NewDLHE – personal reflections on measuring success

Earlier this week I followed the Wonkhe and HESA conference on the future of the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey on twitter and on the excellent Wonkhe liveblog. Anyone who follows this blog will know that this isn’t my normal territory however I’ve had an increasing interest in HE data since being involved in the development of the New Subject Coding Scheme as part of the HEDIIP programme in 2014/15. And like it or not, how data is gathered and processed across the higher education sector is of increasingly important to all HE institutions.

I want to pick up on three points that got me thinking about my own career and wondering whether or not I would be regarded as a “successful graduate”.

You too could become an accountant!

One theme that panellists returned to repeatedly was that UK graduates are more likely to find employment in fields that are unrelated to their degree. Stephen Isherwood commented

“the UK labour market is completely different to many other countries. Companies are far more likely to employ graduates who did subjects not connected to their occupation, such as recruiting historians into accountancy.”

Proof that I started life as an archaeologist

Proof that I started life as an archaeologist

I have a Master’s degree in Archaeology, and only once sought careers advice while I was an undergraduate. I’ll never forget the careers advisor cheerfully telling me “You could always get a job as an accountant you know!” I never went back. And I never got a job as an accountant, I got a job as an archaeologist and I worked as an archaeologist for the next five years. Of course I did eventually leave archaeology and found my way into web development and then into learning technology. One of the things I’ve always really appreciated about working in learning technology is the wide range of academic backgrounds colleagues have, and the breadth of experience and different perspectives they bring to the domain. So although the careers advice I received was spectacularly unhelpful at the time I do believe it’s a very good thing that people carry the expertise they develop as undergraduates into a wide range of sectors. Domain knowledge is invaluable for academic careers but there’s no doubt that transferrable skills broaden employability prospects.

Measures of success

One presentation and subsequent discussion that particularly interested me was Liz Bromley of Goldsmiths on Capturing the full range of graduate success. Liz questioned what we regard as success and, using the example of Mercury and Turner Prize winning Goldsmiths’ alumni, asked if the six month DLHE would capture them as “successful graduates”. She also suggested that the data should capture what students are doing outside work to give a more rounded picture of what is regarded as “success” and noted

“Salary is immaterial. The highest value jobs do not necessarily pay the best salaries”.

These themes were picked up in the subsequent discussion, particularly with regard to how success can be measured in the creative industries, which may provide significant personal and creative growth and social and cultural capital, but which may also be insecure and lowpaid. The WonkHE liveblog expressed this as

“the challenging ‘cognitive dissonance’ of measuring employment in the creative industries which is both precarious and fulfilling.”

I would argue that this cognitive dissonance isn’t unique to the creative industries; it’s increasingly common in higher education too. I’ve worked in Higher Education for twenty-five years and for the majority of that time I’ve been employed on short term contracts, most lasting 12 months. A lot has been written recently about the stresses associated with working in academia, the casualisation of contacts and the erosion of employment rights; I’m not going to go over those points here, but it does make me wonder whether or not I could be regarded as a “successful graduate”. On the one hand, failing to secure a tenured post after working in academia for over two decades does not look very successful at all, however, barring two short periods of redundancy, during which I worked as a consultant, I have built a reasonable reputation and managed to stay almost permanently employed in a field that is notoriously insecure and changes rapidly. So, how do we measure “success” in a context such as this? I don’t have any answers, but I think this highlights that we need to think carefully about how we identify success and be absolutely explicit about how we evaluate it.

(I also think the issue of how we identify success potentially has implications for how we use learning analytics, particularly with regard to identifying struggling and “failing students”.)

Not in front of the children

Another theme that came up, which I have strong feelings about but which I tend to avoid writing about, is the impact of motherhood on career success.

Unfortunately this theme didn’t come across strongly on twitter. (Were people not tweeting about it? Did they think it was uninteresting, unimportant or didn’t relate to themselves? Impossible to know without being there.) Again it made me think of my own experience. There is no doubt that having children had a massive impact on my “success”. At the time I had my daughter I did a lot of travel and had a wide network of colleagues in the international standards community around the world. When I was no longer able to travel internationally owing to childcare responsibilities it had a significant impact on my professional network and my employment prospects; I discovered this the hard way when I was made redundant in 2013. I once raised this issue at a workshop for senior managers and was told dismissively by a professor of chemistry that she had forged a successful international career while raising her family. Her advice was to leave your children with family while you travel. That may work for some people of course, but it’s hardly a practical option for all. Another respected colleague simply advised me to hire a nanny. I’d never actually met anyone in real life with a nanny before! Anyway, the point of all this is that I had to find different ways of working and connecting to my peer network, and I did. I was fortunate that social networking took off round about this time enabling me to connect to a global network of open educational technologists through twitter and Skype. My limited ability to travel can still be frustrating but it doesn’t seem like such an insurmountable problem anymore. So once again I think it’s important to consider how we identify and reward success in this context.

