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Q2: Where should educational technologists be 'positioned'?

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Rebecca Galley
26 August 2009

' for TEL is provided by a wide range of units. There is a differentiation of roles within the different support units ranging from technical support to pedagogic support. Of the different types of support units post-92 institutions have larger Education Development Units with greater numbers of academically orientated support staff. Pre-92 institutions appear to propvide more support locally suggesting a more devolved provision'. (Browne et al., 2008, p. 7)

Does the literature confirm this view and what diversity is evident?

Extra content

This link is to a Symposium session at the 2004 Networked Learning conference entitled ‘Learning Technologists: split personality of community of practice’, organised by Susan Armitage from Lancaster.  The three papers in the session represented views from the researcher, the academic and the ‘learning technologist’.  Within this is a discussion about who are the learning technologists.

Martin Jenkins
09:21 on 4 September 2009

This CloudScape is going international!  I've recently receieved directly a bundle of very interesting papers and reports from Laura Czerniewicz   I enclose the details on a July 2006 REport in the references above.  (UPDATE: Also see Link below, added by Laura to access document)

Section 3.3 entitled 'Organisational Forms' is of particular interest.   Though written for a South African context, it could just as easily reflect UK HEIs, individually and collectively.  She highlights a multitude of institutional settings and job titles and structures that reflect local cultures etc.  Also the 'divide' between the roles of support, development, research and teaching along traditional academic/non-academic lines.  I was enchanted by the sentence ' ... report has touched upon the relationship at institutional level, between individuals, emerging organisational forms, roles and practices and current uncoordinated policy frameworks'.  

Tom Browne
14:37 on 30 September 2009 (Edited 14:38 on 5 January 2010)

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lynne gornall
12:24am 3 September 2009

I have argued that these staff are 'in between' boundaries and categories (academic, support) but it may be that there is a movement towards core employment, and alignment of the centrality of the ET staff with the ET/L&T mission. Nevertheless, there is something of the 'other' about ET staff because their roles are not inscribed in the HE employment history (or current statistics) as other roles are, they have hybrid roles and may have come into HE from outside education - feel free to disagree with this by the way! Operating a bit 'below the radar' can be useful of course in getting things done. [REFS : I can supply doc for Gornall, 1999]. Other refs - you'll know Ray Land's work, also look up Christine Musselin. Perhaps others see the 'positioning' in a different way - mine is about occupational categories and identity. I have also played about with a folk taxonomy around this, but one for a separate post!

Tom Browne
3:57pm 4 September 2009

And I'd like to thank Fred Garnett for bringing to my attention the reference:

Godwin, P (2005) Making Life Easier for Academics How librarians can help staff weather the technological storm . JeLit 2(2).  The abstract begins:

'Academic staff are the key to influencing student acceptance of information literacy. Therefore librarians need to concentrate on academic perceptions and interest in information literacy.'

So a linkage is made with students,  and librarians are performing many of the roles we ascribe to 'educational technologists'.  So some challenges re. place and function with respect to 'positioning'.


Helen Beetham
9:33am 11 September 2009

In our original 2001 study we found 'learning technology staff' positioned in a wide range of central service roles (library and learning resources, IT, what was then called access, educational development, staff development, learning development, media services) as well as in departments, and in hybrid locations.

Has there been a diversification of roles around these different locations, or are LT staff still doing very complex and hybrid roles wherever they are positioned?

Juliette Culver
9:28pm 14 September 2009

It'd be interesting too to look at how the role differs according to position and what interactions occur between learning technologists in different positions in the same institution. I worked as a learning technologist in a faculty at a university where there was also a central e-learning team and the ways that I worked with them were quite subtle and complex sometimes.


Tom Browne
9:56am 15 September 2009

Juliette, this is indeed a fascinating arena.  Have a look at the Stiles and Yourke re. noted in References above.  In their Abstract is the sentence 'New initiatives to address the tensions between the need for an organisation to control its processes and need of practitioners to experiment and innovate have begun', and in the Introduction '.. the relationship between control and innovation is a difficult one'.  Probably an understatement!   I'll make a connection here, which I don't think is so far from the truth, that the 'centre' would have a focus more on control and the 'periphery' would have a focus more on innovation.  Having worked in a central support environment for much of my working life I have experienced the tensions of attempting to uphold the 'enterprise' model of fully supported but arguably slow moving infrastructure whilst being challenged by the 'destructrive periphery' of fast moving novel ideas and a different sense of ownership. See also the Shurville and Browne (2009) paper in Q5.   

Juliette Culver
10:55am 16 September 2009

There's definitely the tension between innovation and control. From my personal experience, I also found that in a faculty, I was much closer to the community of practice of the group of academics in that faculty than the central learning technologists were, which changes things in lots of ways. Another difference was that I was working for the academics (e.g. my line manager was an academic in the faculty) whereas the central learning technologists were working for the university administration/senior management which has an affect on what is expected of your role.

I also used to sometimes bring in the central learning technologists as 'experts' on a topic, even though they didn't necessarily have any more expertise than I did, because it was sometimes useful to have a third-party deliver opinions to the academics on e.g. why what they had planned wouldn't work!

Obviously this is all my personal experience though, and I haven't actually seen any literature on anything related to this!

Martin Oliver
3:32pm 25 September 2009

I've argued before that it's really important that Learning Technologists don't "go native" within one specific department (or other homogenous context). For me, part of their expertise comes from crossing contexts (which in this case, I understand in terms of consistent pedagogic practices), so that they can see, through the contrasts, the assumptions that are made in each context that might otherwise be overlooked. It also means that they can build up a body of "case law" (or case lore?) from which they can draw when working with academics. Pointers to practices that an academic within their disciplinary context might never notice - even if they take place in a teaching room down the hall from their office - can be a powerful way of sharing practice.

