Face-to-place storytelling

I came across the concept of “face-to-place” storytelling in David Abram’s work. I liked this idea, so searched and came across a short piece on the Alliance for Wild Ethics website, where the term is credited to Marc Tognotti. In the discussion on oral culture, there is something that echoes my experience when I’m interviewing in the same location, face-to-face, or at least side-by-side – the memory of what is said in the interview is tied to the place where we walked.

the sensuous landscape itself was the necessary mnemonic (or memory-trigger) for remembering the oral tales (Alliance for Wild Ethics, 2018)

In my field notes, I have recorded observations like “the bee-walk is where Hugh spoke about helping students connect” and “from this spot in the sheep field, SFH has given me a line-of-sight to my house from the campus”. I recall watching the bees as we walked, my thoughts on Hugh’s approach to connecting with students. I know when I next walk in that place, I will remember the conversation about connecting with people from around the world. I now have a crow’s-flight-line between my home and workplace that I didn’t have before, tied as I was to the road network. In my mind, I have oriented myself towards home in a new way, which is simultaneously liberating and grounding. That knowledge came from walking the land and learning from the person who lives there.

My research also involves interviews at a distance, in real-time and asynchronously. In this, the digital and literate culture are intertwined with the oral, returning us once more to the Alliance for Wild Ethics (2018) piece. I like the idea that the oral knowledge of those who have kindly agreed to talk with me runs “underneath” and provides a foundation, as the digital and literate help us to connect across distances.

Even though we are not in the same place, these storytellers are face-to-place, with and in their own location, as I am with and in my place as I listen. I hope this provides a new way to tell their places’ tales. Through this story sharing, I am in the fortunate position to learn about new lands and to share my land in turn.

I like to think our lands are listening to each other through us.

It is to know, further, that each land, each watershed, each community of plants and animals and soils, has its particular style of intelligence, its unique mind or imagination evident in the particular patterns that play out there, in the living stories that unfold in that valley, and that are told and retold by the people of that place. (Abram, 2018)

References

Abram, D. (2018). Storytelling and wonder: On the rejuvenation of oral culture. Available at: http://wildethics.org/essay/storytelling-and-wonder/ [earlier versions printed in Taylor and Kaplan (2005). Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature and Resurgence, issue 222, January/February 2004.]

Alliance for Wild Ethics (2018). Why oral culture? Available at: http://wildethics.org/why-oral-culture/

Talking with friends

My research group meets every few months to discuss our work, including draft versions of papers we are working on. I benefited from feedback at one of these sessions earlier in the year and got some excellent insight, great ideas and wonderful support. This was also one of those neat experiences that helped me to see my approach to writing from a different angle. A member of the team commented about how they liked my way of writing as if I was friends with the researchers I had cited in my work. I hadn’t really thought about it, I couldn’t see it in my own writing, and I’ve been thinking about it since.

Where does this come from? As you know, I’m Irish – maybe it is simply that everyone is my friend, at least until they tell me otherwise. A hundred thousand welcomes and would you like a cup of tea with your research discussion?

Reflecting on this and on my writing, I see it as a way of demonstrating how I appreciate and value the work that has been carried out previously. I might not necessarily agree with it, but that’s part of celebrating, or at least acknowledging, the joy of diversity. I’m also weaving my way into the research dance, finding my spot on the dance floor, trying to be creative while not falling over my feet or standing on anyone else’s. This is my way of linking hands with my research partners [end of dance metaphor!].

So who are my research partners? I must have picked up this way of writing in something I have been reading. I thought about who has that knack of writing relationships into their work. I came back to three people – Gregory Bateson, Mary Catherine Bateson and Shawn Wilson. I like the relational aspect of their writing, if that’s the best way to describe it; they each make active use of this writing style for slightly different reasons.

In Mind and Nature, Gregory Bateson (1980) structures some chapters as dialogues with his daughter. The daughter is unnamed in the book, with the dialogue structured as Father/Daughter question-and-answer sessions [metalogues]. This is useful in a book that is aimed at explaining key concepts that Bateson is puzzling through and wants to share with his audience.  I liked these sections, as I often found myself sharing the frustration of his “daughter” when he wandered off on tangents in the rest of the book.

