Crime scene training provision is expanding quickly at UWE. Not only are undergraduate and post-graduate Forensic Science programmes continuing to be highly popular with prospective students, but there is now a large multi-intake Policing cohort now adding to the need for state-of-the-art simulation facilities on Frenchay Campus. This new space will provide our students with excellent crime scene provision, in accordance with our accreditation from the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. This blog will follow the involvement of the Forensic, Analytical, and Chemical Sciences (FACS) technical team in developing and setting up this space in anticipation of use for our students.
Firstly, a disclaimer of sorts. The creation of this new space has been a huge undertaking for the faculty – from identifying a need, creating a business case, management of the building works, IT provision, and setting up the space. This blog is not intended to follow all of these undertakings – but needless to say, the university should be very proud of all the staff members who have worked closely together on this project – with Technical/IT, Academic, Administrative, and Estates teams all involved. A great deal of thanks should be given to Marcus Olivant specifically as the individual who has overseen much of this process, which has been quite a significant undertaking!
The Planning stages:
So, where do my team and I first get involved? As a technical team with existing expertise in providing crime scene simulation, we have been lucky enough to have been involved throughout the planning and implementation processes of this project. Myself and my colleague Sarah Almond were first involved in the Autumn of 2021 at an initial meeting of stakeholders including academic staff and Avon & Somerset Police representatives. This meeting led to the agreement of a layout for the space and, in particular, what crime scenes we should be replicating in the 5F space. From this meeting, there was an agreement to create the following:
An apartment, comprising of a kitchen-diner, lounge, double bedroom and bathroom.
A bed-sit, incorporating bed, living space and kitchenette.
Single bedroom linked to bed-sit, providing maximum flexibility of the space.
Commercial space, which eventually became a post-office / shop space.
Large multi-use space, for setting up on various crime scene scenarios.
Alongside a large flexible teaching space, prep. room, store room and AV control room, the finalised layout for the 5F space can be seen in the schematic below:
Following on from the initial meetings, my team were asked to provide their insight into a number of aspects of the planning stages of the project, including:
1. It was absolutely essential that there was provision to create blood patterns within the new facility – in response to this, Marcus Olivant asked myself and Sarah Almond to test a range of flooring and wall covering options for their ability to be cleaned after the application of both real and fake blood stains over various amounts of time. Our findings fed back into choice of floor coverings throughout, as well as specialist wall covering of the entire bathroom space.
2. I was also asked to liaise with AV specialist colleagues to provide my opinion on our sound and video recording capabilities for this space.
3. Marcus worked closely with my team in designing a prep. room which was fit-for-purpose in servicing facility.
Kitting out the space:
With the 5F building works reaching their conclusion in the new year, it was time to start ordering the furniture and related items for the simulation spaces. This job fell largely on Sarah Almond, with help from the rest of the team. Sarah was able to provide insight as someone hugely experienced in crime scene simulation provision, as well as provide a high level of experience in purchasing large, difficult and unusual items at UWE, which is no mean feat – some of Sarah’s more unusual requisitions include car windscreens, replica skulls, theatrical fake bloods and large amounts of underwear, to name a few! Before we commenced with the purchasing of furniture, we mapped out the spaces with furniture as shown in the example below
Sarah had many of the largest items delivered to Frenchay Campus, though Sarah, Marcus and I did make a trip to a well-known Scandinavian furniture store in order to purchase the majority of the smaller items and soft furnishings.
So, who puts all of this furniture together you might ask?! The answer is quite a large effort from a number of technicians including the FACS, central and psychology technical teams, with help from other HAS technical and academic staff. The expected time-frame available for this was shortened at late notice, which resulted in a week-long flat-pack party, made all the more awkward by the lift to the fifth floor being out of action (a huge thanks to our colleagues in logistics for navigating a myriad of stairs with the bulk of this items!). However, as a wider technical team used to pulling together for the greater good (we only have to look at the last two difficult years of covid working for evidence of this) we achieved this successfully as a team, within deadline. All in all, I think we can be pretty pleased with the results
So, what next?
