Weekend post: leadership lesson from my favourite starship captain

As you may have gathered, I like Star Trek and Captain Picard is my favourite captain in that particular universe. I don’t agree with every aspect of his approach to leadership, but I like to think that we share a lot of values and every now and then I come across something he says or does that really resonates with me.

I was watching an old episode of The Next Generation recently (fellow nerds: this is the one in which android Data loses his confidence after someone beats him in a futuristic strategy game), in which Picard says to Data that it is possible not to commit any mistakes and still loose. I like the episode in general, but that particular bit of dialogue stuck in my head, because it’s related to things I have been thinking about recently.  Here’s why it resonates with me:

Much of the time following all the right steps and doing all the right things does result in the desired outcome. At least when things are reasonably within your sphere of influence. So, when something goes wrong or something bad happens in response to what we do, we seek to establish what we did wrong, where we made a mistake – same as Data does in the Star Trek episode. He thinks he must have made a mistake because he lost the game. It’s logical, and it’s comforting to have a sense of control, to believe that doing the correct thing will result in the correct outcome.

But, in many instances, that’s not the case. That’s not the case in the well-ordered universe of the Starship Enterprise and certainly not the case in the chaotic reality we call home.

The advice from Captain Picard cheered me. I thought it was a useful lesson to revisit because it reminded me that not everything that goes wrong is my responsibility or within my power to change. It made me reflect on the fact that even when things go wrong, often you can still get to your overall aim in other ways. And it made me think about how valuable it is to make mistakes, to learn how to cope with making them, learn from them and move on with your confidence still intact. 

In a high-performing environment, like Starfleet in this instance, it’s doubly important to be considerate about that part of your working culture. To be able to share when things go wrong, to make the best of them and to move on. And that a little kindness, a moment of listening or recognition can go a long way to helping oneself and others weather difficult moments like that. 

Back in the Star Trek story, a cheered Data returns to duty with the Captain’s advice fresh on his mind, but he also returns to face his opponent at the game table. This time, Data plays not to win, but for a stalemate, and he succeeds in not losing. He changes his winning conditions, what he wants to achieve to succeed. It’s a great ending to the episode and a good example to follow.

My week as guest curator of @femedtech


This week I’ve been volunteering as a guest curator of @femedtech. I actively work to promote equality in everything I do, so when the opportunity came up to support this growing network as a Twitter curator, I took the opportunity to help out gladly – but I wasn’t really sure what it would be like, taking over the voice of this kind of account. So one week in and with one more week to go, here is my personal reflection on how it’s going.

Fortunately I had guidance, encouragement and advice from Frances Bell and Helen Beetham from the outset and they shared their experience and advice generously. I liked their suggestion to add my own identity to the account, which I did, and then I started tweeting and re-tweeting and following and.. a few days in everything started to feel a bit easier.

I also set up a TAGS Twitter archive and TAGSExplorer for the #femedtech hashtag, to help chart and visualise the conversation as it evolves:

As you can see, it’s still a fairly small conversation, but it is starting to grow and I found it really interesting to be able to see what is going on.

Another approach I tried was to find and follow accounts with similar values or related ideas, such as @uncommon_women and the @feministintrnet for example and to welcome new followers or volunteers as they arrived. Hello to you all!

With another week ahead, I hope I’ll get a chance to generate a bit more of a conversation and prompt more contributions (tagged as #femedtech) and have the chance to contribute to the development of information for future guest curators with Helen and Frances. My long term hope is that we can help draw together some of the existing initiatives, amplify the voices of those actively working to promote feminism and equality in Learning Technology and connect more people with each other. There are certainly enough challenges out there to be tackled, so let’s hope that we can help connect the dots to make a stronger movement.

Note: this post was updated with a better TAGSExplorer view and links (thanks to @mhawksey)

More than swag: #oer18 material & visual culture

As an Anthropologist I’m interested in how human beings shape to the world and relate to each other. In particular, I’m interested in how what we make, exchange or treasure articulates our relationships. This past week participants from the OER18 conference have shared a wealth of… well, you shall see.

