Using WordPress to build an online academic identity

This is my presentation for the amazing PressED Conference #PressEdConf18, run by the equally amazing Pat Lockley @pgogy, and Natalie Lafferty @nlafferty.   My “talk” is about surviving precarious employment and using WordPress to build an independent academic identity and support formal CPD through CMALT.

Hello, I’m Lorna & I work at the OER Service @OpenEdEdinburgh at @EdinburghUni. I’m also an independent open education practitioner.  I’m going to talk about how you can use WordPress to support open education practice, personal academic identity & formal CPD #pressedconf18

Before joining @EdinburghUni I worked for the @Jisc Cetis service @UniStrathclyde for 15 years. Most of that time I was employed on a series of short term precarious contracts.  In 2015 my dept was shut down & I was made compulsorily redundant. It wasn’t fun. #pressedconf18

After 15 years my prof. identity was tied up with the Uni & Cetis, extricating myself hard.  1st thing I did was set up a WordPress blog to reassemble evidence of my work & my career. It’s called Open World after a Kenneth White poem #pressedconf18

Setting up my blog allowed me to take ownership of my academic identity, #outwith the constraints of the institution.  This was an important positive step that helped me through a difficult period of transition and uncertainty. #pressedconf18

It was also reassuring and encouraging to gather evidence of my skills in one place, and my blog now hosts my cv, papers, presentations, history research. #pressedconf18

It’s also where I think out loud &, along with twitter, where I connect with my community & share my practice & personal politics with my peers.  You can listen to me Shouting From The Heart about why blogging is so important to me #pressedconf18

Having reclaimed my professional academic identity, in 2016 I took the next logical step as an open practitioner, and moved my blog to Reclaim Hosting. The process couldn’t have been simpler and I can’t recommend the service highly enough. #pressedconf18

Anyone who has worked on short term or precarious contracts know’s how difficult it is to manage career progression & CPD, esp. in a domain as diverse & rapidly changing as learning technology. I wrote a blog post about this here: Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted #CMALT #pressedconf18

I’m now fortunate to work at @EdinburghUni which supports learning technologists to undertake CPD through @A_L_T’s #CMALT programme. In 2017 I started gathering evidence for my CMALT portfolio  #pressedconf18

Because I had already gathered evidence of my professional practice on my blog, it was easy to find the information I needed.  Choosing which evidence to use for my #CMALT portfolio was much harder! #pressedconf18

Being an open practitioner, I decided to practice what I preach & build my portfolio in the open on my existing WordPress blog  I shared it with the #CMALT community on twitter and got lots of helpful advice & feedback. #pressedconf18

Developing my #CMALT portfolio in the open, & using WordPress, was a really positive experience for me & you can read my reflection on the process here: CMALT Reflection and Thanks #pressedconf18

I was delighted when my CMALT portfolio was approved on first submission with the peer assessor commenting on my commitment to open education and open practice.  None of this would have been possible without my Open World blog. #pressedconf18

CC BY, @ammienoot

I still keep my Open World blog at & my OER blog posts are now pulled through to our Open.Ed blog  enabling me to maintain my own academic identity & still share my practice with my colleagues. #pressedconf18

And last but not least….#pressedconf18

CMALT – An open portfolio

I’ve finally made a start on drafting my CMALT Portfolio, and in the interests of open practice I’m going to attempt to write and present the whole thing here on my blog.  If you look up on the nav bar you’ll see a new page, CMALT Portfolio, where I’ll be building up my portfolio over the coming weeks.  I’ve just drafted the first two sections of Core Area 1: Operational Issues and I’ll be adding more sections shortly I hope. I’d love to have some feedback on  my portfolio so if you’ve got any thoughts, comments or guidance I’d be very grateful indeed.  I’d also be very interested to know if anyone else has created their portfolio as an exercise in open practice, and if so, how they found the experience.

Wish me luck!