We now have an exciting new simulation facility for our students to benefit from and enjoy. A total investment of nearly 1.5 million pounds (ex. VAT) will have a huge positive impact on learning and teaching at UWE. Policing students have already started using the new facility, with support from the DSS technical team. Forensic science students will start to use the new facility in the next academic year. In order for the new space to become really successful there are quite a few jobs yet to be completed. The re-location of current crime scene materials from 1K area to 5F store and prep. rooms and the subsequent set-up of the prep. room will be a large undertaking which will require both FACS and DSS technical team involvement. Perhaps the largest piece of work will be in creating a more “true-to-life” suite of crime scenes; bedrooms complete with wardrobes packed full of clothing, bedside drawers full of…erm…whatever people keep in their bedside drawers, a stocked kitchen, bathroom and post-office… the list could go on! This will take time, additional purchases and donations from colleagues, and more than a little creativity from the technical teams involved. No doubt in time we will be showing off this new space on UWE webpages, but also widening participation visits (I have some work experience students in there this summer) and future open days, so watch this space!
Patrick Thornhill Technical Manager: Learning Support Team. FET Technical Services
We are a team of technical instructors supporting the use and application of software and associated hardware across the faculty. My own speciality is instructing computer aided design within the Architecture and Built Environment department.
PGCAPP Module One
As part of our commitment to the development of technicians within FET Technical Services, over the last few years we have been encouraging technicians to participate in the first module of the PGCAPP. At the moment we are focussing on new starters to technical services that have elements of student instruction within their role, and those existing technical staff members that express an interest in furthering their pedagogic practice.
Background to the PGCAPP initiative within FET Technical Services
I was given the opportunity to study on the Academic Development Programme (ADP) in 2014 prior to becoming a technical manager. At the time this was seen as a trial to understand the appropriateness of a technician undertaking the ADP course which was primarily designed for new academics.I made great use of the opportunity to do a 20 credit research module, in which I focussed on the viability of using Virtual Reality (VR) in teaching architectural technology, using the recently released Oculus DK1.
At the time the conclusion was “still very nascent, do-able but would be tricky to support for anything more than individual student projects”. Luckily the technology has come on a long way since then and we have been able to incorporate VR technology meaningfully into several modules within FET. The opportunity to research this back in 2014 gave us a useful baseline understanding to build on.
The more challenging aspect of putting a technician through the ADP was the requirement to develop lesson plans and deliver a module, to enable tutor review and reflection. I was fortunately in a position to work with Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi within our new BIM MSc programme, and to be able to run the module I was already supporting.
The understanding gained from my experience within the ADP programme allowed us to open the course to other technicians, initially from within the Learning Support Team, who studied on the Foundations for Teaching and Learning module, which latterly became Module 1 of the PGCAPP programme.
Module one of the PGCAPP is most relevant to technicians, giving the learner an understanding of teaching theory, examples of best practice, an understanding of the lexicon of pedagogy and H.E., and allowing the learner to be reflective of their own teaching and instruction techniques within a peer assessment process.
The recently updated PGCAPP module one is very accommodating to the variety of practices and activities within the teaching and support environment, opening the assessable teaching element to many forms of instruction, such as small and large group teaching, webinars, one-to-ones, asynchronous e-learning materials, workshops and demonstrations.
Engaging with the PGCAPP training has been very successful and has given the whole team a number of useful tools to reflectively evaluate our support materials and lesson formats, allowing us to collaboratively develop new ways to instruct the students, making the classes varied and fun, and so improving engagement and hopefully the student’s results.
Tom Garne is a member of the Learning Support Team, and completed PGCAPP Module 1 in 2020
“I found the first module of the PGCAPP very useful. It was a great opportunity to practice and reflect on how I teach, critically looking at what I do and how effective it is at engaging different students. Getting constructive feedback from peers and academics was particularly useful, giving me confidence in my own abilities.
The opportunity to reciprocate and observe others highlighted how small changes can improve a class.
Going forward with a more solid foundation to my teaching I will be able to take more responsibility for how I teach. Recognising that I should be experimenting with techniques rather than replicating my own experience, or those of my technical and academic colleagues, which may no longer be the best methods for me and the students I teach.
As a technician, the PGCAPP has given me a greater understanding of what academics are trying to achieve in their sessions, enabling me to align my teaching with theirs. It also provided an awareness of common teaching techniques and language which will be helpful when communicating with academics in the future.
The module highlighted my responsibility to accept students as I find them. Rather than expecting students to adapt to my teaching style. I need to make sure that my approach is flexible and varied enough to include as many learning styles as I can, reflecting their diverse personalities and prior experience of learning, as well as the roles they may end up choosing when they graduate.
It was great to have an opportunity to improve my teaching skills and have that recognised with a qualification.”
