The ERASMUS + Experience

I first became aware of the Erasmus programme (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) as a CPD option for staff, was when I hosted a week long visit to the University of Edinburgh for a Learning Technologist from University College Cork in Ireland in January 2015 (in fact it was only in 2014/15 scheme was extended to non-academic staff). Our department also had a visitor last summer, a Learning Technologist from an Italian University. I always enjoy meeting visitors – I love hearing about their work and learning about the institution where they work. These conversations are always inspiring and help me to see my institution with fresh eyes.

On the 29th of August 2017 I went to an event at the University of Edinburgh (where I work) called “Go Abroad – Staff opportunities” to find out more about participating. The ERASMUS scheme offers funding for week-long training visits for professional services staff –  within Europe you could apply to spend time at any institution and I discovered that there was also an extended scheme for visits outside Europe, through the International Credit Mobility programme, to spend time with specific partner institutions.

Applying

I was really excited by the opportunity this scheme offered and started thinking about my role and interests and possible destinations to identify a suitable match. In September 2017 (after discussing this with my line manger) I submitted my application to visit the University of Virginia.  I am currently running a scheme at the University of Edinburgh to support staff undertaking their Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) a professional development opportunity for staff working with learning technology. I proposed to make this visit to explore Institutional approaches to Staff Development for IT staff (specifically learning technology) and to make connections with others working in this area.

Planning

As I didn’t know anyone at UVa I was matched with my host through the Go Abroad scheme contacts for both institutions. John Alexander from UVa very kindly agreed to host me in his department SHANTI Sciences, Humanities & Arts Network of Technological Initiatives. John was equally inspired by the possibilities of a study visit and applied to make a visit to the University of Edinburgh in June 2018 (more about this in a later post).

To coordinate my visit John & I initially used email and later set up a shared google doc – I sent John some information about my work and interests and he contacted relevant people and set up meetings for me. This meant I had a good idea of the shape of my week of activities before I arrived.

Arriving

Virginia viewed out of a plane window
Virginia viewed out of a plane window.

This was my first visit to the US, so this section will not be relevant to seasoned travelers! As it was my first visit and I’m a UK Citizen before I went I need to apply for an ESTA as part of the Visa waiver Program.

In order to make it to my destination the day before my visit started, I left home in Edinburgh early on the Sunday morning, flew direct to Newark then to Washington DC, then to Charlottesville. Three flights in the one day was a lot, and I’ve since discovered that there are some direct flights from Edinburgh to Washington DC – so I’d recommend taking a good look at options before you book.

I was allocated the window seat on all my flights, which was great for the short trips with a view – but very cramped for the long haul flight – so I’d avoid this if possible when travelling again.

Accommodation

The Lorna Sundberg International Centre
The Lorna Sundberg International Centre

I was very lucky to have been able to book a room in the beautiful Lorna Sundberg Center  which was on the edge of the campus. This was suggested by my contact in the International office at UVA , along with other options such as the campus hotel.

I was attracted to the centre with it’s friendly feel and self catering facilities it seemed like a ‘home from home’, it is used for cultural activities and is has a number of rooms that can be booked by international visitors. During my time there I met people from Japan and France, most of whom were making longer visits, 6 weeks to a few months. It was great being able to cook for myself and to relax in the quiet library and study spaces and to sit out on the Veranda. I even found time to do some drawings.

A felt pen drawing of the View from the Veranda at the Lorna Sudberg Centre
The View from the Veranda at the Lorna Sundberg Centre

 

Making the most of the trip

While its really exciting to get the chance to go on this trip, it did take place in addition to my usual work and required me to plan my activities carefully to allow for me to be out of the office for a week. So it was hard to find time to devote to preparing for the trip before I went (hence the booking three flights rather than looking at alternatives!).  Ideally I would suggest spending more time on this. Also, despite putting in an application in November it takes time to put the contacts in place with the other institution and to finalise the visit dates.  By the time this is all in place it was about six weeks before I was due to travel – so time was of the essence!

This was my first trip of this distance so it was also my first experience of jet lag – which surprised me by hitting me much harder than I expected. The 5 hour difference doesn’t seem that much on paper but in practice really knocked my body clock I was surprised when I found myself slurring during a late afternoon meeting on my first day (fortunately the people I was meeting were very understanding). Don’t over schedule your activities and allow some time between meetings for ‘processing’ and adjusting.

