A secondee’s view
I’m now eight months into my secondment to Information Services with the Technology Enhanced Learning (IS-TEL) team at Edinburgh University. The student learning analytics project is well underway and I thought it timely to post some impressions of my secondment so far.
There are many benefits to undertaking a secondment: for the secondee; their department/institution; and the host department/institution. The University of Edinburgh recognises this and actively promotes opportunities for staff to engage in transfers. Secondments within the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) / Information Services are based upon the identification of key priority themes within each College – see Secondments. I pitched my proposal to explore the impact of learning analytics on students’ academic performance to IAD/IS and was lucky that the project fitted with their current objectives. My secondment is for a period of 12 months, with one-day-a week spent at the host department, in this case working with the TEL team.
Learning how others do things has been really useful. Colleagues working on alternative virtual learning environments to those bespoke platforms I am familiar with, have shared their approaches. The IS-TEL led project on learning analytics has flagged up some key questions raised in student focus groups, which I can aim to address in my small pilot study. Having embarked upon use of a particular data visualisation software for my project, I can hopefully impart a little of my knowledge and experience to colleagues in my host department.
Being in another office allows me to physically meet other colleagues face-to-face, replacing the usual e-mail dialogue. With that come those ad hoc conversations which can spark a whole new approach to something. It also offers experience of working at another campus of the University; I’ve often walked along Buccleuch Place wondering what its Georgian terraced facades concealed. As it happens, the IS-TEL office is not the most elegant of accommodations and, being tall, I’ve come close to hitting my head on the door frames of its basement several times, but the place has character, not to mention its proximity to the ‘real world’ (decent lunch venues, banks, post office). I’m normally posted down at Little France…out in the sticks!
New opportunities arise from being an official staff member of a different department, and therefore being on its staff mailing list. One outcome of such is being shortlisted for the Reimagine Education Awards (http://reimagine-education.com/), an entry I wouldn’t have submitted had it not been for Melissa Highton, Director of the newly-created Learning, Teaching and Web Services Division (LTW), sending notification of the award scheme in a staff e-mail – thanks Melissa!
I really enjoy taking a break from my normal routine. With any long-held employment, spirits can become jaded, so being able to try something new alongside the day job gives a welcome boost.
I’ve appreciated seeing the inner workings of the institution. With IS-TEL I see a different perspective on delivering core services to staff and students. It also means I know who the go-to person is for a particular query!
Through working at IS-TEL offices I have met colleagues from different departments that hitherto I would never have come across. These will be key contacts for the next stages of my project.
Switching on my ‘out-of-office’ e-mail autoreply on my secondment day is rather liberating. Not having to answer instantaneously all the e-mail enquiries received allows me time to really focus on work for my learning analytics project…though the down-side is too often a crowded in-box the following day!
In short, I would recommend a secondment to anyone who has a specific project in mind and would like a change of scenery from the day job.
Paula Smith, IS-TEL Secondee