Open leadership: self assessment and self care

My week in stamps

One of the things I did this week was to help test a diagnostic tool, which is part of the work Mozilla is doing on open leadership. The questionnaire had lots of questions helping me reflect on my approach to open leadership, how I support and empower others, but one question in particular made me pause:

The question asked me to indicate (I am paraphrasing here) how often or to what extent I practice self care to enable myself to be creative, compassionate, enthusiastic and so forth as an open leader. It was phrased in a way that didn’t feel familiar to me, so I had to sit back and think a bit longer on what answer I could give.

I’ve learnt a lot about how important it is to find the right balance between being busy and resting, thinking and getting things done and yet it’s something that, like many other people, I can struggle with at times.

This week is a good example because it’s been so busy, and had so many big deadlines in it, that it takes quite a lot of effort not to loose sight of that balance. So as part of my week I have been having a daily play in the visual thinkery sandbox that Bryan Mathers has set up and that I blogged about recently, making a stamp a day as a mini creative project. Making something, even if it only takes five or ten minutes, and stretching my creative muscles, thinking about something in a different manner, is a good way of resetting my brain and taking a break from a hectic schedule.

It’s a small step in the right direction and a bit of creative, making fun. It is also an important part of finding the right approach to open leadership for myself. It’s given me a new idea to try and capture a more holistic approach to professional and personal development for my upcoming appraisal, to reflect the different aspects of what it takes to be a leader.

Making stamps.. with remixable thinkery

Picture of stamp collection

I’ve been taking a more playful approach to making something online this week, experimenting with new ‘Remixable Thinkery’ that Bryan Mathers has been working on as part of his Visual Thinkery projects. Have a look at the sandbox and a gallery of what others have created to date .

Screenshot of the template to remix thinkery

I had a go with the stamp template and tried out different remixes, including uploading photos, resizing/recolouring the text and moving things about.

Having a play with lots of different options is a lot of fun and I found the interface easy to use and intuitive. I tried it on mobile and desktop browsers and found it easier on desktop, but both worked.

One of the stamps I made

I tried out a range of images, including drawings, like this one which I made for an online conversation on Twitter around concepts of belonging and digital citizenship last year.

Having spent a lot of time waiting in the post office in recent weeks I was inspired to try and make a stamp collection sheet with my newly created stamps using powerpoint. 

Picture of stamp collection

How to share credit and praise yourself… reflecting on the value of (deserved) recognition

Recently I have been spending a lot of time writing references, quotes and feedback for colleagues. And I found it easy to talk about their achievements, to praise their outstanding qualities and to describe how they made a difference. It’s easy to do when it’s for someone amazing, it’s easy to do when it’s not yourself you’re writing or talking about, I find.

But then I read something others or I write about ourselves, about our own achievements and what we have made happen and the tone is completely different. There are whole sentences of qualifying statements, there are plenty of “I feel that…” and “I may argue that…” to soften the tone. There are references to other people and their work, acknowledgements of contributions and so forth. Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons, plenty of us struggle to find a way to give ourselves the credit we deserve (self-promoting egomaniacs need not read on…) . And whilst I obviously do not advocate taking credit if you don’t deserve it, it is important to be able to accurately recognise the importance of your own work and its impact on order to develop more mature, reflective professional practice.

In my experience that’s not a gendered phenomenon, and can definitely apply to high achieving individuals as well. Plenty of brilliant people find it hard to accept praise, argue their own cause or believe in their achievements.

Since I was awarded CMALT, I keep writing updates to my portfolio and as part of that process (and beyond it) I am trying to improve how I apply this in my own practice and I have come up with a couple of rules for myself:

Acknowledge contributions: in my case nearly everything is a shared undertaking. So I start by giving credit to my collaborators, to everyone’s who has contributed and say thank you.

Mention my own role: once I have acknowledged what others have done, I also describe my own work, what I made happen, what I achieved.

Reflect on impact: whether it is good or bad, I reflect on the difference what we or I did has made. It’s a useful opportunity to ask for feedback, to acknowledge lessons learnt, to bring achievements into perspective.

Accept praise: genuine praise can be hard to accept, particularly from people whose opinion you value. Some people love being applauded, others don’t feel they deserve the credit. Accepting praise is a skill like any other and I find it is important to remember that sometimes others can see more clearly when we deserve it. If they make the effort to bestow upon you, accept it.

Hopefully this approach will help me find the right balance between sharing credit, celebrating what I do well and getting and giving others the professional recognition we deserve.