Hardeep Adams Senior Technical Instructor for Psychology in HAS.
On the 23rd of March 2020, Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. UWE pivoted to online teaching and most staff and students worked from home. The news widely reported the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hospitals and care homes and the difficulties around the shortages of supplies around the world.
My Husband and I felt, having four 3d printers in our spare room at home that surely, they could be put to some use to help with the increased demand for PPE? But we didn’t really know how, or who to contact. About a week after the nation went into lockdown, we saw an article on BBC news about 3dcrowd.uk who have united 3d printers across the UK to manufacture the frames for visors. Immediately we joined the effort to help those working in the NHS, care homes and other key workers. The 3dcrowd team provided a full Safe Operating Procedure on how to use our printers to print out the frames. First thing was to ensure that we cleaned our printers and equipment using surgical spirit, then we needed to make our own visors to wear during the printing process to minimise contamination. Once all of this was complete the manufacturing line was ready to commence printing.
The frames were printed using Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) or Polylactic Acid (PLA) filament, each frame took about 2.5 hours to print and I would start my first print at around 7am each day and keep the printers running up until 11pm at night. We already had several rolls of filament at home, but this soon ran out. I shared what we were doing with family and friends and so many people reached out and bought filament for us so we were able to keep printing, a BIG thank you to my colleagues in the BSC Psychology team who donated several rolls of filament to allow us to keep the printers running.
As a technician at UWE, based in Psychology my work has always been on campus and having to work from home was a big adjustment for me. But in between checking emails and supporting students I was setting up prints and bagging up frames ready to be shipped. My home office was setup in between the printers (and still is!) so I was able to keep an eye on the prints, ensuring that the first layer was ‘stuck’ to the print bed and making sure the quality was high. Also adjusting and checking temperature settings, print speed and cleaning surfaces and tools in between prints. 3dcrowd organised #theBIGprint and DPD logistics firm offered a free pickup if we were able to meet a deadline a few days after we first started producing. We were able to send out 60 frames that were delivered to a central hub in Sheffield where the frames were fitted with an acetate visor and elastic, then were sent to the hospitals that were most in need.
After the first 60 frames were shipped, 3dcrowd got a bit more organised and created regional hubs so we were able to help those in our local area, this was managed through the Slack online platform. We were added to a Newport/Gwent group and then we were supplying the Royal Gwent Hospital and a lot of care homes in the area. Our next shipment was 197 frames and our final shipment was 261 frames, making a grand total of 518 frames supplied for key workers. We were printing the frames from the 1st of April until about mid-June 2020, by which time supply chains were in place and the hospitals and care homes had adequate supplies to help keep them safe at work and 3dcrowd thanked us for our efforts and advised the frames were no longer required. The 3dcrowd went from a handful of volunteers to a charity organisation of over 8,000 volunteers and produced over 200,000 face shields for frontline workers.
I began my career by undertaking a three-year apprenticeship as a technician at the University of Bristol (UoB). Whilst at UoB, I attended UWE as a day release student and achieved my honours degree in Applied Biological Sciences. During which time I also gained employment as a senior technician at UWE in the Department of Applied Sciences.
What are the main aspects of your role here at UWE? What is your particular skill set and areas of interest within your field?
My role as a senior technician is to support the histological practicals for the undergraduate studies in the department. This extends to training students and staff in histological techniques while facilitating research / projects across all departments at UWE.
What career development and recognition have you experienced whilst in your technician role, and any future aspirations?
I would like to undertake an MSc or PhD but, as yet, have been unable to follow this path.
How did you become involved in this research project? In which ways did you contribute and how does it feel to be named on the paper?
I became involved with this paper as I was approached for help with tissue sectioning and methods to detect breast cancer using immunohistochemistry. I learnt many of these techniques from fellow colleagues such as Anthony Rhodes and Colin Philpott. I was also asked to proof read the method section of the paper. It’s nice to be acknowledged but I feel it is just part of my job. These types of project always involve a number of people coming together, to which my role plays a very small part.
Are you aware of any future projects that you may be involved with?
I never know what will happen next but I’m always happy to help.
Do you have any other skills, knowledge and interests you have that are outside of your role?
I have too many hobbies and interests to mention, but my current fasciation is cheese making.
What do you value most about working as a Technician for UWE Bristol?
I have a high level of autonomy and feel supported by my close colleagues. Their years of accumulated knowledge, not to mention patience, has helped to maintain my mental agility.