Daughter: All right, So where would you attach the phenomena of beauty and ugliness and consciousness?

Father: And don’t forget the sacred. That’s another matter that was not dealt with in this book.

Daughter: Please Daddy. Don’t do that. When we get near to asking a question, you jump away from it. There’s always another question it seems. If you could answer one question. Just one. (Bateson, 1980; p.228)

Angels Fear (2005) is the second book, the book that deals with the sacred as Gregory mentioned in the quote above. He died before finishing it, so Mary Catherine Bateson took over, working from his notes. They had always planned to work on it together, but in the end, she worked from his notes. Reading it, I discovered she was the “daughter” in the first book and she berates Gregory for giving her all the uninteresting questions.

Mary Catherine uses this dialogic writing approach in a way that is similar and different to her father. Gregory used this process of dialogue to question himself, to explore his own thoughts and uncertainties; he was daughter and father. She uses the same structure to question him: no longer with her, she uses it as a way of teasing out his meaning, holding on to his voice through the same process of father:daughter dialogues. Through it, I find she was often genuinely as frustrated with him as I was and as her representation in the first book seemed to be.

Daughter: You… I wish you wouldn’t keep letting the ideas spread out. (Bateson & Bateson, 2005; p.132)

In both cases, these dialogues are helpful for me to get to grips with the concepts. Like that sense of sitting down together to chat it all through, or think about it while you listen to other people discussing it. Probably over a cup of tea.

It is also poignant, as Gregory has died when Mary Catherine is writing this text. As I read her dialogues, I thought about what it would be like to have a similar dialogue with my own Dad and towards the end, I found it heart-breaking reading a section where they talk late at night.

Father: Still awake and working?

Daughter: How about you? You’re a remarkably persistent shade, you know. (Bateson & Bateson, 2005; p.201)

This reminded me of a piece in Mind and Nature where Gregory talks about people reading his book long after he is gone, where it felt as if he was speaking to me. Somehow, though I never met them, this way of writing has linked me to them; as Gregory might say, there is a “pattern that connects”, a karmic transfer, a relationship between author and reader.

When I wipe the blackboard, where does the difference [chalk mark to board] go? In one sense, the difference is randomized and irreversibly gone, as “I” shall be gone when I die. In another sense, the difference will endure as an idea – as part of my karma – as long as this book is read, perhaps as long as the ideas in this book go on to form other ideas, reincorporated into other minds. (Bateson, 1980, pp.109-110)

A relationship is exactly what Shawn Wilson is building in Research is Ceremony (2008). He explicitly sets out to help the reader to connect with him, to know better who he is, as we would do if we were to sit down and chat with him about his research. Which is exactly what he’d really rather we were doing. Since it’s on paper, he’s doing the next best thing.

First, he writes some letters to his sons, to help us get to know him as a father, husband, storyteller, researcher. As the book progresses, and he figures we’ve got to a point of knowing him as well as we can, he switches from writing to his sons to writing to us, his readers. He explains this approach at the start and he makes good use of changes in font to give us a hint that the tone is about to switch, from the more traditional “academic” to a warm conversation between friends and family.

It is my intention to build a relationship between the readers of this story, myself as the storyteller and the ideas I present. This relationship needs to be formed in order for an understanding of an Indigenous research paradigm to develop. This paradigm must hold true to its principles of relationality and relational accountability. As I cannot know beforehand who will read this book, I cannot be sure of the relationships that readers might hold with me or the ideas I share. So, I will start from scratch just to make sure that we begin this book from a common ground. (Wilson, 2008; p.6)

Shawn wants to meet his readers through the words, to share a space and his research. The result is an engaging, informative and elegant book that explains the Indigenous research paradigm while living it. In an example of the circular style he mentions at the outset, he closes the book with a letter to his sons, reflecting on how he changed over the course of writing the book. I feel like I know him, I appreciate his teachings, he succeeded in building a relationship with me.

