black and white? Students at school, scholars as Edwardian’s would have defined them, and undergraduates, graduates too, in terms of education can never be defined as ‘professional.’

 

Or can they?

 

The government pays students to go to college, to stay on in secondary school after the age of 16 – does not this make them pros, like a boy of a similar age getting paid to play football in an academy, they literally ‘turn pro.’

 

I agree with Robin Goodfellow that there is ‘need for a label’, that what is currently the e-learning professional may be the ‘professional enhancer ‘of the future if the UK HE Academy has their way (though I doubt the term will stick). Just as Robin was (we were) once web-based learning professionals, or learning professionals, or professionals in education…

 

Big P, little p (Chris Jones) is the most memorable expression of an idea in relation to the professional Professional that I take from this and a worthy talking point. And 2,500 words in I could sum it up with a Twitter count.

 

Professional is an adjective and a noun.

 

Anyone can be described as ‘professional,’ (adjective) by dint of their behaviour and experience, however to be a ‘professional’, (noun), various criteria should be met. Depending on how your measure up, by Chris Jones’s definition, you are either Big or Little P.

 

(I can think of other categories where a similar way of looking at things could be applied, for example, ‘engineer’. The person who fixes my washing machine may call himself an ‘engineer,’ but Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an ‘Engineer’. A sports psychologist is no longer allowed to call themselves such, they are sports scientists. So Psychologist, if not professional, not has a legally binding form of expression and use).

 

I disagree however with Chris Jone’s view that Professionals (big P you notice) have to be specialists whilst implicitly, if they are professional at all (little p) they are not, or unlikely to be so if they are part of the mainstream.

 

Or do I?

 

(I’m changing my mind as I write this, reflecting on a matter tends to do this. You twist yourself in so many knots and then find you are looking in the opposite direction – and happy to do so)

 

Onwards

 

Is there an implicit elitism here that makes me uncomfortable, an obvious them and us?

 

As a Professional I am not ‘part of the mainstream’ ?

 

Yes, that’s it.

 

You see the ‘mainstream’ is the population, everyone, in the universe that we are discussing. Professionals are of the mainstream, of society, even if they are a subset community within the broader community.

 

The likes of Richard Dawkin and Stephen Hawkings are ‘professional Professionals’ by their engagement with the world, not because of an elitist, hide-themselves away hermit like attitude to knowledge acquisition. Do Simon Schama and Neil Ferguson fall into the same category of professionalism?

 

Be published and damned, broadcast and be damned even more?

 

But you don’t have to be famous to be Professional (though I dare say you’d cease to be professional if you became infamous).

 

Or have I been making a mistake through-out this internal debate … this reflection – that we have always only been discussing Big P professionalism ONLY as part of ‘the whole thing,’ i.e. the specific category of the ‘e-learning Professional’ and just as this time round I haven’t given a moment’s thought to ‘e-learning’ as a term, I have nonetheless unnecessarily dissected the term ‘professional.’

 

I’m yet to click through the OED online.

 

I daren’t. It may be my undoing.

 

Back to my idea of a Venn Diagram.

 

If ‘professionals’ is the universe then we have two subsets, Professionals (Big P) and professionals (little p) (the noun only). Far smaller, and intersecting both these sets, we have ‘e-learning.’ There are in e-learning little P and Big P professionals.

 

Still with me?

 

But there are also non-professionals, and even  the unprofessional to consider. Can they also be defined as Non-professionals (Big N) and Unprofessionals (Big U).

 

Final thoughts

 

Might a professional be defined as someone with ‘qualified confidence in their field?’

 

Not finished yet

 

I’ve got a Venn Diagram to draw, some visualising to do.

 

Can a loner be a professional?

 

I enjoyed Chris Jones’s point about the ‘Lone Ranger’ that in early stages of innovation there are maverick, loners having a go at something new way ahead of anyone else – think Dr Emmett Brown in ‘Back to the Future’ tinkering away at the construction of a time-travelling automobile. Are such people professionals or even professional? Does this ‘odd-ball’ behaviour disenfranchise you from the professional community, even if you have the mind the size of a planet?

 

A consultant escapes the hospital ward for a couple of years to undertake research. Just because they are beavering away on their own, being a ‘Lone Ranger’ doesn’t disqualify them from the category of ‘Professional,’ (Big P), or even ‘professional Professional’ (little p, Big P).

 

Dare I suggest that our panel of e-learning experts are ‘professional e-Professionals’ ?

 

I don’t even begin to delve into the thinking behind innovation diffusion. This is an entire module in its own right. It is called ‘Innovations in E-learning’, or H807 for short.

 

For more read ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ E.M.Rogers. (2005) 5th edition.

 

Nor am I going to teach the definition ‘e-learning.’

 

Is there a professional ‘look.’

 

Forgive me if I make a comparison here between the need for barristers to put on the appropriate garb in court and so look Professional with a big p, compared to those wishing to be called professional and seen as Professional who don’t look the part. Poolside as coaches it is expected that all teachers are appropriately dressed in the club colours and well groomed – this looks professional. There was once a time when teachers wore a jacket and tie, so looked professional like fellow professionals such as lawyers and doctors. Don’t academic look the part, ‘look professional’ in their gowns and mortar-boards?

 

And having addressed ‘looks’ can someone sound ‘professional?

 

Think how a director chooses actors to play a role. Look at Michael Cane in ‘Educating Rita,’ is this the stereotypical professional Professor?

 

Another discussion, but coming from corporate communications we have been through exercises of using authentic presenters (people who work at the place) compared to buying in ‘professional’ presenters. To do justice to the message in the TV medium the professional broadcasters were far better at putting over the points the client wanted to make.

 

As I said, another discussion, a different thread.

 

P.S. It would be unprofessional to post such a long entry into a tutor forum, where a 500 word, even a 250 word version will be posted (the bullet points, or just my thoughts on the key bullet points … or just where I strongly agree or disagree).

 

Lesson Learnt ?

 

Professionals put in the time and effort, and follow rather than ignore guidelines for the community in which they operate.

 

It strikes me that academics, like creatives, are more interested in reputation and recognition than money.

 

Is it not striking that not one of our panel mention it?

 

Can you be a professional without it?

 

And what about spelling and grammar?

 

The ability to communicate. Have I mentioned that. Can the professional spell?

 

 

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