I would also like to take the chance to thank my old mentor’s Debbie Martin and Debbie Ford of Univeristy of Bristol, I wouldn’t have the skills, or the need to listen “Women hour” while sectioning.
Myra Conway Interview
Have you worked with Paul prior to this research project?
I have known Paul for 16 years but have worked with him mostly during laboratory teaching practicals. I have always found Paul to be so helpful in teaching both undergraduates and post graduates. As this research project involved the histological preparation of breast cancer tissues, Paul was the technician with the relevant skills that could help us.
In which ways did his skills, knowledge and input assist the team?
Having technical help is invaluable for both instrumental use and method development, I have worked closely with Paul, Kim, Alison and Dave within the Faculty of Applied Sciences on different projects.
Mai Shafei is the first author on this paper and Paul’s technical involvement was with the sectioning of the breast cancer tissues, preparation of the slides and staining methods. This ensures the tissue is sectioned correctly and quality slides are produced. Specific markers, on the tissue, can then be targeted for analysis.
The article will be published in the international journal, Breast Cancer, which has a wide audience and is an open access journal. It publishes articles that contribute to progress in the field, in basic or translational research and also in the clinical research arena. It presents original articles describing clinical, epidemiological studies and laboratory investigations regarding breast cancer and related diseases.
In what way will this research have an impact within your field?
This is an important paper which investigates biochemical information on the markers involved in delineating breast cancer subtypes. It highlights and compares two isoforms of human branched chain aminotransferase proteins (HBCAT) and their associations with the HER2, luminal A and luminal B subgroups. This is an emerging field for this marker and by using actual breast cancer tissue, we were able to distinguish characteristic patterns from its use. This type of research leads to a greater understanding of markers which could be used to help target future therapies in the treatment of breast cancers.
Any future projects that may require technical support?
We were able to publish two papers from this thesis and we will be applying for further funding to enable us to look at proteins in breast cancer disease. This will, of course, require further technical support and Histology supports the biochemistry cell culture models that we use. Future studies will be HER2 focused as this is an important breast cancer sub-type that would benefit from better therapeutic strategies.
The Elechi Mechi team (that’s Electronics and Mechatronics) Paul Mathison Steve Regester Alex Fanourakis Will Hadrill Nigel Cliff Managers Chris English and Chris Hart Faculty of Environment and Technology
Two years ago, amid great excitement and trumpeting a new Engineering building was hailed, here at UWE committees were formed, and plans made, remade, tweaked and finally the architects, our own estates, and the department, formulated a plan.
At the beginning of 2020 we were due to move in around the middle of August to have the building ready for students for the end of September, ready for the new term. About six weeks we thought that should be enough time, little did we know then.
In steps a new player in this game, an almost invisible entity waging war against life the way we know it, even life itself. I speak of course of Covid 19 and its ramifications pervade this story in many ways. The building work was reduced in pace and the finish date by the contractors was put back several times.
In the end it was agreed that only the top two floors would be finished in time for the start of term and the rest would be completed by Christmas. The 3rd and 4th floors containing the Electronics labs, the PC suites for modelling and stress analysis and the staff offices. These were to open for face to face lab sessions in Block 1 starting on the 19th of October. Of course the student lectures and tutorials are online still and this this wont change until the Covid menace has been removed.
So now we had a deadline, and a mountain of stuff to sort, pack and deliver to places we had only seen plans, photos, and a brief visits, before even the floors were installed. Originally the new building would accommodate 100 seats of Electronic workstations and this was a considerable upscaling from the old building. New equipment was bought to make up the difference and this along with the original kit most of it less than two years old was stored ready to be packed by Pickfords our removers.
Plans were printed and storage drawing were devised too, which allowed a scheme of storage to be worked on to allocate the right kit to the right room. However, the reduction in room capacities due to Covid made Timetablings job almost impossible and it quickly became apparent that with a few exceptions there would be multiple classes duplicated across the four labs. So we decided to get the kit away in its various cupboards and drawers. A new system of indentifying what’s where, was developed, and when we moved in this was used, amending where appropriate, to ensure nothing couldn’t be found.
Whilst all this was going on the team checked the new Apps anywhere software deployment system made safety training videos and advised on safety risk assessments. Two also managed to undertake trade union duties as a Health and Safety rep the other a Workplace Steward and Environment officer. There were a few issues with regard to H&S unsurprisingly and some due to clarifying decisions made in the light of joint union, H&S unit and management decisions.
