It is time once again to review my CMALT (Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology) portfolio to maintain my accreditation. My original portfolio is available via PebblePad and my last review is available via this blog. There has been a delay in submitting my review, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the final (and still underway!) write-up of my PhD. My thanks to the understanding of the ALT team in allowing me the additional time.
I have made no changes to the original portfolio; my reflections on the last three years are in the blog post below.
Summary of recent work/practice
This review has shown me again how seeds of ideas I planted have germinated, some of which in ways I could not have anticipated.
In my future plans in 2018, I stated my intention to apply for a Senior Lecturer position, which I successfully did later that year. I continue as Director of the postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, and Deputy Director for the MVetSci in Advanced Clinical Practice – both of which are online programmes. My role has adapted, as I am now Deputy Director of Postgraduate Taught Studies, with approximately 90% of our student group undertaking online programmes. I reached the end of my terms of office on a number of committees (Senate and Library) and joined new committees and groups. The Deputy Director role includes co-convening our School Board of Studies, convening the postgraduate taught Special Circumstances committee, and acting as postgraduate taught Senior Tutor. Particularly during the pandemic, this has required the ability to support, empathise and work with others through a range of communication tools.
My role has also provided other ways of working with others, as I have been interviewed for a number of Masters and PhD research projects at my institution looking at digital education practices and tools. I appreciate how difficult it can sometimes be to identify staff members for research projects, so I am happy to share my experiences and/or participate in tests of new tools to help extend our collective research and understanding, learn from others, and find out about new developments. My commitment to work with others to explore and understand the interplay between technology and learning is central to all these activities.
I continue to collaborate with my Digital Education Unit (DEU) colleagues, ensuring I remain up-to-date and informed of changes to tools and technologies. I also work with them to ensure we are ready to adapt to change. For example, in the last couple of weeks, I coordinated the creation of a number of short-life working groups to review our practices and develop consistent cross-programme processes. Each group is led by a number of people, including a director, coordinator, and administrator from different programmes, facilitating discussion and sharing of experiences across roles so we can learn from each other. One of these working groups will review our approach to group assessment and peer work. The DEU co-lead will help us design or revise activities so they can be easily adapted to take account of a scheduled move to an updated virtual learning environment. The focus is on what impact the group/peer activity may have on the students, what learning experience(s) are central to the outcomes and objectives of the courses and programmes. Our goal is to ensure we have well-designed learning activities that can adapt to the tools that are available, minimising negative impacts on students and staff when systems change.
Overview of CPD activities over the past three years
The primary focus of my activities over the past three years has been my PhD research, as indicated in my previous review. My research profile is available via the Edinburgh Research Explorer. This provides an overview of my role, activities and research output, including participation in events and conferences, and publications. I have selected some examples to explore in this section.
In a recent post for the SEDA blog, McAvinia, O’Keefe and Donnelly (2022) proposed this as a critical incident, an opportunity to carry out “structured and deep reflection on practice”. I find I am still adapting and learning, so not quite at the stage of deep reflection. Instead, I have selected two simple examples to consider here, looking first at the rapid change to teaching, and second at effective ways to connect.
In the first example, as the majority of my involvement is in online programmes, the pivot to online learning did not directly impact my teaching. Instead, my experience with online teaching and learning was required to help colleagues who had been teaching on-campus move to hybrid teaching. In the early stages of the first lockdown, that included identifying materials from the online clinical postgraduate courses that could quickly be copied and adapted for teaching the final year veterinary students who would normally have been on clinical rotations. What appeared relatively straightforward on the surface proved more complicated as the clinical residents (PhD students) who tutored on clinics would also have been taking some of the courses that we were making available for the undergraduate students. This required some deft coordination, but we were able to proceed with the new plan. A benefit of this duplication of materials meant that the clinical residents had access to resources that they could dip into over a longer period of time. This was key as clinics were extremely busy, leaving little time for study. The course assessment was then made available at the usual point in the semester and via the standard postgraduate-only course. This longer access to materials prior to assessment is an approach that is worth exploring more for courses in the future, rather than the current five- or ten-week course structure.
In the second example, while there were limited changes in the way my colleagues and I taught our online students, we had to find new ways of connecting with each other to maintain our peer support networks. I learned to adapt and work flexibly using a range of tools with colleagues and students, always with the aim to find the best method for the circumstances. In some cases, our conversations started with “webcams off/on?”, depending on how we were all feeling that day, or whether our home network connections could support cameras while other members of our households and local area also tried to connect virtually. The most effective method to connect in the first lockdown came not from a weekly “Collaborate coffee and chat” I set up, but from a colleague who set up a MS Teams group where she would post short yoga videos each day. Over time, the Team chat filled with photos of family, pets, cakes, and more. I learned that the option to drop-in to an asynchronous space worked best while we all adapted to a new way of being. Much as I loved coffee and a chat, I loved the daily reminder to step away from the screen more, reminding me to stop and stretch. On days where I did not feel much like talking, I still felt connected to the team thanks to the yoga group.
On-campus, online and outdoors
My PhD research topic has also grown in a new and unforeseen way. In my last review, I explained that the project focuses on the integration of digital and sustainable education, and builds on my Specialist Option in my portfolio. As our institution discussed online and on-campus hybridity, my research bringing together online and outdoor activities chimed with work by colleagues in the School of Education and Sport. My research was referred to in a presentation to Senate Education committee and an internal blog reflecting on the challenges and affordances of going ‘Beyond Digital’ in our learning and teaching practices. It was exciting to have an opportunity to see the project impact in a way I could not have anticipated when I started it. I also presented my work at the Networked Learning conference in May 2020, and it is included in a chapter for the recently published book Online Postgraduate Education in a Postdigital World (Fawns, Aitken & Jones, eds).
I am currently participating in the Aurora programme, a leadership development initiative. This year, as with last year, this is being run online. There has been some interesting discussion about the benefits and challenges of connecting in an online space (Zoom) versus the pre-pandemic approach of gathering in a large conference centre. As an introvert, I found the Zoom sessions more enjoyable, particularly as these have demonstrated an effective use of the online space, incorporating excellent large-group presentations, small group breakout rooms, and use of sli.do for interactive questions, polls and word clouds to keep us all connected. By a mixture of rotation through different breakout groups, and deep connection through action learning sets, I feel a better connection to a wider group of participants than I would have in a conference venue. In addition to developing my leadership skills, this has been a masterclass in running online workshops.
Updated future plans
My focus is on my PhD thesis for much of this year. Once that is done, I will explore plans for post-PhD activities. Over the last three years, I have made effective use of my Outlook tasks as part of this planning. As interesting opportunities in reviewing, external examining, research groups and activities have appeared, I have saved these in a “post PhD” folder. That will be my starting point, but my first plan will be to rest, focus on my wellbeing and recharge my brain batteries. With that in mind, I intend spending a few months reconnecting with family, friends and colleagues who have been supporting me as I focused on my studies. I will also be making frequent trips to my local library and losing myself in the fiction section.
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 January 2022.
McAvinia, C., O’Keefe, M., & Donnelly, R. (2022). What, So What, Now What? Covid-19 as a Critical Incident in Practice. The SEDA Blog, January 26, 2002. https://thesedablog.wordpress.com/2022/01/26/covid-19-as-a-critical-incident-in-practice/#more-1274