That reflexivity and relationship-building is what I aim to foster in my writing. I’m reaching out to link up with you, share what I’ve been thinking about and who has inspired my reading. With any luck, I’ll hear from you about what you’re thinking about. Better yet, over a cup of tea and a slice of cake 🙂

References

Bateson, G. (1980). Mind and nature: A necessary unity. UK: Fontana. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Mind-and-Nature–A-Necessary-Unity/17664148 

Bateson, G., & Bateson, M. C. (2005). Angels fear: Towards an epistemology of the sacred. New Jersey: Hampton Press, Inc. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Gregory-Bateson/Angels-Fear–Towards-an-Epistemology-of-the-Sacred/17664261 

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Nova Scotia, CA: Fernwood Publishing. https://fernwoodpublishing.ca/book/research-is-ceremony-shawn-wilson

 

 

Land tweeting

I’ve been time-travelling back to my undergrad years and re-reading Basso’s (1996) Wisdom Sits in Places. In his reflection on the Apache view of the landscape, he states that it is seen as:

a repository of distilled wisdom, a stern but benevolent keeper of tradition, an ever-vigilant ally… features of the landscape have become symbols of and for this way of living, the symbols of a culture and the enduring moral character of its people. (Basso, 1996; p.63)

Basso proceeds to discuss how the role of landscape in shaping social activity, and the way in which the Apache “constitute their surroundings and invest them with value and significance” (p.66). He proposes that this “moral relationship”, the cultural ecology, is often ignored in research.

Reading this brought to mind The Irish Border (@BorderIrish) Twitter account. With the current unease and uncertainty about the Brexit outcome, someone has set up an account to give the Border a voice in the negotiations.

In its own way, this account provides a symbolic, cultural representation of the land. It is a way of acknowledging the myriad difficulties woven into the negotiations. The person who set up the account tweeted recently that they sometimes think they are the Border. It is done so well that others who follows the account may also get a stronger sense of the impact of the negotiations through the voice of the border. I’m sure @BorderIrish would be quite happy to be viewed as an ever-vigilant keeper of wisdom!

This caused me to wonder if there were similar Twitter accounts, other ways in which Landscape or Place was being voiced, albeit by a human (as far as I know!). I could see @BorderIrish has a friend in @Malin_Head. This brought a smile to my face. Notwithstanding that it may be the same author masterminding the two accounts, having two Irish Places building an online relationship is really a very Irish thing to do. Which I believe I can safely say as an Irish person myself 🙂

I searched for other examples; all of the national parks that I came across in the US and UK had the same event-style timeline. Come to this event on this date, here’s a photo of a view, what temperature is it today, don’t forget to take your litter home. No sense of the places themselves communicating except perhaps through the captured image or video. The moderators of these accounts have taken the view, and rightly so, that people should visit the locations to develop their personal relationships with those places. All good. Still, it feels impersonal, hollow and a bit absent. Maybe it’s just me.

Widening my search to a broader sense of location, I realised that the libraries are particularly good at this. Granted, libraries are all marvelous at everything they do, but they have really captured the spirit of this approach. I’ve embedded a couple of classics from @ShetlandLibrary and @natlibscot below as examples. Scottish examples, so maybe this is a Celtic thing, to acknowledge that there is no reason why Places can’t have and be friends. I love the ongoing banter between @ShetlandLibrary and @OrkneyLibrary. Again, there is something more meaningful for me in having a sense of the libraries talking to each other, developing their friendship in an online space. And yes, I have read their tweets; I know that, deep down, they really love each other 🙂

The significance and presence of landscape that Basso (1996) outlines is the personhood of places which is finally being legally recognised, as for the Whanganui River. I am not suggesting Twitter accounts carry the same value. They are not Places speaking, but people speaking for Places. Maybe more Places need us to speak for them or reflect on what they might say if we could hear them. Either way, I am curious if these types of accounts are an indication that this is something we are reaching out for, a need that has been denied for too long in my culture, and that we are seeking a way to articulate.

If you know of any other accounts, let me know!

Reference

Basso, K. H. (1996). Wisdom sits in places: Landscape and language among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico Press. https://unmpress.com/books/wisdom-sits-places/9780826317247

Coming home

I’ve been quiet on the blog over the summer. I had the best of intentions, but it was too hot and too sunny. My brain decided that writing and thinking were really too much to ask. Now the weather is cooling and the nights are getting darker again, I’m feeling a lot more cheerful. Time to roll up my sleeves and get back to writing.

