Reflecting on what’s important… randomly

I miss having a rhizomatic course to participate in. This kind of post of professional and personal reflection feels like it would have been appropriate for that kind of sharing space. In the absence of a course however, this is ‘just’ a rather random post.

I’ve recently thought a lot about what’s important. Three very different things,  a work project, a TV programme and a new network, have come together in my head and it’s an interesting place to think.

First, I’ve spent the past few months working on a new strategy for the member organisation I work for and that involved a lot of listening, observing and trying to understand what matters to the individuals and organisations we serve. The strategy ended up being shaped by shared values, an articulation of what’s important to the community.

Second, I’ve also been watching an excellent new documentary series on design (Abstract on Netflix). It explores different types of design from illustration to interior design and it uses the tools of digital film making to enhance the story telling. I love seeing the world through the eyes of people who shape it as they ask what is important and why.

Third, I’ve helped promote an emerging network (see http://femedte.ch/about/) which is focused on providing support and collaboration for a community of like minded individuals. The values that are being articulated as this network forms again focus on what’s important: equality for example.

In each instance people make an effort to engage, they spend time and effort, because of something that is important to them. That is true whether it’s a designer who wants to change the way we feel about being at home, a professional who wants to develop in their career or someone who wants to make their voice heard promoting women in education and technology.

It is hopeful, encouraging, to see people look at the world and take a positive action to change it for the better. Taking some personal responsibility for making a change within a personal or professional sphere requires effort and decisiveness. And the visions of what the future could look like in my three examples are positive. I’d like to see more equality in education and technology. I’d also like to see designers make homes, public spaces and products that I inhabit or use more green, more holistic, more humane. And I’d like to see the values articulated in the strategy I’ve worked on put into practice on a bigger scale. Amidst the sea of chaotic bleakness that news and social media can seem like at times, it’s important to reflect on what we care about and that we can contribute to making it happen.

Equality, empowerment, accreditation and beyond. My fantasy conference proposals… #altc

Every year around this time when I encourage my peers to submit proposals to the ALT Annual Conference, I reflect on the fact that as one of the organisers I can’t submit a proposal myself. And given that as a Learning Technologist this is one of the key events in my diary each year, I have often thought about what I would submit if I wasn’t affiliated with ALT. So here are some of my fantasy proposals, ideas in the making, that I won’t be submitting (again) this year. If you have your own ideas then your chance to submit your 250/500 word proposal is still open until 20th (or soon to be 27th) March. Take your chance & make your voice heard.

Poster, Theme: Wildcard: Poster showing how peer accreditation for Learning Technologist works based on the CMALT framework, which is mapped to a number of other accreditation pathways including the UKPSF, the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework and Blended Learning Essentials. CC licenced so that the model can be adopted by participants in their own contexts.

Lightening Talk, Theme: Empowerment in learning Technology: Empowered #edtech governance. A fast paced, visual take on how to work collaboratively with decision makers to build new strategies, using work with cross-sector stake holders as examples. Would include a 1 page “recipe” handout to take away and try out in your own organisation.

Presentation, Theme: Learning Spaces: this presentation would be led by three apprentices/interns whom I have worked with in the past year and they would take participants on a tour of their learning spaces, both physical and virtual. The tour guides would explain how spaces are used and lived in, why and for what purpose. We would reflect on issues like privacy and agency in different spaces and importantly what happens in the spaces and time periods between things, i.e. between institutions, between life stages, between qualifications. We’d question how Learning Technology can provide continuity for life long learning both online and in person.

Panel, Theme: Empowerment in Learning Technology: Working in Learning technology one of the things I am passionate about is equality. Particularly for those working as open practitioners there are so many ways in which inequality and discrimination can impact on our ability to achieve our aims. This panel would bring together 5 exceptional practitioners to share their own strategies for empowered practice in Learning Technology and to reflect critically on how their approaches are challenged. We’d invite participants to contribute their own tips and tools in advance and during the discussion, ending up in a series of posts providing practical information that would be useful to both learners and professionals.