We as a team, there are five of us mainly involved, made the decision to move the small component bins ourselves. Electronics has a huge number of small components required for the 12 different modules we support and stocks of these are required to allow the student engineers to make realtime design choices. If these bins got spilled it would take a huge amount of scarce time to sort them out again so we trolleyed them between the old and new buildings.
Covid precautions were difficult to adhere to, and admirable efforts were made by all the team to shift stuff while socially distanced with alcohol wipes, masks, gloves and hand gel featuring heavily.
The labs were organised then reorganise and some basic safety checks were carried out and some rewiring of the labs was necessary to make them safe for use by the students and staff.
Several projects have been put on hold and will be frozen until Covid disappears which is disappointing but necessary.
As of the 19th of October we have been covering our timetabled labs and slowly building the facility back to its former functionality. This has required active and dynamic prioritisation and allocation of people. We have also had to contend with the retirement of two members of our team, illness and self isolation reducing our numbers at times still further at times .
As far as we’re aware apart from Covid restrictions the students have not had any detriment to their education indeed because we have become more involved in delivery, they are receiving a more practical education than before. The real downside for them is that they cannot repeat failed experiments, so we have to support them more to finish their assigned tasks.
Several new skills were acquired by members of the team, during the course of the move, and some old ones rekindled. This allowed us to undertake the move without a lot of help from outside agencies. Exceptions to this were techs from Its and colleagues from the rest of the FET tech team.
I think its true to say as the maxim says “Technicians make it Happen” and when the rest of N Block moves it will be no less true then especially as they have some chunky kit to shift.
We still have lots to finish in our move, and we look forward to a time of greater stability, getting back to the old normal.
We would like to thank our colleagues for assisting us through this tiring and challenging times we haven’t mentioned names but if you read this you know who you are. Thank you.
What a year to become a Learning Technologist. I started back in August 2019, although I’ve worked at UWE since 2013. When I tell others I’m a Learning Technologist, most people have never heard of the role, so they may ask what I do day to day. I usually answer that I support teaching staff and students in the development and deployment of different technologies, such as software, equipment and apps. Put simply, that’s what I do. Yet this doesn’t describe the breadth of skills that I’ve developed over the past 18 months. Neither does it show how dynamic the role can be.
My background is varied; a degree in Media Writing, my early career spent as Tutor in adult education, then another 5 years working for the Disability Services at UWE. Having a background in these areas certainly helps, but it’s by no means the only route in to Learning Technology. My colleagues have equally varied backgrounds, ranging from Library Services to Biosciences, as well as audio visual and I.T. experience. You’d be surprised how diverse us Learning Technologists can be.
Whatever our backgrounds, there are some attributes you’ll find in most Learning Technologists. In my first 18 months I have discovered that:
Curiosity is key. You need to ask a lot of questions when exploring new technologies or working on projects. How does this work? Why does is work that way? Is this accessible? What’s the best outcome? And most importantly, does this technology support learning?
Keep it simple, make it clear. A Learning Technologist helps to make technology easy to use and understand for both teaching staff and students. Technology can be overwhelming for a lot of people, so no bamboozling jargon or complicated gimmicky features please. Unless, of course, someone is interested in the jargon or feature. In which case, proceed.
Creativity is not only for artists. Creativity is not a word that springs to mind when you think of a ‘technologist’ but be ready to develop these skills in the role. In the space of a year I produced and edited screencasts, did voiceovers, participated in podcasts, wrote articles and created webpages. At the moment I’m even exploring some animation software to use in future learning resources.
My first 18 months as Learning Technologist has provided me with some unexpected insights experience, and I have found the role more rewarding and diverse than I imagined. There is still so much to discover, as well as new skills to develop. However, if there is one thing I now understand about the role, is that there is always something new to learn.
Neil Sherman Lead Technical Instructor, Audio Recording
As you’d expect, I like films, but my main passion is music – listening, playing, recording and generally making noise. I currently teach sound recording on numerous courses here at Bower Ashton.
Like many location soundies today, I studied music technology. Film location sound teams use similar technology to music sound engineers. Therefore it’s a common sideways move for technicians who don’t mind holding a mic on a long pole. The ‘talent’ i’m used to working with are actors and presenters.
Music is mainly just a hobby these days – although i’ve been able to pay for a few guitar strings and plectrums over the years by recording it.
In 2006 I started working as an on-set sound assistant (boom swinger) and sound recordist.
