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Visibility, Autonomy and Control
October 28, 2009 - 8:48pm

We had the Cornell Interactive Theater CITE come to campus this week to offer workshops on communication issues specific to working in the academy.

HR workshops on gender, race, harassment and communication are, in my experience, not productive. The work that CITE does is the exception. Perhaps since the CITE actors emerged out of academia, know our culture, and speak our language, they are able to offer relevant and engaging scenarios that spark authentic discussions.

The audience for today's workshop was made up primarily of mid-level administrators. As I listened to their reactions to the scenarios around status, communication and hierarchy that emerged from scenario that the CITE actors played out for us I began to reflect on what a lucky and privileged position that learning technologists enjoy.

Learning technologists live and work in a strange netherworld between the academic and the administrative. We work directly on courses, with faculty, often with students - yet we clearly lack the status and privileges of faculty members. Learning technologists see themselves as educators, yet are often viewed as technologists. Status, for learning technologists, is constantly negotiated.

The CITE workshop was a helpful reminder that despite the need to negotiate status (and claim a place at the strategic table), learning technologists enjoy numerous benefits that remain rare outside ranks of the tenured faculty. Learning technologists have strong degrees of visibility, autonomy and control.

Visibility: Learning technologists are out-and-about on campus. Since so much of the success of our jobs depends on both establishing relationships and getting the word out about our services it is important that we participate in campus events. We give workshops for faculty and administrators on the ed. tech platforms and tools that we support. Increasingly these workshops start with the education and learning goals first (active learning, collaboration, etc. etc.), with discussion of the technologies as tools to support the learning and teaching goals.

Autonomy: Since we work on courses and course design, almost always in collaboration with instructors, we have the freedom to structure our own time around these large projects. Some of our time is spent reactively dealing with problems and issues around the learning technologies that we manage and support, but most of our time (ideally) is spent proactively working with faculty colleagues and learning and then teaching various methods and tools.

Control: Learning technologists also enjoy a strong degree of control of the tools and techniques we utilize to accomplish our jobs. We choose the software that we utilize to author training materials, develop learning objects, and collaborate with peers. Learning technologists are often at the center of the evaluation and selection process for campus wide enterprise learning applications, whether it be the LMS or lecture capture platform. And we decide the best way to train and support our community on these tools.

To this list I'd also add the gift of collegiality. Interacting with learning technology professionals at annual conferences, professional development events, and online communities helps us understand that we are part of a large, vibrant and progressive community of practice.

I don't mean to argue that life is perfect in our profession. Learning technologists do not enjoy the status and the protected rights of our faculty colleagues. We do not get tenure, and are therefore more vulnerable to budget cuts and layoffs. Our roles and responsibilities are often poorly understood by our colleagues. All too often we are seen as "support", rather then as colleagues.

But I think that our discipline is moving towards a place of greater strategic importance. Learning technologists will play a critical part in the structural shift towards a student-based and active learning approach to course design and delivery. We should remember to count our blessings for the gifts of visibility, autonomy and control that learning technologists are fortunate enough to enjoy.

What do you think? Is my assessment of the day-to-day lived reality of the job of learning technologists too rosy? Do learning technologists really have the best jobs in academia?


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