I also took time to get my bearings around the campus. I would find my way to the right building, then take 15 minutes trying to find the entrance (yes, this really happened – twice!). I was late for a couple of meetings which anyone who know me will know is unusual as I tend to be habitually early. I took my paper map everywhere, used google maps to estimate journey times and then doubled them. I’d sussed the layout of the main campus by my final day.

Tips if you are considering making an training visit

Preparation – Think about what you will say when you meet people, how you will describe your work and what questions are you interested in asking? there is defiantly room for going off topic and seeing where the conversation leads, but most of the people I met has squeezed an hour to meet into a busy day and its good to make the most of this.  One person I was meeting got in contact in advance to ask me more about my areas of interest and we had a quick pre-chat by email and our resulting meeting was really constructive. If I were to do this again I’d write a couple of paragraphs introducing myself and give this to my host, or send this to people  before we met.

Go with a question. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that’s going on in another institution. I found it really helpful to focus on one main thing during my visit – for me it was how does UVa approach to Staff Development for IT staff (specifically learning technology).

Travelling is exhausting – don’t overestimate what you will be capable of when you arrive. This is not like walking into an institution you know well – its disconcerting and takes energy getting to know a new place.

Saying Thank You- I took a gift from my institution for my host and small gifts for people I met with. It would have been useful to have remembered to bring thank you cards but after some exploring I was able to buy these on campus.

Follow up afterwards, I’ve not been great as this (yet) but I do mean to follow up with everyone who was kind enough to take time to speak to me to thank them and to share the outputs from my visit.

How I plan and record my CPD activity

At the end of January Maren Deepwell invited #CMALT people on twitter to participate in a conversation to think about how we all record and plan our ongoing Continued Professional Development (CPD) activity for the CMALT portfolio reviews which take place every three years.

In February I took part in a really interesting Google Hangout with  Maren Deepwell, Lorna Campbell and David Hopkins, which started with a discussion around how we currently track our CPD activity.  It occurred to me that I’ve never designed what I do, it’s happened organically, so in writing this post will describe what I do, reflect on why I do it and see if this gives me any ideas for improvements.

My approach to recording CPD:

I’m very much a recorder of events. I enjoy taking notes (it helps me focus), photos and making diagrams and use these later when I go to make sense of what the experience has meant for me.

A screen shot of tabs in OneNote - Events Attended, Aurora, How To Do, Intern 2018, Writing, Marketing, Career Ready

At work I use OneNote – I’ve set up a CPD notebook with tabs for each activity, looking at these I see they can be activities I’m currently doing, so under ‘Career Ready‘ I’m making notes of all the activities and training for this activity,  or aspiration, ‘Marketing‘ is something I’m looking to find out more about, so here I’m collecting opportunities and noting articles.

If I need to know how to do something, either by going to Google or asking someone, I make time to record the answer – so I can easily get back to it – that is all in the ‘How To Do‘ tab. 

Over the last couple of years  I’ve moved to digital note taking, before that I had loads of paper notebooks. I take my laptop or a device to use for note taking. (I might at some point write a whole post about digital note taking so I’ll leave this here for now).

Since completing my CMALT and recent review – I’m now much better at collecting evidence of what I do. I take the time to write blog posts because I know I will get the benefit of them later. I collect as I go.

Screen shot of the Outlook to OneNote buttonOne thing I have discovered is that you can copy emails (complete with attachments) from Outlook into OneNote which  is a really easy way to keep stuff together.

 

At work, I am asked to compile a list of training courses for my Annual Development Review (ADR), which can be interesting to look back on, I usually compile this at the last minute by looking back at my diary, notes taken at events, and add in links to anything I blogged about.  At my annual review I take suggestions with me so I can talk through with my line manager what I want to do and opportunities that might help me to get there.  Its worth bearing in mind it can often take a while to actually get accepted on the course you want to go on. I was able to participate in the Leadership Foundation for Higher Educations Aurora programme on the third year I applied – but it was worth the wait.

My approach to planning CPD

In approaching CPD I try to balance what I need to work on with what I’m interested in and the needs of my employer and my current job role. I’m also lucky to have a mentor at work (through the Aurora scheme) who is a great listener and wise advisor and it has been really useful to talk through my development with her.

What do I need?

I try to identify where there are skill or knowledge I need, for example as part of participating in the Aurora programme I identified that I needed to better understand assertiveness – and then went on to find that knowledge and experience. 

What’s out there?