I’ve worked on numerous big budget drama productions (Skins, Gavin & Stacey, and recently Dr Who) as well as small productions, similar to the film projects our students work on.
This technical experience is what helps me to train the students of the media courses.
I work at UWE full-time but still think it’s important to work in the industry occasionally. I don’t want to lose touch with the industry i’m preparing people for. I don’t want to become a teacher with old on-set anecdotes, teaching outdated techniques.
What does a technical instructor do?
It depends a lot on the time of the academic year. I do a lot of scheduled workshops with students, showing students the tools of the trade. Before a student is allowed to borrow film making kit, they have to be shown it by one of us.
I aim to keep my workshops very hands-on, with plenty of listening, practice and review.
Although I work in a creative field, i’m a technican, not an artist. Recording good sound in a studio can sometimes be tricky. Recording good sound on a noisy film set can often be a lot more challenging.
The first big teaching challenge is showing the students the difference between good and bad sound. Then the much more subjective difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘unacceptably bad’ sound. I teach skills and practices which can hopefully affect that outcome!
Once all of the scheduled workshops are over, I assist students with their various projects. This could mean recording clear dialogue for a short comedy film or helping a Fine Art student with a multimedia installation. I love the variety and students will often come up with wonderful ideas. Sometimes I don’t understand their creative vision but at least I can help them to sound good!
I work in a small team of very talented technical instructors, each with their own specialism. Our skills overlap a lot though. I think between us, we could probably make a beautiful media masterpiece, but we’re too busy helping students strive to produce their own.
We get approached daily by the students we work closely with. The student project co-ordinators will often put us in touch with students from other sites who want to branch out and learn our specialist skills.
How has Covid changed things?
I started here full-time in January 2020. At the time, making the decision to stop freelancing was difficult, but by March it seemed like the best decision ever! My friends in the film industry were facing a very difficult period of financial uncertainty. However, MY biggest challenge was how I was going to teach the practical skills of sound recording effectively whilst staying safe.
I knew about Panopto before Covid hit, but after March it became a vital tool for providing learning materials to the students. Panopto allows me to film and share training videos with high quality video and sound and share them with anyone. I can link it to quizzes and check stats to see if they are being watched or just skipped.
I’d worked with cameras a bit before, but not done much video editing. By the summer of 2020 I was filming and editing my own training videos.
I also had to learn some new equipment.
The team bought a few small digital switchers which easily allow one person to switch between a number of camera angles, a bit like some YouTubers do these days. It’s such powerful technology-we have a huge TV studio here for multi camera shoots, but this little gadget lets us produce similar results with box smaller than a laptop.
‘Blended learning’ was a teaching style I was aware of, but suddenly it was more important than ever. My online workshops required students to watch videos and complete quizzes and then we could discuss specific questions and plan for individual projects. Students had to reduce the scope of all of their projects. Us instructors had to focus on the most important skills to teach.
Now we’re moving back to face to face teaching, the resources we have at our disposal make it much easier to do our job.
If a student doesn’t make it to one of my workshops, I have videos and quizzes I can refer them to catch up.
I can make students watch pre-recorded material before a workshop. That way I don’t have to spend precious lesson time answering questions like ‘where’s the ON button’ instead I can answer more engaging questions like ‘how can you make me sound like i’m wearing a space helmet?’.
My face to face teaching uses a lot more reference videos and sound examples. I think the students who started in 2020 will wind up with a better education as a result of our new teaching skills.
After leaving the freelance world I wondered if I would find full time work for the same employer a bit too repetetive.
My 2020-2021 UWE experience has been very eventful and it shows signs of continuing. I’m currently learning VR and 3D game design software so I can apply my sound skills to that area. I’ll get to teach an even wider range of students. It’s a cool job.
Tom Buckley is Digital Learning Manager in the Education Innovation Team. The local learning technology support team in the Faculty of HAS. He has worked in educational development and technology for over 10 years. Tom manages the recruitment for the team and this is his perspective on becoming a Learning Technologist at UWE. The quotes provided here are from employees within UWE taken during focus groups in 2020.
Who is this article for?
This article is for those who are curious about a new career and interested in finding out more about the role of ‘Learning Technologist’. ‘Learning Technologist’ is a new cadre of professional primarily within educational institutions. It is a role that provides a particular service but a service that can differ wildly. People can often be aware of Learning Technologists within an organisation but have no idea where they come from. The good news is that people are not born as Learning Technologists they become them. The bad news is they become them without having a particular training course or route into the role. Meaning it can be unclear how to get started with a career as a Learning Technologist and also what the job entails. The article and shared testimony aim to address this.
