Saturday, 30 December 2017

An employability check ☑

During my search for new employment throughout the last 12 months+ I had applied for many jobs and attended interviews.  Beyond the disappointment of not getting some of the jobs, which turned out to be great as it led me to the job I am in today.  The whole experience was useful as some sort of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) exercise to get a bit more informed about employability.  I have seen how some organisations respond to applications, cover letters, questioning at interviews and even checking out my online presence during an interview!

Applications

I used to be very anal about my applications where I would take the job specification and copy the criteria into a Microsoft Word document.  I would write my responses of evidence and demonstration of experience in some sort of assignment style, which could become lengthy.  This was effective as it got me interviews, but I found it such a slog to do for each job.  But a good thing is that  you save it as a template and rework it for the next job you want to apply for.

However, when applying for non-public sector jobs I found that employers only wanted a cover letter and a CV, which is very common in this sector.  So I produced a very informative cover letter that wasn't too lengthy and described myself and related to the job I was applying for - again this worked well and got me interviews.  However, when I came across some public sector jobs, I found that they were interested in having a cover letter as well as a written application.  Again this is common, but I haven't supplied a cover letter in the past as my application pretty much did that.  I tried the private sector approach to the public sector vacancies and used the cover letter format demonstrating only the best aspects of me to get instant interest.  Yes you would think this would be common sense and was widely known, but as I had been employed at a further education college for just about 7 years, this turned out to be a CPD exercise as I mentioned earlier.

Employers responded well to my short detailed cover letter and from now on I will use this approach.  I liked how I introduced myself, evidenced my qualifications and demonstrated experience whilst relating it to the position.  I even put in hyperlinks to pieces of work I had captured on this blog.  This proved useful for an interview I attended later.  Plus, employers will search on you, so you might as well give them the correct and accurate sites you want them to find.

Interviews

I experienced that most private sector organisations are a lot slower in their recruitment processes.  Which I think is a positive move as many public sector jobs rush to get someone in and don't carefully consider the people they are taking on.  In the private sector I also had a few informal interviews where we got acquainted and had an informal chat about myself and the role, which would then lead onto a full interview.  However, as long-drawn it may seem you do want to know as soon as possible if you have been successful or not.

In some interviews I experienced they didn't tend to prompt me for more information.  When I was younger I definitely remember the interview panel trying to get more information out of me if I was a bit quieter or not meeting any criteria.  It's such a shame because the best candidate will slip through the employer's fingers as they have not go to know the person more.  I'm not saying they have to get to know them well enough to be best buddies but see beyond the administration.  In the long it will save them time and money if that person decides to leave.  If there is an interesting candidate, employers should take the time to prompt them on areas that may spark a memory that they can explain and expand more on.  You could say the candidate should be more prepared but nothing ever goes fully to plan even if you prepare for every question and event of an interview.  You just don't know what will be asked or happen.  Everyone has potential to get the job and it's the interviewers' critical task to ensure they delve into that potential of a candidate, even if it is not instant.  Employers should critically look at the candidate's CV and professional history - as you would normally expect.  Employers should try and tease out more information out of a candidate and know how they arrived at this position.  What are their motivations and intentions for applying for the job?  Why do they want to do this job?  Just ask, that is all it takes.  Employers may be surprised that the best candidate was right in front of them.  When I used to recruit and interview our Digital Learning Design apprentices, I applied my empathetic side and saw them for who they were, why they were here and what they could offer and where they want to be in the future.

I also found that some interviews tend to be treated like a tick box exercise to meet paperwork obligations.  I believe that interviews go well beyond ticking and scoring.  To me it's about looking at a person holistically.  This is where I believe online presence such as professional ePortfolios, blogs etc are really useful.  I was surprised in one interview I had with a private company, when they opened up my blog and LinkedIn profile and asked me questions from the content on there.  These are opportunities for employers to really get to know candidates as a person not just to entertain and dazzle them with what they want to hear.  As part of this interview I was also put on the spot to review one of their new apps and give some developmental suggestions.  I did of course, but at the same time were they just getting quick feedback on their products?

Usually the best person has all the required qualifications and experience, but they may not express themselves as best as they could or be as extrovert as others.  Which doesn't mean they are not right for the job, they just haven't done what might have been expected of them to have said or done in the interview.  Therefore the best person not getting the job due to someone just ticking all the boxes, which may incur more time and costs in replacing later as they were not the right candidate.  Just my narrative from my experiences but always food for thought.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Orca-strating

I'm not sure when my interest and curiosity of animals began, but I do have fond memories of when I was a small kid and used to sit with my natural history books that my parents got me.  I'd sit there for a while flicking through the books and looking at the pictures in detail.  I think it's here where I picked up basic knowledge of animal classifications and the diversity of species we inhabit this world with.  Today I still hear myself regurgitating random animal related facts to friends.  I still have a few of these books from my childhood days, I know this because there is little doodles and stamp marks that I made on them!  As I grew older I learned more about animals through TV and good ol' David Attenborough material.  I even did a couple of courses with the Open University; Darwin and Evolution and Neighbourhood Nature.

My first pet was a typical Syrian hamster - which I am still very fond of and have to fight of the odd urge to get one!  But this became somewhat of an obsession when my friend and I started to breed our own hamsters in our early teens.  This led to me getting a garden shed where I got a few more hamsters.  I started with three, two females and a male and chose different colour variations and types.  Breeding wasn't all that difficult, but you did have to know when and how.  I can still remember the 'in season' signs! 😂 I kept some babies for breeding purposes, but then sold the rest to the pet shop - nice little money earner it was.  I eventually ended up getting some guinea pigs, a rabbit, fancy mice, Russian hamsters, chinchillas and degus.