Oliver, M. (2002) What do Learning Technologists Do? Innovations in Education and Training International, 39 (4), 245-252. 

Tom Browne
2:26pm 29 September 2009

Martin's 2002 paper is a great read.  And I love the title.  It can be said with so many different emphases, particularly on both the 'do's. 

I'm uncertain whether we can legitimately include as literature  the very lively discussion on ALT-MEMBERS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK, but it is running in parallel to this CloudScape.  In fact the conversation on alt-members was kicked off inadvertently by my emailing to that list when I wanted to inform everyone about this CloudScape.  It has tapped into many frustrations, angsts and  bold assertions.  The floodgates opened.     On reflection, I will draw upon the contributions on that mailing list, as a sort of 'grey' literature.  If you are not a subscriber, then you can do so and pick up the back-chat on the archives.


Rebecca Galley
2:30pm 29 September 2009

Perhaps you could summarise the discussion and add it to this Cloud as content? I think that would be really interesting.

Tom Browne
2:33pm 29 September 2009


I agree.  Exactly my intention. 

Martin Oliver
3:13pm 29 September 2009

[laughs] Thanks for the nice comments about that paper. I have always rather liked having such a direct title for an article; so many end up rather obscure!

Re the JISCmail list: I can't seem to find an archive of this, which is a shame. Does anyone know where the messages might be hosted? Do be careful in reporting on this, as it does risk straying from literature review into new empirical work - which would need a methodology and so on and might just complicate things.

Tom Browne
8:11am 30 September 2009 (Edited 12:30pm 5 October 2009)

The archive is available at:  It is a 'closed' list in JISCMail terminology, so only subscribers can access it.    I don't know what restrictions there are on being able to subscribe but a good place to start is

Martin's caution on weaving any of the sentiments expressed on  alt-members  into my report to the HEA is of course very sound.   I have raised this conversation with him privately but that is probably against the spirit of using CloudScape to I will rehearse it here too.    In an early draft of the text before it went public, I had asked folk to explicitly contribute via Cloudworks and to always focus their contributions around the literature.  I had some text that explicitly said that I was not looking to generate another diatribe of opinions etc.  For the sake of economy (and I was also advised that such text could sound very patronising and overly directive) this text did not survive into the live version.
 Now of course we have an extensive conversation outside Cloudworks with an exchange of literature-free opinions!   Do I ignore this material or can I in some way regard it has (highly contemporary!) 'grey' literature and weave it into the more orthodox approach I had intended?   I'd like to experiment with the latter, but only in so far as it complements the literature because otherwise, as Martin says, I ought to employ a different methodology.  I'd greatly value any feedback on this condundrum.

Martin Oliver
9:25am 30 September 2009

Thanks for that link. For some reason, I counted as logged into JISCmail under my Academy account, and so it was hiding alt-members which I'm subscribed to under my IoE one...


My inclination would be to include but contain the analysis of the discussion in a discrete section, rather than interweaving it with other material. That section could have its own little explanation, methodology and so on, and then the outcomes from that could be integrated with outcomes from the literature through subsequent discussion. It doesn't avoid the mess entirely, but at least it's contained!

Juliette Culver
9:26am 30 September 2009

Hi Tom,

I wonder if the thing to do is just to regard the non-literature conversation as necessary 'smalltalk' (although it's obviously more than that) around discussing the literature? And think of the more general discussion as a trojan horse of sorts to motivate people to mention the literature that they know?



Laura Czerniewicz
9:49am 2 October 2009 (Edited 10:23am 5 October 2009)

Delighted that the Landscape document resonated for you and the UK Tom, its always reassuring when these issues are shared! In fact that document is available at

(It is the other one that is not online)

Best wishes, Laura


Gráinne Conole
9:31am 8 October 2009

Thanks for the link Barbara - looks like a really interesting report!

Martin Oliver
11:23am 19 October 2009 (Edited 11:25am 19 October 2009)

Thought I'd post this up - it's an email from Seb on the ALT members list:

Date:   Fri, 16 Oct 2009 09:01:53 +0100
From:    Seb Schmoller <seb.schmoller@ALT.AC.UK>
Subject: New professionals and new technologies in new higher education? : Conceptualising struggles in the field

Given recent discussions on this list, some members may be interested in
Alison Hudson's successfully defended PhD Thesis "New professionals and
new technologies in new higher education?: Conceptualising struggles in
the field".

It is available in full from:

Seb Schmoller

Tom Browne
12:35pm 19 October 2009


thanks for this.  Grainne brought our attention to her work in Q6 but at that point her website did not say she has 'successfully defended' her PhD.  Getting Seb's email was great timing!

Alison notes that the environment within educational technologists and related professionals function is:

..  affected by the shifting value of social, cultural and economic capital in the constantly changing higher education, are subject to struggle regarding ‘position’ and agency and are susceptible to the demands of new power regimes and technological solutions.


An argument of the thesis is for a more cohesive approach to educational development in higher education which embraces learning technologies and higher education policy. Furthermore, this thesis suggests that the balance of power and the value placed on social, cultural and economic capital in the knowledge economy of higher education is shifting; from teaching and learning towards change and ‘innovation’ underpinned by new technologies, business imperatives and new forms of management.

Just so.

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