I make a note of opportunities I’m interested in when I see or hear about  them, (usually on Twitter or mailing lists, or by word-of-mouth) even if the time is not right for me:

For example:

BYOD4L BRING YOUR OWN DEVICES FOR LEARNING: AN OPEN LEARNING EVENT FOR STUDENTS & TEACHERS (FACILITATED, STAND-ALONE) – this was on my radar for a couple of years before I managed to take part is some of it earlier this year.

Jisc Digital Leaders Programme – I saw an interesting panel discussion about this at Digifest, so I’ve kept a note of this to look at further.

Senior Fellow of the HEA – I’ve been on a waiting list to take part in our institutional scheme for HEA accreditation for the last year.

My institution has a Lynda.com subscription, I must admit I got very excited about this when I first had access, but have neglected it somewhat lately. There are good courses in there, but there is no social interaction around them and I miss that aspect. They are great if you just need to know about something, then and there. I finished the Learning Path to Become a Manager a while back and I am part way through the Learning Paths to  Become a Content Strategist

Moocs – I’ve completed a few but am always seeing more that look interesting.  Recently I completed an Introduction to Personal Branding on Coursera which was created by the University of Virginia. As a learning technology advisor, I always enjoy these from two angles, both the content and the approaches taken to learning design, content creation and delivery. 

I try to think beyond training courses at other development opportunities to gain skills or experience I need.  Last year to get mentoring experience I became a Career Ready mentor – which has proved to be both a challenging and rewarding learning experience. I’ve also taken on managing a student intern to gain management and recruitment experience. 

What I consider to be CPD:

A photograph of clouds at sunrise
Looking at the possibilities and reflecting

So CPD for me is everything I do to try to develop myself. It is training courses and conferences I attend, as well as those I plan and deliver. It’s the questions I ask myself and then try to seek answers too. It’s the stretch opportunities I take on at work.

I also read a lot of books, I love getting a book recommendation and will often be ploughing through a book months after the reasons for the original recommendations have faded. I did for a while try to take notes of what I thought of books, but that just doesn’t fit with the context of when I read, which is mainly listening to audiobooks while I walk or reading in bed. Part of this is my belief that you don’t always have to actively listen, if something is important or relevant to you, you won’t miss it. I occasionally take a photo of the front cover just as a reminder!

The stuff I want to think about but not to share…

I’ve also found it very useful to use writing to help me to think through something. In our conversation we discussed the ‘personal’ aspect of CPD – not every problem you are working through can be shared in public, or can be fixed by gaining particular knowledge.  I have use google docs as a space for my private reflection.  I’ve got a folder I call ‘Work Pondering’ where I write down things I want to think about, and I find that writing about them and revisiting them on several occasions can really help this process.  

Writing to share…..

I started with private writing but over the years I have built up my confidence to share some of my writing.  I write blog posts for my team blog and participated in an online course run at the University of Edinburgh  called 23Things for Digital Knowledge and now have set up a personal blog on my own domain.

Blogging is teaching me different skills including: writing for an audience, writing with a message, writing to remember, or to connect with other people, or to promote an activity.

What’s for me and what’s for my role?

My work ADR is for here and know opportunities that are clearly role related. There are other things I want to develop that are aspirational, tangential and I can’t really link to work and these I decide to do in my own time. When I wrote my original CMALT portfolio, looking at what I did in relation to the core areas made me think about my own experience at that point and identify where I wanted to gain more – it wasn’t always immediately obvious how that related to my current job, seeing things within the CMALT guidelines gave me more confidence to pursue further development in these related ares. 

Like everyone, sometimes I have to do CPD I’m told to do! For example I’ve completed compulsory training in, Engaging with Change, Understanding Recruitment, Selection and the law and Information Security Essentials some in face to face sessions and others online.

I try to approach this with an open mind. As a trainer myself, I am respectful of the person who is delivering the training (I’ve stood in their shoes, I don’t want to be the tough crowd!). I try to think about what is the underlying  strategic reason why I’ve been sent on this? I try to get something out of every session even if it is ideas on the style or process of delivery.

I have come to accept that life is a work in progress and accept that I need to keep learning and that I often revisit the same subject for several years from several angles…. for example I don’t think I’m every going to be done with, presentation skills, time management, project management or people skills. Not that I’m particularly uninformed about any of these – just  there is always more to learn!

Questions?

Writing this post has been a useful exercise that has left me with these questions:

Am I being efficient in the way I approach planning and recording my CPD? Could I streamline and plan better?

How do other people record their CPD?

What do we all understand to be CPD activity?

I look forward to continuing this conversation.