Because of my interest and connections with animals and spirituality, I was keen to know what my spirit animal was.  However, I pretty much knew what it was all along, but I guess I was seeking 'official' confirmation.  Since as a kid looking through my natural history books, I have always been drawn to orcas.  Not really sure why, but they are so striking and fascinating to me and had an instant connection with them.  I used to draw them in my notepads and colouring books in various shapes and forms.  I can still do the basic doodle today!  I also had many figurines of them, you know the ones from Early Learning Centre.  For my birthdays and Christmases I always got some sort of ocean based gift, may it be a jigsaw, t-shirt, duvet or stationery set etc.

I bought a couple of spirit animal books and they taught me ways to call upon my spirit animal.  I purchased a few books, some were shamanism (which is something I still need to learn more about) and the others were Steven Farmer's 'Messages from Your Animal Spirit Guides Cards ' and accompanying 'Animal Spirit Guides'.  I used the spirit cards for further guidance and inspiration on issues or feelings I may be experiencing.  You don't have to be spiritual to use them, but having an open mind is recommended.  Ultimately, they're a positive way of seeing and dealing with a problem.

After much reading and getting to know the various creatures on the animal spirit cards, I asked for my spirit animal to show itself to me.  This could appear in many forms, but obviously not right in front of me - because that's just stupid. 🙄 A few hours had past - saw or had no signs.  A couple of days - nothing.  But over the space of a week, I saw orcas on TV in various nature programmes and the Free Willy movie, all of which was confirmation for me as I weren't actively looking for these programmes, they were just on when flicking.  Plus, before this I hadn't seen any orcas on TV or through social media so that was enough to me for proof.  I even saw orca in my mobile phone as a system app!  To my surprise, I realised in my spirit animal cards pack that there were two whale cards.  There's only meant to be one of each animal, so to me the extra whale one was another piece of confirmation.  Due to all of this enthusiasm and excitement around this, I wanted to get myself an orca necklace.  When I purchased it online, the company was called Dan's jewellers.  I also bought myself a nice figurine orca that sits proudly above my fireplace.  After these snippets of confirmation and the experiences from when I was a child, I just knew orcas were my spirit animal.

In the Summer of 2014 I finished a book I had bought a while ago ''The Beauty in the Beast" by High Warwick.  Inspired by his story of getting his tattoo of his favourite animal, I decided to get one of mine.  For my 29th birthday in August 2015 I got my first tattoo on the bottom of my left leg to represent my spirit animal - an orca!  I just wanted to honour it on me as it's clearly a being I am interested and connected with.  I've a few more ideas for more tattoos in the future to represent other interests and connections.

My love for orcas have since been amplified by the documentary/movie Blackfish (2013) that resulted in some brief activist participation.  One year as a Christmas I was gifted with a Whale and Dolphin Conservation sponsored orca in my name, Fife.  This spurred me into wanting to do more with charity and generally for other whales, dolphins and the ocean itself.  I want to get more involved in raising awareness about whales and the wider ocean, but I need to accomplish some other things first before I start this up.  I do contribute to friends fundraising activities and sign petitions online, but it's not enough really.  Maybe I could channel my passions to be some sort of orca activist?  However, I am limited to ocean stuff as I live in mainland and can't always go to the coast. ☹ I've yet to see orcas in the wild, in fact I am overdue a second trip to Iceland to see them up there.  You can see them around the UK, but it's usually around northern Scotland and John o' Groats area.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

A L I E Nenthusiast

Due to my excitement of Alien: Covenant being released earlier this year, I've been asked a lot why do I like the Alien movies so much?  My friends and family have always been bewildered why I am so enthusiastic about these movies.  Yes this does include Prometheus as its part of the story which I really enjoy!

I wasn't even thought of when the original Alien came out, but I was about to be born when Aliens hit the theatres.  I remember when I was a young kid watching the first Alien movie.  My brother had his school friends over for the night and they decided to watch this.  I remember being interested in it but was scared to watch it too.  They put it on and we all watched it while we were in bed.  From finishing the movie I was playing it over and over in my mind.  I didn't sleep a wink that night, I woke up in cold sweats and remember watching the video player clock flashing in the darkness, watching every hour go past.  I was traumatised!  ðŸ˜± Well, I can't have been traumatised that much as I ended up getting pretty much of all the toy alien figures.  In my adult years the collection has since expanded to the more professional ones.  I went on to watch the sequels with caution, only to be told that Aliens was even more horrific.  But it somehow increased my curiosity and appetite for the movies.

So how did I go from being terrified to loving these movies?!  In this post I try to uncover why I am such a huge fan of the movies and what really interests me about them.  This is not a review of the movies (which could be good for a later post) but underpinning reasons of what engages me in them.

Science

Firstly I like sci-fi movies.  I like how they bring in science, whether it is true or not.  They can take you to the past, future and new/unfamiliar places - often dystopian.  I find sci-fi movies interesting because of the possibilities they bring and the issues that could happen.  It's a good mixture of both depending on the movie of course.  I like movies that emphasise on experiments and biological factors, especially with creatures, perhaps that's why I love Jurassic Park/World a lot and Deep Blue Sea too.

Discovery of something new and unknown

In terms of the movies, there is always something new they discover, it could be a creature or pathogen or even something simple as behaviour. But it is all to do with some kind of alien life they find. One of my life goals is to discover something new in the natural world. And I achieved a small bit of this from our trip to Scotland in October. 😉 Maybe something on this scale in the natural world is a bit too large, but if I could discover a new creature on plant of some sort, that would fulfil this little life goal.

Evolution

Whilst it's a very brief form of evolution, each xenopmorph evolves in its appearance and behaviour and I like that it represents real life evolution, although this is a lot quicker and obvious. You go from the egg, facehugger, chestburster to the xenomorph. But there is the wider cycle from the hammerpede, trilobite and deacon in Prometheus and then the neomorphs in Alien: Covenant.

