Sometimes you need a fish before you want to catch one
Quick gains for long term change…
The adage goes
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Teaching people to fish (or academic staff to adopt technology to enhance their teaching) is an underpinning principle of what we do. All too often you hear stories of a fantastic teaching resource which promptly ‘fell over’ or stopped working as soon as specialist technical input was no longer available. You really needed the technical skills too…but the ability to create your own online materials, film and edit video, live broadcast to your audience, and more has arrived in the palm of the hand of anyone with a smartphone. However just having a rod or net doesn’t get you a fish. You have to learn the best way to use it.
A large part of the work of Learning Designers (technologists and whatever other term is applied to our role) is concerned with sustainability and efficiency. Our Learning Design Team works with Faculties to provide scaffolded and bespoke staff development at personal and strategic levels. It’s more than the essential frontline technical support and doesn’t fit into ‘generic’ sessions offered by central Professional Development. Often we become the co-ordinating point in a network, putting academic staff into contact with more specific services and helping to maintain alignment with Faculty or University strategy. So we can teach academic staff to fish and then happily wave them off on their journey, right? Not quite.
It takes time and effort to learn how to fish. As a well-known chocolate bar advert sagely tells us…”You’re not you when you’re hungry“. We have people who are already under pressure, with little additional time to develop into new areas which are often outside their comfort zones; they are already hungry. What they want is an actual fish. Right now.
I am a scientist disguised as a Learning Designer; I come from a research-based STEM background. As an academic I want data and details. If someone offered to teach me to fish I would be one of those people asking annoying, but important, questions before saying “Yes please!”.
“How big is the fish?”
“How many of them are there?”
“How long will it take? ” (I’ll settle for an average, if I have to)
“How tasty is it?”
“Do I have to pay for the rod/net? How much?”
Generally speaking; I want to know what I’m letting myself in for, and it’s understandable that our Faculty staff have similar questions when it comes to adopting technology in teaching, rather than give up time and effort for a promise of better things.
So long, and thanks for all the fish…
As a result I’m finding that actions usually viewed as ‘unsustainable’, such as uploading a question sets into platforms, creating webpages, or embedding social media feeds into Blackboard, e.g. ‘doing it for them’ turn out to be a decent, tasty, fish that convinces someone it’s worth some investment to learn how to catch a few more. Once a resource is created, the academic can spend time focussed on learning parts of the system. They can see the benefits more quickly. Furthermore, they aren’t spending significant effort to overcome the multiple barriers that prevented them from making the initial transition.
So, although sustainability remains one of our core principles, I’m updating that old adage:
Give someone a fish and they will want to learn how to fish (most of the time!).