Workshop, Theme: Wildcard: Learning Technology: top 10 complete failures. This is one of the sessions I’d like to go to but somehow it doesn’t seem to make it onto any conference programme. Presumably because no institution pays for their staff to go and share the details of how they lost money or worse when Learning Technology failed. And indeed because no one wishes to have this particular reference added to their CV. Still, other conferences now include specific sessions where we explore what happens when things go wrong. What happens when projects don’t deliver, students don’t use the tools or academics simply don’t co-operate. The list of forgotten, crumbling Learning Technologies is long. This workshop then would include the brave colleagues I have known and worked with over the years who would be prepared to share their perspectives so that we don’t have to make the same mistakes over and over again. Participants would be contributing their own stories. Ideally one or two policy makers and industry experts would be contributing, too.

You probably have your own ideas as to what sessions you’d like to go and see at the conference. Submit them… .

My #EdTechRations outtakes

I recently wrote a post about contributing to a new book edited by David Hopkins called Emergency Rations #EdTechRations .

Not everything I wrote made it into the final version and I wrote quite a bit about how I work in addition to describing the things I can’t do without. So below is my contribution with additional comments and images that shows what it looks like as work in progress.

When I wrote the intro I thought about what makes certain things indispensable to me and why.

As is becoming increasingly common, my place of work can vary a lot from day to day and mostly I work on the go, between meetings or on the way to give presentations. I don’t often meet the people I work with  in person. Instead we communicate virtually. Still, I have to be able to collaborate effectively, so most of the technology I can’t do without helps me to keep in touch and to work together.

I try to find a balance between being contactable and getting space to think and get things done. So while I do have a smart watch, phone or laptop with me most of the time, I often switch all notifications off or enable flight mode.

Chromebook & Google Apps for Education

For about two years now a basic Toshiba Chromebook has been my constant companion. Bought initially to provide short term support during large events I have ended up using it for everything.

As a piece of kit it certainly has its limitations, but for me, there are significant advantages: to start with it is cheap, robust and data is not stored on the device so I cannot lose it. It starts up quickly, it is easy to use and provided you either learn or know how to use the apps it runs it delivers a great user experience. I have learnt some short cuts that really make a difference and the support documentation online is constantly growing. I am very partial to the mobile devices I have running iOS because I prefer the user interface, but on the laptop ChromeOS does a good job and is constantly improving.

Having limitations in what I software I can use has also had two other benefits: first, it has made my work more collaborative as practically everything I work on is shared. Secondly. It has forced me to take a simpler approach to complex tasks. I like the elegant simplicity I have become accustomed to.

I use as many different operating systems as possible because I like to keep in touch with what iOS/MacOS, Android and Windows feel like. Google Apps for Education help me switch between different devices and operating systems (nearly) seamlessly. Becoming more expert at using and administrating GAFE has had the welcome additional benefit of enabling me to support colleagues across the organisation better. I have also found it a useful tool for supporting professional development, such as building a shared, open CMALT portfolio .

I have written quite a bit in this blog about CMALT (you can see a list of previous posts here). One of the things I wish I had was a better way of recording evidence of professional development on the go. I have tried all sorts of apps and forms, but haven’t found anything that really fits the bill.

Headset, mobile data storage, power packs

Other bits and pieces that I usually have somewhere in my bag are a headset or headphones, a variety of options for data storage big and small and also at least one power pack to charge up mobile devices. I am not very good at carrying around the right kind of adapters for various things, so I rely on being able to plug in my Chromebook and everything else has to survive the day without top up. I am not choosy about which particular make I have as too often these small items get borrowed by co-presenters or colleagues and end up to need replacing.

Reading some of the other contributions to the book I was inspired by how much others think about the kinds of technology I described above. My shopping list has grown considerably since. These are often small essentials that can make a big difference.

The other things I reflected on was the non-digital items I have included. Obviously educational technology doesn’t have to be digital, but most of the time that’s what we seem to end up talking about. I am still glad I included things like pen, paper and shoes… .

Pen & paper

However much I use my watch, phone or laptop, I use pen and paper every day and it is something I could not do without. It doesn’t matter what kind of digital technology I have at my disposal there are always times when putting pen to paper is my first choice. Drawing, sketching, writing – there’s no substitute for me. I have a green Moleskine notebook that I take everywhere and solutions to some of the most complex things I do at work start life as a scribbly drawing on the pages of that notebook marked clearly by the uneven movement of the train.

