Contextual Statement

The portfolio should commence with a contextual statement – the kind of thing you might write in a cover letter for a job application. It should provide a concise biography, outlining your career history and current role(s), highlighting briefly the operational context in which you work or have worked, and reflecting on why you are submitting your portfolio for CMALT and how this relates to your future career aspirations. This section is not assessed, but can be very helpful for the assessors as they approach the rest of your portfolio.

In 1999 I graduated from Heriot-Watt University with a 2:1 degree in Structural Engineering, an achievement despite my realisation that I was never going to be an engineer. After graduating I decided to follow my interest in technology teach myself HTML markup. My efforts paid off obtaining a job working for a commercial e-learning provider. Most of the work was basic, converting resources authored in MS Word documents to web content but the job also offered the opportunity to work with a number of high profile clients including UNESCO. As my skills in web development improved it became apparent that there was a gap in my understanding in developing effective content. In 2001 I decided to address this by returning to university to study for a postgraduate in Multimedia and Interactive Systems at Edinburgh Napier University. This course was incredibly useful, proving an understanding of design processes and underlying web and multimedia technologies.

I returned to learning technology in 2004 as a e-Learning Developer at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). This post was my first opportunity to work directly with academic staff, supporting them in the use of the institutional VLE, Blackboard. A number of important things happened to me while I was at GCU. I met and was able to work with a number of colleagues who have had a big impact of learning technology and ALT including Linda Creanor and Terry Mayes. The post was also an opportunity to work with Alison Nimmo, then a lecture at the Scottish Centre for Work Based Learning at GCU and now academic developer. Alison continues to be a close friend and mentor and working with her made me realise that often in learning technology, the role of the technologist is unlocking the existing expertise of the academic.

In 2006 I left GCU for a post at the University of Strathclyde working on the ‘Re-assessing Assessment Practices Project’ (REAP) led by David Nicol. Based in the Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement (CAPLE) this was another great opportunity to learn and be inspired by my peers. The REAP project helped me understand the importance of assessment in learning, in particular formative feedback. It was while I was at Strathcylde that I developed an interest in electronic voting systems and Mazur’s Peer Instruction technique. Again I was fortunate to work with staff leading the development of this field, in particular, Jim Boyle who introduced Peer Instruction to the UK. While at CAPLE I was also fortunate to meet Lorna Campbell and Sheila MacNeill who were seconded from the CAPLE to the Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards (Cetis). With these colleagues in proximity I was inspired to explore innovation in teaching and learning.

In 2008 there was an opportunity to explore this interest with a post at the Jisc Regional Support Centre for Scotland North & East. With a remit to ‘stimulate and support innovation in learning’ I felt comfortable exploring emerging technology and practices in learning and teaching. It was at this time I also started exploring and expanding my own personal networks, consuming and writing blog posts and establishing myself on Twitter and my MASHe blog. It was through these channels that I discovered the work of Dr Tony Hirst at the Open University. Tony’s use of open practices and exploration of technologies has and continues to inspire me.

As part of my work at the RSC I supported the development of EduApps, a collection of portable assistive software applications that could be run from a USB pendrive. As well as contributing to an article on EduApps for the ALT Online Newsletter, funding was received to distribute a copy of EduApps to all ALT-C 2009 delegates. As part of this I was able to have my first ALT conference experience.

I wasn’t at ALT-C 2010 but following earlier experiments with combining activity from the ‘second screen’, in particular Twitter, with video recordings provided ALT with Twitter subtitled versions of the keynotes of “Don’t lecture me” – Donald Clark and “The hole in the wall: self organising systems in education” – Sugata Mitra

In 2011 our RSC was closed and I took this as an opportunity to move to France and explore ideas without the constraint of an employer. It was during this period that I developed TAGSExplorer, an online visualisation tool to explore Twitter conversations, which is still in use and has a loyal international following. Whilst in France, I worked on a couple of projects including the ALT ‘Community-led Evaluation and Dissemination of Support Resources’ project and Cetis to analyse and visualization data from the UKOER programme, later joining Cetis as their UKOER support officer.

Working at Cetis was again an opportunity to connect an explore emerging educational fields including MOOCs and Learning Analytics. In particular, the work of George Seimens and Stephen Downes encouraged me to explore course aggregation techniques, a journey which led me to the work of Jim Groom and colleagues at the University of Mary Washington, and the use of WordPress as a course platform.

This work caught the eye of ALT and I was subsequently contracted by ALT to help develop the ‘Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning’ (ocTEL). Following the success of ocTEL I was commissioned to develop the conference platform for ALT-C 2013, later being recruited by ALT as Chief Innovation Community and Technology Officer.

All this brings us to the current day and me staring at a blank CMALT portfolio. So why now? I think the main reason is having spent the last 6 years without a learning technologist title I need to remind myself that I have maintained a commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning; that I have kept up-to-date with new technologies; that I continue to learn from colleagues; and that I can evidence a commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice.

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