This is my story of the conference told through its material and visual culture. It is a story of swag … of badges, stickers, t-shirts … but it’s also a story of values, friendships and love, of rebellion and criticality, of struggle, adversity and diversity. It’s a study in gift giving, of intangibles made flesh, and it reminds me of the saying that ‘work is love made visible’ by Khalil Gibran. OER18 seemed to bring out a lot of that this week.

All of the images included below have been captured from the OER media site, the Visual Thinkery Gallery or the #OER18 Twitter conversation. If you are keen to find out more about what OER18 was about and its impact, head to the conference news section and explore from there, in particular the growing list of blog posts.


It all started with a shoe tweet … and like the insightful and thought-provoking narrative that Lorna presented in her opening keynote, the red ribbons on her shoes started to wind themselves through our conversations over the following two days. The anchors and the nautical theme that reflected both Lorna’s research interest and the conference location reflect a thoughtfulness that was part of every aspect of Lorna’s talk and I was grateful to be able to sit back and listen as her vision took shape. 

Possibly my best conference shoes ever #OER18 #shoetweet by @LornaMCampbell
Possibly my best conference shoes ever #OER18 #shoetweet by @LornaMCampbell


VHS Video

But even before the first keynote or welcome got underway, it all started with a VHS World Premiere… from the generous folk at Reclaim Video from Fredericksburg, Virginia. If you spot someone wearing a Reclaim Video shirt, ask them about the membership offers and upcoming movie premieres. I hear the Atari 5200 in particular will be big… .

I admire how much thought, care and humour went into this launch. As well as being a video rental store, Reclaim Video is an inspired, playful project led by a small team with a big vision. It reflects the working culture and ethos of an organisation that cares about its mission to empower students and faculty with a domain of their own, to use technology in an informed way and to take control. As part of a similarly small team myself, I can feel the power such a shared endeavour has, for the wider community or customer base, but also for the team behind it. The renaissance of video (and a domain of one’s own for everyone) starts here…

OER… remixed

One of the strongest visuals of the conference was remixed by participants themselves over and over again using the sandbox and gallery set up by Bryan Mathers. Bryan shared his (visual) thinking behind this project himself in a blog post and during the conference he also shared his own genius creations with participants – but what I thought was so powerful about this particular process was that it enabled everyone to create like Bryan can! You went to the site, adjusted colours and sizes, added your own text and BANG: out came perfectly beautiful visual thinkery like magic. Like all the most effective OERs there were no barriers to re-using it. This was so easy to remix that it generated a lot of activity and adoption. You could be confident and playful from the very beginning. Yes, this was OER remixed – but it was also a really empowering sandbox to play in!


Stickers, badges, gifts, shirts…

There is a strong component of gift giving and exchange at OER Conferences as people who have never or only rarely meet in person exchange tokens that express and develop their digitally conducted relationships. It’s an opportunity to show what you stand for, what you believe in, to share and show your colours.

Drawings and doodles

Putting pen to paper or screen is a powerful way of capturing your thinking and there were many drawings and doodles shared at OER18. I often learn the most from these visual records of sessions I was not able to participate in myself, and I am grateful to everyone who takes the time and makes the effort to disseminate the different voices and perspectives, ideas and thoughts in this way. Please keep drawing and doodling in your own inspirational ways.

Learning, looking, listening…

Far beyond the swag was a boat tour, sunshine (the weather gods are definitely on the side of openness), music, walking tours and apprenticeship – OER18 brought people together to learn from each other, see the world from a new perspective and to listen to the other voices in our community.



There were many hugs exchanged and those moments are hard to capture. But some things just stay with you regardless. Like a dodo that made it’s way from Mauritius to OER18 travelling with one of our research student contributors and which I will treasure (thank you, Pritee!). This photo of the heart shaped padlock, shared by Dan Harding, was a nice symbol for me at the end of the event, and a fitting destination for the red ribbon of narrative that wound itself from the opening #shoetweet through our time in Bristol.