I have a lot more thoughts about all of the above, but I’m going a bit off piste here so I had better stop now :}

OER16: Open Culture – that was the conference that was.

So, the OER16 Open Culture Conference has been and gone and what an experience it was!  Co-chairing OER16 with my inspiring colleague Melissa Highton has been an enormously rewarding experience and I owe a huge debt of thanks to everyone who volunteered their time, effort and creativity to make the conference such a success. In particular I’d like to thank our keynotes, Catherine Cronin, Emma Smith, John Scally, Jim Groom and Melissa Highton for their inspiring and thought provoking talks and, of course, the ALT team for supporting the conference and ensuring everything ran like clockwork.  I can highly recommend charing an ALT conference if you’re ever thinking about it!

oer16_jim_penny

It’s too soon after the event for me to gather my thoughts and attempt to provide any kind of coherent overview so here’s a round up of the conference outputs and some of my personal highlights in lieu of something more considered.

ada_me_oer16

Me & Ada LEGO Lovelace by Stuart Cromar

And of course, my personal twitter highlight of the conference…

oer16_me_josie

 

Taxi Chic OER16 Co-Chairs Melissa Highton & Lorna Campbell by Catherine Cronin, CC BY SA

Taxi Chic
OER16 Co-Chairs Melissa Highton & Lorna Campbell
by Catherine Cronin, CC BY SA

So now it’s time to pass the torch over to the fabulous Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski, two of my favourite people working in open education today, who’ll be co-chairing OER17: The Politics of Open.  It’ll be awesome!

 

 

International Women’s Day – Acknowledging the role of Women in OER

IWD-logo-portaitjpgI was surprised and delighted to be included in a blog post from the Open Educational Practices in Scotland project today marking International Women’s DayWomen in OER.  The post celebrates some of the women the project has worked with and I’m honoured to be named alongside such influential open education practitioners as Laura Czerniewicz, Josie Fraser and my old colleague Allison Littlejohn.

The post acknowledges the potential of open education to

“…widen access to education for women and girls, enabling them to access global thought leaders and subjects that might not be available to them locally. It also provides a platform by which women and girls can share their own knowledge and experiences.

There is a role for open education to contribute to closing the gender gap now, to ensure that all genders are treated equally, to facilitate women and girls achieving their ambitions, to challenge discrimination and bias in all forms, to promote gender balanced leadership, to value contributions equally, and to create inclusive and flexible cultures.”

If I can make even a small contribution towards furthering these aims I will be very proud indeed.

OER16 Open Culture Conference – Open as in Open

In keeping with the ethos of open education, the OER conferences have always made an effort to be as diverse, inclusive and, well, open as possible and OER16 Open Culture is no exception.

The draft conference programme has recently been announced and we’re delighted to have accepted 101 papers and panels from 29 different countries.

oer16_diversity

OER16 presenters will come from 29 countries around the world

Bearing the recent #allmalepanels meme in mind, we’re also aware of issues relating to gender balance and diversity and we’re very pleased to have almost 50/50 representation. Of over a hundred lead authors who recorded their gender along with their submission, 49% are female and 51 % male, and our keynotes are similarly balanced.

Although the University of Edinburgh is clearly a popular destination for delegates, not all of our presenters and participants are able to travel to Scotland for a wide range of reasons, so we are happy to facilitate remote presentation. One OER16 presenter Maha Bali, associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, has previously written in the Chronicle of Higher Education about her own experiences as a remote conference presenter

“I am finding more and more conferences willing to accommodate me as a virtual presenter. This is probably happening more to me than other people because of my travel restrictions (mom of a young child living halfway across the world from most conferences I want to attend and where most of my collaborators reside), coupled with my refusal to ignore the potential social capital I can gain from presenting internationally, that is different from everyday online interactions. There are many reasons why a conference might want to welcome virtual presenters (diversity and equity being two)”

Hospitality for Virtual Presenters by Maha Bali
Chronicle of Higher Education, January 26, 2016

In relation to OER16, Maha also commented:

“Presenting virtually at conferences allows me to have a voice in the field. How often do people in ed tech get to hear the perspective of Arab Muslim women who live in the Arab World? Presenting coupled with virtually connecting conversations allows me to feel more of an equal to my Western peers with whom I collaborate year-round.”

