What kind of work does a learning technologist do in EAP? This is a job title that’s only come into existence in the last few years so there’s naturally some confusion about what it involves. For me at least it often involves explaining that I don’t know how to fix a jammed printer and have you tried turning it off and back on again? A little facetious maybe but there’s a natural confusion as to what kind of things we are actually responsible for and what not. Perhaps to give a brief glimpse of the kind of work we do (or could do), I’ll describe the roles and routines that me and my learning technology colleagues have during the summer school at the university of Sheffield.
We have a big summer school. I mean really big. 1500 students spread out over 7-8 different buildings, just over 100 teachers, 30-40 of whom are just brought in for the summer. For support there are 3 Directors of Studies and 9 Assistant Directors of Studies. And there are 3 full-time learning technologists to help support teachers and students throughout the summer.
Now, having three of us might seem like overkill, especially given that many centres get by with one or no learning technologists. But we are needed. With so many students and teachers coming in who might be unfamiliar with the hardware and software systems in place at the university, there is a clear need for a network of support.
To put that in more concrete terms, here are some of the things that we are responsible for during the summer.
During induction week for teachers, we provide training sessions on the following topics: basic introduction to technology at the university; the university VLE; Google Drive; Turnitin; Google Class room.
Once the classes have started, we provide digital literacy training for all pre-sessional students. The students coming for ten weeks receive 4.5 hours training and those coming for six weeks receive 3 hours training. These sessions include basic things such as printing and accessing online Services as well as guidance on using the university VLE and online library, citation and article management and presentation tools.
These sessions are not optional for students and are fully integrated into their programme. But we also offer optional weekly sessions for both teachers and students on a range of tech subjects.
With nearly 80 pre-sessional classes, this is not a trivial undertaking and even with 3 learning technologists we have to take groups three at a time into large computer rooms to make sure we are able to give them the training and not disrupt the academic syllabus too much.
When we’re not in class, we’re providing email support for teachers and students struggling with any aspect of technology as well as writing guides for anything we feel might be useful for them. This might be on how to use a particular website for teaching or something much smaller such as how to set up a filter on their email account.
Most of these guides go up onto our teacher and student portals, websites we set up in the summer to provide quick access to information. With so many teachers and students distributed across so many sites, we find this the easiest way to update people and also cut down on the number of email conversations that need to take place.
The feedback we get from the students and teachers at the end of the summer school is generally very positive. It’s very easy to assume that most teachers and students are digitally literate enough to cope with all these things themselves but from our experience that hasn’t turned out to be true. For teachers who have never worked on a pre-sessional course, there’s no particular reason why they should be familiar with Blackboard or Turnitin. And for students, while they may be digitally literate in some ways – such as the use of mobile devices and social media – that doesn’t necessarily mean they have developed good academic digital literacy skills such as article and reference management or effective use of presentation software.
Throughout the academic year, we only have two learning technologists on staff and we both teach at the same time as providing technology support for the teachers. But we are still kept very busy even with a smaller number of teachers and students and we continue to do the same things we did during the summer throughout the rest of the year.
I think every EAP centre should have a learning technologist in place, even if it’s just a teacher with a small amount of remission to provide informal advice and help to colleagues and students.
Talking to some people in EAP, I get the feeling that they think that technology is just a fad and if they ignore it long enough, it will simply disappear (or they’ll reach retirement before it becomes an issue for them). But it’s not going anywhere, and we’ll continue to fail and undeserve our teachers and students if we act as if it doesn’t exist. And it can do wondrous things. Just as a simple example: the mobile phones in our students’ pockets are incredibly powerful devices and better that we explore how they can be used productively for learning rather than blanket banning them and then students secretly using them in class anyhow.
What about where you work? Do you have a person filling a similar role or think you should have someone? Let us know in the comments.