CC BY @BryanMMathers for ALT

CMALT – Advice from the community

Last week I wrote a reflective blog post about starting out on the CMALT journey, What do you do?, and was delighted to get lots of really helpful practical input from the ALT community on twitter.  I’ve captured the advice and discussions in a Storify here Starting CMALT – Advice from the community so I can look back on them and in case they’re of use to others. Here’s some of the highlights.

Matt Cornock had useful advice on completing Section 3 if you’re not in a teaching role.

Phil Barker kicked off an interesting discussion about how long it takes to complete a portfolio.

Working together with a colleague seems to be a good way to make progress

Kate Mitchell was particularly interested in the tensions of our role:

While Martin Hawksey may have blow my cover 😉

“What do you do?” – Starting out on CMALT

“So what do you do?” can be a bit of a difficult question to answer when you work in the domain of learning technology.  And depending on which area of learning technology you work in it can be a harder question to answer for some than others.  My default answer tends to be “I work at a University” followed by “I work in education technology”, often with the added explanation “It’s about the use of new technology in education.”  “Open education” tends to get you blank looks outwith academia (now there’s a topic for discussion), and thank god I don’t work in “education technology interoperability standards” these days.

My family have defaulted to telling people that I’m a spy on the basis that they don’t actually know what I do, other than travel a lot and disappear for days at a time. It’s hard to argue with them tbh.

Lorna Campbell – Spy

Sometimes I think it’s easier to explain what I don’t do; I don’t teach, I don’t do formal academic research, I’m not a programmer, I don’t develop or implement systems, I don’t provide help desk services, I don’t run the VLE.   I do manage projects and provide advice to colleagues. I provide input to policies. I support networks and disseminate practice.  I write a lot, talk a lot and present a lot.  I facilitate events and chair conferences.  I sit on boards, steering groups and executive committees. Maybe it is easier to tell people I’m a spy.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that after months of procrastination, I’m finally making a start on my CMALT application.  I had hoped to do this towards the end of last year but two new projects took precedence, so CMALT went on the back burner.

I had mixed feelings about CMALT for a number of years, primarily because for a long time I didn’t really seem to fit any recognisable definition of what a learning technologist is.  I tried to explain this anxiety in a blog post I wrote in 2014 Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted.  That post also refers to a brilliant piece written by Amber Thomas Perhaps I’m not one,  which I identified with strongly at the time, and still do.  The main point I was trying to make in CPD Rebooted was that formal certification can be difficult for people whose roles don’t neatly fit into the kind of boxes that make up accreditation frameworks.   This is doubly true for those on short term contracts, who have to jump from project to project and rarely have much time for formal CPD.  I ended that blog post with a question I asked on twitter:

Things have changed a lot for me since 2014, both professionally and personally.  Our understanding of what it means to be a learning technologist has matured and become more inclusive, and although contracts in higher education have become increasingly precarious, I’m very lucky that my own employment situation is more secure than it was three years ago.  In fact I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an institution that not only allows dedicated time for CPD but that also actively promotes and supports CMALT membership. Information Services at the University of Edinburgh offer bursaries to enable learning technologists to become Certified Members of ALT and my colleague Susan Grieg supports colleagues to help them prepare their portfolios.

Having spent the day pouring over the CMALT guidelines I can see that ALT have worked hard to create an accreditation framework that is as broad as it is inclusive.  However I’m still sitting here sifting through projects, webinars, presentations, papers, twitter conversations and reflective blog posts wondering how the hell I’m going to fit all this into that. How on earth can I demonstrate an “understanding of my target learners” when I don’t actually teach?  Of course the answer is that I’m going to have to think creatively.  I may not have a teaching role, but hopefully all those webinars and talks and blog posts do help my peers and colleagues to learn and to develop their professional practice.  I’m still at the stage where I’m struggling to fit my experience into the CMALT framework, but hopefully if I keep thinking about it and reflecting on what I actually do, it will all start to fall into place.  Having access to the CMALT Portfolio Open Register is already proving to be enormously helpful but I’d be very interested to hear how others have approached this.

Organising my CMALT portfolio like

(Belatedly realising I have no idea how to licence memes….)