Trying out new online courses: GDPR and online engagement

I have been trying out new online courses, starting with a Futurelearn course ‘Understanding the General Data Protection Regulation‘ which many colleagues are also taking part in. I am a Data Controller and responsible for my organisation’s compliance with the GDPR framework when it comes into force, and this course forms part of our way to becoming compliant.

I have been taking part in the course mostly by reading and absorbing the material rather than discussing/exchanging ideas with other participants – I have plenty of debate around these issues in other contexts.

The course is clearly structured, easy to follow and has plenty of references and articles to follow up on specific issues further. I found the video component of the course, which is usually more engaging for me, less interesting in this case. I found I prefer to read the more detailed articles and lists.

After one more week of GDPR, I am really looking forward to starting a completely different kind of course, the upcoming ‘Engagement in a Time of Polarization‘ run on edX led by Delia Deckard and Bonnie Stewart. The course is described as follows:

How can we work together in a society where our communications channels have become so polarized? Can we engage in active, effective collaboration in a media ecosystem designed to make money from driving us apart?

This two-week course convenes a conversation on participatory engagement models, and on building understanding and relationships even within the very real limits of contemporary social media. The course will enact the same participatory ideas it explores, and will feature input from leading voices in media literacies, disinformation, and polarization. Participants can engage on their own time and in real time, and if they wish, can build towards action in their local communities.

The focus of this course closely relates to some of the work I do day to day, in particular around enabling engagement in online communities at scale, supporting effective open, online governance and reflecting on the skills required to participate.

It’s also a topic I am interested in for my own practice, and I am looking forward to learning more about how debate gets polarized and how we interact online.

Re-post #altc: What we have been up to… an update from the Chair and Chief Executive of ALT

2017: What we have been up to [Image credit: Bryan Mathers]

Together with the Chair of ALT, Sheila MacNeill, I wrote this update on the work we have been doing and we published this on the #altc blog recently:

Dear Members

A year ago we launched ALT’s Strategy 2017-2020 and since then we have made great progress putting our shared values into practice and working together to meet our aims.

We reported to Members and stakeholders from across sectors in ALT’s Annual Report [PDF] and at the AGM in September. Since then much has happened and so we are are now sharing more of what we have been up to:

Sharing research & practice

2017 had a strong programme of events sharing research & practice in Learning Technology and making our independent voice heard in the UK and internationally. The OER17 Conference in London in April, our first Annual Conference to be held in Liverpool in September, the 4th Online Winter Conference in December; and throughout the year local Members Groups meetings brought professionals together to critically discuss topics such as next generation learning environments, micro accreditation and learning analytics.

Reaching new Member milestones

As our new strategy clearly states, we are greater than the sum of our parts. In 2017 we celebrated two membership milestones; the 400th CMALT Award and the growth of overall Membership to over 3000. This increase in numbers is making our voice in policy development stronger than ever before. The decision to keep our membership fees frozen for a third year has also paid off as increasing membership allows us to maintain and expand all of our activities. The more members we have, the more we can do for and with our community

Increasing impact

We continued to worked hard to increase the impact of Learning Technology for public benefit, establishing a new publishing partnership between ALT and Open Academia for our journal, Research in Learning Technology. Alongside the journal, the #altc blog flourishes and ALT’s Open Access Repository has had a mini renaissance, enabling Members to publish and deposit research and reports, such as the guide to working with startups in Learning Technology. All ALT’s publications continue to be edited by Members and reviewed by Members just like our peer-review for events and awards.

New pathways to accreditation

Over the past five months we have led a major consultation, Pathways to CMALT, with Members and the wider community. We want to expand the CMALT accreditation framework to provide new pathways to professional recognition for: Learning Technology professionals in the early stages of their career, for those for whom Learning Technology is only part of their role and also for senior professionals in management, leadership or research positions. Pathways to CMALT is the largest innovation project ALT has undertaken independently since the ground breaking ocTEL online programme. This year will see this exciting new project scaling up to include further mappings beyond the Jisc Digital Capabilities framework, the UKPSF and the Blended Learning curriculum.

Looking ahead to 2018

That brings us to what’s coming up in 2018, when we celebrate ALT’s 25th birthday! This is a special year for us as an Association and as well as new accreditation pathways and the first ALT Research Awards we’ll be working together across sectors and countries to achieve greater recognition for and representation of our Members.

Join us in making this year even more impactful for our community, help spread the word to more Learning Technology professionals and share what we have achieved as a community.