Creature feature

I've always been a big fan of creature feature movies; movies with animals or some kind of beasts in.  I love to see animals of some kind dominate the big screen.  It's like nature claiming back its right to exist.  Even though in these type of movies it makes you not want them to exist.  I just find creature features generally more interesting, depending on the movie and the direction it takes.  But you could say they are all the same tone, as in they escalate very quickly, go on a rampage of some sort and then get killed or disappear.  But that said, to me they are enjoyable and I love animals. ðŸ‘

Insect-like structure

I find the insect world interesting, especially how ants for example are ruled by one individual; the queen. It was a good move to bring in the Alien Queen into the Alien franchise. It added more depth to the xenomorphs world by showing expanded function of their behaviour and how they collectively work together in some sort of way. The designs of the xenomorphs mouths by "H.R." Giger resemble very much like a dragonfly larva's mandibles.

Lead female

I'm very keen on lead female roles and I find them very inspiring.  Probably because of the empowerment that comes from the history and movement of feminism.  Sigourney Weaver played an important part in being the female lead and subsequent Alien movies, and has since inspired other movies to put women at the forefront.  It's just refreshing to see women lead rather than being led by men or gangs of men.  Eventually, we had the introduction of the Alien Queen.  Again highly female; produces eggs, has an ovipositor and even has high-heel like feet!  Excellent multitasker having six arms, I'd imagine!

Encourages critical thinking

These movies introduce large concepts like creationism and conflicts with religion.  But the stories in general allow you to think and ponder at them afterwards.  The first mystery I was pondering was who was the humanoid figure in the chair on the derelict spacecraft, often referred to as the Space Jockey or now engineer.  The movies leave you with a few open ends and many questions that you want answering or theories that you think it may go in subsequent movies.  They just get your imagination flowing of who is that, why were they there, how did they get there, what happens when they are in a new environment etc.  I applaud that not all answers are spoon fed to you like many other movies, it's good to allow your imagination to fill in the gaps and create the 'what ifs'.

You learn something every time you watch it

In my case you do.  I find that every time I watch any Alien movies, I seem to learn something new, see something new or again think really deep about the story.  Perhaps because there is a large amount of depth and imagination enabled in each scene, and your concentration is on a focal point, but then on a few more watches you take notice of what is going on at the same time.

Horror

I'm a massive fan of horror movies, well the ones that are not cheesy! Freddy Krueger I am pointing at you. I like to be on the edge of my seat in anticipation, only to fall off it by jumping. Good, well-structured and memorable stories that play on your mind for days after watching are excellent, even if it does last for years after!

New or not well-known actors

Alien movies are good at introducing new or not well-known actors and actresses to the screen.  The casting crew do a good job of bringing fresh faces in and not just going for 'hot-at-the-moment' people.  Again it's refreshing to have unfamiliar faces in the movies rather than having mega Hollywood stars take over the movies with their expensive egos.

To round off, here's a beautiful piece of artwork that Gary's Brother Darren drew before we went to see Alien: Covenant earlier this year. Darren gave me this piece of artwork as personalised coasters for my birthday this year too.

A post shared by Darren Purdy (@darren_art) on

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Castles, caves and a cabin

From the 22nd to 27th October, Gary, I and our friends Martin and Stu had a trip to Scotland.  This was our first time there and we were very excited to see it.  The pictures we saw and the tales we heard made us even more eager to experience the place.  Our mates have been here before so they were acting as our tour guides but we had a few ideas of our own as well.

Edinburgh

On the Sunday morning we started our long journey up to Edinburgh.  Our first mini stop off was at the border to get a quick picture of us standing in two countries at once.  On our way into the city we was in awe of the dramatic scenery of the gigantic mountains that were scattered with trees and wildlife and this was even before we hit the highlands.

We arrived and checked in then went straight out for a walk around the city.  With stone, medieval-looking architecture the city looked very ancient and grand.  It had a very warm and welcoming feel to it despite the drop in temperature.  There was a little market that was based in a church with many craft stalls inside.  One particular stall caught my eye as it was selling gemstones.  I got an excellent bargain by purchasing a seven layered gemstone orb!  In the early evening we ventured up to the backdrop of the city, Arthur's Seat which was very dark and chilly at this point.  We only made it half way, guided by torchlight but was rewarded with stunning panoramas of the lit up city below!

As it was close to Halloween we booked a tour to walk around the spooky Edinburgh Vaults.  We were part of a small group and had a animated guide to entertain us with ghostly and gruesome stories.  Martin ended up being chosen to act out some of the storyteller's scenes!  I had been selected to stop behind the group to check everyone had moved on, but I was anxious about 'Mr Boots' touching me on my shoulder! 😱  The vaults were very interesting as they were part of an original bridge and later had buildings erected around it, except for one arch that is still visible to the public.

In the morning we got up early to visit the Edinburgh Castle.  This was situated on an ancient volcano that overlooked the city and sea surrounding it.  We got some fantastic view points to take many pictures of us and the city.  We walked around the castle's buildings, underground and even got to see the crown jewels.  After our castle exploration, we set off on our journey up to our cabin near Invermoriston.

Loch Ness/Inverness

As we left the city, we passed through the Highlands.  The mountain backdrops got even more gigantic and epic-looking.  This was amplified by the various shades of reds and oranges that Autumn had brought.  The cabin we stopped in was very cosy and overlooked Loch Ness, it was literally inches away from us.  We settled in, ate and headed for one of the cabin's main features, a hot tub!  The sky was crystal clear so we turned the ambient lighting off and star gazed for ages.  There was no light pollution and was extremely silent - bliss.  The sky was that clear we even saw passing satellites!  We then started revelling in conversation about alien life beyond our galaxy and future human evolution impacting on our planet - pretty intense conversation for the first night!