I’ve rolled up my sleeves for another reason; my mum is moving back to Ireland, after a stay in Scotland of 18 years, so there are plenty of tasks to tackle. We moved here when my dad was offered a job; his dad was born in Scotland and his paternal grandmothers were Scottish women as far back as we can trace. He was excited at the thought of living near the place his father was born.

I hadn’t expected the impact that move would have on me. My first sight of Scotland was out a plane window as we circled Edinburgh airport. When the announcement came that we were coming in to land, I felt something I only knew from book and movie descriptions – a sense of coming home. My heart was full of joy and something like a sense of puzzled absence, as if I couldn’t understand why I had been away so long. This was the place I was meant to be – this land was my home. I hadn’t even stepped off the plane.

I get the same feeling when I see Traprain Law, the featured image for this blog, heave into view. As she rises, or in good Celtic tradition, as the road rises to meet her, I smile and send a greeting. My heart is full, I breathe deep, and I am home.

This feeling of being in the right place has come to the forefront once more now that my mum is moving back to Ireland. Her choice is right for her, as it is for me to stay here, and as it was for Sharon Blackie. In her book, If Women Rose Rooted, she talks about moving to Ireland and her words resonate.

Why is it that some of us come to so deeply identify with one place and not with another? I have no easy answers, only the knowledge that for all my wanderings and switherings, this the place I have always wanted to run back to when things grew difficult, the only place which makes me feel healthy and whole and full of joyful heart. (Blackie, 2016; p.329)

This question, this wonder about our identification with places, is woven into my PhD research. I have no easy answers either, about my place or those of the participants in my study. One thing that is certain for me is that I can do what I do because I am here. This echoes David Abram (2017) when he talks about “recalibrating” by walking, seeing, scenting and sensing the land that has chosen us. He emphasises the importance of a particular place in helping us know and connect with others, in a different take on Margaret Somerville’s research on connections to place-at-distance which I mentioned in a previous post.

Only by being deeply here, in and of this place, am I palpably connected to every other place. (Abram, 2017; p.284)

I like the idea that my place in East Lothian is an anchor point helping me to connect with others. Commuting home a few weeks ago, a song came on the radio. I had initially thought it a standard pop love song, until the lyrics caught my attention.

Maybe what I miss most
It wasn’t made of steel and stone
And maybe what I miss most
It wasn’t born of skin and bone (Scott, 2018)

I realised this was a love song to a place, the place the musician, Calum Scott, called home. He sang about his sense of his place from a distance, the realisation that it was something he couldn’t define – “maybe you’ll never know” – that he was missing. And yet, however far he travelled, part of him was “under three crowns” in Hull. I also like his jealousy of the black bird flying free outside the window, but that is food for a different post! You can listen to the song here.

Me, I’m off out into the garden 🙂

References

Abram, D. (2017). The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world, Twentieth Anniversary EditionVintage. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/319/the-spell-of-the-sensuous-by-david-abram/

Blackie, S. (2016). If women rose rooted: The journey to authenticity and belonging. September Publishing. http://sharonblackie.net/purchase-if-women-rose-rooted/

Scott, S, (2018). What I Miss Most lyrics: https://genius.com/Calum-scott-what-i-miss-most-lyrics

Traprain Law image by james denham, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13498271

Taking lectures and meetings outside

As we move towards the end of the academic year, I’m getting a little time to catch up on things that I have in my Stack of Interesting Things. Today, I watched a webinar recorded by Cornell Civic Ecology Lab where Brittany Thompson discusses storytelling in teaching and learning.

Brittany starts her talk by telling her research story. It was interesting to see the way others share their stories in response to hers. The chat questions encourage her to reflect in more depth on her research as part of the presentation. I agree with Annie the facilitator that this was putting Brittany “out there”, in a vulnerable position, both in asking for constructive criticism on her story and in sending everyone off to tell stories to each other in breakout rooms. But it worked and people enjoyed sharing their stories; I know I wanted to be in the breakout room rather than being left in the main room 🙂 . Some good resources too; I had heard about StoryCorps before, but Story Maps and StoryCenter were new for me. I lost myself in Story Maps, travelling to the Isle of Mull through Allen Carroll’s Story Map. Definitely tools to investigate further and play with.

