Macquarie University is located in Sydney, Australia. With over 45 000 students (Macquarie University, 2017), it draws not only from the surrounding suburbs but also internationally; in 2017 26% of the student population overall, and 44% of postgraduate students were on international visas (Australian University Rankings, 2018). Twenty-seven percent of students study part-time; as a proportion of domestic students, this is approximately 37% (Macquarie University, 2017).
It’s 2pm and I’m just finishing a shift at the InfoDesk, helping students who drop by the Library. Mostly, students have questions about assignments; what does the question mean? How should I organise my answer? Is my introduction OK? Is my writing style OK for an academic essay?
Back at my desk, it’s my turn to lead the daily team InfoDesk update: which assignments (and students) are appearing regularly and how I approached them. Then I settle in to some quiet work: I review some digital teaching content in preparation for a feedback meeting with another team tomorrow. I see on my calendar a workshop to redesign one of the Library’s webpages and make a mental note to contact the new manager of Orientation to discuss the plans—six months out— for next session’s Orientation.
I’m a Learning Adviser in the Learning Skills Unit at Macquarie University Library. I work directly with students to help them develop academic, writing and (increasingly) digital skills. I also advise/collaborate with academic and professional staff to design, develop and deliver learning opportunities within courses, programs and events (such as Orientation). The teaching, advising and collaboration might take place either face-to-face or online. I also lead the comms strategy for our team (and support the wider Library comms strategy) across a variety of platforms.
Some of my work takes place at specific times during semester, while other activities sit within structured projects. The official job description mentions skills in:
- textual analysis and language feedback
- pedagogy and curriculum (including assessment)
- project management (scoping, structuring, completing according to an agreed plan)
- developing/ maintaining productive working relationships with faculties, departments, and professional staff
- working within university frameworks and policies.
However, increasingly my teaching, resource development, communication and collaboration is taking place online. This necessitates an expanding set of technical skills, but more importantly different ways of thinking about learning design. Since starting in my current role in 2014, I’ve consciously extended my skills in the digital space.
At my first job teaching ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) in the late 80’s, technology meant video- and audio-cassettes, used in class and managed by the teacher. In my second position, the Intensive English Centre had a language lab with banks of stand-alone computers with video/audio games saved on floppy disks. Activities in the language lab were generally drill based, imposed on the learner and completed individually. There were frequently problems getting the computers to run the software for lessons, so booking lab time seemed pointless.
Then followed several years where I worked as an examiner and test writer for paper-based proficiency testing (testing spoken and written English language proficiency for IELTS, the International English Language Testing System) and had little interaction with learning technologies.
In 2007, when I returned to English for Academic purposes and higher education, a shift had taken place. My new employer, Macquarie University, had recently launched an online Learning Management System (LMS), at that time hosted by Blackboard. Wi-fi was available on campus (encouraging the use of BYOD) and users could access Library and LMS systems remotely.
However, although new technologies were in place, pedagogy lagged behind. Within the Masters courses I was studying, digital resources consisted of pdfs of scanned readings and worksheets, or of long slabs of text on screen. Images (if any) tended to be decorative and the rare videos were lengthy. Lectures were recorded. At the English Language Centre where I taught English for Academic Purposes, the use of learning technology was slightly more adventurous: the LMS released in 2010 housed classroom resources (such as listening texts, video clips and links to websites), a variety of optional homework activities (ranging from drill-based activities to discussion forums) and links for submitting assignments via similarity software Turnitin.
Searching across the internet for digital resources to recommend to my students, I noticed that some resources were more effective than others, learning what made for effective elearning in a very hands-on way. By then end of my time at the ELC, I was
- recommending speech-to-text apps as a tool to improve pronunciation,
- reviewing the language software in the Independent Learning Centre to recommend resources to students and staff.
- creating and uploading resources to the LMS for students to access independently (although many of these I’d see now as too text-heavy).
I was very aware, however, that digital pedagogy was evolving rapidly and I was keen to learn more.
When I commenced my current role in 2014, I seized opportunities to experiment with elearning, using:
- (Moodle) quizzes to encourage active learning and learning by doing
- polling tools (Socrative, Poll Everywhere) to make large-group sessions more engaging and more interactive
- workshops to introduce students to various digital tools for study
- elearning solutions to requests by academics and other teams (animations, Turnitin activities, static and interactive guides) to create sustainable, at-scale support
- just-in-time content housed within the LMS, following UX design principles
- social media tools to reach the university community in new ways.
My pedagogical approach and choice of tools has varied according to the needs of each brief. During this time my activities have widened: from creating and experimenting by myself, to working on team projects and leading projects.
I’ve also been a learner in the digital space: taking MOOCs and cMOOCs, participating in webinars and Twitterchats. Experiencing e-learning has allowed me to reflect on what does and doesn’t work. I’ve also passed on my knowledge through in-house training, reviewing projects, writing product reviews for journals and presenting at conferences.
Preparing my CMALT portfolio has made me realise how little of my work is visible. For several years now I’ve worked across roles and teams within a single institution; as a result, I’ve haven’t prioritised curating evidence of my activities and skills. This portfolio has thus become the start of a long-term project to document my work.
Gaining CMALT accreditation will also help me to gain recognition for my evolving skillset. My role as a Learning Adviser is morphing; whereas previously I mostly supported students face-to-face, increasingly my teaching, learning and working takes place digitally. I’d like demonstrate the extent of my skills, and to show my commitment to continuous learning.
Participating in the CMALT cMOOC while preparing the portfolio has also reminded me how important it is to connect with others. I’m hoping this will be start of regular dialogue (and, who knows? perhaps collaboration) with colleagues outside my institution.
And on a personal note, a portfolio will be useful for reflecting on projects and achievements, strategising ways to improve, and addressing—or at least questioning—gaps in my abilities. And hopefully, provide encouragement for times when I don’t feel particularly productive.
Australian University Rankings (2018). International Student University Enrolment Numbers. Retrieved Oct 18 2018, http://www.universityrankings.com.au/international-student-numbers.html
Macquarie University (2017). Macquarie University Annual report 2017 (Volume 1). Retrieved from https://www.mq.edu.au/about/about-the-university/governance/annual-reports