Last week, I was hugely honoured to be awarded second place in Learning Technologist of the Year (2018) in the Individual category.
It began by an application in June 2018, which was a Google form. It took a lot of thinking about an a lot of planning – and my first thought was that I wished I had been more systematic about collecting feedback and evidence of the work that I had been doing. I knew that the work I was doing as in Assistive Technologies and Accessibility at Huddersfield University was having a positive impact, as people kept telling me, but I had to collect that information to support my application.
I had felt for some time that what we were doing at Huddersfield University was different. My role was located in Computing and Library Services, but the majority of my work was with Disability and Student Services. This meant that I could be a ‘bridge’ between the two departments and had ways of influencing both sides and working together with colleagues in both situations.
In July 2018, I was invited by the Panel to an Interview in Milton Keynes at the Open University, where I was interviewed by 4 of the Panel for the award. I kept telling myself ‘It’s not a job interview – you’re already doing OK’ – but it didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking. I wanted to give the panel a taste of some of the work I was doing with disability and accessibility, so on arrival, I gave all the panel a blindfold and I introduced my presentation using JAWS software, so they heard me opening the presentation and reading the first part, but they couldn’t see what was on the screen. A large part of my work last year was with VI students and it was great to be able to share a little of that with the panel.
In August 2018, I heard that I was a finalist! Great excitement and astonishment and a booking for ALT-C. This also coincided with a big move for me – up to Stirling University in Scotland. It had all happened rather quickly and so I was in the strange position of being a finalist for the role I had actually now completed whilst trying to start a new job.
September 2018 came around very quickly and I set off down to Manchester. I felt sick with nerves. For me, this award wasn’t so much about ‘me’ as wanting to raise the profile of what could be achieved when an inclusive approach is taken to software and accessibility. I had learned that placing these services at the heart of what we do means that some students gained in independence and needed less support because the software and technology they needed were readily available. I also learned that software that is often billed as being ‘assistive’ can be useful for everybody (eg MindView, Read&Write, Sonocent Audio NoteTaker)
I was completely overwhelmed to get the award. A huge rush and mix of emotions as I had left the job that I had the award for and yet gained the recognition that it was a job well done, that the hard work really was having an impact. I can’t thank Huddersfield enough for the support they gave the ‘HudStudy’ project. I was given the space and the resources to develop something new and exciting, which will live on for the benefit of students at the University in the future. Even though I have now taken on a new role, I am passionate about technology NOT being a barrier to students as they learn and about the provision of readily-accessible materials and software which can be enabling for the disabled learner.
A BIG thank you to ALT for organising the awards process, which gave me a lot to think about and reflect on; if you know the work you are doing is valuable, I would highly recommend that you apply next year – just make sure that you document and evidence everything you do. Also a HUGE thank you to Huddersfield University for supporting the development of ‘HudStudy‘.