Turning 45

As I write this, Scotland has just announced a month-long lockdown and we’re awaiting a press conference about stronger restrictions in England. So mentioning that it’s my birthday tomorrow is the height of narcissism.

Hello. It’s my birthday tomorrow.

5 years ago I wrote about turning 40. Reading it back, it still rings true. 2020 has put big questions into sharp focus for many of us. My reflections right now are nothing mind-blowing but they are mine, and I wanted to share them here.

As an atheist it’s hard to apply the concept of gratitude: who or what am I supposed to be grateful to? But I do “count my blessings”. I know how lucky and privileged I am. I am warm and safe and well-fed. I love and am loved. I even have some satisfaction at the top of “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”.

Amber’s version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

My attitude towards power and authority has changed this year. I am often critical of those in charge, of the country, of my employers, of councils and schools. If I’m honest I have tended to think I could do better. This year knocked that arrogance out of me. I am glad I am not in charge. I do not have the answers. I value honest leaders, who acknowledge complexity and don’t pretend everything will be ok. I have felt a burden of responsibility at work, but have held it collectively. In simpler times I might have wanted to stand at the front, but this year, I have understood how hard that can be. I learned this year that my appetite for power has limits.

It has been very weird to be an educational technologist this year. I have spent over two decades working on improvements to using technology in education. Between me and my husband we have worked at, or with, all the EdTech UK agencies. Devices, connectivity, software, platforms, content, practice, training … that’s my world. And this year my world was front page news: online learning is a Mainstream Thing now. Video conferencing has been in the foreground but hopefully other models will surface into the mainstream now. There is so much good practice knowledge ready to implement, to make really great blended learning that is more flexible, and more authentic assessment, and more social learning. So much knowledge in our generous communities of practice: just not enough time.

It’s hard not to feel a weird deja vu. I need to swallow down the “told you so”, re-engage with the battles that I thought I’d already fought a decade ago, and maybe … maybe … expect that I will be listened to! I need to say the things that I think are obvious because maybe they’re not obvious to everyone who hasn’t spent twenty years in the field. And the context has changed, massively! I should take the opportunity to think differently and enjoy having new collaborators and stakeholders interested in developing really great digital learning. I must resist the “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” cynicism that bubbles up, and instead see edtech in 2021 for what it is: a genuinely new wave.

Luckily, we are about to get an opportunity to reframe how we support digital learning. Me and my team are moving out of the IT group and into the Education Group. So I become Director of Academic Technology, reporting to the Academic Registrar. And we get to be the people in the teaching services who know about IT, rather than the people in the IT services who know about teaching. So I’m excited for that changed context.

So as I wait to start my refreshed role, and to mark my birthday, I feel strangely positive. Against everything that 2020 has thrown at us, I have emerged fairly unscathed and I have reasons to be positive. Crossing my fingers for this year and sending my love to those who are facing difficult times.


6 thoughts on “Turning 45

  1. Happy Birthday Amber and thank you for sharing your reflections. Best wishes for the year and I hope the relocation of your department goes smoothly. I’ve been glad my department sits on the academic side of the house but also think the connections we’ve fostered with the operations/ IT side were crucial this year. I hope you’re able to foster ongoing connections with the IT folk. Happy New Year to you as well!

  2. Thank you for sharing this Amber – I enjoyed reading it. I also enjoyed learning that I am one year and 1 day out from you in terms of birthdays, so also sending much love and solidarity for early January birthdays.

  3. I enjoyed reading this and the comment that not being in charge has its benefits! I am also sad to learn however that I am over 10 years older than you!!! Happy birthday you sprig chicken xxxx

  4. Happy birthday and welcome to the Academic Registrar’s Team. I agree with you and I’m glad I’m not the person at the top of the chain, I just want to be listened to when they are talking about my area. Here’s to a better 2021.

  5. Happy Birthday Amber and good luck in the new role – I hope they listen. In an uncertain world, being kind to people and finding things to be thankful for every day is a help. And as for leadership – as I got older (next milestone is 60) I realised no-one has a clue ….everyone makes it up as they go or does what worked last time…. the trick is keeping 1 step ahead. Here’s to your next 45!

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