Inverness was the closest city to us so we headed there on the next day.  We had a brief walk around and stopped by at Inverness Castle and replenished our stocks for the cabin.  In the afternoon we visited Urquhart Castle.  This was a very interesting place built on the edge of Loch Ness.  You start off being led into a mini theatre to watch a somewhat cheesy video on the history of the place but as the movie ends the curtains behind the screen open up to reveal the true castle in all its stunning glory.  You could walk around all of the ruins and climb at the top of the tower.  We wanted posh grub that night, so Martin and Stu recommended a drive up to Cawdor.  Here we found an unassuming tavern that Gary said gave him one of the best meals he had in years.  Succulent venison in a red wine and berry sauce on a bed of red cabbage.

Isle of Skye

You cant visit the North without having a day rambling in the wilderness - so we choose the Isle of Skye for this.  I had to listen to something very fitting to set the mood and so I played us the Prometheus soundtrack.  Not only did it enhance the misty and haunting landscape we were seeing with the visuals and audio giving us goosebumps, but it got me feeling very excited for the second part of the day...



Before we visited a particular place I was so excited to see, we went to the Fairy Pools.  From a distance it didn't look that far away, because of the trickery the giant mountains play, it makes everything seem smaller yet a massive layout.  We walked up the river side and saw gorgeous waterfalls cascading into openings where crystal clear water was pumping out.  A sharp pointed mountain with a summit covered by swirling grey mist gave the whole place an eerie and ominous vibe.  Afterwards, we all had a spot of lunch in a café in Portree and walked around the town and harbour.  Gary bought a coaster with a Scotsman's kilts blowing up to reveal his peachy bum!

Now, as a massive fan of the Alien movies (including Prometheus and Covenant), I was extremely excited for our next stop!  We visited the filming location of the beginning scene of Prometheus - the Old Man of Storr.  I just couldn't wait to put myself in the movie scene and make a discovery!  The views that we were given were incredible, I can see why this was chosen for the movie.  Those giant jaggered shaped rocks make it a very distinguishable place.  One personal mission I had was to get a particular picture of me and the rocks and merge with a familiar movie scene.  I didn't manage to get one grouped together like in the movie as the focal point was way up in the mountains.  However, I got this picture, merged it and just had to caption it with 'I think they want me to come and find them'.


I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, as it's such a long journey to get to, so I embraced it and took every moment to get pictures against these ancient rocks.  This was a pretty treacherous place, at least on this day it was, the wind literally lifted me off my feet!  When we got up to climb around the Old Man of Storr, the wind was more powerful and nearly blew me down the steep descent!  In the fifth picture (left to right) you can see me to the bottom right, just to give you the scale of the place.




After another busy day, on our way back we headed for a local fish and chippy.  Obviously I just had chips and peas.  Then the daily ritual of a hot tub dip occurred followed by some board games.

For the final day we were tempted to head to John o' Groats but the three and a half hour drive ruled that out.  We visited the Highlands Wildlife Park instead.  This was very similar to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park which I visited again earlier this month.  However, they had some very different animals local to the highlands and some exotic ones, which was something new for me to see.  They had Arctic Fox, European Bison, European Forest Reindeer, European Grey Wolf, Japanese Macaque, Mishmi Takin, Red Panda, Scottish Wildcat, Snow Leopard to name a few.  Just like the Yorkshire Wildlife Park they had Polar Bear too.  We ended the night by carving our pumpkins we bought a few days earlier and displayed these on our cabin fence all lit up.  Gary made us a suggestive pumpkin design and with his fine art drawing skills, he drew Martin and Stu a Nessie imprint.

As we drove back home we took in our last sights of Scotland by passing through Glencoe, Loch Lomond and Glasgow, before hitting familiar territory.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A return to form

A new chapter in my career is about to begin...  A short while ago I reflected upon how I felt about my career and said "I feel I have a lot of scope and mileage to ascend to something higher" and wanted to work back with my strengths. While I was waiting for further details on the development/future of my then current role, I decided to scout out other potential jobs I could progress to.  In my searches I found the role and place where I wanted to be!  Since moving on from my last two roles, I have learned that it is ok to move on from organisations when circumstances change and not feel like you have to be rooted there.  In this case I took a brave decision and not to sit it out to see what happens.  I put myself in the driver's seat and took the destination I wanted to be at.

Employ-meant

Whilst I was in Croatia, I had seen the Senior Digital Practice Adviser role at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), which I was instantly excited of what the role entailed.  So I went ahead and applied for it and to be later invited for an interview.  Originally, I was really anxious about attending the interview and nearly declined it due to my own negative thoughts of not doing a great interview, candidate competition and dealing with the disappointment if I didn't get the job.  But I was reminded of why I applied, what I have to offer and how it was a privilege to be invited for an interview, so I attended.

Prior to the interview, I had a conversation with myself and filled my mind up with positivity and determination.  I woke up on the morning of the interview and the first thing I thought of was intending on getting the job.  I got washed, made myself look decent and set off out to Nottingham on the train.  The sun was shining all day and I had those feel good vibes surrounding me.  I felt determined all day and kept it in my mind that I was going to be the best and express myself the best I could and be offered the job.  I feel I gave a good interview and mentioned quite a few key things I wanted to bring up - but there's always things you forget to talk about.  I don't think there is such thing as a perfect interview.  For me there's always just too much experience and examples to recall and frame in such a precious timescale, and to get your best impression and efforts over to the panel.  However, I still need to work out composing what I am going to say before letting myself bubble over with passion and stumble with words!

I received a call from the Digital Practice Manager to say I had not got the job, so I was feeling very deflated.  It's always disappointing to hear this, however, I received strong feedback and that the panel had seen potential in me.  And to my unexpected surprise, a Digital Practice Adviser post came up, so I had another shot of hope at getting a position there.  This role was similar to the senior position but this is more involved at the frontline, developing academic and business support staffs’ digital capabilities in all elements of the NTU Digital Framework.  Again, I instantly connected and was thrilled by the thought of this opportunity.  Collaborating with others on ideas and challenges to create innovation, and then supporting people through the process - this is where my passion lives.  The role is a perfect fit of what I want to do, where I was wanting to head towards and more importantly I have the knowledge and skills to do it, so it was certain that I'd apply.

