It never ceases to amaze me how we all start out pretty much the same, bar a few genetic differences, and yet we all turn out so different! In my case, I can see how a combination of lucky genes, upbringing and life experiences have shaped me to become the person that I am, at this moment in time... including my career path and ambitions. It would take a lot of space to give you all the details, and the vast majority of it would be deathly boring, but here are a few snippets of my story that have shaped and developed me to become an e-learning designer.
It is often difficult to separate out nature from nurture and certainly, there is a lot of overlap. However, I had barely any contact with my biological father and only minimal contact with his father, so I can say with a degree of confidence that much of my edtechie ability and interest is genetic. My grandfather was at Bletchley Park and although I don't know much about his work there, I remember him showing me artefacts that would point to a serious interest in computers and coding. My only real memories of time spent with my father was tinkering with early computers and gaming devices, writing code in BASIC and the best lesson about computers and the only useful life lesson he ever taught me, which is that computers don't make mistakes - they only do what they are programmed to do. If a computer does something wrong, look first at the human element!
When I started teaching in 1993, you were lucky if schools had a couple of standalone computers. I remember standing at the duplicating machine, running off worksheets by furiously turning a large handle. At home, we had an Amstrad word processor and felt like we were right up there with new technologies. Around that time, I also acquired my first ever mobile phone. It made phone calls and sent basic texts... at a huge cost and only if you could balance on one leg with your arms in the air to catch a signal!
Whilst my children were young, I was self-employed as a private tutor. Computers were new and although I used my Tiny PC to produce professional looking worksheets, I can't say that there was much impact on learning. Technology was more of a tool to save time creating hand crafted resources. However, by the time I returned to teaching in primary schools in 2001, computers and IT suites were the norm and new educational technology was just beginning to burst forth.
SmartBoards were brand new. Most people had never heard of them. I got lucky! My school was chosen to pilot the first SmartBoards, receive lots of training and find out how this new tech could impact on learning and teaching. It was amazing! I saw disengaged children come to life! It enabled the most difficult concepts to be taught in a new way and things that I had previously struggled to teach could now be modelled on a big screen in ways that made it easier. One example was teaching children to measure angles with a protractor. This used to take forever to teach, with a tiny plastic protractor and small groups leaning over and trying to see. Now, the whole class could see, discuss, manipulate and measure angles... and it worked.
In 2004, I was successfully assessed as an Advanced Skills Teacher (AST). At the time, that was a serious accolade of my ability to get children learning. My specialism was educational technology, which by then included early Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). In my new role, I kept my teaching focus in school but also spent one day per week working across the local authority with teachers and schools, to introduce and embed technology in order to raise standards and improve behaviour and pupil engagement. I was in my element! I began attending edtech conferences and using social media to keep my knowledge up to date and ensure that no new technology could appear without my knowledge.
Although my career was heading in a fairly predictable direction, in 2009 everything changed as we emigrated to Finland. There were many reasons behind this but the high educational standards and success with technology were definitely a factor. I was somewhat shocked to discover that educational technology had barely taken off and things like interactive whiteboards were unheard of. So now, rather than keeping up with the new, I spent four years introducing and embedding technologies that were the norm in the UK. I could see that from a learning perspective, Finland had got most things right. They really understand the nature of how people learn and in quite simple and common sense ways, they just get on with it and reap amazing results. I wanted to see how much more this could be improved with technology, so by the time I left in 2013, I felt that I was leaving a very positive legacy that my school would be able to share with others. Meanwhile, my understanding of learning theory had been reignited.
Back in the UK, I worked as an Area Manager in Adult and Community Learning and continued my edtech passion to improve learning across four adult learning centres. Alongside this, I studied for my Master's degree in Online and Distance Learning, with the intention of moving into e-learning design and content creation. In my role as Area Manager - Digital, I upgraded the entire IT infrastructure for our organisation, provided staff training in interactive technologies to improve learning and worked with our Moodle-based VLE and other online tools to improve access to online learning.