Business cards, flyers or other printed materials

I  work with many people who are skeptical about Learning Technology or indeed technology in general. No matter what the context is there is always someone who prefers to have paper in their hand. So in that instance all of the digital technology I carry around can be useless and I have to have some form of paper back up. Business cards or printed postcards or flyers can be useful here. They are also a good alternative for when the technology or connectivity let me down. And you never know who you might meet on a train.

Shoes…

However much I work virtually, walking places is a major part of my working life. Sometimes it is simply between one room and another within a conference venue, on other days it is through a new city. My watch or phone might be measuring the distance or help me navigate along my route, but clocking up the miles is hardest on my feet. Shoes that are still comfortable 12 hours into my day and get me as fast as possible from A to B are essential. Shoes can say a lot about a person. They are part of making a first impression, everyone sees them when you stand on stage or at the front of a lecture theater. Just like stickers on a laptop or pin badges on lapels shoes can make a statement about who you are and where you are going.

Did I miss anything? Some apps maybe, stickers, pin badges like my CMALT badge for example… 😉 and I think there may be a whole section to be written on umbrellas – a technology four thousand years old that I cannot do without.

Collaboration in practice: Contributing to Emergency Rations #EdTechRations

This week saw the publication of a new book edited by David Hopkins called Emergency Rations #EdTechRations. This is a volume of contributions from dozens of individuals across sectors and below is a short description of  what the book is about:

“What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?”

This book is a collection of 40 world leading teachers, academics, influencers, critics and practitioners who have answered the question “have you ever walked out the door to go to work, the shops, the gym, etc. and realised you’d forgotten to pick up your smartphone? And then turned around and gone right back for it?

It was fun to contribute my own emergency rations and I enjoyed having a writing challenge of a different kind for a change. Seeing the finished product drop through my letterbox and leafing through so many different contributions, mostly written in words, but also drawn and illustrated, made me reflect on what a productive collaborative effort this has been.

A lot of the work I do is collaborative and I know first hand that getting a large group of people to produce something specific for a specific deadline is no small task. We used a range of platforms from Slack to Google Docs and Twitter along the way and I learnt a lot from reading and commenting on drafts of colleagues and then going back to review my own.

In the end what I included only represents a small part of the content I ended up writing, but the other bits will end up in blog posts or journal articles over time.

A big thank you to David for pulling everything together!

For my part, I am going to use this experience to set my sights on more writing projects in future, both collaborative and individual. It’s been an inspiring experience to see collaboration in practice.

The Future of Education in the House of Stairs…

I am looking forward to participating in the OEB Midsummit in June. Speakers have been invited to provide a quote about the future of education and you can read what others have written already on the event’s website (click on a speaker’s name to see their quote).

Whilst I was thinking about what I might say, I read through what the others have written and one quote from Audrey Watters is “I’m afraid that the future of education will be built by people who read dystopian science fiction novels and liked the “innovations”.” That made me think about books I have recently been reading by William Sleator. I am only familiar with his young adult novels and one book in particular has stuck in my mind for the past 20 years or so: it’s called House of Stairs and was published in 1974.

When I read it as a young adult I was most interested in the individual characters, five 16-year old orphans, trapped in a seemingly endless space that is filled with white stairs. The stairs become their world, the landscape in which they negotiate each other and themselves. As their struggle to survive intensifies their relationships do, too. At the end of the book [spoiler alert…] they are rescued. Yet despite the relative safety they find themselves in, their experience alters their behaviour and lives irrevocably. Some resist, others comply, and all pay a high price. It is not a happy ending and the vision of a dystopian future where even the most basic of rights and choices are beyond the characters’ control stayed with me.

Reading it again recently I thought less about the individuals, although the story is still gripping, and more about those in charge. Those who watch over their experiment as it comes to its gruesome conclusion. The powers that be (political or economic) have needs that this experiment must meet and the fate of the young protagonists is only incidental, it is revealed, to the wider effort. They have no agency, no say over their fate or future.