What resonated with me strongly today was Brittany’s comment about waiting until the end of the day to escape from sitting in the classroom. There was a stark contrast between the image in her slide of blue sky and treetops and the sense of captivity as she described her experiences of school.

Screenshot of slide showing treetops
Screenshot taken from Cornell Civic Ecology Lab presentation by Brittany Thompson https://youtu.be/sWqZDT7yNjg

I chuckled when she switched to the snowy photo of Cornell, another nice contrast between her first photo of Jamaican treetops.

Brittany Thompson in the snow in Cornell
Screenshot taken from Cornell Civic Ecology Lab presentation by Brittany Thompson https://youtu.be/sWqZDT7yNjg

Brittany’s reflections on the importance of getting outdoors links with conversations I had this week with colleagues about moving our lectures and meetings outdoors. Two of us have experimented with this a little already, but we all agree it would be good to look at this in more depth and see what we can do. A good place to start is the Outdoor Journeys framework: Questioning, Researching, Sharing. For meetings, there is the step-by-step guidance [pun intented!] from FeetFirst for walking meetings. The only thing I haven’t figured out is how to take minutes on the move. Time to break out the digital recorder!

 

CMALT Portfolio Review

It is time to review my CMALT (Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology) portfolio to maintain my accreditation. As with the first application to gain CMALT, I found the experience has helped me to reflect on the changes in my role, review my use of technology in my own learning and in teaching others, and set new goals for the future.

My original portfolio is available via PebblePad. I have made no changes to the original portfolio, providing the updated section of the portfolio in the blog post below.

Summary of recent work/practice

I found it fascinating to see how the seeds of some activities were planted in my original portfolio and encouraged to see how my career has developed. I am now a Lecturer in Distance Student Learning, which integrates well with my continuing role in supporting and teaching online students. I am still Director of the postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, and now also Deputy Director for the MVetSci in Advanced Clinical Practice. This dual role works well, as some students opt to take courses from both programmes and I have a clear overview of their transition, ensuring I can better support them. As both programmes are online, I maintain my connection with our Digital Education Unit and ensure I remain up-to-date with new technologies. New staff members have joined the Unit and, as a result, I have stepped back from directly providing learning technology guidance on online course development for colleagues, though I still provide informal guidance and learn from their experiences in turn.

As my role has developed, I have taken on new activities. I achieved my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) in 2016. I mentor students and colleagues working towards their Fellowship at Associate, Fellow and Senior Fellow levels. This links with my work as a CMALT assessor and running webinars for those new to CMALT and assessing. My portfolio Future Plans suggested that I would be applying for a Doctorate in Education (EdD), which I did. As the programme was due to be reviewed, there was a delay in starting, so my supervisor encouraged me to switch to a PhD. It was an excellent option and I am now in my second year of a part-time PhD. This project focuses on the integration of digital and sustainable education building on my Specialist Option in my portfolio.

Projects reported in my portfolio have also developed in light of changes in technology. New technologies in the form of 3D printing, simulation, Virtual and Augmented Realities (VR and AR) are now being used in medical education, and I co-authored a paper with colleagues discussing the applications to veterinary medical education. I spoke about our use of Second Life in my portfolio and with time, we have stopped using the platform in my School. I still coordinate the virtual graduation, now for the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, within which my School sits. This now involves using a mixture of Skype, streaming video and pre-recorded videos, so that graduands can relax and enjoy their graduation ceremony at a distance without the pressure of worrying about technical difficulties. I have worked with colleagues to develop guidance for others across the University thinking about running their own virtual graduation. This video recorded by my colleague (and PhD supervisor) Dr Jen Ross demonstrates how this process worked for the Digital Education programme (running time 01:18).

I explore aspects of my role in more depth below and am happy to provide further information if required.