Technology Enhanced Learning #IGHETech18

I was invited to participate in an interesting event this week, “Embracing Technology Enhanced Learning”. Lots of very useful resources were shared on Twitter, so I’d encourage you to browse #IGHETech18 to pick up great resources.

One of the highlights of the day for me was seeing and listen to colleagues whom I work with for ALT, but whom I don’t often get to see on a stage talking about what they do best!

And both Sheila and Peter as well as Chrissi Nerantzi gave great talks that have really inspired me to follow up on a number of new initiatives.

We also joined into a brief periscope session as part of this week’s BYOD4L: AN OPEN LEARNING EVENT FOR STUDENTS & TEACHERS, check for full details and to catch up on what’s been happening.

The day really inspired me, but it has also left me with some questions: first, it’s reminded me of how unevenly we, as individuals and institutions, take up Learning Technology. There’s a general sense of scaling up, but it feels that there is always a wide distribution across a rather steep curve of adoption – from those who are reluctantly facing change to those who embrace new processes, tools and ways of thinking and empower each other in the process. That is why, I think, we return to talking about the potential, rather than the reality of technology for learning, teaching or assessment. How can we move on?

Also, Peter really struck a chord with me when he emphasised how the one concern that brings everyone together is for students and the desire to improve things for them. I agree with that and my experience working in any sector proves that time and time again. But how can we actually put that concern first when we are faced with ever more complex technologies? How can we ensure that we can understand, interrogate and shape machine-led processes sufficiently to put students’ benefits first?

Last, I was left with considering how we can increase the impact of all the work we are doing? There is such a wealth of experience, resources and insight that everything we are already doing seems insufficient to really leveraging its impact fully.

Policy making heaven: a look back at Pasi Sahlberg’s OEB keynote

Pasi Sahlberg at OEB17

I have been working on some articles about effective education policy this week and that prompted me to look back at Pasi Sahlberg’s contribution (slides available here) to the Opening Plenary at last December’s OEB conference.  It was an inspiring 20 min or so that combined hard hitting policy insight with a global perspective from the Finnish expert and culminated in a sing-a-long that makes the YouTube video worth watching!

In his talk there was a clear juxtaposition between making “successful education policies for the future we don’t know” (with examples from the UK, US and Australia amongst others) and “shaping the future we want by making successful policies that create equitable public education for all”. Some of the hallmarks of these kinds of policies are that they award trust-based responsibility, encourage professionalisation, reward risk taking and creativity and that they create cooperation. Not a lot to get right, but a stark contrast to the familiar examples of market driven competition we are seeing every day.

Sahlberg explained how we can get to education policy heaven by achieving the right balance between excellence and equity. Thinking about that made me go back to the call for action for openness in education ALT published late last year. It shows how we could take forward the kind of ‘heavenly’ policy making Sahlberg advocates in all education sectors in the UK in a very practical way.

With the OER18: Open to All conference only a few months away, there is a lot of work ahead to try and build on the successes of last year, the Year of Open, and make this kind of change happen on a national scale.

Better, faster, stronger… why I want to avoid following my digital shadow unquestioningly

This time of year I come across a lot of statistics, from national to organisational or even personal. Most read articles, number of books read, fastest running times in the last year, furthest travelled, most often cited… and that is not even mentioning the academic insights or administrative dashboards that surround you in Learning Technology. No, there is no limit to how many quantifiable insights or measurable achievements work and life can be expressed as, particularly online.

Which is why, when I acquainted myself with my ‘digital shadow‘  recently and put it through a ‘digital detox plan’ I felt like the prompts I was getting online, even the well intentioned ones, led me in the wrong direction. From tracking activities to following feeds, this time of year is dominated by what feels like a race to improve, to do more, better… faster… stronger!

I am not one for new year resolutions, but I think this year I may break with this tradition and resolve not to be seduced by the dashboards, graphs, league tables and charts. This drive to increase, to ensure trends point upwards, is not necessarily where I want to be heading.

Instead of being prompted by the next badge I can earn if I take a few more steps or the citations I may gain if I publish one more article, I’m going to ask myself “why?” first.

If I don’t have a strong reason for doing something, I am going to save my energy for other things. Saying no is a healthy habit I do my best to cultivate and making sure I don’t commit to anything without a good reason should help with that.

I found myself using very few of the hints and tips that the data detox plan suggested. The shadows I cast online are more or less what I expected, manage and largely try to control already. Obsessively updating privacy settings, even the most laborious ones, is probably a good foundation for this kind of process and I am fortunate that I have been doing that for years. Unlike many other professionals I know, I don’t delete old posts from most networks, but I try and ‘clean’ what remains as far as I care to. I am sure I could do better in this respect, but at least I have thought about what I am not doing.