What I did in my holidays…Become a Manager with Lynda.com

Since summer 2016 the University of Edinburgh has provided a licence to Lynda.com online courses for staff and students. I spent some time in my Christmas break looking at this. I had already started to explore Lynda.com, watching several videos and completing the course ‘Learning with Lynda.com‘ which I’d recommend as a good starting point for those new to the resource.
Completing a course (which as far as I can see this means watching all the videos) gives you a certificate of completion – and this can be easily shared, for example on Twitter, Facebook or on your LinkedIn profile or downloaded as a PDF and printed out.

I found the course I completed interesting but I still wasn’t sure yet how to use Lynda.com for my own development – the courses are very short (most of them can be completed within an hour or two) – and are well presented and relevant – but the library is vast and offers many subjects relevant to my work (for example Education, Design and Business) . Each course give you certificate – I wasn’t sure what my next step was – beyond collecting a long list of certificates? Then I found the feature called Learning Paths that collates a selection of courses around a goal and this answered my question. I decided to take the next step and tackle the one to ‘Become a Manager‘ – which is made up of 9 courses:

1. New Manager Fundamentals
2. Hiring Your Team
3. Onboarding New Hires
4. Delegating Tasks to Your Team
5. Leading Productive Meetings
6. Managing for Results
7. Performance Review Fundamentals
8. Building Accountability Into Your Culture
9. Rewarding Employees

I was at home over the break so I decided to access this via the Lynda.com App on my Android tablet or phone as I usually have one of these devices to hand. The App gives a reduced selection of the Lynda.com features but does mean you can download content – so you can download a course when you have Wi-Fi and watch even when you don’t. The videos can be watched full screen and you can easily skip about within the course structure. Progress was synced to my account across multiple devices and progress watching the downloaded content was synced next time you had a connection.
Unfortunately the App doesn’t give you access to the ‘My Goals’ section of Lynda.com where you access the Learning Paths. So this first thing I did, to work around this, was to go to my laptop and add all the courses from this Learning Path to a Playlist – as I could see this via the App. Then, in odd pockets of time over the holiday, I watched the videos and worked through the courses. It was easy to squeeze this into odd moments – I would watch a couple of videos when I was cooking, or when I had a few minutes during the day. They are generally bite sized (I’d say three minutes on average) and include good recaps – so stopping and starting isn’t much of an issue. This activity probably replaced some time I would have spent reading the news or twitter online.

After a chunk of videos, say three or four, there is a short quiz and I found these really helpful to check if I’d understand what I’d just watched. Though the interface for questions on android devices was frustratingly temperamental – it requires you to drag the correct answer off the screen – but sometimes took several attempts to register this. I did persevere though, as I really wanted to check my answers.
Many of the courses also come with exercise files which can’t be accessed from App, but I will probably take a look at these now I’m back in the office – as several of them are templates that maybe useful in my work.

The App also doesn’t allow you to bookmark videos (which you can do on the website) and this I did miss, when watching the courses there were one or two videos that resonated, and that I wanted to go back to again or to discuss with colleagues – without the bookmark option it’s going to be harder to find these again. Hopefully Lynda.com will add this feature in time? I see in the App that I can share videos in various ways, so next time I will try to email details of key videos to myself.

What did I get from following a learning path that I wouldn’t have got from just choosing nine courses on management that I was interested in? I think that answer lies in the collation, basically I did watch courses that I wouldn’t have selected – because I was interested in the overall goal. This was on the basis that someone with more experience than me had selected appropriate courses and that therefore the relevance would become clearer to me in time. Some of the courses listed I didn’t initially think looked interesting or relevant – the course ‘Managing for Results’ for example, was much more relevant than it looked on the face of it. A couple of the courses used slightly different language (it being authored in the US) – for example ‘Onboarding New Hires’ is what I would have called New Staff Induction – so I wouldn’t have been able to find this by searching for it despite the relevant content. On the minus side, the legal aspects where focused on the US context, this was clearly stated but I still felt I had to watch through them to complete the course!

Once I completed the course I went to my laptop and added the certificate to my LinkedIn profile. This displays nicely and it links through to show the details of the Learning Path and the courses it contained. This would be valuable to staff and students for evidencing their knowledge and skills.

So having spent time exploring what it means to Become a Manager with Lynda.com – I’m now ready to relate this to my current work – feeling better prepared and more confident to develop my own experience as a manager in 2017.

Screen shot of the 'Become a Manager' Badge from Lynda.com on my  LinkedIn profile
The ‘Become a Manager’ Badge from Lynda.com on my LinkedIn profile