Thursday, July 18, 2019

Learning Technology Developer: the importance of job titles.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a blog post by Anne-Marie Scott titled "Why we need learning technology developers", and thought "I'm a 'learning technology developer', why have I never thought of having that as a job title." That led onto thinking a bit about both the importance of job titles, and the importance of having the right structures in place to support learning technology development.

"Learning technology developer" is a fairly accurate description of what I have spent most of my professional career doing, however I've never actually heard of it being used as a job title before. My current job title is something like "Senior Systems Application Developer", which is rather nonsensical - I don't do systems programming. "Senior Learning Technology Developer" would properly reflect my main role and responsibilities, so I'll probably try and get my job title changed to that.

Job titles matter, because they affect how people are perceived by human resources, and to a lesser extent by managers. That means that they affect how people are treated and what facilities they are provided with. If my job title was "Senior Research Fellow" rather than "Senior Systems Application Developer" I'm fairly sure I would not be about to be moved to an large open plan, off campus office with 90 other IT and clerical staff.

Of course, I'd still have the problem that the decision makers don't know what Learning Technology Developers are, and how they should be treated, so even with the right job title I'd still be moving into a totally inappropriate space - after all, if the decision makers had ever read "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams", they'd never consider putting Systems Application Developers in an mixed use open-plan office.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A supportive environment for developing learning technology

Two recent talks I've attended have got me thinking about how Universities can provide a supportive environment for developing new learning technologies.

At JISC Connect More I saw a presentation about Noteable, a rather impressive repackaging of JupyterNotes as an LTI Tool developed at EDINA, a department in the University of Edinburgh's Information Services that does specialist applied research and development. This link between R&D and central IT seems to me to be one of the components that is needed for effective learning technology development. Both the willingness to experiment and to accept occasional failure of a research department, and the IT department's relatively flexible funding and   ability to provide a robust stable service are needed. A few years ago I visited EDINA for a job interview, and I was really impressed at the quality of their space - another essential factor for efficient software development. (Unfortunately I didn't get the job.)

A few weeks ago I also attended a talk from Simon Buckingham Shum,  Director of the Connected Intelligence Centre at  UTS. Simon's talk covered a range of topics, but one thing that struck me was the organizational set-up of CIC, another place that does very impressive Learning Technology development.
At CIC, academics and developers work closely together, and the department is not part of the central IT services or if the computing science research and teaching department, and reports directly to the DVC Education. This means that the actual experts have direct contact with the final decision-maker, rather than having several layers of managers & committees between them.

These two departments provide a model for supporting good learning technology development, but perhaps not one that is easy to replicate at other universities. In a future blog post I'll try to put together some ideas for a way of getting these benefits without major resource implications.