After the waiting game, I feel absolutely overwhelmed with happiness.  I've been waiting for this moment for a long time and to receive a call and hear those words spoken to me "I am pleased to offer you the Digital Practice Adviser role within the Digital Practice Team at NTU" just gave me the biggest smile and sense of achievement.  It means a lot to me getting this position because the role is everything that I am strong and enthusiastic about and is at an outstanding place I want to thrive in, so I proudly accepted the offer of the role.  I have so much to offer and I gave the best I could in the interview and for all of this to be accepted just brings me pure joy.  I patiently waited for this moment and it arrived, it really did and I couldn't be more happier,  It felt right, it was right and it will be right.  After the call I just wanted to shed a little tear of happiness - but instead, I instantly felt very light headed and had to go to vomit.  So you could now say I was sick at the thought of the job! ðŸ˜‚ This has never happened to me before, so it must have been a build up of emotions and adrenaline or something.  A few minutes later I was back to my normal self and enjoying the moment.

During the time of interviewing for the NTU job, I somehow pulled a double feat with being offered another job.  I was invited for an interview for the Virtual Learning Officer at a commercial skills, education and employment organisation where the role focussed on leading and shaping their digital learning offer.  As part of the process I had to deliver a presentation of my Virtual Learning Environment and curriculum development projects.  After the presentation I received some really good and interesting comments.  Subsequently I got offered the job due to my performance, however I knew that the NTU role was the best for me.  These two interviews especially have increased my confidence and demonstrated that I am a strong candidate to compete for jobs like my new NTU role.  I won't hesitate or doubt myself in the future if I am in this situation.  I'm ready for a new start and to bring everything I've got and more to NTU!

Restore and reflect

After my last working day I now have a two week break before starting with NTU later this month.  I'm going to use this time to refresh and prepare myself to delight future colleagues with my wisdom.  It's also good for me to take some time to reflect, take stock and enjoy the positive changes that are about to come.  I started my last day of work by purchasing P!nk's long-awaited new album Beautiful Trauma.  On the first week of my break I am attending Jisc's 'student experience experts group meeting'.  It will be good to see familiar people again and re-establish myself to others in my new role, as well as gaining some inspiration and updates to take with me.  I had also arranged an informal visit to NTU to meet people and get familiar with the place.  I'm really excited to meet the team I will be working with and will be good to put some faces to names.  On the second week I have my first trip to Scotland and will be visiting Edinburgh and Inverness.  So it looks like it turned out to be a very well-timed break!

I can't wait to get back to reflecting on what I am doing in my practices, as much of it recently has been about what I have done and achieved.  Which is good, however I've missed talking about the process of what I'm discovering, learning, making sense of and putting it into practice, which can also benefit the wider community.  I may even get back to stating some discussions on the ALT mailing list.  So watch this place and space as it's a return to form!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

WinterSummer is coming - the boys' landing

Summer is coming...  Or was here!  It's been a long time since we went away together and that was in Rome last October.  We were well overdue on a good break together.  So this adventure takes us to Croatia but with a little twist - part holiday and part stag party.

Before we met up with the other chaps for the stag party me and Gary decided to have a week to ourselves.  We divided the first week up with Dubrovnik and Makarska then up to Tisno for the Soundwave Festival to celebrate the upcoming marriage of two of Gary's friends; Daniel and Rosie.  So here is our Croatian adventure...  Our eyes weren't ready for what we was about to see.

Dubrovnik 19-21 July 2017
Gary and I got a late afternoon flight that flew over Western Europe.  As we relaxed we looked out of the window and saw some gigantic mountains with snow and small lakes on top.  When we landed in Croatia we got a bus to Dubrovnik which dropped us off outside the Old Town (Pile).  The sun was just setting at this point and we had a sneak peak of what were going to see in the next few days.  The Old Town reflected the evening sun and was golden in colour.  We then got another bus to take us to Lapad, which is the area we stopped at for the next couple of days.  We found our villa and I was amazed how modern and quiet it was.  Our room view was brilliant, it overlooked a small beach that was just past a gorgeous little strip where we had food later that night.

On the second day we got up early to walk around the wall of the Old Town. Before this we had to walk down to a little cove where the sea was. There was Game of Thrones tours so we kind of hijacked some of the talks and learned that there were many scenes filmed in this location and around Old Town. We headed to the wall and when we got there, we were smiling from ear to ear because the view was just as overwhelming, really breath-taking, just as when we first saw Rome and the Pompeii ruins. This was truly an amazing experience! You could look into the centre and see the figures of people walking around the town and market areas. On the other side you have the edge of the mountains and the lush blue sea lapping up against the ragged rocks. We then ventured up to a high point around the wall for one of our best pictures yet before popping down to explore the harbour. Gary had been recommended a vegan restaurant in the Old Town by one of his clients, so later that afternoon we ate there and it didn't disappoint, the Mediterranean vegetables were delicious.



For the third day in Dubrovnik, we island-hopped to Lokrum.  Gary had discovered there was a naturist beach here so we decided to join in!  The beach itself was beautiful, massive dramatic rocks over looking crystal waters, it was liberating to be in the sea in our natural states.  We had a walk around to Lokrum's 'Dead Sea' which was a enclosed rock pool with water from the ocean.  It was time to relax again (we are on holiday after all) so we went for long sit down in Lokrum's park where there were wild peacocks and rabbits roamed.  The evening activities involved going on the cable car that was above the Old Town to watch the sunset.  This was quite a magical experience joining the others sat along the mountain ridge waiting for night to come.

