Professor Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology, Learning and Teaching Innovation at The Open University writes about his experience of applying for HEA Principal Fellowship.
“Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that.” This was a thought that occurred to me several times while writing and revising my Principal Fellow application. It was something, if I’m honest, I’d put off doing for a while. But when I finally decided to set aside some time for it at the start of this year, it turned out to be a rewarding process.
As a Professor of Educational technology, I work in a field that has seen considerable change over the past 20 years. I sometimes reflect on this on my blog, but I find myself sounding like the old timer, bemoaning when it was all fields (or in my case, hand coded HTML) around here. So the Fellowship application gave me an opportunity to reflect on the changes in my own career, and as a consequence, that of educational technology as a whole.
In 1999 I chaired the Open University’s first major e-learning course. It may seem obvious now that the internet would have a big impact on education, and distance education in particular, but this was not universally recognised back then. “Nobody wants to learn like that” and “You’ll be lucky to get fifty students on that course” were comments I had while preparing it. Well, we ended up with nearly 15,000 students on it (an early example of the type of massive online course that would become popular with MOOCs in 2012). As a consequence the whole structure of the OU and its strategic direction shifted.
From here I became the OU’s first director of a VLE, and also got active in the area of blogging and digital scholarship. More recently my interest has been in the area of open educational resources, leading the OER Hub research team. What I was struck by in writing my proposal was that one can plot a straight line to fit the various points of your career, and it seems like a smooth, inevitable path. But each step is often a mix of chance, opportunity and local conditions.
It was also a good opportunity to reflect on the projects that hadn’t been the success you might have hoped for. These are part of any career I would guess, but particularly so in educational technology. For instance, I developed the first course for the ill-fated UK e-Universities project. While that project itself wasn’t successful, I learnt much from that which would be relevant later in terms of MOOCs, learning design and learning environments.
The constant nature of seeking new research grants, working on new projects, teaching new courses, supervising new PhD students is one of the aspects that makes working in higher education rewarding. But it also means you rarely get an opportunity to reflect on your own career, and how that reflects changes within your discipline. The HEA Fellowship scheme provides some of that space in a manner that is encouraged and recognised, and so I would recommend taking advantage of that opportunity.