I’m hoping to tell you something you already know. This post is as much a celebration of the team I work in as it is a mission statement for the year ahead. This is a post about kindness. First, some reflections.
Reflection 1: Our team
Over the last year, our team of Learning Technologists have all either been new to Sussex, started a new role within the team or had their role changed in some manner. Over and above this, we’re all working in different ‘post-pandemic’ ways. As a hybrid team, we’re in the office some of the week, at home the rest. Some of our team are on reduced hours, some on compressed hours. The support for flexible working at Sussex appears to be, well… working.
As the manager of this team, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how to get this balance right, how we become a great team and how to ensure we’re meeting the needs of the individuals in this team and those of the university.
Reflection 2: What is a learning technologist anyway?
As Learning Technologists, one of our fundamental activities is building relationships. Across the organisation we work with central teams, school teams, senior leaders and students. Building relationships enables us to affect change, question existing norms, and enable people to feel comfortable addressing any perceived shortcomings in using technology for the betterment of their and their students’ experience.
Unofficial motto 1: Embrace the chaos
It’s well documented across the sector how varied the role is, let alone the title. There is a great series over on the #ALTC blog about it. Our work often takes us on journeys around the institution, picking up pieces from various initiatives, starting our own or helping people build their confidence in the classrooms. There is no typical day and priorities shift daily.
Unofficial motto 2: Don’t be afraid to be the idiot
We expect our colleagues to recognise their own need for development, often requiring colleagues to accept they need help or have a digital skills gap. So we expect this of ourselves, we challenge each other to feel comfortable asking the ‘silly questions’, if not, how can we expect people to be comfortable doing that with us?
Reflection 3: The climate in and around higher education
In recent years, I feel there has been a shift in the underlying themes of conversations within and around academia. Themes of kindness, inclusion, community, conversation and relationships have been recurring. Having recently attended events on the topics of learning technology and student-staff partnership activity, it really stood out to me just how front and centre some of this stuff is.
Perhaps the pandemic and the need for collective healing have contributed to this shift in tone. Or maybe recent tensions across the academic community have forced various communities to rally around and rebuild bridges. Whatever the reason, this shift has resonated with many individuals and teams, including ours.
So, against the ever shifting landscape of the UK higher education world we inhabit, how do we build as a team, grow in the roles and meet the needs of our colleagues across the organisation?
Can you keep a secret?
[Whispers] Kindness is the cheat code. Really, it’s magic. Recently the Educational Enhancement (EE) team won the Inclusive Sussex Award at the education awards, for demonstrating one or more of the Sussex values. Kindness being one.
At the beginning of the academic year, two thirds of the the Learning Technologist team within EE were new to the role and half were new to the organisation, yet they have achieved an incredible amount in no time at all. I’ve little hesitation in attributing this to the immense kindness they show each other, and importantly to themselves, in allowing themselves to ‘be the idiot’, to ask the silly questions and build relationships founded on, you guessed it, kindness.
As I head into my second year in this job, my focus will go deeper into asking, what does being a Learning Technologist at Sussex mean? I think by having the above reflections, I already know what the foundations are for this. It starts with kindness, to others in building relationships, and to ourselves in being comfortable with vulnerability.
As we move forward, our team of Learning Technologists will make it our mission to prioritise kindness, it’s the cheat code, the rest will fall into place.