It was now time to move onto our next place, which was Makarksa.  We got a local bus which took about 4 hours.  Along the way we went through Bosnia as they own a little bit of coast. We stopped there for a short break so we seized the opportunity to get a picture, you know, just to say we've been there!

Makarska 21-23 July 2017

The next 3 days we spent in the upbeat town of Makarska.  As most of Croatia's coast is on the edge of the mountains, there is yet more steps and hills to walk up, which is where our apartment was.  On the first evening we ventured out to see what this place was like.  It was more of a holiday-maker place with lots of restaurants, bars and shops.  We found some good cocktail places and knew that we would be back later to try them out.

On our first full day we got a local bus to the very beachy Brela, Gary had found this place online and was eager to find some particular rocky outcrops.  This was like a pocket version of Greece that had a series of mini beaches.  We spent the whole day there and enjoyed the sun, sea and shale!  I have to reiterate just how awesome the coastline is along the Adriatic Sea.  This was just before the heatwave and the temperature was averaging out at 35 the whole time we were there.  It felt more like 40's though.  On our way back we waited around an hour for a bus that never turned up,  so we ended up walking 15 minutes down the road to a taxi drivers house to get back - we got back ok with the help of Google.



The day after we took a nice relaxed day to explore more of Makarska.  The morning started by being woken up by a thunder storm and heavy rain.  We started by walking around the harbour and to a nice tranquil point that overlooked the dramatic mountain-esque view.  Afterwards, we walked around the front and into the old village area.  We then made our way towards the main beach for an ice cream, we became very fond of Croatian sorbet having one nearly every day.  We saw a good view point across from when we was at the harbour, so we headed there next.  It was a nice park and had a statue on the side along with love locks all over the fences.  We had one more cocktail at the bar from earlier and then prepared for our next journey to Tisno to meet up with the stag guys!



Tisno 23 July-1 August 2017

We took an extra long  journey to Tisno which involved two buses and a taxi all of which were delaying and involved waiting in traffic, never mind we soon checked in the 'lads' apartment.  We explored the small town to get our bearings then awaited the boys' landing!

We weren't as rowdy as you would have expected, but had our moments!  We enjoyed a few morning swims in the sea and attempted water polo.  One of the main features of this next 7 days was to go to the Soundwave Festival that was in The Garden Tisno.  It was like a mini Ibiza club party on the beach, which was even better at the night.  We went there four times in total, once in the day and the rest at night.  In the day we relaxed on the shale beach listening to the tropical music.  In the afternoon we had booked to go on a reggae boat, even though we wouldn't normally listen to this music you really get into it on the boat as its perfect for those Summer vibes.  It was pretty awesome to be dancing to it in the middle of the sea until early evening.  On the evenings we went to the different stages that had a few varieties of music and remixes of modern and classic songs and there were food and drink stalls.  We had a really good boogie and joined in with the festival-goers.

One favourite day involved myself, Gary and his brother exploring the local area.  We walked around to the neighbouring Jezera, it took about a 20 minutes.  There was a stunning coastal pathway that allowed us to take in the blue sea and small islands around us.  We knew we had to come back with the guys to chill on the beach along the path and spend the day there.  The sea was really warm and much clearer than around the town area.  I couldn't keep out of it!  I even had little snorkel session around the rocks.  So many creatures and corals that go unnoticed.  Some of the guys were brave and decided to swim to another island!  They made it back after a couple of hours worth of swimming!

The whole group hired push bikes and we cycled around Jezera to find some good view points at the top of a large hill.  Then we took a route back to Tisno.  Before we took the bikes back me, Gary and his brother had them for a bit longer and cycled around the opposite side of Tisno to be rewarded with a good long downhill ride.

The group of us rented two boats and toured the surrounding areas. we stopped off in Jezera for breakfast and literally just pulled up into the harbour like we were going to be greeted. Afterwards we headed to an island that was recommended for cliff jumping. All the other guys jumped the said cliff except the groom-to-be who has a fear of water and the ever present sharks within! I didn't even entertain the thought of jumping, this was one of my rare sensible moments! We circled another island and made a make-shift water ski before heading into the Soundwave Festival beach area for a short while with the boats.

The holiday and celebration ended in Zadar when we got to the airport for a late night flight back to the UK.  Thank you Dan for letting us share your holiday stag party with you.  All my love and best wishes to you and Rosie on your wedding day next year.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Signed, sealed but not yet delivered

As mentioned in my previous post about the second proposal I submitted to write a book, I am delighted to say that it has been accepted by Critical Publishing Ltd.  This is great news and something new for me to experience and marvel in (until the pressure hits!).

The short book I am writing is tentatively titled 'Learning Technology: A Handbook for FE Teachers and Assessors'.  The reason I've kept this short is because it's my first attempt to write a book and I don't want it to be too intense, especially when I am new to it.  I can't give too much information away on the finer details of the book at this stage as it's highly confidential material.  However, the following are excerpts from what I set out in my rationale for the proposal of the book.

Who/Where

The book is aimed at teachers and assessors in Further Education (FE) and those that support them.  It is ideal for those starting out using or who have some awareness of Information Learning Technology (ILT), and are exploring how to make the most of digital technologies in their learning and teaching practices.  A useful resource to refresh on the grounding basics of how and when to use ILT effectively.

