Life is strange the way it unfolds. I am struck how casual conversations lead to significant change - like a new job in an entirely new life space. By the way happiness can be shattered by the loss of the people you love and be restored by the relationships you hold dear. By the way so many individuals shape who we are along the way. And how we can never take for granted what we have or what we imagine is our future. Who we are and who we become can only emerge through living. My journey through life reveals the big patterns of change and development through my life.
I was born in Manchester in 1950 the eldest of six children. My mother and father taught me the value of hard work and encouraged me to believe that you never get anywhere in life unless you work hard for it.
At school my passion was sport and I wanted to be good at everything I got involved in particularly running, football, swimming, badminton and gymnastics.I was not a good student until, thanks to a teacher who believed in me (Henry Miller), I discovered geology in the sixth form. It became my passion and although I don't 'do geology' any more there is still a geologist inside me. No matter where I go I want to understand the geology of where I am : much to the annoyance of my family. What appealed to me about geology was the sense of discovery that lay at the heart of being a geologist. I liked the blend of fact and imagination it afforded and I liked the physicality of interacting with the earth.
I studied for my BSc Geology at Kings College London University graduating in 1972 and completed my doctorate under the light touch supervision of Professor Bob Howie, on the geology and mineralisation of the St Just tin mining district in SW England at the end of 1976. My doctorate was one of the most joyful learning experiences of my life. I was helped by many people but I would particularly like to thank Jackie Trembath who was my mentor while working at Geevor Tin Mine.
My mum, dad and brothers and sisters emigrated to Australia at the end of 1972. I didn't want to go as I was planning to get married the following year. I married Jill who I had first met and dated when I was 13! in 1973. She was a secondary school teacher and we spent our first few years of married life living in SE London.
As I was completing my doctorate, a chance conversation with a lecturer I had done some work with (Angus McMoore) at the Royal School of Mines, led me to applying for a job at the Institute of Applied Geology in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I was fortunate to receive a job offer and spent eight happy and productive years being a geologist in Saudi Arabia working closely with two people, Colin Ramsay and John Roobol, who provided me with the best role models any university geology teacher could wish for. I immersed myself in the geology and learnt what teamwork and collaborative learning was all about as we spent nearly 8 years working on our 'Geotraverse' trying to understand the geology of a 1000 mile strip across the Arabian Shield. In 1980 I moved from King Abdul Aziz University to the Saudi Arabian Geological Survey (DGMR) and spent four happy years prospecting (often by helicopter!!) in the northern Hijaz region (NW Saudi Arabia). It was absolute heaven for a young geologist.
Our three children Ben, Jodie and Gemma were all born while we lived in Saudi Arabia and it was a very happy period of my life. Living in another country was an important part of my education and it changed the way I saw the world. We knew we lived a privileged life as expatriates and it was a nasty shock when we returned to the UK in 1985 with the intention of emigrating to Australia where there were more opportunities for geologists
But fate decided otherwise and in September 1985 I became a senior lecturer at Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University) where I taught mineral deposit geology and returned to researching the mineral deposits of SW England. I really enjoyed the teaching in what was the best Polytechnic Earth Science Department and the experience provided me with the basis for another very different career. Although I didn't know it at the time the review of the Cornubian Orefield for Economic Geology was the last paper I would publish on my research in SW England.
My mid-career change to the field of education started with me becoming the geoscience inspector with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate. The transition I had to make from 'being a geologist and geology teacher' to 'being an inspector of geology education' was the hardest professional change I have ever made. It was truly immersive and it involved a significant change of identity. I am thankful to all those colleagues who helped me through it, especially my mentor John Benett. I always felt that witnessing other teachers, teaching was a great privilege and I began to see more clearly the characteristics and relationships that made good teachers great teachers. During this period I built a picture of geology in the polytechnics and colleges sector. In addition, I was given the task of producing what would have been the final report of HMI which dealt with the impact of research, scholarship and consultancy activities on the standards and quality of learning. Unfortunately, this report never saw the light of day because the senior civil servant at the time felt that the pattern of positive messages I had discovered through trawling through thousands of HMI reports ran counter to the Government's policy of research selectivity. This collision of truth and policy was a hard lesson to learn and even now it makes me very uncomfortable.
