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Empowering learners with computers

A sheer love of computers and a passion for teaching others has led Eli Appleby-Donald to a career as a learning technologist at the University.

Eli Appleby-Donald
Eli filming for a photography MOOC

My background

I have no education background to speak of. I found school very difficult and although I loved learning, I couldn’t quite fit into the academia mould and so left school without the necessary qualifications to attend university. I had wanted to be a teacher but had to accept that this wasn’t for me.

Looking back, I can see that it was very much impressed upon me that learning for the sake of learning was childish and a waste of time. If I wasn’t to go to university, then I should be spending my time working and earning a living, not learning for no purpose. For someone who had genuinely loved learning, this was a hard blow.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that by chance I discovered computers and more specifically the internet. It was a truly life changing thing. Suddenly I had access to so much information, for free. I could learn about anything I wanted and more importantly, I could learn at a speed and in a way that suited me. I often describe this feeling as if someone had given me the keys to the library of Alexandria.

So, decided I had to tell the world about this awesome new thing that could let you learn. 'Tell' became 'show' and I took a job teaching people how to use computers. Mostly I was teaching people how to use it for work, there was something back then called the “European Computer Driving Licence” and this is where I focussed. Teaching the basic use of Microsoft Word, Excel and Access. However, every so often I got to teach someone how to use a computer and the internet in fantastic ways that gave them the spark it had given me. My favourite was when I taught senior citizens how to use the internet, email and communication tools like MSN chat – it opened up the ability for a grandmother in the UK to speak to her grandkids in Australia. I recognised how useful and appreciated this was, so I started writing up instructions for using this type of thing and created a website for people to be able to find these instructions.

The website then became online courses which led me to becoming an instructional designer creating online courses (e-Learning) for the government sector, which led to me becoming a learning consultant and trainer, this time mixing face to face and technologies, and the responsibility for the professional development of staff from all corners of the UK.

My background in teaching and designing teaching which mixes face to face, technology and online learning is what led me to my current role at the University of Edinburgh as a learning technologist assisting teaching staff to design their teaching and teach using technologies.

At Edinburgh

I am a learning technologist at Edinburgh College of Art. This means I am involved in all sorts of things from training staff to designing courses and programmes for our school. I even teach our students sometimes if there is a particular gap in skills around technologies that I can help with, for instance I work with students to help them learn about web design and how they can manage their own online brand as a freelance art practitioner.

What may surprise people (given my job title) is that I don’t fix things that are broken or take responsibility for the technology used in the University. I support others to use it. I very much believe in empowering people to learn rather than doing things for them.

I am so lucky to work at ECA, as on a daily basis I am surrounded by people who feel exactly the way I do about teaching and learning, and who are passionate about helping others to learn. In turn they are teaching me so much about teaching in the creative arts and about the different teaching methods used and this has inspired me to reassess my dream to be a teacher. I’m hoping maybe one day I can take a more teaching focussed role at the University where I can really make use of my skills.

Something I know...

Possibly people don’t realise that I am still creating online learning and I am still passionate about it being available free to those who can make use of it. My last project was a set of online photography courses where I got to test out studio style teaching in an online environment. In fact, the picture of me you see here is me recording some teaching material for this at home.

So I am still learning and using the skills I learn to help others do the same.

Related links

Eli's blog

Learning Technology Blog

Teaching Matters