Mark Childs, Joining Brookes

mark childsAs I’ve just started working as a Senior Lecturer in OCSLD (the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development) at Oxford Brookes I felt it was time to start blogging regularly (not trying to blog, do or do not, there is no try). As there’s not much yet to report about my work there, this first one is more about where I’m at, and why the change, and what changes are likely to be coming up.

I’ve posted a lot on my Facebook account about these changes using the metaphor of The New 52. Having reached 52 years old this year, this feels like a mid-way point in my life (optimistic, right?), so out with the Old 52 and in with the New. Any mainstream comics fans will recognise the metaphor, a few years ago DC Comics rebooted its whole line under the banner of the New 52. Every comic started again from #1 – even the ones that had been going for 73 years. After four years of working as a “freelance academic” I wanted a reboot. A proper job in which I had a team of people to work with, a platform in which to share my ideas, and some regularity of income so I could focus on work, rather than being distracted by the need to find more work, or chasing clients in order to get paid for work I’d completed.

Also consultancy work is excellent, you meet loads of people, get to travel to some interesting places, but an academic career really survives on publishing research, and as a self-employed consultant, any time you spend writing is a financial cost. It’s one thing to write for free, it’s another for it to cost personally hundreds or thousands of pounds to take the time out to write a book chapter.

It’s not like I worked on my own before the Brookes job came up – the team on the AMORES project are an excellent team, for example, but they’re distributed across Europe and we only meet four times a year. My daily interactions are predominantly with my cats. And it’s ironic, I know, or perhaps hypocritical, to mainly work (at the moment) on how best to facilitate online teamworking and then bemoan the fact that I entirely work online with people.

However, I would never argue that face-to-face collaboration is entirely able to be substituted with online interactions. However, I am enough of an extrovert to need the communication with people to feel motivated by talking to others. I’m also enough of an introvert to need to work on my own after a couple of days of interaction. A 0.6 fte post is therefore ideal for me. I’ll still be teaching at Worcester until January, and I’ll still be working for a few clients.

However, anyone familiar with the New 52 metaphor will know that any reboot is preceded by a Crisis (deliberately capitalised cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_%28DC_Comics%29) .

My flashpoint was the double whammy of my brother-in-law dying (the day before my 52nd birthday) and then my father dying two weeks later. The sheer admin involved is overwhelming, but of course it’s the emotional fallout that really has the impact.

September and October was the key month for me in AMORES (I’m leading the evaluation workpackage, and as everyone who will listen to me knows, without any evaluation there IS no project) and I’d planned for the majority of my commitment to be done with before I started at Brookes. It didn’t get done. I’m still contracted to work on AMORES until the end of November, but the original intention was that it should be some small bits of dissemination, not writing the actual whole thing. So my family, my wife’s family, my AMORES commitments all collided with my new job; in the collision of parallel worlds you’d expect from a capital-C Crisis.

However, it was a good test of how accommodating my employer (errm still got a bit of a culture shock at that word) would be with allowing me time to respond to all the various intruding realities. Last week saw the completion of the AMORES report (180 count ’em 180 pages long) the spreading of my father’s ashes (which ended up a farcical rather than solemn occasion) and everything is now sort of coming together on an even keel.

My main roles are to help implement the TEL framework here, and support the development of the OCSLD’s online presence. I’m also co-tutoring on a couple of modules. More things will emerge as I’m here longer. I will just keep stepping up and try to make myself useful. Make myself useful (no try, remember).

I’ve got an ID card and a car park pass, but then I have four others of these from clients when i was self-employed. What is exciting is my own desk, an office key, my own stapler and desk tidy and TWO hole punches.

Just in time for my honeymoon in Vietnam starting on Saturday (for two weeks). Then a conference in Dubrovnik (one week). So more testing of OCSLD’s patience.

I will be at ECEL http://academic-conferences.org/ecel/ecel2015/ecel15-home.htm presenting the hot-off-the-press findings on AMORES. If you’re there then please come up and say hello.

About the author

Mark Childs

As Senior Lecturer in Technology Enhanced Learning, Mark’s role is to help deliver the Technology Enhanced Learning Framework across Oxford Brookes and to support OCSLD and its staff with their online presence.

Mark’s career in Higher Education has two complementary strands, as a researcher in TEL since 1997 and as an educational developer in TEL since 2003. He has worked at the University of Wolverhampton, the University of Warwick and Coventry University. Between 2011 and arriving at Brookes in 2015 Mark worked as a “freelance academic” providing educational research, consultancy and training for a range of clients including the Open University, Hewlett Packard, The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Ravensbourne College, Worcester University and the Tablet Academy where he is currently its research director.

Mark’s educational development work is informed by, and provides a goal for, his research. The core of these research interests is the use of a wide-range of synchronous communication platforms for education, including social media, videoconferencing, virtual worlds and games-based learning. His most recent work is in the area of online collaboration for design using social media and videoconferencing, where he has evaluated the learner experience of students in distributed teams in projects led by Loughborough University and by CARNet in Zagreb, Croatia. In parallel to this he has a wide-ranging interest in many other fields of research; for example, his most recent publication is a DVD with the OU on Ethiopia’s progress towards reducing child and maternal mortality.

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One response

  1. Matthew

    Sounds like quite the challenging year. Welcome to Brookes!