What/How

This book is going to be about providing practical advice in sourcing and using learning technology and designing eLearning activities and resources.  It covers each aspect of the teaching and training cycle; identifying needs, plan/design, deliver/facilitate, assess and evaluate.  It is to be used as a handbook that can be easily picked and features a comprehensive index to allow referring and finding particular content.  The main themes to be introduced and discussed are; needs for applying learning technology and using eLearning, barriers to implementing digital learning, importance of digital literacy skills, delivering and assessing learning through ILT and ways of keeping up to date with their own practices.  The following are the objectives of the book:



  • Explain what learning technology and eLearning is in the context of FE
  • Guide readers through the implementation of learning technology and design of eLearning materials for learning, teaching and assessing
  • Identify ways to keep up to date with own practices regarding ILT

This book is a product that would be welcomed by further education (FE) tutors rather than reading heavy theoretical books.  They require instant reminders, ideas and practical solutions that Information Learning Technology (ILT) can offer as well as essential knowledge of its purpose.  The book takes readers through the knowledge and skills process of sourcing and applying learning technology tools and converting traditional learning and teaching resources into engaging and interactive online ones, in all aspects of learning, teaching, assessment and quality assurance.

This book is not a game changer nor a collection of upcoming innovative ideas, but simply and practically what learning technology and eLearning is and how to make the most of them in teaching and learning practices.  It provides a refreshing perspective on the implementation of learning technology and use of eLearning through my experience, whilst being encouraging but sympathetic toward people’s abilities and organisational challenges and pressures.

When

When embarking on a career in teaching in FE, or perhaps the desire for tutors to increase their practices with ILT, it can be somewhat of a challenge due to limitations in time to experiment and practice with digital tools and resources, which are often bound by the organisational environment.  Or it could be that a tutor is new to the role(s), has low level digital literacy skills, lacks practical confidence or knowledge of what effective digital tools are available.  For some educational professionals, it can be a challenge and often a huge pressure to include and embed ILT effectively into new or existing practices.

Why

I feel the learning technology/eLearning publishing industry is lacking an easy pick-me-up book that gets straight to the point of what it is about, what it can do and ultimately why it is important for both tutor and learner.  FE is under pressure to deliver high quality online learning to its learners due in part from mounting competition from alternative providers.  However, enabling downloadable resources on a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) as a knowledge repository is not enough to satisfy the eager and curious learners of the digital age.

Some tutors may well know what learning technology and eLearning is and how it can be used, but often it might just be enough to get by.  Interestingly, in this digital age learners may know more about the advances of ILT (although less able at its practical application to learning) that can leave the tutor feeling low in confidence.  Tutors need to be supported in the wealth of free and paid for digital tools and resources that are available as well as harnessing what learners can bring to their courses through their own devices and experiences.

ILT should not be seen as an add-on to enhance a lecture or presentation, Information Communication Technology (ICT) affordances need to be accepted and understood on how its potential can best be exploited to increase enjoyment, engagement and enlightenment for both tutor and learner.  ILT should not create more tasks or take up more time if used correctly and effectively, it should lead to positive impact for all involved – and this book will simplify this.


After my proposal was approved, I had to complete a sample chapter which was successfully approved.  This means I can commence writing the rest of the book with a potential release for Summer 2018.

Nervous?  Very much so.  Excited?  When I feel I am getting it right I am.  Can I actually write a book?  People thought I wouldn't do well after school, do I need to say anymore?  Who cares you're writing a book?  Me.  It's expressing the knowledge, skills and passion I have developed over the last few years to help others through, in narrative/book form.  I'm giving back all I have learned and reflecting on my own expertise in the process.  Plus, I said I would like to write a book (as mentioned at the end of my MSc student profile video) and also in the submission presentation of the award I won and now it's happening.  Will I embrace the highs and lows ahead?  Of course - it's a new area that I am bravely embarking on and I welcome the journey I will take with it.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Reflection of winning - a year on

Since winning the Learning Technologist of the Year Award 2016 last year, I thought it would be good to reflect on my experience of winning and what happened afterwards.  I asked myself the following brief questions and made a few comments on my feelings and thoughts.

How does it feels to be an award winner?

I still feel enormously proud of winning the award.  I don't think the feeling will ever go away.  I was up against tough competition from other exemplary individuals and leading teams from other universities and organisations.  It's just wonderful to be recognised for the efforts and milestones I was brave enough to make visible to everyone.  I now feel more recognised in the learning technology community and I feel a sense of worth that has strengthened my professionalism.  It has enriched my career that evidences my enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to learning technology and eLearning.  Winning this award has inspired me to continue my enthusiasm and move forward with my efforts that will hopefully bring further possibilities throughout my career.  My award now has a place in my home that sits alongside my two graduation pictures; teaching (DTLLS) and Technology Enhanced Learning MSc and the certificate.  As I walk by I still take a glance and think, wow, I actually did this.

This is an award that doesn't just only celebrate what someone or a group of people have done, but the passionate efforts made towards innovation that impact on the education of others.  I'm overwhelmed that I was narrowed down to the individual winner, it's incredible and always will be to me.  I put huge amounts of effort into developing my professionalism, my role and the organisation that I worked for that benefitted from all of this.  Which became eventually became a stepping stone to move on to a new chapter.  All of this was achieved because I am dedicated to the quality of my professionalism and my own education towards learning technology.  What you put in you definitely do get in return and it resulted in this.

What happened afterwards?

After the awards I was mentioned and appeared in a few articles that were published both locally and nationally.


I was invited to deliver the following presentations with ALT and Jisc.  I feel I was invited to these due to my increased profile from winning the award.  This is good acknowledgment by the community by wanting to share my achievement and journey in hope to inspire others.  I was also invited to assist in the development of a future Blended Learning Essentials course.


I received many warm comments from the community on Twitter upon the night of winning which I can look back on from time to time.  Thank you again to those who reached out to congratulate me.

I later got asked if I wanted to be part of the judging panel for the 2017 entries.  I immediately said yes to it.  I was able to read through this years entries and see the amount of enthusiasm and effort others have put into their work and careers in learning technology.  It was a good feeling to be a part of the decision making of the future winners achievement.  There were many outstanding efforts that clearly show the impetus of the awards scheme.

