In Conversation with....Julie Hughes

Author/Producer ESCalate/ Dr Julie Hughes
Published in Summer Newsletter 2008
Date Published 21 July 2008
Pages 2


One in the occasional series of "In Conversation with ..." pieces written for our newsletter


What's the attraction of technology for you in your professional life?

JH: I'm a teacher who gets excited about the possibilities of technology, but I'm only really interested in it if it enhances learning.

I've learnt some of the techie language and skills (button pushing) because you have to be able to survive in the technology swamps and it does help to be able to solve the low level technical problems that students and colleagues bump into. It’s often the low level stuff that will decide if someone will engage with the technology in the longer term.

I'd never ask my students/colleagues to do something that I wasn't prepared to do myself: immerse myself in e-portfolios for example.

The attraction of technology is the same as the attraction for all forms of learning and teaching. My approach to teaching face to face has always been social and dialogic. Using dialogic technologies is an exciting extension of the classroom. I know that when I first started using e-portfolios four years ago I wanted to test the technology. I wanted to see if it could exploit the potential that I could recognise. Now I realise that I wasn't able to imagine just how the potential would present itself to me.

I have learnt so much from the students over the years, from sharing their experiences of the technology and from watching their learning online. I've learnt how to be a better teacher both online and in my f2f classrooms. I like the spontaneity and informality of the interactions in these liminal spaces where our identities are shifting. I like the different relationships I have with my student groups online.

I like it being anyplace/anytime which means that I can sit in my garden in the sunshine with a laptop assessing teaching practice e-portfolios or blog on a train.

What's the most exciting thing you've been able to achieve in your professional life so far?

JH: I was flabbergasted to be nominated for and to receive a National Teaching Fellowship in 2005. Yes, the year when it was still a life-changing amount! It has given me a huge degree of academic freedom and spending power, which has allowed to me to recruit and employ creative former PGCE students and e-portfolio learners. Emma Purnell, Paul Towers and Gaitri Sharma have been a powerful source of inspiration to me. And so have my colleagues and the student groups we've worked with. Being able to grow a PebblePAD 'family' has been vital to my professional development as it's so lonely being an early adopter and enthusiast. I feel so proud of them now as they are developing their own e-portfolio careers – so watch this space!

Who do you admire in your work... who is doing the ground-breaking things that really excite you?

1) Helen Beetham, 2)LaGuardia Community College, Queens, New York. I long to be able to replicate their student e-portfolio centre which is staffed entirely by student mentors and peers.

What got you started using technology? Was there an early childhood choice that you made, like Gameboy?

JH: This question makes me laugh because if you asked my partner and kids they'd say that I'm rubbish with technology. I can't cope with more than a basic mobile phone and the DVD player is a mystery to me! I've got a laptop with voice recognition software which took over during a recent presentation leaving me red-faced but laughing, and even the burglar alarm goes haywire!

There wasn't much technology in my childhood it was all books. I started using technology when I started teaching at university. I was very lucky to be mentored by Shane Sutherland, a colleague who was the Technology Supported Learning Co-ordinator for my school and a wonderful role model. He made it all seem magical and easy. It was really important to me to have this safety net and I began to take more and more technology risks. This mentoring approach is what I try to replicate with colleagues and students. The fear of looking silly or of the machine taking control of the classroom is a recurrent theme in mentoring situations. Being able to narrativise my own and my students' learning experiences is really important. Having access to the sort of technology that supports this 'messy' iterative story rather than linear expression is liberating. If you'd have said to me six years ago before I arrived at Wolverhampton that I'd be doing what I'm doing now, I wouldn't have believed you: I just got hooked and haven't looked back since!

Julie, you've been involved with ESCalate for over a year now, supporting activity throughout the UK. What has this been like for you?

Personally I’ve found the secondment to be exciting, sometimes exhausting (long train journeys) but always engaging. Professionally it’s allowed me to work with individuals and groups of people that I wouldn’t normally work with in my day job at Wolverhampton. I’ve particularly enjoyed the practitioner-facing aspect of the secondment and the opportunity to put individuals and networks in contact with each other to benefit learners. I have really enjoyed this year and have found myself challenged and stretched in good ways. I’ve worked with some inspirational colleagues on projects which are developing in interesting ways making the next year a busy but inviting one.

In Conversation with Julie Hughes, Principal Lecturer at University of Wolverhampton. Julie is seconded part time to ESCalate to advise on the use of technologies in learning and teaching, particularly in HE delivered in FE settings.