To be able to think, analyse and reflect is empowering. Having agency, having the power to determine the shape of things to come, seems to me to be a purpose of education. In the House of Stairs only extreme resistance offers the chance to exercise your own will, to have any form of agency.

I just hope that the people Audrey Watters is talking about don’t have the same bedtime reading as me.

From marble to MOOCs… snapshots from my path to Learning Technology

I’ve been continuing my project of uploading a LOT of images to Google Photos and some of these are scans or photos of drawings and artworks I made (Google isn’t great at recognising what the drawings depict but I am not entirely sure whether this is due to my inexpert drawing or insufficiently sophisticated algorithms). Before I started working in Learning Technology and before I did my PhD in Anthropology I trained and practiced as a sculptor – and drawing is a big part of making things. Learning how to draw and sketch shaped how I think and solve problems. Whether in Art or Anthropology or Learning Technology my professional practice has many threads that run through the last two decades. I’ve always been interested in time, change and how we as human beings shape the world around us.

There’s a slideshow of a selection of images in the archive of this blog.

#edtechReflection: getting started, reflecting on failure & other ideas

In the previous post I talked about how the aspect of professional practice I have most conversations about is reflection. Whether it’s discussing how useful it can be, questioning how you can safely reflect openly with others or how to get started, it seems to be a key topic for many. For me it’s become clear how important a part of my professional development it really is and so I want to share my approach in the hope that it might prove useful or indeed prompt others to do likewise.

I have included tips for getting started, reflecting on failure and reflecting in the first person as well as developing reflection as a professional habit:

Have a look at the slide deck below and do send me your thoughts or feedback:

You can also access the slide deck together with my CMALT portfolio at https://goo.gl/44I4Bd .

#CMALT 1 year on: #edtech reflection & professional practice

It’s been nearly a year since I gained CMALT accreditation and I have been using the start of the year and involuntary free time caused by a severely sprained toe (which causes more mischief than I would have imagined) to look back at my CPD activities over the past year. There are three things I learnt I want to share and in the process I have come to make this slide deck on reflection.

What I have been up to CPD-wise: I have continued to use my CPD log to record activities over the past year and from that I have discovered that it’s quite difficult to keep track of these things. The log prompts me to record courses or blog posts or conferences more readily and usefully highlights the need to record/back up evidence. One course I took part in removed access rights quite quickly after it ended, making it difficult to record much of the experience retrospectively. Similarly, informal learning or development has been harder to record unless I write a blog post or personal reflection on it at the time. The kinds of things I have recorded meanwhile paint a picture of interests explored and ideas that I have had, which provides me with insights I didn’t have before (and hopefully should make it easier to update my CMALT portfolio when the time comes).

Finding gaps: keeping a log of my CPD and writing things down has also led me to find gaps. Areas in which I haven’t done enough or thought I did more than I actually have done. One such area for example is publishing beyond my own blog and making more of an effort to find time to attend conferences I haven’t been to recently. While it’s a bit late to make new resolutions for this year I aim to do better in the coming year.

Reflection: the aspect of professional practice I have most conversations about is reflection. Whether it’s discussing how useful it can be, questioning how you can safely reflect openly with others or how to get started, it seems to be a key topic for many. For me it’s become clear how important a part of my professional development it really is and so I want to share my approach in the hope that it might prove useful or indeed prompt others to do likewise. I have included tips for getting started, reflecting on failure and reflecting in the first person as well as developing reflection as a professional habit.

Have a look at the slide deck below and do send me your thoughts or feedback:

You can also access the slide deck together with my CMALT portfolio at https://goo.gl/44I4Bd .

Getting into the #23things habit – team update

img_3141I’ve been writing quite a bit for the #23things course, some of the posts were about my personal experience, while others included reflections on my experience of taking part as a team together with my colleagues.

My first post about this shared venture is dated 16 September, so it’s been over two months since we started and we have been participating pretty much every week since.

We have taken a very flexible approach as a group, giving everyone express permission to take part in whatever manner they see fit. We have a shared scratchpad (Google doc) and at our weekly team meetings we talk about one of the 23 things, usually picked by one of the team who have a particular interest and questions. We have also had a guest or two join us for these discussions and that’s been particularly interesting (special thanks to Ewan!).

