cloud and career

I’ve been discussing the idea of the cloud with a number of people on Twitter today. The “cloud” remains a contested term and I’ve been struggling to explore the implications of the concept for people’s careers and the delivery of career services. I’ve come up with the following text which I would appreciate comments on. Have I grasped the essence of cloud computing? Can you think of any other ways that this might have implications for career.

The cloud is a metaphor that is used to describe the intangible and distant nature of the internet. Whereas information that is stored on your computer sits in a black box next to your screen, information that is stored on the internet has a cloud like existence at once observable and present but also intangible and distant. It represents a paradigm shift in computing from a situation where most of your data and applications were located on your computer to a situation where most data and applications are delivered via the internet. So we see a move from desk based applications like the Microsoft Office suite to cloud based applications like Google docs which provides a range of office based applications and the capacity to store your data online. For programmers and developers, cloud computing goes beyond providing a way to store data or access applications and opens up a new scalable environment within which development can take place.


For organisations cloud computing has big implications for the management of technical infrastructure. The locus of infrastructure moves away from a single organisation towards the internet. However cloud services do not really live in the cloud but are usually supported by a third party supplier with a huge data centre who can provide infrastructure, applications and/or space in a similar way to the way a utility is provided. From a business perspective the key advantage therefore lies in the ability to scale a range of technical resources up and down to fit with demand.


For individuals cloud computing opens up some possibilities that are likely to have implications for career. The ability to create online spaces which can serve as repositories for data, to move data easily between learning and work environments and to be able to share these resources with others has the potential to mainstream the idea of the e-portfolio. The ability to create, organise and share materials has the potential to support and smooth transitions and to provide ways to record and market achievement. The cloud simply describes the location of these materials but the ability to use this location to selectively retain and broadcast key life, learning and work information across the course of a life journey has the potential to have career implications.


Studying at Masters Level

I’m currently in the process of designing a module for new students on a MA in Education and Guidance. The module is called Studying at Masters levels and is designed to be taken by students who have either had non-traditional routes to postgraduate study or who have had a long gap since their undergraduate study. I thought I might use this blog post to set out what I had planned in the hope that people might make some useful suggestions. I’ve already had useful suggestions from @nosnilwar and @AlexM11 which I’ve tried to incorporate. I’ve also borrowed from some ideas that @ajcann has given me in the past.


The first thing to note is that the module is to be taught online over about an 8-12 week period. My plan would be to progressively release a series of topics week by week (although some might run over a couple of weeks). The current list of topics looks like this:


  1. The student as researcher: what is different about working at a postgraduate level
  2. Reading academics articles and keeping a note of what you’ve read (I’ll introduce them to a citation manager here)
  3. The internet as an academic source
  4. Selecting resources and undertaking a literature search
  5. Using and presenting qualitative evidence
  6. Using and presenting quantitative evidence
  7. Writing reports: understanding how to structure them and develop an argument
  8. Critical writing: when to use literature to support your argument and how to disagree with academic articles.


Each week students would be provided with a short online lecture (PowerPoint + an audio track) and some links to other useful resources. They’ll then be able to watch a little video of me explaining the assessment and be able to post questions about the assessment on a discussion board.  I’ll probably also hold some synchronous drop in sessions as well.


The module will be assessed in two ways

o       Producing a 300 word piece of writing each week based around the topic. E.g. for the week on “Using the internet as an academic source” they might have to find five websites that relate to their subject interest and produce a critical commentary on the sites. i.e. what is good, bad, biased, partial etc. These posts will be available to the entire cohort and they will be expected to read and comment on at least two other people’s writing each week.

o       The second assessment will be a conventional 2500 word report that gives them the chance to draw all of this together into a single piece of writing.


How does this sound? The idea is to do something pretty student centred that enables them to build up academic skills while pursuing their particular interest. It is based around building a discipline of regular writing and designed to facilitate some peer-to-peer learning.


Any suggestions?

Average to A+


I’ve just finished reading Alex Linley’s Average to A+. The book is an attempt to popularise some of the ideas behind positive psychology and the strengths based approach. It is presented a kind of personal development manual, but if you look closely enough has got a load of academic references to back up some of what Linley says. Why popular books aren’t allowed to have references in them in any normal way I can’t imagine, but there you go.


The books argument is that psychology tends to focus on negatives far too much. There is therefore a need to explore the positive much more. Positive psychologist spend time working out why people are happy, contented etc etc rather than what makes people depressed and anxious. Linley’s answer to the question about what makes us happy and successful is the idea of strengths. If we are able to concentrate on the things that we are good at, rather than getting dragged down by the things that we are bad at we are more likely to achieve our potential.


This seems obvious, but when you think about it we spend an enormous amount of time trying to deal with people’s weaknesses. Competency frameworks are designed to expose how you measure up across a range of issues and usually then encourage you to work on your weak areas or conduct a gap analysis. The strengths based approach would say that this is a waste of time. The things that you are bad at you will have to spend a lot of energy just to get OK at. However if you spend that energy working on your strengths you have the opportunity to become really exceptional.


I think that this is a neat concept. People have applied it to the delivery of services like social work and special education as well as to management. These applications explore how the focus on the negative has not been productive as they have forced people to spend their whole time thinking about what they are bad at. Ultimately this is likely to be demoralising and also unlikely to lead to dramatic progress.