What is it aiming to do?
The 2020s COVID 19 pandemic drastically altered the education sector’s approach to using technology in teaching. It has been one of the few instances where Learning Technologists have been pivotal to a crisis response. It has shone a spotlight on their importance and is a growing part of the jobs market. There are plenty of opportunities for long and rewarding careers in learning technology. This article is aimed at helping you assess whether you’re the right candidate and, if you are, making sure you know how to make yourself competitive in the application process.
About the role
What is a Learning Technologist?
The complexity in explaining the role comes from how specific it is to the Higher and Further Education sector. This is compounded by the variation with what the role does between, and even within, institutions. This can ultimately be as drastic a differenced as whether the role is seen as more academic, technical, administrative or more generalist. This variability also manifests itself by where the role is situated. Whether it is situated in: a local Faculty team; a central team; or a pan-institutional service like a library or IT service. Some Technologist roles are tool focussed whereas others are pedagogy focused. It really comes down to the particular role you are looking at. Whatever the role there are pervasive and universal parts to any Learning Technologist job. That is being active in the digital transformation of education.
You will: advise; coach; research; & support teaching and learning. You are in the business of change, partnership and improvement. The focus is always on improving student’s experience or learning. Notice how I have not mention digital in that list. This might surprise you. It is obviously important to the role but not as important as supporting positive change. Sometimes this change will be knowing when not to digitise things.
Why did existing Learning Technologists apply for their roles?
As mentioned there is no academy or course to become a Learning Technologist. The thing that may surprise you is a lot of practitioners didn’t know what one was before applying for their first role. The rationale for applying differs between practitioners:
“I just thought that it was really cool…”
“It’s genuinely not something that I had known much about coming into it…everything I’ve done has kind of led up to this point”
You might recognise the thoughts above and that might be why you’re reading this article. That is good. Learning Technologists, amongst the other traits, are curious by nature. So don’t be put off from applying just because the job title sounds exclusive or niche. We all have come from different walks of life to become a Learning Technologist.
What does a Learning Technologist do all day?
This is a tough question. Learning technologists job roles change daily and depend on the time of year. Here are what our practitioners have to say:
“The beauty of the role is, no two days are exactly the same…before the start of the academic year; one is working on getting courses ready for the next year. Once the academic year starts… training, support (pedagogical and technical), problem solving, research…and sector trends, plus lots of meetings.”
“the day is quite varied…it does sort of depend on what projects are happening or what is generally just happening in the day… what I do is just about helping people. So whether it’s giving people advice or just doing little training sessions… or creating things with people… It never feels boring or repetitive because you’re doing quite a lot of different things.”
Our focus group touched on the ontology of the job or simply ‘the vibe’ of the job. This is an important part of understanding the role and changes unit to unit or between organisations. However, there is a distinctive feel working within digital education.
“you can be quite individual and innovative …it’s essentially helping people. Understanding what the problem is… working out how they can solve it and understanding where they’re coming from. Also providing written guidance…communication in all sorts of different forms, but I think that’s the main difference against a Technical role is that it’s not just about, you know, understanding a piece of software …”
A lot of what is required in the role comes from the type of person within that role. You have to be inclined to help people but also have the drive get stuck in on digital projects. You need to be a problem solver and a horizon scanner but fundamentally someone dedicated to the student and staff experience. What you do will vary but it will always be framed as helping people and supporting change. So the question you need to ask yourself before applying is how much drive you have to shape your role and help others. How much you are interested in ‘a job’ or whether you want to become a practitioner of something. If you crave structure, boundaries and consistency this might not be the role for you.
What kind of person is a Learning Technologist?
Individuals drafted into learning technology alongside practitioners to help scale up operations during the pivot to online learning caused by the 2020s COVID 19 pandemic shared these thoughts on working within digital education:
“The community is… Resilient, helpful (to each other as much as to academic staff), approachable. Supportive, Knowledgeable, Curious.”
These stakeholders had the ability to relate the job to a more technical role. Learning Technologist is sometimes read as a synonym for IT which is unfair for both disciplines.