However, while each week is different and sometimes we spent more time and others less, there is one particular impact that I am delighted about: we have started to get into the habit. The weekly spot in our team meeting agenda has become part of what we do as a group, the conversations becoming more lively and wide-ranging as we share our different perspectives and questions. It’s quite surprising to come upon topics where some know much and others have questions.

As a team we have become more comfortable at being challenged by topics we know little about or tools we haven’t tried. It’s a lot of fun for me personally to be part of the process, because in a leadership position and as everyone’s boss I don’t always get a lot of time with my colleagues in that kind of context.

So, whilst there are plenty more things to discover in the course itself, I am also thinking about how we can expand on the 23 things to maybe a weekly thing, a topic or question or tool or technology we can talk about. The kinds of interactions the course has prompted us to have regularly are definitely a habit I want to keep.

#LTHEchat reflections: metrics of success vs. stories of succeeding

img_4487This post is inspired by taking part in a recent #LTHEchat tweet chat. If you haven’t yet discovered this excellent chat and have an interest in learning & teaching, go and explore their website before reading this. The topic of the chat was ‘what motivates us to use digital tools for learning and teaching’ and while the conversation was thought provoking the exchange that set my mind on a different tangent was the tweets pictured here with David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid). Incidentally, if you haven’t already done so, this is a good time to discover the ‘Really Useful Edtech Handbook‘ David has edited.

But now, back to my thought tangent. We tweeted about how reflection is useful and how reflecting on and sharing when things don’t go well is important. David then suggested that we can sometimes learn more from things that went wrong than what worked because we reflect more. And that got me thinking, because I reflect on why things worked or didn’t work all the time and and my working life is filled with ghantt charts, project plans and risk assessments that are all designed to help me understand and shape processes and why they work or otherwise. But I don’t think I reflect more on things that don’t work, because often I cannot afford for something to go really wrong – there aren’t a lot of spaces in my work where it is safe to fail. I am in a leadership position where a big failure can have serious consequences and my job is to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Instead, I think most about the things that went right for all the wrong reasons. And that is what this post is about.

It’s a bit like the ‘known knowns’, the ‘known unknowns’ and so forth. There are things that go to plan and succeed, those that go to plan but fail, things that don’t go as planned and fail and then there are things that don’t go as planned but still succeed. You can easily imagine a pie chart that would show how all activities or projects can fall into these categories. If my plan is a good one it probably has enough flexibility built in to ensure that it can adapt to changes or unforeseen circumstances and still succeed. But it also happens that we arrive at the desired outcome, be that a successful project, resource or lesson, despite things going wrong. For example, if you end up having fewer people to work on something than expected, you might identify non-essential tasks and eliminate them. Or when faced with a problem someone might come up with an innovative solution. Or you might be able to reach your goal in a way that’s more efficient. The key for me is not in following the plan, but to reflect on the reasons why it had to change and to learn from them for next time.

Yet, there is a difficulty when you succeed despite things going wrong I find, because when you report on success your audience will not question it in the same way as they would failure. Whether it’s a colleague, a customer or an Executive Board – successful outcomes are  noted and sometimes recognised, but also they can be taken for granted. When something works out we are quick to move on to the next thing, the bigger project… without really understanding why something has succeeded. Often the metrics of success do not reflect what it took to really deliver a successful course or new technology. The measures we set out are often reflective of impact, engagement, income… not usually of the number of times things had to change, how often plans amended or approaches adjusted. In very few instances do you wish to highlight to your audience all the things that went on behind the scenes to make what they are looking at possible. The final presentation, event or report is usually a sanitised version of what we went through, lessons learnt showing what we did right rather than wrong.

I am generalising to a degree, but I do think it’s valuable to consider how we can learn from what succeeds and what doesn’t in a manner that is not as focused on outcomes. Openly sharing practice takes a lot of confidence and determination. Openly sharing the stories behind success AND failures even more so. Taking part in communities like the LTHEchat or indeed those organised by Members of ALT, the organisation I work for, can help with that I find. There is strength in numbers and reflecting on our experiences together can make it easier to share the more personal, less polished stories of we have in common.