At the time of winning the award, I thought it would put me in good stead to getting the learning technology manager position at the organisation I used to work for, but sadly I wasn't successful and had no progression opportunities, so I decided move on with my knowledge, skills and experience to apply into a new context and take on a brand new challenge in the commercial sector.

I undoubtedly added this achievement to my CV and LinkedIn profile as it is a major achievement in my career.  For the job that I am in now, I got invited to an informal visit and chat to the organisation, then got given a task to explore and create an eLearning activity.  Following this I was invited to a formal interview online.  One of the questions they asked me was "can you tell us more about the award you have won?".  The award was a focus of discussion and allowed me to detail the work I had done to achieve it.  I think this was a strong aspect they saw in me and the award reflected that.  I was offered the job and progressed over to the commercial sector.

I started writing the book I had mentioned recently, with the recognition of this award I'm hoping that this publication is welcomed by the learning technology community and to raise it's awareness when released.  After all, it was an ambitious project that I mentioned in my award entry.  I can say this will soon be achieved and completes the cycle that is illustrated at the end in my award presentation!

What has changed since winning it?

Since winning I feel my professional profile has increased.  The articles and social media posts have all contributed to 'who is this person and what is he about'.  I also feel a sense of dignity where I must live up to my achievement.  Because I am an now an award winning professional, I feel I have more reason and impetus to continue my high quality efforts and endeavours.  It's like a pressure, a good pressure and feel I need to be more involved somehow.  Plus I don't know who I may be inspiring, so I need to maintain the stature of the award.

I feel like I still have plenty of room to progress into a position that reflects my worth so to speak.  I constantly think how I can stretch myself by continuingly applying and challenging my strong and core abilities.  I suppose the feeling comes from the long years I have invested in myself to get where I am today.  That might sound very pretentious but when you have been fully engaged and involved with your professional development from very little education as I have, you do hope for something with greater meaning.  Reminiscent from my reflection last Summer, yes we don't live to work, but work to live.  However, to me a job is something you just do and a career is a job related to a specific area or a series of jobs relating to that specific area.  It's important to choose the right career and one that you enjoy doing as you'll feel like you're not working (on occasions).  ‎😉

I recently renewed my CMALT where I outlined some future plans where I am taking my learning technology career, however I feel I have a lot of scope and mileage to ascend to something higher.  That may not be realised for some years yet, but its the sense of knowing where I could be.  I know it's all about what I want and where I take it but I feel I have somewhat lost my direction a little bit on where I am heading.  I was really focussed and determined to get the learning technology manager job in my last organisation to lead on digital change.  I have a lot of entrepreneurship in me and it would be a huge waste not to use this gift.  I'm still aspiring to be some sort of digital leader, may that be leading an organisation and supporting people for digital change or ensuring that an organisation's digital learning offering is industry leading.  I do know that I want to work to my strengths that consists of rationalising, strategising, analysing, structuring and designing for learning technology/eLearning implementation and supporting and developing others in the process and application.  However, occasionally it may feel like being on a road trip across Route 66.  You run out of petrol or get a puncture and then you're in a bit of chaos.  You either get it fixed or check into a motel and feel a bit of a loss.  But the main purpose is to get the car fixed and carry on with the journey.  In fact it's very much like planning a journey.  Where do I want to go next?  What am I going to take with me?  What do I want to see/do?  How will I get there?  When will I get there?  It feels like I am searching for a plateau where I can feel a sense of ease in my career and know a destination has been reached.  We can create anything we want, so it's important to get to the root of what you want and pursue it head-on.  I'm looking forward to what the future will bring.  Perhaps it would help to build connections with people that are on the same positive proactive vibrations as me.  It would be good to speak to others for some alignment, so if anyone reading this would like to chat to me, please get in touch!  It's always good to talk and make new connections.  ðŸ˜€

Why should others submit an entry?

As I said recently for potential 2017 candidates;

"I went on to win this last year, I strongly encourage you submit an entry that demonstrates your most impactful/innovative practice!  Make your efforts visible!"

If you're not sure on what you could submit, look at what previous candidates did and think how your own practices could be presented, if not better.  Another starting point is revisiting or doing CMALT.  To me this is an essential aspect of professional development that enables you to undergo a reflective process of your current practices, to develop further and identify new directions.  This can help you identify the things you have done recently or a few years back or even identify new pathways you can go down.  Putting in an entry is a good way to be visibly recognised nationally and internationally for your efforts. So don't hesitate, just create!

Thank you again to ALT,  the wider learning technology community and those who have been very kind and supportive throughout my professional development.  It's seen, felt and ultimately recognised.  👍

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Bits of eLearning pieces

As my last role was more focussed on line managing, training, assessing and developing the Digital Learning Design apprentices.  I didn't create as much eLearning as I'd have liked to as I was directing the apprentices in creating it.  I have since been doing a very hands-on role where I have been expanding my creative skills in learning design and exercising my technical abilities using a range of tools.  I feel now is a good time to share some of the things I have been creating in the last few months in this role.

This role has been good to exercise my knowledge and skills of using and creating learning content in Moodle.  H5P is a new tool to me that I've had the pleasure of exploring and developing eLearning content with.  I've had broader use of Articulate 360; Studio, Storyline, Rise and Replay.  As well as exploring the use of bootstrap functions and the Lambda themes in Moodle courses.  I've also extended my enthusiasm for learning design by strategising new approaches to designing distance courses and online learning content.  I'm currently leading on the development of transforming our main blended courses to be fully online.  I also have side projects of designing a short online course preparing learners for online study, as well as continuing my development of a new Moodle module template for higher education.

Hands-on

Below is a rough video demonstrating some pieces of work I have done in a variety of projects.


Bringing something new

The following are new methodologies I introduced to the organisation to help with learning design and evaluation processes.


Events attended

I've been able to keep myself up to date and benchmark my learning technology practices by attending the events below.

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CC-BY Daniel Scott. Unless otherwise stated this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.