In order to avoid following my online shadow and the myriad of ways in which all kinds of measurements are trying to encourage me to improve, do more etc, my resolution is to take a step back, and start with why.

  • If I track something, does it serve my purpose?
  • Do I need to quantify what I am doing in order to achieve my aims?
  • Do I need to work harder (better, faster, stronger…) to achieve my aims?
  • Even if I can measure it, why am I?

In Anthropology there is an interesting discourse on different cultural understandings of numbers, or the concept of numbers. How we arrive at an understanding of numbers and their values, how this is shared across different cultures and periods in history and so forth. One idea that you come across again and again is that our sense of self, of being an individual, is fundamental to our understanding of ‘oneness’, of there being one thing different from others and that we start counting at one. We take our understanding of being a human being as a starting point for making sense of the world.

My online shadows, particularly if I can track or analyse the traces they, I, leave, can make me feel that my sense of self is becoming more distributed. Having too many opportunities to focus on different things, too many different goals to achieve or milestones to hit can distribute or lessen my sense of why I am doing something, of what is actually important. So this is the direction in which I intend to develop my own critical literacy and skills, this is what I hope my new year resolution will help me achieve – to not follow all the different directions into why my shadows get pulled online without thought or question.

Welcome 2018

Snapshots from 2017

Before the year gets properly underway, I’ve had a bit of a tidy on this site:

As it’s the start of a new year, I’ve also been reading about and following some of the advice provided in Mozilla’s helpful data detox kit.

I’m looking forward to a year of sharing practice and reflections as a Learning Technologist in a leadership role.

A good New Year 2018 to you!

A year in socks and shoes and stickers (2017: part 3)

This is the third and final part in this series of posts. If you’ve missed them, you can go back and read part 1 and part 2 of this series of posts, looking at my year Learning Technology in 2017.

I’ve already covered some of the highlights of my work for ALT, big issues we’ve encountered in Learning Technology this year and talked about the professional community I am part of. As a Learning Technologist I spent most of my time working for ALT, but I do get involved in other projects, support other causes and learn new things as part of my professional practice.

I benefit greatly from using Learning Technology to manage, implement, support and learn. I embrace it with a healthy dose of critical reflection. Yet I experience its limitations and drawbacks like everyone else who has ever stood at a lectern, in front of an expectant audience, desperate to be rescued as the inevitable technical glitch occurs. And this year has certainly brought with it the usual amount of things going wrong!

To ‘do it properly’, Learning Technology calls for a paradigm shift or a culture change. It requires you to win hearts and minds. It needs buy in from everyone, new skills and continued support for all, including senior staff. It works best when it’s embedded, strategic, well funded. It isn’t a panacea. It is transformative. It has enormous potential. It entails thorny questions and ethical implications. It requires constant renegotiation. It often goes wrong. It demands that we takes risks.

Each year since I started working in Learning Technology has brought me face to face with things going wrong. Whilst I know what it takes to make things a success I can’t avoid risking failure. I can’t stick to what’s tried and tested because the goalposts keep moving. New technologies are developed, new possibilities explored and new approaches required. So, like the wider, global professional community I am part of, I rely on my network to achieve the best I can. I learn from the successes AND the failures that others share and in return I give back and contribute what I can.

So in that spirit, and to end my review with sharing practice openly, here are snapshots of some of my favourite moments of 2017: 


"Week Five: Google Hangouts, Collaborate Ultra and Wikimedia" flickr photo by interactive.content shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
“Week Five: Google Hangouts, Collaborate Ultra and Wikimedia” flickr photo by interactive.content shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

At the start of the year I wrote a guest post on the #altc blog, reviewing the #23things course called #23things – how taking part turned into a digital knowledge habit. The post was about an open online course run by the University of Edinburgh that I took part in together with my colleagues at the end of the previous year. Nearly a year on, a weekly show and tell slot in our meeting meetings continues to encourage us to share tips and tools regularly and this course set a lasting example of how we could expand CPD within a small organisation.

Visual Stickery by @BryanMMathers campaign–2#/

Also early in 2017 I supported this brilliant campaign by Bryan Mathers, offering a range of options to support the work of Wapisasa CIC (Community Interest Company). I am a great fan of Bryan’s work and the causes he champions and as well as supporting a worthwhile cause I got the best laptop stickers anyone could wish for.