In order to ensure that OER16 is inclusive and accessible, we have aimed to keep the conference fee as low as possible for full delegates. However if cost is a genuine barrier, ALT have a small amount of limited funding available to subsidise registrations for presenters who are students, school teachers, who work in small FE institutions, adult or community education or are members of the public with a special interest in OER. Subsidised places have already been offered to fourteen presenters and applications of funding close on the 6th March.

OER16 also offers many opportunities for remote participation, the majority of which are completely open and free of charge. All five keynotes by Catherine Cronin, Jim Groom, Melissa Highton, John Scally and Emma Smith will be streamed live on ALT’s dedicated youtube channel, and will also be available to view after the conference. There will be a wide range of social media channels including twitter feeds, blogs, hang outs and internet radio broadcasts, facilitated by the ALT Open Education SIG, Radio EDUtalk, Virtually Connecting and others, which will enable remote participants to engage with and contribute to the conference. Remote participants will only be required to register their details if they wish to comment on the main conference platform hosted by ALT, although registration will be required, this facility is still free of charge, all other remote participation channels are both free and open, and yes, that really is open as in open.

Wikimedia opportunities and events at the University of Edinburgh

[Cross posted from Open Scotland]

edinburghThe University of Edinburgh recently became the first Higher Education institution in Scotland to advertise for a Wikimedian in Residence.  The post will be based within Information Services where the successful candidate will work alongside learning technologists, archivists, librarians and information literacy teams to help establish a network of Wikimedians on campus and to embed digital skills and open knowledge activities in learning and teaching across the University.  Applications for the post, which is part-time and fixed term, are open until the 29th October 2015.

The University of Edinburgh already has a strong tradition of engaging with the Wikimedia Foundation through Wikimedians in Residence at the National Library of Scotland and National Museums Scotland.  A number of editathons have already taken place at the University focused on raising the profile of women in science and Scottish history.  The hugely successful Edinburgh Seven editathon, focused on the first women to be admitted on a degree programme at any British university. The achievements of the Edinburgh Seven were also recognised when a commemorative plaque was unveiled by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, at a ceremony in the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum in September.

ADA_Blog

Another Women, Science and Scottish History editathon will be taking place at the University on Tuesday 13th October to coincide with Ada Lovelace Day, the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).  In addition to the editathon, the event will feature speakers on Lovelace, research using LEGO, programming and games, and sessions on composing music with algorithms, and building Raspberry Pi enclosures with LEGO.

Links

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times is a well known, but seemingly fictitious, “Chinese curse”, and boy was 2013 an interesting time!

I’m not much given to end of year reflections as I tend to see this as a time to look forward rather than back, however I can’t let this year pass without comment.  My former Cetis colleague Sheila MacNeil has already written a lovely reflective post over at her blog called That Was The Year That Was; my equivalent post is rather more That Was The Year That Wasn’t.  Unsurprisingly the year was dominated by the University of Strathclyde’s decision to terminate the Cetis Memorandum of Understanding and make all Cetis staff at the university redundant at the end of July.  However this was just the end of a long, drawn out and bitter process that started with the controversial closure of the department that housed Cetis, the Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement, in early 2012.  Over the previous eighteen months most of my time had been devoted to increasingly hostile wrangling with HR and university senior management.  University College Union representatives at Strathclyde were helpful and supportive but ultimately neither they, not I, were able to prevent the university serving us with compulsory redundancy notices, or to negotiate better terms than statutory redundancy.   I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bitter about loosing sixteen years tenure and a considerable amount of funding, left behind in various project budgets.  Unfortunately, as I had spent most of the previous year and a half embroiled in HR negotiations,  I had no alternative employment lined up when our redundancies finally came into force, and I found myself unemployed for the first time since graduating in 1990.  To add insult to injury, due to lack of funding, I was unable to attend the ALT Conference in September, and the paper Phil Barker and I had had accepted was dropped from the programme. I was also gutted not to be there to see Sheila accept her immensely well-deserved Learning Technologist of the Year Award, which Cetis’ Christina Smart and I had sneakily nominated her for.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though.  Determined to leave Strathclyde on a high, we organised the highly successful Open Scotland Summit, which brought together representatives of Scotland’s education authorities, agencies and institutions to discuss the potential of open education policy and practice to benefit Scottish education across the sector, and which featured a keynote from Creative Commons’ Director of Global Learning, Dr Cable Green.

I spent the three months after my redundancy working on variety of project proposals and consultancy bids and it was great to reconnect with several colleagues who I had lost touch with including Lou McGill, Allison Littlejohn and all the great people at Jisc RSC Scotland. I made some great new contacts through the Open Knowledge Foundation too, and got involved with helping to organise the OKFN Glasgow meetups. I also migrated my professional blog from Lorna’s Cetis Blog to Open World, I set up the Open Scotland blog and continued working with colleagues to further the goals discussed at the Open Scotland Summit.

