'Supporting the Supporters' Encouraging Continuing Professional Development for Support Staff
Discussions from Cartography, Mapping and Graphic Staff
The first comment from the floor was that it was good (and indeed rare) to hear from manager's - the workshop presenter's - who had "come through the ranks" and knew what they were talking about. Often managers really don't know what support staff actually do. There was also a plea for some software specific training to be considered. Many colleagues were self-taught and picked up their skills on the fly. There is often a need to pick up a software package (e.g. Adobe Illustrator) very quickly in order to do particular work. There have been cartography training courses in the past, although far less so now, and there are commercial software courses run by the suppliers and third parties. However, these are either too long in the former case, or too expensive and not cartographic enough in the second case.
On behalf of the committee of the Society of Cartographers the chair agreed to consider whether short CPD courses could be developed, perhaps delivered by "experts" in the group, and perhaps on a regionalised basis. One model might be someone writing the content, with others delivering the regional courses.
The last part of the discussion focussed on the need for individuals to find time for staff development within their jobs - to "grow their jobs" as one of the earlier speakers put it. One positive suggestion from the panel was to seek permission from your line manager for non-productive time. By this was meant the ability to set aside small but regular blocks of time to learn new software, techniques, etc in a situation where there is no finished outcome going to any clients. Essentially time to play with ideas and techniques without the constraint of deadlines and outcomes. This time should be possible to negotiate with your (understanding) manager.
It was concluded that it was a very useful session. A summary of the main points was reported back to the plenary session.
Write up of the 'Supporting the Supporters' event reproduced from the Society of Cartographers Newsletter July 2004
Around 20 cartographers attended the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) conference at the University of Gloucestershire on the 8th of June. This conference was aimed at support staff from geography, earth and environmental sciences (GEES) departments. The aim of the conference was to allow support staff to network with colleagues in similar roles from other institutions and explore opportunities for continuing professional development and ways to enhance student learning. The conference also provided an opportunity to discuss a wide variety of topics relating to our work.
The morning session began with a presentation from Carolyn Roberts, Head of the School of the Environment, University of Gloucestershire. Carolyn examined the different types of support staff structures that exist throughout GEES departments, their typical roles and explored some typical problems they face including: managing their own time in the face of increasing workloads; the lack of career progression; and maintaining professional currency through training. Carolyn finished by discussing the issues in supporting student learning and bringing to the audience's attention various sources for staff development including professional organizations such as the SoC, Internal/External training courses, Trades Unions, HEIs and the LTSN.
The second session was presented by Jude Carroll from the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University. Jude produced a highly motivating presentation on encouraging support staff development.
The third keynote session entitled 'Self development, Professional Development:
The Balancing Act', was presented by Professor Sally Brown. Sally is currently
'freelancing' for the Higher Education Academy and after explaining current
initiatives on the development of all support staff, the accreditation of
teaching and learning support staff and the consultation on standards, Sally
went on to discuss the value of professional and personal development and
highlighted the fact that while many of us are in 'jobs' rather than careers,
we do have a lot of opportunities to 'grow our jobs' within the academic environment.
Sally then proceeded to highlight some of those opportunities, suggesting
sources such as the HE press, Funding Council consultation
papers, HEIs strategy plans, departmental objectives and constructive use of performance reviews and ways to exploit them. The overall theme though highlighted the need to be proactive in seeking out opportunities for development and making the best of them.
In the afternoon delegates broke off into various groups, cartographers, administrators, IT support, librarians and lab technicians and attended specialist presentations and discussions. Steve Chilton chaired the Carto group and four 10 minute presentations were given by senior members of SoC. Mike Shand kicked off with a look at how Cartography has changed and developed in the 21st Century. Mike explained how the availability of digital data together with GIS and mapping/graphics software has completely changed the way many of us produce maps. More importantly, Mike pointed out how many academics, students and researchers increasingly rely on the skills base of the modern cartographer/GIS technician to access, utilise and keep them up-to-date with this technology. Mike went on to highlight the sources and type of digital data sets available and the different software tools available for translating this data into mapping software, either GIS based and/or drawing packages. Finally, Mike examined the problems associated with the changes in the way we produce our work, particularly the need to keep up-to-date with the ever changing technology, the lack of specialized training, whether or not cartographers have the skills required to support both academics and students and the role of the HOD or Institution in the CPD needs of its support staff. For those of you attending the SoC Summer School in September, Mike together with others, will be presenting a workshop demonstrating the use of some of the software and databases that are available.
Tim Aspden presented a session on the 'Changing Role of the Cartographic Unit', particularly with the decline in traditional cartographic work from academics and researches and the reduction in the number of GEES departments teaching cartographic methods to their undergraduate students. Tim highlighted the need for cartographic staff to identify the requirements of staff and students, course content and developments within the institution and to ensure that staff receive or seek training opportunities to meet these requirements. Tim pointed out that many of the training courses available within his own and other institutions were too generalized. Support staff often require specialist training that is usually expensive and are often at the 'bottom of the pile' when it comes to funding opportunities for this training. He then cited examples where income generated from some commercial activities within his own unit had funded training for some of the support staff and suggested this may be a way forward for others in similar situations.
Huw Dobson's session looked at ways in which cartographers
could make career moves into other support roles. He discussed how the relatively
narrow field of cartography can make support staff vulnerable to changing
patterns of support, student learning developments and technical changes within
higher and further education. Huw highlighted potential scenarios, mergers
or cutbacks and the growth of a 'self-sufficient' culture among academic staff
who could use off-the-peg products that could lead to rationalization. Huw
suggested that taking advantage of the training and CPD opportunities available,
(personal staff development) and externally (HESDA HE staff development), could open up opportunities to expand roles into areas such as ICT, graphics, web administration and editing, learning resources etc. or to migrate to new areas, for example, chief/senior technician, administrator, map curator, fieldwork support, finance officer among others. He discussed the merits of viewing change positively and seeing it as an opportunity rather than a threat and highlighted personal benefits such as being more marketable and in demand, with new challenges, stimulation and more job satisfaction. Huw added that all of us develop a unique combination of knowledge, skills and experience in our jobs and there is no reason why we should not continue to add to these in other and more diverse fields that may benefit ourselves and our institutions.
Martin Robertson then looked at how he had embraced specific developments in software and technology in the area of Geomatics (Land Surveying) for carrying out surveys for mapping purposes. As a result he was able to demonstrate some exciting mapping techniques. By continuing to adopt new methods Martin has developed and 'grown' his role at the University of Newcastle. This clearly demonstrated the importance for all support staff to engage in CPD.
Following these four presentations a brief question and answer session took place during which a series of issues were raised. It became obvious that specialist training in the use of GIS/database access for cartographers was one area that needs to be addressed in the future. With no or very little cartographic training available staff initially trained in other disciplines such as graphics are being recruited as cartographers. There is a need for these people to have access to some form of training and/or mentoring to assist them with map production. Finally, all the groups re-assembled for a plenary session to discuss the results of the discussions within the breakout groups and ways of taking things forward to ensure that the future CPD needs of support staff are met.
The day proved to be very informative and encouraging. It certainly highlighted that there is a need to provide CPD to support staff and indicated that this is, at last, being taken seriously at a higher level. However, the emphasis was very much on the need for us as individuals to seek out and make the most of these opportunities and/or to create our own. As a start the Society is working actively with LTSN-GEES and is currently considering the possibility of a follow-up one-day meeting aimed specifically at cartographers and GIS support staff.
This write up of the 'Supporting the Supporters' event by Tim Aspden has be reproduced with kind permission from the Society of Cartographers Newsletter July 2004