If ‘You don’t stand for something, you fall for anything’ from Harder than you think by Public Enemy is one of my favourite lyrics. It reminds me that when people make an effort to show and make what they stand for, they contribute to change in the world. So I stand back and look at the people power reflected in the material and visual culture of OER18.

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 http://sandbox.wapisasa.com/ .

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…” heroes – or how to do CPD at a micro scale.

Hey! How’d you do that? by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

In my organisation I lead on providing CPD for a small team and providing meaningful, cost-effective opportunities for learning and gaining know how at a micro scale can be challenging.  We’ve taken part in open online courses like Blended Learning Essentials and 23 things, we have a regular ‘show & tell’ slot at weekly team meetings, we take part in events and the networks we support and we sometimes have guests who share their work with us.

Still, I am always on the look out for new ways to learn and resources that teach me and my colleagues “how to…” do anything from using technology to improving governance. Over the years I’ve assembled a whole list of places I go to and people I follow from whom I learn beyond searching for random tips on the internet. People or communities who are experts at sharing their thinking, their way of working and helping you learn for yourself.

To me those tutorials, walk-throughs and case studies are invaluable resources. But even more importantly, I find that how someone shares their work and thus enables you to discover or do something yourself tells you much about their values. It can really inspire you and give you confidence for learning new things.  That’s an important part of cpd in general and particularly true in my context.

With this in mind, I generally want to find more than instruction, and ideally I am looking for these three things from my “How to…” heroes.

I want to:

  1. Find out why I should care/explore/spend time on something
  2. Examples that I can relate to and that are more generally applicable
  3. References and further reading, things I can share and that are accessible for people who aren’t experts

So I’ve started making a list of whom we’ve learnt from a lot over the years to say thank you and acknowledge the power of openly sharing know-how:

API Evangelist Kin Lane introduced me properly for the first time to the world of APIs, what they are and why they matter. His API 101 was my place to get started and Kin’s writing is both accessible and inspiring.

Amy Burvall’s Graffikon site is really inspiring and opened my eyes to how visual thinking and expression can really become in a digital, black and pink kind of way. Education meets technology meets creativity in her recent book Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom.

Bryan Mathers and his Visual Thinkery meanwhile represents for me a masterclass in thinking. Bryan not only shares his thoughts and what he captures from others, but also inspiring insights into his own creative process [the image heading this post Hey! How’d you do that? by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND]

Catherine Cronin starts her site with the motto ‘learning | reflecting | sharing” and is often a starting point for me when I am looking to reflect on or think about complex issues. Her examples remind me of how to critically examine my own perspective and the forces that shape it.

David Hopkin’s meanwhile was one of the first blogs I discovered, and there is a wealth of “how to” posts (like this one) that are clearly written, useful for lots of professionals and easy to follow!

Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, shares a huge amount of knowledge about how to use Wikipedia and I discovered that you can listen to Wikipedia being edited through him. Magic.

FOS4L  is an open course on flexible, open & social learning for professionals in higher ed & others. I’ve taken part and audited the course and will do so again at the next iteration. It’s an excellent way to discover all the things you don’t know about (yet).

Cable Green’s work and posts are one of the strongest examples of how to influence policy and make change happen in (open) education. In his posts, like this recent one on open licencing, he shares his reasoning and evidence for policy makers and educators alike with extensive references and materials licenced for re-use.

Melissa Highton’s blog for me is less about how to do and more about how to think and lead. It’s especially valuable as only very few senior leaders share their thoughts in the way Melissa does and that makes it even more powerful.

Joel Mill’s iLearning UK blog even comes with its own glossary and its this depth in the excellent resources he shares that I find particularly valuable. He showcases work from different educational contexts and connects all the dots. Always reminds me of what is possible.

James Kieft produces and shares edtech resources including videos that I’ve often recommended to others and that link to many other resources and tools to explore.

Alice Keeler is probably the one of my most frequently used sources for tips when it comes to using Google Apps for Education and her tips, while specifically aimed at teachers, are handy far beyond the classroom.

LTHE twitter chat is the only chat I lurk in regularly, sometimes contribute to and always find interesting. It’s a practical demonstration of peer learning that leads me to discover a huge number of ideas and resources.  Thank you!