Emergency Rations, edited by David Hopkins

In March a new book edited by David Hopkins was published and I was delighted to be able to contribute one of the chapters. It was a really rewarding collaborative writing process (read about it) and I wrote about the things that I can’t live without, professionally speaking (my edtech rations outtakes).

Appraisal via laptop… from left to right: Maren Deepwell, Josie Fraser, Martin Weller

I have a lot of support, many people who help me achieve what I do and one of the ways in which I develop my practice further is a robust annual appraisal process. This year I met with Josie Fraser and Martin Weller to discuss progress and set goals for the coming year – a thoroughly inspiring day that set out some very ambitious targets and got me thinking about how I could develop further in a new way. As you can see from the picture, plenty of stickers were involved… . Having heard many others’ experiences of appraisal and mentoring in their roles, I think I am fortunate indeed to have had many exceptional individuals to work with over the past five years and each of them has contributed to my work. You know who you are. Thank you.

The KingPin Bowling Alley in Bloomsbury, OER17 Conference social

The OER17 Conference in London in April had a rather unusual social programme, with an evening at the KingPin Suites in Bloomsbury, where there was karaoke (which I stayed well clear of), table tennis (again, not for me) and plenty of drinks, snacks and music…. as well as bowling. A good time was had by all, I believe. And I was comprehensively out-bowled by my colleagues Tom and Martin. 

Bon Stewart ‘beaming in’ to the Future Happens workshop at the LSE

I also took part in one of the excellent Future Happens workshops run by Donna Lanclos, David White and Peter Bryant this summer, at the LSE in London. It was a great day of thinking and doing that really inspired me both in helping to promote this particular work but also because it gave me great pleasure to see Bon Stewart in action. Bon took part remotely, intervention style, from her base in Canada and it was an impressive example of how much can be conveyed by a remote speaker if they are as good as Bon Stewart! Of course, I had the pleasure of witnessing the electric ‘real life’ keynote Bon gave later in September at ALT’s Annual Conference.

During the summer I also recorded my first podcast as a guest on Sophie Bailey’s Edtech Podcast. I really enjoyed it and we ended up talking about quite a few things besides Learning Technology.

Exploring further into different recording media, I joined Lorna Campbell, Sheila MacNeill and our congenial host John Johnston on Radio Edutalk. Together we discussed ALT’s Annual Conference and a lot of other things. As I am not a fan of being on video, I found myself really enjoying this kind of recording, chatting in the evening with colleagues on the other side of the country to an unseen audience.

Running to support Learning Technology across ALTerrain… with thanks to Bryan Mathers

Inspired by the visual thinkery from Bryan Mathers and together with a few of my fellow running colleagues, we created a t-shirt that helps support the cause we work to advance in a completely different context – on pavements, trails and at races up and down the country. Still work in progress, I think, but no doubt it won’t be long before you can spot a running Learning Technologist near you 😉

VConnecting at #PushingHE in Barcelona

One of the most memorable moments of my year in terms of conferences was a VConnecting session I joined at the #PushingHE Conference in Barcelona. The session was packed with excellent speakers from Tony Bates and Yishay Mor to Rikke Toft Nørgård and Allison Littlejohn. It was an amazing line up and a really interesting discussion. However, what made this session stick in my mind is that it took place the day after the Catalan Independence Referendum. The impact of what was going on in the conference host city was so palpable it really framed the discussion and made our thinking about pushing the boundaries of Higher Education and Learning Technology much more political. It really demonstrated the power of Virtually Connecting. 

Image result for uncommon women colouring book

Another one of my conference highlights of the year was going to Mozfest where I met Kelsey Merkley and Ryan Merkley and received a copy of the wonderful uncommon women colouring book. Thanks for the kind gift (my own portrait is still work in progress). 

I also discovered the feminist internet this year, thanks to Charlotte Webb and her talk at Online Educa. It’s been a great year to meet many outstanding women from all around the world who work in education and technology and work, like me, to achieve greater equality. 

I’ve come to the end of this series of posts, and I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my thoughts with you, some insights and hopefully some useful links and ideas for further reading.

I ended my last big event of the year, taking part in a virtual fireside chat, hearing the crackling of (real) marshmallows being toasted over flames whilst colleagues were sharing their fears and hopes for openness in education and Learning Technology. It was a reminder of how much the human dimension matters when it comes to what we do, what I do.

So on that note, thank you for reading and to you a peaceful end of the year. I am looking forward to 2018.

The Open Education SIG fireside chat, at the ALT Online Winter Conference