Overview of CPD activities over the past three years

My research profile is available via the Edinburgh Research Explorer.  This provides an overview of my role, activities and research output. In the last three years, I have become more active and involved in the policies and practices of the University. These new aspects of my role include co-chair of the College and School Equality and Diversity committees, co-convenor of the College Library Committee and member of the University Library Committee, and non-professorial member of Senate. Relating to my work with learning technology, this has allowed me to gain a better understanding of how communicating best practice feeds into the institution’s strategic planning for the future. It has also given me a better sense of how the University works and of my role within the institution.

In addition to my work with online learning programmes, I have also been involved in two MOOCs, as a facilitator for one year of Equine Nutrition and as a co-presenter for one week of the EDIVET MOOC (week 5 with Andrew Gardiner and colleagues). I investigated the benefits of the EDIVET MOOC in more detail in a paper co-authored with students and colleagues. Through that investigation, we were able to demonstrate how the MOOC helped participants to better understand the role of the veterinary professional. It also supported new applicants by giving them a sense of what it would be like to study at Edinburgh, to see and experience how we teach. There has been the added joy for me of meeting applicants at interview and students who remember seeing me in week 5.

I have looked at three examples of CPD-related activities in more detail below.

Example 1: Mentoring

I am inspired by working with others; it helps me develop my skills whether I am a mentee or mentor. Mentoring is woven into my work, both formally and informally. Informally, as I mentioned earlier, I support colleagues who are new to teaching online. I also coordinate sessions for our local journal club, including inviting speakers from across the University to share their teaching research and experiences. Formally, since I achieved my FHEA and SFHEA, I have mentored colleagues and students as they work towards their fellowships. I have also assessed a number of CMALT portfolios, as both lead and second assessor, and co-presented two online introductory sessions for new CMALT applicants and assessors.  I have taken part in the University’s Mentoring Connections scheme, first as a mentee in 2012 and then as a mentor in 2018.

In my original portfolio, I spoke about the online peer tutoring scheme I set up with a colleague for our postgraduate distance learning students. That scheme is ongoing and a small number of tutors choose to apply for their associate fellowships each year. Mentoring one of the groups coincided with me applying for my Senior Fellowship. Together, we reflected on what it meant to work towards our shared goals in a paper. We authored this online via a shared document, as we were located at distance from each other. That echoed the process we had used to mentor the tutors as they developed their teaching skills online. I feel this demonstrates how a scholarly community of practice can be supported with technology.

To help me with the varied aspects of my role, I took advantage of an opportunity provided in my School to gain career development coaching. I discuss my experience in the following video: https://youtu.be/7zYzJliPut4 (running time 01:20) to help colleagues thinking about applying. My comments about getting to grips with information overload link back to the talks for the journal club, as I used that as a route to share the lessons I had learned in dealing with email.

Example 2: Improving Academic Practice with Turnitin

I worked with colleagues from across the University to develop a short course looking at how Turnitin could be used to help improve academic practice. Funding was received in 2014, with the course going live in 2017. Details of the project are available via the Institute for Academic Development’s website and we co-authored a blog post about the inspiration for and benefits of the course.

This was a great opportunity to work with colleagues from other Colleges in the University, allowing me to explore in more depth what was expected of students in other disciplines and learn from the experiences of others. It was interesting to see how a tool such as Turnitin could be used to encourage students to develop their research and writing skills, rather than simply as a plagiarism checker. All of my students now have access to this course and this has led to in-depth discussions about the ways in which they can best make use of the tool. This project has shown me how valuable it can be to examine our use of technology to help design the best approach to support learning.

Example 3: Networked Learning

I attended the Networked Learning Conference in Zagreb, Croatia in May 2018. This gave me an opportunity to present my work in two ways: first through a standard paper presentation and second as a guest on a Virtually Connecting session online with fellow conference participants.

When I reviewed my original portfolio, I smiled to read my recommendation for the Networked Learning conference in my Specialist Options section. I continue to find it an inspiration as it allows me to meet with fellow researchers who are interested in the connections between learners and each other, IT, resources, the environment and more. This year, there was an added bonus in participating in my first Virtually Connecting session. The aim here is to widen participation in conferences for those who are unable to attend. It was exactly as described, a “great spontaneous hallways conversation”. It demonstrated how effectively technology can be employed to enhance the conference experience for all involved. I enjoyed it so much that I have since attended as a participant and have reflected about the benefits in a blog post.

