Friday, 26 April 2013

A day in the life of a learning technologist

When people ask me what I do, I don’t normally tell them I’m a learning technologist since it sounds like one of those euphemistic titles made up by HR departments to make menial jobs sound grander or to describe a job that doesn’t have any real responsibilities. Instead, I tell people ‘I’m a teacher who also helps teachers and students to use technology in the classroom’ and that actually is a pretty good description of what I do. But I still have a nagging feeling that people don’t really understand what I do, they think I’m a computer technician who fixes laptops or - possibly worse - they think I don’t do very much at all. So, in the spirit of helping people to grasp what a learning technologist actually does, here’s a description of all the things I did in one day, Tuesday April 23rd.

8.55: get into work at the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) and sit down at my desk. Classes start at 9.15 and there’s often teachers needing help with finding bits of equipment or need help using a particular device. This is really our computer technician’s job, but he’s stretched very thin and is often somewhere else fixing something. A teacher comes in needing video cameras for some recording he’s going to do in class, I help him find them and quickly go over how to use them.

9.05: a teacher in my office wants to watch a video on BBC iplayer on her computer but there are issues with Adobe Flash and it needs to be updated so I log in as admin and update it for her.

9.10: I finally sit down at my desk and turn on my computer. I’m currently the main tutor on an online teacher training course (CELTA) we’re running so I make sure I spend the first ten to fifteen minutes in the morning checking on the course activity and forum posts. There are a couple of forum posts to respond to so I spend ten minutes or so writing those and then reply to a few emails.

9.30: I meet with a teacher to induct him in how to be a tutor for our online writing advisory service. The ELTC offers an online writing advisory service for distance learning students (see this post for more info) and as the service grows, I need to train more teachers in how to use the Google Drive/Docs system we have in place to respond to students’ essays. We sit down in our staffroom with a couple of Chromebooks and go through it together.

10.10: sit back down to deal with a couple more emails but interrupted by a teacher who is in the computer room with her class. One of her students can’t save a document on to his account because he’s reached his storage limit. I go along to see if I can help, realise he’s got loads of audio files taking up space and phone up CICS to get his storage increased. Problem solved.

10.30: earlier in the morning I’d read about a couple of online tools that integrate with Google Drive called Learnly and Video Notes, the first is for providing audio feedback on Google Docs, the second for making notes on You Tube videos. I’m so impressed by Video Notes I decide to create a quick screencast explaining how to use it and embed it in our teacher resource site. Then I write an email letting teachers know where to find it and also mention a few other tech-related news items. 

Our teacher resource site and the screencast embedded

12:00: Later in the afternoon I have an online writing advisory video tutorial with a distance learning student based in Ghana. I need to take a look at the student’s essay before the tutorial so I spend an hour checking through his essay on Google Docs and make some comments.

13.15: a teacher has recorded some videos of students speaking in his class, but now doesn’t know what to do so that the students can see them. I sit with him at his desk and show him how to upload them to his university You Tube account and make the videos unlisted so that only the students can see them.

13.30: lunchtime....

14.15: Time for my online writing advisory appointment, I find an empty classroom, connect with him through Google+ Hangouts and we have a really productive 30-minute chat about his essay. 

The online writing advisory appointment using Google Docs and Hangouts

14.50: a teacher comes to me looking for help with some dictaphones she’s using in class with her students. They’ve recorded themselves speaking but when they play them back, they’re at double speed. We’ve had this problem before so I go down and quickly help adjust the settings so they play back normally.

15.00: break....

15.15: a teacher in our office needs help creating a contact group in Gmail so he can send emails out to the whole class. We sit down at his desk and go through how to do it.

15.30: In the evening two trainees on our CELTA teacher training course will be coming in to teach students and the usual trainer who observes them is absent, so I’m stepping in for today. I need to take a look at their lesson plans and write some comments on them so I spend the next forty-five minutes doing that and also setting up the observation template forms I use when watching them.

16.45: normally at this time I’m getting ready to go home, but today I’m staying later so I make my way down to the classroom to observe the trainees teach. The lesson lasts for 80 minutes (each trainee teaching forty minutes) and when it’s over we spend 30 minutes discussing and reflecting on the lesson.

19.00: finally, time to go home...a longer day than normal and I’m exhausted...

Apart from its unusual length, this is a fairly typical day for me, a mix of online teaching, dealing with technical issues as they crop up, preparing guides and materials for teachers and students and face to face teaching. Now, I’ve got no idea if this is at all representative of what other learning technologists do, I reckon some things here might ring a bell with some of you but I’m sure you have many unique tasks that are relevant only to your department or working situation. In fact I’d be fascinated to know a little bit about your working days and whether you’re involved more on the technical side or the academic side or an even mixture of both. And at least now if someone looks sceptical about your job title, you can point them in the direction of this post and say ‘see, see, it is a real job!’.


  1. Interesting piece David - thanks for sharing, I think a lot of us can vouch for the issues in trying to explain what we do for a living - I decided a couple of years ago to just say, 'I try and get people to work like me' - which can sound a tad arrogant (which is not its intention), but that's how it's felt for a while now. What would be useful would be to create a Venn Diagram sort of thing that includes librarians, technicians, LTs, teachers and information specialists - we'd find a lot of cross-over themes which would be useful, and also find out the other more specialised knowledge which could be worth a lot more in the long term.

  2. Thanks Andy, and you're right that it is often a case of getting people to work like you, not in the sense of 'I know better than you', it's more the case that we've discovered all these great tools that can make your working life so much easier and we want to be able to share them with as many people as possible. Mendeley (which you are very familiar with!) is a great case in point. This morning I sat down with a teacher who's starting her Phd and went through how to use Mendeley with her. The look of joy on her face at end when she realised that she wasn't going to have to type out all her references one by one was a sight to behold.

  3. Hi David,
    yes it is indeed a very interesting piece - perhaps we could interest you in writing one for our "week in the life of....." series for the ALT newsletter? The whole issue of professional identity for learning technologists is certainly a fairly frequently recurring theme across the sector and discipline, probably because there is no real formal qualification that one normally gets in this field, apart from the CMALT accreditation scheme. Also the profession as such is still quite new - so the learning tech job I started doing in 1992 was one of the first of its kind in the country. Both seem to result in a lack of formal recognition of the discipline, which is also why there seems to be little consensus in where to locate learning technology teams in various instituions around the country.



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