Giving up my professional identity as a geologist and creating a new one as an inspector gave me the confidence to adapt to other roles. With the expansion of the university sector in 1993 I lost my job as an inspector and spent two years at the University of Plymouth setting up a small Quality Evaluation and Enhancement unit. In that role I developed the idea of an institutional evaluator/ process auditor and the practice of inquiry into significant institutional issues. But it was the enhancement side of my work that I enjoyed the most. I guess it connected most closely with why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place and it enabled me to take the next step or rather a series of next steps working for national organisations between 1995-2005.
Thanks to this role I was able to move to the Higher Education Quality Council in mid 1995 where I became a member of the Graduate Standards Programme (GSP) team. This was a major project to find out what had happened to quality and standards following the massive expansion of the university sector in the late 80's and early 90's. Again I was fortunate to work with a group of very bright, hard working and creative people. I led work on modularisation of the curriculum (5 national reports), institutional self-evaluation (1 report) and benchmarking (1 report later published by QAA). My work on benchmarking eventually resulted in a book ‘Benchmarking for Higher Education’ SRHE OU Press.
Quality Assurance Agency (1997-2000) I led the development of policy on programme specifications and personal development planning (PDP) the first educational policy in higher education to try to influence the process of learning. During this period I developed the concept of the role of a broker in higher education as a way of explaining my professional life and this work was published in a book ‘Changing Higher Education through Brokerage’ Ashgate Press.
The event which changed my life was the death of my wife Jill in 1999 from breast cancer at the age of 48. It was a very sad time for me but I was inspired by her strength, courage and dignity as she suffered chemo and all the other things that happen when you die in this way. Something died in me also but I resolved to try to make the most of my life on her behalf and for the sake of our three children.
In 2000 I decided that I needed to change my work and a chance conversation led me join the
Learning and Teaching Support Network (2000-03) and then to the Higher Education Academy (2003-2005) In these organisations I led research and development work on creativity in the curriculum, personal development planning and external examining. I also led the development of the ‘Change Academy’ an innovative team-based approach to planning for institutional change.
In 2003 I met my wife Taraneh (she had also lost her husband in 1999) and her three children and we married in 2004. This gave me a new purpose in life which has helped me enormously. With six children and one grandchild (Feb 2012) I count myself a lucky man.
In 2005 I wanted to try to apply some of the thinking that had emerged in the imaginative curriculum project in a real educational environment and I was fortunate to be appointed to lead the Surrey Centre for Excellence in Professional Training and Education (SCEPTrE) at the University of Surrey: one of 74 Centres for Excellence in Learning and Teaching established in 2005/06 with a five year Government grant. The Centre provided research, development and enhancement capacity for the university’s undergraduate curriculum an important component of which is professional training (year-long work placements relevant to the field of study). Much of this work is archived in our wikis which can be accessed through the SCEPTrE Portal. Our 2009 conference focused on 'Learning to be Professional through a Life-Wide Curriculum' and we launched a Learning to be Professional through a Higher Education e-book in October 2009.
SCEPTrE's work was inspired by the fuzzy but inspiring idea of learning for a complex world. This led us to examine the learning potential contained within the idea of a life-wide curriculum and the encouragement this idea gives to higher education to think about the potential for recognising learning across the full width of learners' lives. In 2010-11 SCEPTrE developed and piloted a Lifewide Learning Award Framework In spite of a successful pilot that demonstrated the value and potential of the approach, the University was not persuaded to continue beyond the pilot.
I only realised after it had happened what a defining moment it is when you decide not to seek employment with another organisation.The SCEPTrE project finished in March 2011. I established a small enterprise Chalk Mountain Educational and Media Services, around the idea of visualising and sharing knowledge. Slowly it has morphed into a publishing company responsible for publishing books and magazines relating to my two educational projects.
In August 2011 I also formed Lifewide Education to carry on promoting the idea and practice of lifewide education. My scraps of life blog testifies to my ongoing commitment to my own lifewide learning. I am fortunate to have a wonderful team of volunteers to support this enterprise.
RSA Fellowship: In late 2011 I became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. I am in the early stages of developing my relationship with the society and finding out how I can contribute to their work by volunteering my time, experience, knowledge and skills.
In January 2015 I formed Creative Academic to support universities and teachers who want to enable learners to use and develop their creativity.
So life goes on...