“The main difference is… The range of demands whether it be the vast array of software and platforms or the wide range of academic confidence. Dealing with solving problems and developing practice”
Learning Technologists can be part of a service but they seldom work in a service model of delivery. They are more involved in partnership working. So you focus on people, projects, pedagogy or outputs rather than working to a standard of universal service. This is where the difference can be felt between being a learning technologist and being another type of professional. You need to follow things down rabbit holes and smash through dead ends. An agent for change rather than a provider of a service. The word ‘No’ can be in your vocabulary but you are more likely to say ‘actually I would suggest doing it like this’. Usually alongside ‘shall we have a chat about it over a cup of tea’.
Who would be a bad fit for or would struggle as a Learning Technologist?
Our focus group had this to say:
“a limited scope of what is possible…a lack of interest in evolving … a poor team player and equally, who isn’t able to work independently.”
“cannot build productive working relationships and communicate effectively”
“structure, stability and predictability. It is impossible to plan a career in learning technology, and the job in itself is a constantly evolving mix of priorities and pressures. It is … for those who are comfortable dealing with chaos on a regular basis.”
Learning Technologists are technologically agile, literate in learning new bits of kit and applying to real world problems. Yet, we are looking for is someone who is kind, patient, flexible with good people skills, who can build a rapport and want to continually grow. These are the core values and the core parts of being a learning technologist.
The right skills are important. You will need to know enough HTML to unpick a faulty embed code and that is about it. There will be peer support and we can teach a lot of the technical elements in post. ‘Digital agility’ is important but pointless if not matched with the right values. A lot of the technical parts are about knowing products you wouldn’t know if you weren’t in the tertiary education sector. So we do not expect this kind of experience on day 1. Just the right values.
About building an application
If you like the sound of the above then I encourage you to think about applying. It is currently a super competitive jobs market. Here I wanted to give some guidance on building an application that is going to get you noticed.
Firstly, here are my personal top three application red flags:
Primary and secondary level teachers not displaying interest in the field of learning technology within their application. It’s a distinct discipline from teaching. Often applicants give off a ‘I’ve been a teacher so this will be easy’ attitude in the application. It is different. Display you understand that in your application.
IT professionals not displaying interest in the role of being a Learning Technologist in their application. It’s a distinct discipline from IT. Display an understanding of and interest in the interplay between technology and learning in your application.
Not showing signs of research about learning technology/digital education or the specific role of Learning Technologist. It’s a discipline that produces lots of online content. Finding out about the discipline is easy to do. The interview process shouldn’t be seen as a research exercise. So no ‘I would love to find out more about it at interview’ in the personal statement.
It is likely there will be candidates who have postgraduate qualifications in the same interview process. Being up against people with MSc or PhDs in the discipline doesn’t mean you’ll be unsuccessful. Remember it’s about values, behaviours and attitudes as much as hard skills.
Here are my top three tips for applicants outside the sector. By this I mean for people who aren’t already in a related field or a Learning Technologist. The things that will make your application stand out to me are:
Do 2x MOOCs. Each on a different platform. One on a subject you’re truly interested in but outside of technology and learning. The other on e-learning, learning, blended learning or learning development. In the application tell a narrative of your learning, your experience as an online student and how it differed from being a traditional student. The insight this gave you. If you don’t know what a MOOC is then do some research on this subject.
Read the job description of the Learning Technologist role you are interested in and then go to the ALT Blog and the ALT Journal. Scan for words you recognise in the article titles and identify consistent themes or trends. Focus on current or the next big thing that emerges from these articles. Find articles on the core products or approaches from the job description if you can. This will give you literacy in the language used within digital education. This will make you stand out.
Engage with the theories and practicalities of teaching where you are applying for. Firstly, be interested in human behaviour as it pertains to education. For the application show you have done research. This could be research into an aspect of digital teaching or learning theories. Or a reflection on your own educational journey. Most importantly link it to any strategy documents you have found on the recruiters website. Secondly, learn about the core toolset of the institution you are applying for. For UWE this means: Panopto; Collaborate; PebblePad; and Mentimeter. Explore these tools. Mention them in your personal statement. For example you might not know Panopto but you know it is a tool for lecture capture. You can link this to transferable knowledge or experience you have in video.
I hope this has helped add some colour on the opaque role of Learning Technologist. There will be those of you that feel like it isn’t for you. That you might need something that uses more hard skills and has more structure. Good luck finding the right role for you. There are those of you that might have read the above and been further intrigued by the career. I encourage you to contact the named recruiter on the job advert and start the conversation. We need people of all talents to apply so good luck!