Updated future plans

My CPD plan for the next three years is tied up with my PhD work. The project is specifically looking at the interplay of the digital and outdoors, thinking about how and if place-awareness can be encouraged at a distance, linking directly to my Specialist Option from the original portfolio. It will require me to keep up-to-date with new technologies and allow me to learn with and from my participants. At its heart, the project considers the interplay between learning and technology, the networked connections between learner and learner, and learner and environment. From my experience of the last year and a half of the project, I understand better what it entails. It will give me plenty of opportunity to research and reflect, there will be concerns and puzzles, and through it I will have the support of my supervisors, peers, colleagues, family and research team. I will also be considering applying for a Senior Lecturer position in the next three years. That is a portfolio activity in itself, so should keep me busy!

Updated confirmation and date

I declare that, to the best of my knowledge, the statements and evidence included in this submission accurately describe my practice and are drawn from my own work, with the input and support of others duly and clearly recognised. This is dated as the original live date of this post: 31 May 2018.

A hidden cost of conferences

I was at a conference last week; hence the lack of a weekly blog post. I had the best of intentions, thinking I would perhaps live-blog the conference, or at least get a post out last week talking about the top sessions, inspiration and ideas. The fact that I wasn’t able to do any of that and I’m still recharging gave me the topic for this week.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have multiple sclerosis. Chronic fatigue is a standard symptom. I have learned about managing my fatigue, not taking on too much or pushing myself beyond my limits. I’ve also had to reconsider what those limits are, ask for help, adapt and prioritise. My family and friends keep an eye on me, reminding me when I forget to take care of myself. My employer has been incredibly supportive in allowing me to work flexibly, so I can manage more things than you might expect, including doing a part-time PhD while working full time. I am very fortunate as I can still get out and about.

Then come the conferences with associated travel, increased social interaction, presentations and workshops. Conferences are an excellent way to share your research and meet new people, but they carry a hidden cost for me in the impact on my health. As an example, the conference last week was excellent and I was looking forward to it. Air-travel was required, but I was armed with tea tree oil and haven’t caught a cold. I sensibly opted to go to bed instead of attending the conference dinner. I had included additional time to sleep, scheduled a day off when I got back home, and my out-of-office message said I would respond to emails when I was able. Even with careful planning, it is a week later and I am aware that it will take me at least another three weeks to return to normal functioning energy levels. In the meantime, I am taking it easy – I see it as putting my dodgy battery on trickle charge 🙂

This blog site is entitled “The Sustainable Academic” and conferences negatively impact my academic sustainability in two ways. One – the environmental cost of travel. Two – the physical cost of attending. As with all my colleagues, I have to select the best conferences that meet my research needs. We all have limited budgets and time, so this choice is carefully made. What options are available to cover my additional costs?

One option is to increase and improve opportunities to connect online. The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) run an online winter conference. The Networked Learning conference has run online “hot seats” (discussions and presentations) in the past and plans to run these in the future. At this point, you may be saying to yourself “…but these events are for people already interested in engaging online”. True, but the lessons learned from these can be extended into other areas. An excellent example of a wise use of technology is the Virtually Connecting option. The aim is widening participation so that any who are unable to attend can have an online chat with key presenters and ask questions. If there is a conference you want to attend and can’t, you can contact the team and see if something can be organised. You can become a buddy (of many kinds) to help increase the number of events where this option is available. I had the good fortune to participate in a session last week and could see the incredible potential.

It is true that meeting in the same location will be the preferred choice for many. Personally, I’m excited about virtually connecting to the Festival of Learning in Vancouver next week!  For those wondering about the experience of living digitally, see @Annakwood’s excellent blog post: http://learningfrome-learning.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/10-years-of-living-life-digitally.html #MillionsMissing.

Right, that’s me for today. I will blog about last week’s conference in future posts, but for now, I’m off to tuck myself up and get busy recharging 🙂