Advanced Area: Leadership in learning technologies


What kind of leader am I?

From the archetypal leadership styles I would say I am somewhere between a laissez-faire and participative leader. I like to trust my staff to stay productive whether it is on a specific project I have given them or just generally being a self directed positive agent for change. Partly this is out of necessity.

Working in a big sclerotic organisation means an authoritative leader is often made to look silly. Often they are holding a line or working to a priority that has withered on the vine or been completely changed but not communicated. A situational leader would thrive in this environment if it weren’t too opaque to work out what you are adapting to. So you would be more self-directed than situational.

As for transactional I believe this to be infantilising. Crude behaviouralism might work but the largest reward I can give the people under my leadership is a good structure to work in, investment in their ambition and the respect to be left to manage things how they see fit. Reward people enough and it tips into laissez-faire.

I do believe more in authentic leadership. The Leadership Institute states that an authentic leader: leads with purpose; leads with values and principles and values; leads with their heart; leads by cultivating long-term relationships; & leads by example. This is a far more practical approach to leading in a fast evolving sector like digital education and makes for far more credible professionals in the slightly odd kind of institutions Universities tend to be. Its about guile, wits and being true to your values but also valuing other people as people.

I am not uncritical to the idea of authentic leadership. As I have written about the dangers of it and that it presumes a good person. So authentic leadership will rely on your own moral compass and what you think good management is. My values lead to lead by various rules of thumb:

  1. Be who you needed when you were at that stage of your career.
  2. Don’t be a dick. Being goodly and kind is its own reward.
  3. Double check someone’s calendar before sending a snotty email.
  4. You role is to protect the staff from unnecessary stress and not to burden them with additional stress. Be the shit shield.
  5. Be inclusive. This means calling out bad behaviour and also ensuring conversations and

Which parts of my work are leadership? Well there is formal and informal leadership. Formally I head up a function in my faculty leading a team of 5 or 6 learning technologists and digital media technicians. I have headed various working groups and committees including University wide committees. I am a line manager and at UWE that comes with quite a lot of responsibilities. The function is called being a ‘people manager’ and a lot policies are enforced by and dependent on this role.

How does this manifest in my work?

Manifestation 1: Setting Standards

Manifestation 2: Co-ordinating

Manifestation 3: Taking the difficult positions on behalf on my community

Manifestation 4: Diversifying the workforce

Manifestation 5: Developing Others

As a previous CMALT holder I took my role as an assessor seriously. I was involved in marking portfolios and took the role of lead assessor on many occasions. I often joke I feel very vampiric whilst doing this as I feel like a I am feeding of more junior members of the profession as this is basically my main CPD route. Some of my best ideas/advice have been co-opted from other peoples portfolios and passed of as my own!

As a current manager I have a major role in developing a team, from the storming to the norming to the performing. In addition to this, I take VERY seriously my responsibilities in developing individuals. I try to be the type of manager I would have needed when I was at the point of my career my subordinates are. This starts from day 1 of our entry level roles:

Assistant Learning Technologists

As part of an Assistant Learning Technologist’s probation period I ask them to do things that focus their sights on the next job. They are as follows:

Sit with the Blackboard Support team. Shadowing the main support team gives new starters a good understanding of this part of the operation. It builds important relationships for the future. Most importantly it gives them perspective on how lucky they are to a job as a learning technologist. The difference in the level of creativity and freedom they have in their roles in comparison to Tier 1 support desks. This I feel gives them a push to think of a career in learning technology long term.

Shadow me at top level meetings. I ask new starters to shadow me at the more important meetings. They will attend at least one Faculty Learning, Teaching and Assessment Committee and attend at least one Learning Technologies Management Group. Part of this gets their face out there and helps them join our community. Part of this helps de-rarefy these spaces and lessen any feelings that they don’t belong where their voice can be heard. Lastly, I really enjoy having a new started feel empowered pitching into a debate and knowing more in their short time at UWE than some of the more senior staff.

Complete a self assessment on the CMALT portfolio. One of the very first things I do is get individuals to sketch out a plan of how they would meet the CMALT criteria from employment prior to joining UWE. I introduce this by email . It helps me orientate their capacity around their main job role towards areas of weakness on the portfolio.

In addition to their main roles of PebblePad support and equipment loans for our Assistant Learning Technologists we leave space for ‘development’ activities. These are meant as stretch targets for developing either their own thinking, skills or increasing team capacity for some activities. These as mentioned are set to help them evidence weak parts of their portfolio but also to develop others in the team. For example, we have a bi-lateral Christmas development day with another Faculties TEL team. For this event from the Assistant Learning Technologist strata alone we are getting talks about:

  • Streaming 360 video content across EduRoam using the Vuze camera
  • Assessor initiated assessments in PebbePad on tablet devices for workplace based assessments
  • A market overview of the eLearning authoring tools available in 2019

This is in turn develops our more senior team members with new ideas and marketable knowledge. It is important to guard against getting too blinkered on one subject or piece of software, to maintain a general awareness of the sector. I believe the alternative is to be left behind or become irrelevant. After the start I had to my career with multiple fixed term contracts I am obsessed with maintaining the employability of all my staff.

Continuation and Destination of Leavers

For those in the middle tier I take a less hands on approach to development. I will support individuals to follow less generalist paths to more niche areas of interest. This in the form of conference attendance, equipment purchasing or carving time out to complete learning and development opportunities. Luckily for me doing this has meant we have an expert in accessibility in the office (at just the right time!) and some really impressive skill sets to call upon.

Unfortunately this has an annoying by product. People go get promotions elsewhere. This is a big focus for me in the next period, making sustainable structures. Our team structure has entry level jobs at below market rates for a Learning Technologist in this area so a lot of this time investment is wasted from an institutional perspective. I don’t mind as in the long run I produce great and happy staff and it gives me evidence to regrade those roles. Below is a diagram of team dynamics over the last two years:

Team dynamic progression diagram
Green indicates people who have been in post for more than 6 months.
Grey solid box indicates no postholder in place.
Images taken from public facing websites.

All the people who have left the team have gone on to bigger salaries either internally or externally. Our continuation data is pretty poor. We have had 4 people leave the team and have secured 2 people promotion to new roles within the team. Of the 3 people who left two went to the University of Bristol and we kept on 2 within UWE but within the library and Academic Practice Directorate. I have gone through a total of 6 recruitment processes in the last 18 months and I was very glad that our internal staff managed to outperform very hot competition from external staff for these roles. It means we are doing something right.

In addition to this since leaving the team 2 individuals have gone on to complete their CMALT portfolio and become certified members after we paid to start them on that journey.


360 degree feedback (password Gooner69?) excerpts :

“Tom takes on board the views of others and listens well. He creates plenty of opportunities for his staff to develop and listens to their views to help shape the improvement of his team.”

“Tom is a very skilled manager. He has built an excellent team and he leads them to deliver excellent performance.”

“Tom is very good at utilising his team’s skills and is able to align work to suit expertise. Tom gave me lots of opportunities to use my existing skills and develop new ones while helping me to see how they can be used in context. Tom also promoted opportunities such as conferences and progression paths to help me in my career. He is keen for everyone to do well and succeed in the field.”

Team Alumni

Natascha Imlay (currently training to be a teacher)

Russel Brookes

Krystina Selley

Naomi Beckett


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