29th September 2023 will mark one whole year since I joined the University of Sussex as a Learning Technologist. I joined the fantastic Educational Enhancement team and was informed on day one that I would be supporting Media, Arts and Humanities (MAH) and Central Foundation Year (CFY), which I think has been a very good fit.
The Learning Technologist’s role is, as per my job description, to ‘help maximise the effective use of digital technologies and transform the learning experience at Sussex’, which is no small challenge! The verb ‘transform’ is a particularly interesting one: at what point can something be said to have been ‘transformed’?
I had been at Sussex for two weeks when I was given my first project, an investigation into the cheating software available online. I know what you’re thinking but no, this was only October 2022, Generative AI was but a distant whisper and didn’t feature at all in the work I, and the brilliant Tyrone Knight, did on the topic. It was Ty, incidentally, who showed me what a great team I had joined: he sourced some of the heftier articles on online plagiarism and modelled excellent teamwork by setting up a Box folder for us to collaborate. The fact that he named the folder Beatin’ Cheatin’ was a bonus.
We presented our findings to Academic Quality and Partnerships and others and now, almost a year on, I still pinch myself that the work Ty and I did directly influenced university policy.
Digital plagiarism and AI have continued to be a key element of my work. I have the pleasure of supporting the Department of Language Studies who, due to the nature of their subject and the international reach of their students, were able to recognise the potential vulnerability of their assessments and were proactive in learning more. The department really impressed me with how open they were to trying new approaches, including using OneDrive during the online Pre-Sessional course to share live documents with students around the world so they could meet the requirement to have an example of spontaneous writing from all learners.
My second big project was to respond to student feedback regarding the Canvas template used in MAH. Should you wish, you can read all about it here in my blog post from February: Considering the user experience of VLEs: reviewing our Canvas templates.
The result of this project has been very rewarding. There has been positive feedback from the MAH Student Representatives who were given sight of it before rollout. I must say here how kind and generous those student representatives were, they all found something unique to speak positively about and raised queries in a way that showed they recognised the work that had gone into the product. Sussex is lucky to have them. Staff report they have found the set-up process this year intuitive, clear and less tricky than some had anticipated. I am grateful to the colleagues who have taken the time to share their experiences and ask questions and to those who reached out when they needed help. We do not pretend that the process for setting up modules for 23/24 is as straightforward as ‘rolling over’ and we recognise and appreciate the work colleagues are undertaking to ensure the new template is a success.
My third project was to complete the Fundamentals of Teaching and Learning in HE course. To my team and my line manager Dan, who couldn’t escape my discomfort at being back in the position of learner, I can only thank you for not losing your patience with me. It was difficult, as someone with two PGCEs already, to switch my thinking to university teaching: much was familiar but then there would be something completely alien which would throw me and I would become frustrated. I’ll tell myself it was useful experience to change role as uncomfortable as it was, and I 100% believe that getting insight into how we teach at Sussex is priceless. This year I will complete the rest of the Certificate and am looking forward to joining the Graduation ceremony in the Summer. Having seen the videos of previous graduates, I wonder what I’ll do when I got on that stage.
So, that’s my three significant projects from Year One. Of course, though, those projects are not how I spend my day-to-day. My day-to-day comprises answering emails or jumping onto Teams to explain a little niggle that Canvas has thrown up and put a colleague off their path; digging into Turnitin to find out how come a piece of work that shows as submitted is nowhere to be found; taking a lap around the beautiful library when I realise I’ve been sitting for too long; investigating possible solutions to exciting queries and then feeding back with options that would work; messaging other team members at least twice a week because I still don’t know the answer to something; popping into Arts office to say ‘Hi’; some pretty rotten data tasks that I don’t enjoy at all but know that the whole team is working on and we can grumble about together; playing with tools like Padlet and Poll Everywhere; working with the wonderful Learning Technologists on planning and resourcing all the workshops we run and will run; trying to keep up with all the developments in the sector; working with Sarah Watson (Academic Developer) and our MAH colleagues on the faculty’s plans; getting distracted by the course content on a lot of modules and wishing I could enrol (especially the CFY ones which are just brilliant) and much more than I could list.
So, back to that job description: I think I do ‘help maximise the effective use of digital technologies’, although I know I still have a lot to learn. As for ‘transforming the learning experience at Sussex’ I have been honoured by how far my influence has been allowed to reach and am proud of what we’ve achieved. It’s been reciprocal though: Sussex has started to transform me too.