In October I was very much relieved to be back in the saddle as Cetis Assistant Director, this time at the University of Bolton.  Working from home on a regular basis has required a bit of adjustment, but there are worse things to have to put up with!   Shortly after re-joining Cetis I was delighted to see some of the proposals I’d been working on over the summer come to fruition and I’m looking forward to starting the new year with some new projects that I hope to be able to start blogging about soon.

2013 might have been difficult career wise, but in terms of our history research it was a huge success.  My research colleague Heather Noel-Smith and I were delighted to have two papers accepted for peer reviewed conferences run by the University of Portsmouth (Port Towns and Urban Cultures) and the National Museum of the Royal Navy (Press Gangs, Conscripts and Professionals) and to have a research seminar scheduled as part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy Seminar Series in the new year.  Our research was also featured at the National Archives Explore Your Archives event in November.  I also really enjoyed connecting with a diverse and lively group of #twitterstorians on twitter, not least the irrepressible Port Towns crew.  It was through these twitter connections that I had the opportunity to contribute to a blog post written by Joanna Bailey of Oxford Brooks University, and co-authored by Isaac Land, Indiana State University, Steven Gray, Warwick University and myself. “The six best conference questions: Or, how not to paper-bomb at a conference” turned out to be the most popular post on this blog in 2013 with over 2,300 views!

So that was 2013.  There was plenty to say “good bye and good riddance to”, but there were also many real high points among all the doom and gloom, not least of which was the support of colleagues, family and friends.  It’s also been hugely encouraging to see so many of my former Strathclyde colleagues from both CAPLE and Cetis move on to new posts where their talents are very much appreciated.  It’s great to be able to keep in touch and I hope we can look forward to working together again in the future.   So here’s looking forward to 2014, and here’s hoping that it’s a slightly less “interesting” time than 2013.  Onwards and upwards and all that!

White Horses for Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, the annual celebration of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. I try to write something for Ada Lovelace Day every year, but I don’t always manage it.  Four years ago, pressed for time, I just blogged a list of all the unique and inspiring women who I’d worked with in the domain of educational technology since 1997.  Looking back on the list now, it’s sobering to reflect how many of these women have now left the field, moved into other domains, or sadly passed away.

Julie Allinson, Helen Beetham, Kerry Blinco, Rachel Bruce, Joanna Bull, Gayle Calverley, Jackie Carter, Lisa Corley, Sarah Currier, Jenny Delasalle, Susan Eales, Suzanne Hardy, Rachel Harris, Rachel Heery, Nancy Hobelheinrich, Sarah Hollyfield, Allison Littlejohn, Sheila MacNeill, Sue Manuel, Moira Masey, Lisa Mattson, Mhairi McApline, Sarah McConnell, Lou McGill, Celeste McLaughlan, Liddy Neville, Solvig Norman, Chris Pegler, Sharon Perry, Sarah Porter, Jean Ritchie, Tish Roberts, Laura Shaw, Christina Smart, Amber Thomas, Li Yuan, Su White, Lara Whitelaw, Heather Williamson, Vashti Zarach, Linn van der Zanden.

White Horses. Haiku Print by Lou McGilll

White Horses.
Haiku Print by Lou McGilll

Many of us are still hanging in there, and of course I’ve been lucky enough  to work with many more inspiring women since creating this original list, but there’s no denying that the last four years have been tough for everyone working not just in educational technology, but in academia more widely. However if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s just how resilient, creative and adaptable my female colleagues* can be when it comes to facing the continued uncertainty that is afflicting the sector.

To my mind, nothing illustrates this adaptability and creativity better than this picture.  This lovely art work is by Lou McGill, who I first met many moons ago working on a Jisc funded Digital Libraries in the Classroom project at the University of Strathclyde.  Lou worked on a number of Jisc funded projects before taking up a post as Programme Manager with Jisc itself.  Some years later Lou left Jisc and she now works as an education technology consultant and runs her own art gallery, Life’s Little Ironies, in Whithorn.  I had the pleasure of catching up with Lou recently at a pop-up gallery she ran at the Wigtown Book Festival, we talked about everything from education technology, to art, to local history and I came away with with this lovely art work and, perhaps more importantly, lots of good ideas.

Many of the women listed above have gone on to achieve wonderful things both in and beyond the domain of education technology and that is certainly something to celebrate.

*To be fair, my male colleagues have had it just as tough, and have had to be equally creative and resilient to survive. Respect to them too.