Exploring operational issues

In this post I want to think through some of the:

  1. Constraints
  2. Benefits
  3. Technical knowledges
  4. And various ways I deploy learning technologies in my practice as a learner and academic

Firstly, to restate the broad philosophy of my teaching and learning practice, I think of myself as someone heavily influenced by postmodern and post-structural philosophies.  This means that my practice is underpinned by:

  1. Interest in opening space for new thought, creativity and perhaps even a deliberate carelessness ;
  2. A skepticism towards meta-narratives, or hegemonic discourses, even discourses of resistance;
  3. The plurality of knowledges and truths;
  4. And a resistance to singular authorities who might claim to know what is right and wrong, good or bad.

I have been at AUT for 19 years and, in that time, I have found it an incredibly free and open space for creativity.  I know this hasn’t always been the case for some of my colleagues, but I struggle to think of a time when I wasn’t able to exercise my imagination.

There are structural constraints in the institution of course.  Approving committees, disapproving colleagues, time pressures, dogmatic and intransigent attitudes perhaps, but I have found that I have mostly been able to work around these things.

Some of this comes from the fact that I think as a designer of educational experiences and spaces, I tend to work quite autonomously.  My approach has increasingly become one of instigating change in my own personal and professional practice and then sharing that with colleagues as and when they feel comfortable to try it.  To give some examples:

  1. I set up a Wednesday lunchtime tech talk session for staff in the School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies, partly to learn about a range of different learning apps (we ran each week for 24 weeks during 2017), and partly to share ideas for incorporating readily accessible technologies into our teaching
  2. I have taught staff and students on the use of Evernote, which is one of my most invaluable software tools
  3. I regularly use different presentation tools in my teaching, especially Keynote, but also Evernote, Twitter and polling software like Xorro.
  4. I use Feedly, Pocket and, again Evernote, to collate material captured from various social media, including journals, magazines, videos.
  5. I use Zoom extensively to maintain connections with colleagues throughout the world.
  6. I have been blogging using WordPress sites for five years now and have published more than 650 blog posts on criticalphysio.net – a site I established back in 2014.

In using these tools, I have found AUT to be an incredibly supportive work environment. That being said, the university suffers from a legacy of poor decisions when it comes to supporting large-scale IT projects.  Systems like Arion, Ideate, Blackboard, and the resources available to staff in teaching spaces are patchy and haphazardly installed and integrated.  They are not reliably available, and there doesn’t seem to be a coherent strategy to organise the purchasing and roll-out of these tools.  I heard no so recently that the IT team don’t consult CfLaT when they decide on an upgrade to the LMS, which is indicative of a poorly thought-out strategy for ICT development in the future.

Perversely perhaps, I think we benefit quite a lot from this haphazard approach because, as a postmodernist, I think it allows us a lot of space to develop our own solutions.  We aren’t constrained by a one-size-fits-all model imposed centrally.  The Akoranga campus is a great example of that.  Often, the slightly tired facilities mean that we’re looking for creative solutions for things that others in the City maybe take for granted.   I like this freedom, just as I like the fact that we don’t have the heritage at AUT of universities like UofA, Victoria, and Otago, where traditional systems and structures can also be a brake on creativity.

If this slightly chaotic, slightly loose, slightly disorderly approach continues, and the university doesn’t look to centralise, dominate or control our way of doing things, there are some directions I would like to develop in.  I would like to:

  1. Work more asynchronously.  I no longer have an office on campus and this has increased my use of technology to enable connections.  I said last year that there were colleagues overseas who I was closer to than some of the people I shared a landing within AR block.  Zoom, Skype and the fibre broadband I now have at home have made a huge difference to my working patterns, and I’d like to encourage more staff to do what I’ve done and give up their offices.
  2. Engage in more teaching overseas.  Again, using remote connections and video streaming, I would like to diversify my work and develop more connections with universities and colleagues in different countries.  I have strong connections with people in the UK and Scandinavia and would like to develop more remote teaching contracts in the future.
  3. Incorporate open badging into some of the courses I teach online.  I haven’t done this yet but feel it could be a good way to break away from the old idea that higher education institutions were the only legitimate places that could accredit formal and informal learning.
  4. Develop better screencasts for lectures I have developed in my office.  I have seen some people use green-screens and interesting video overlays.  I don’t know if I want to go this far, but making presentations more visually engaging would be something I would be interested in developing.

I hope this has provided some context for some of the operational issues I encounter at AUT.  As I say, I find it a very flexible place to work and quite enjoy the feeling that you’re sometimes working in quite a disorderly place.  I think it helps us to be more creative.

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