I’m just some guy, you know, (© Douglas Adams) who’s ended up working in education.
I currently work in New Zealand at the University of Waikato. (With the standard disclaimer that what I write are my thoughts and they don’t necessarily represent the views of my current or former employers. They may not even represent my previous or subsequent thoughts either!)
I left school and bombed out of my first attempts at getting a degree – found that there was a lot to learn about life and that wasn’t compatible with formal study. It was a bad time to hit the job market ‘unqualified’. I became one of Thatcher’s great unwashed, living off state handouts for some time along with 2 million others. I had a set of seasonal jobs that were enjoyable most of the time. For 3 summers I worked as a caving instructor, introducing many, many, people to what was an alien environment for them. Several other summers I worked as a ‘Parky’ or Park Attendant, looking after the open spaces in Edinburgh. On some days this was the best job in the world; on others, well …
I finally gained some full time employment still working with the Edinburgh District Council Parks and Recreation Department. Now it was in parks and ground maintenance. In the summer I cut grass – all day, every day. But it was outside, in some great bits of Edinburgh’s open spaces. In the winter, life was harder; forking over frozen ground, avoiding the dog crap that was everywhere in the housing schemes that we were working in.
After 5 years I had had enough and a job came up in the Yorkshire Dales. I should digress here and note that while I was at school, I was introduced to the great outdoors by some brilliant teachers. From the walking, caving, climbing and expeditions that we were introduced to, I became a caver which is where the caving job mentioned earlier came from. While I had some fallow periods when Mrs Thatcher wouldn’t give me enough money to get away to the underground world, caving was something that was always in my blood. The job in the Dales was working in Inglesport, a caving and outdoor shop, selling gear in a pretty niche market.
I met my wife to be and we had our first child. I decided to return to education and enrolled at Lancaster University to complete a degree in Physical Geography. Just before I graduated, I was offered a job for a year working to digitise maps as part of the Countryside Survey 2000. When that contract came to an end, I gained a job as a Geography Technician at St Martins’ College, Lancaster, now the University of Cumbria. I rapidly found myself working and supporting students in the small computer suite that we had in the Geography department. A latent interest in computers found me supporting the use of Learnwise VLE / LMS in our department. We then moved to Blackboard but I should note that Geography had a wider base than just using a VLE, with Excel simulations, GIS, Computer Based Training as it was, graphical statistics packages, etc. From this I progressed within College to support the largest distance learning program that we had. This was for people wanting to train as Primary school teachers but unable to commit to a full time on-campus course. Cumbria has the most geographically isolated population in the UK and also the lowest take up of Higher Education of any county in the country. Delivery and retention were therefore two key issues for us. While I was at St Martins’, I completed a Masters degree in Multimedia Computing at the University of Central Lancashire.
My job at St Martins’ expanded to supporting the whole of the Education Faculty before I left to work at the University of Bradford. This was invigorating for me with a really good team of people to be associated with. I worked there maintaining their Blackboard system as well as various other learning technologies. That was half the time; the other half was working with staff to help them come to terms with education in what was now a technology rich environment. This was by far the most satisfying.
Where does New Zealand fit in? My parents moved to NZ in 1962 when I was nearly 3. We moved back to the UK when I was nearly 8 but left various relatives behind who had followed us out on the emigration path. In the late 90′s and early 2000′s various friends moved out to NZ and Australia. We had a long touted holiday to NZ in 2005 and came back full of enthusiasm. We decided that we were keen to emigrate ourselves but some family matters delayed this. Finally, in 2007 we started to apply for a visa and in late 2007 I was offered a job at the University of Waikato. We arrived in NZ in January 2008 and began the process of settling in. We recorded stories about this move in http://easegill.wordpress.com and there are pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/easegill if anyone is at all interested!
So why Easegill? Easegill is the name of the longest cave system in the UK, currently measured at approximately 70 miles (112km). In the late 90′s, I was active in Usenet groups concerned with caving. The cyber-safety rules then suggested that you should use a pseudonym for online activity and Easegill was what I chose. It is a cave system where I had been active in trying to make connections to other caves. I once spent (with many other folks) 6 years digging a 120 foot deep shaft through glacial debris to break into a cave (Iron Kiln Pot). The cave was known but could only be accessed by a strenuous vertical trip followed by a 600 foot dive through flooded passages. The shaft we dug has allowed easier access and the prospect of fresh connections to other parts of the system. Connection and perseverance are key themes here, but also camaraderie, common goals, the greater good and trust are all important.