However I must admit that once I’d got the basic idea this book didn’t really keep giving. The psychometric “strengths finder” tool that he talks about reminds me of a whole load of other things I’ve seen e.g. Myers-Briggs, Belbin etc etc. All well and good, but essentially making the same point that careers guidance practitioners have been making for years. If you have good self-awareness and focus on what you are good at and like you will have a greater chance of happiness.


Having said that I do think that there are messages in the strengths based approach for all of those of us who are involved in delivering developmental services. Thinking about how much we are accentuating the positive and working out where we can support people to develop with their strengths is a good message to pick up and apply.



Follow on from #dr10

We delivered a one day event on Monday called the Digital Researcher (#dr10). At this event I spoke about,  iamongst other things, the value of blogging for reflective practice. Ironically it has then taken me days to  find a window to blog about my experience of #dr10.

#dr10 is a bit of a labour of love for me. Obviously I’m pretty keen on the use of social media, social capital, the training of researchers and careers work. #dr10 was an attempt to bring all of these things together into one happy event. The idea was to take 80 or so researchers and bring them together in such a way as to convince them that social media has the potential to be useful for their research and their career. We wanted to do this in an experiential way, getting people to use social media as a way of exemplifying its purpose and utility. We weren’t just trying to teach people tools, rather we were trying to show people a way of engaging with a peer community and hoping that some learning of tools happened along the way.

I like running training courses but I’ve become increasingly convinced that people learn most of what they learn from their peers. I’m also pretty convinced that people learn on the job much more than they ever do in training rooms. Trying to emesh a load of researchers into the social web is designed to be a way to emesh them into peer learning communities and foster reflective practice. Involvement in the social web encourages you to think about what you do, why you do it and to process what other people think about it. This seems like an ideal environment to learn about being a researcher or indeed about being any kind of professional.

So did it work? Well at the moment it is honestly difficult to say with any certainty. Did things go wrong? Yep, of course they did. We had technical problems, some of the activities could do with sharpening and we were dealing with a group that had a wider range of knowledge than we expected. However, I did feel that the experiential and exploratory elements worked – there was lots of learning going on throughout the day, often in ways that we wouldn’t have been able to predict before we set out. We’ll do some analysis of whether those who attended have changed their level of engagement with social media over the medium term and see what the outcome of day was. We’ll also almost certainly try and run it again and see if we can make it work even better.

Since the event there has been a lot of debate about how to carry on the discussions. This has manifested in ways that we weren’t necessarily expecting, but has been very stimulating. The potential of social media to democratise something like a training course has been remarked on before, but we’re really seeing this in action. This isn’t always comfortable as one of the organisers who’s event is being democractised, but it is definately a much better learning opportunity for all involved.

Thanks to everyone who took part. I hope you learnt half as much as I did through running the day.

Onwards to the next one…

The digital researcher (#dr10) and digital literacy as a career management skill

Some of you who’ve been following this blog will have picked up that I’m involved in something called The Digital Researcher. The event takes place today and essentially involves giving 100 researchers the opportunity to work out what the possibilities of social media are for their career and their professional practice. I’m very excited about it because it is a completely new “course” and it is all a bit innovative (AKA risky).


We won’t be talking explicitly about career all that much in The Digital Researcher today, but I think that the event should be of a lot of interest to those who are interested in career. My argument would be that The Digital Researcher is about giving this group the tools that they will need to manage their career, spot opportunities, access support and so on. The tools will be immediately useful because they enable the participants to function better in their immediate professional environment (finding academic papers, identifying conferences to attend and so on) but ultimately the ability to use social media will enable them to manage their career whether they pursue an academic path or not.


I’ve been thinking about the idea of career management skills quite a bit recently. This concept would say that there are a series of skills which can help people to deal with pursuing a career in a dynamic labour market. Whereas in the past we might have seen the purpose of careers work to be about matching people to opportunities, now we can see it as helping people to be ready to deal with negotiating their life, work and learning. It is important to find a job that you are suited to, but it is more important to be able to use an understanding of your self to inform the many moves and choices you make throughout your life.


When we talk about career management skills we typically come up with a list that includes some of the following elements:

  • To be able to be reflective and gain an understanding of yourself, your strengths and abilities
  • To be able to understand and evaluate opportunities that are available in the labour market
  • To be able to read labour market trends and discern their implications for your own life
  • To be able to make decisions about life, work and learning to enhance your career and happiness
  • To be able to work effectively with others and draw in support for career choices


Etc etc


When I look at this kind of curriculum for career learning I can’t get away from the fact that I use the internet and social media extensively to support my use of all of those skills. If I want to understand what I’m good at I might ask people to suggest online tests I could take, I might shout out to my friends to make some suggestions or I might use my blog to reflect on my abilities. If I want to analyse the labour market (for me in HE) I’ll certainly find it useful that my twitter feed includes Time Higher and lots of other academics who will be able to give me opinions about what it is like in their institution. My use of technology has become absolutely central to my management of my career. I develop career management skills through using technology.


I’d actually go further than arguing that technology is useful for supporting the management of career. Increasingly it feels to me that digital literacy is an essential career management skill. The ability to evaluate the opportunities that a new technology offers and the confidence to engage with these opportunities is likely to be a key element of career success in the future. The Digital Researcher is one place where I’m trying to explore these links between technology, career and career management. I’ll try and blog again tomorrow and let you know how it goes.