Martin Hawksey could run a  masterclass on how to write easy to follow tutorials, but his blog showcases inspired innovation in practice far beyond technical “how to…” . A treasure trove for those looking to push the boundaries of edtech.

OUseful Blog by Tony Hirst has become even more rewarding to follow since I learned more about open data and although quite a lot of it is beyond my technical knowledge, it’s a place where I never fail to find useful inspiration.

Oliver Quinlan works at the intersection of learning, digital and education and was one of the first practitioners I discovered when he was still working in schools. He is now at the Raspberry Pi Foundation and shares everything from reading recommendations to practical tutorials. Prolific output.

Rhizo… in the past one of the most usefully challenging and inspiring learning experiences and one I continue to revisit as the conversation continues even long after the course has finished.

Chad Sansing’s work with Mozilla is a more recent discovery for me and I found his posts particularly helpful for gaining strategic “how to…” in the context of the web and education more generally. Posts like this one on successful facilitation I found very practical indeed.

Amber Thomas’s blog is a must read for the bigger picture on Learning Technology and institutional change management, particularly as a lot of what I work on focuses on the relationship between technology and people and its wider impact.

Santanu Vasant shares insightful thoughts and practice and I like the mix of thought pieces and practice approaches. I’ve discovered many new things through his consistent blogging and helpful tips.

Audrey Watters‘ work is where I turn to when I need “how to…” think critically, question, analyse and examine. Consistently brilliant scholarship that poses difficult questions while examining the financial, political and social realities of the edtech industry.

ALT’s #altc blog and in particular the case studies section I use frequently when I am looking to learn lessons from others or point someone else in the right direction. It helps me avoid trying to solve problems that other people have already mastered and keep up to date with current practice.

Last, but not least, I often dip back into the open course I originally helped create, ocTEL. Many of the course materials, like this module on leadership and management, don’t loose their currency and it continues to be a valuable resource to build on.

There are so many more entries to add to this list, or the next list on inspirational reading. But this one focuses first and foremost on things I find invaluable leading and sharing CPD and continuing my own learning.

Interiority in the landscape: using running to create space inside my head

Photo of sunrise over a field pathWhen I discovered that I love running it wasn’t because of the actual movement. It took me over 6 months to be able to jog gently and over a year to actually run. What I did enjoy straight away as being outside, moving through the landscape at my own pace and having time to get to know my thoughts within it. Over the past 18 months it’s become part of my everyday to head outside, mostly in the mornings, to get that time with myself  in the world that surrounds me.

Last weekend I went for a run in the fields, surrounded by butterflies and bees and listening to the sound of thousands of insects busily enjoying the sunshine. It felt like running through summer.

I try and take a picture each time, and I can track the seasons as well as my occasional encounters with cats, deer and other wildlife as the years goes on. It’s good to feel the seasons and the weather, even if that sometimes means getting very wet indeed. Running gives me time to reflect and put my own thoughts into perspective, to feel connected to the world around me and the landscape.

As the weather changes I have to adjust, putting on more layers (lots of them), going more slowly and adjust where I go as paths become wet or icy. When it’s cold running dominates my senses more. I love the moments when the whole world is silent and all I can hear is the sound of my own footsteps. Having read a lot of anthropological theories about the relationship between human beings and their landscapes it sometimes feel like I am reclaiming that relationship for myself, on my own two feet,  and with it a sense of context and belonging.

I take my running with me whenever I can on my travels and I have discovered places I visit for work on foot, but while it still feels rewarding it’s not the same. There isn’t as much time for thought when you have to check a map or get up an unexpected hill.

As I have become a better runner and as the distance I can cover increases, the rewards of heading outside have become greater. There is more to discover, more to observe and more time to feel the sun (or rain or wind) on my skin. I now enjoy the occasional burst of speed, and I’ve discovered that being organised, an early riser and self motivated are all really helpful when it comes to this hobby. Yet it’s the sense of moving and thinking in the landscape, of being part of the world and feeling it through my feet and seeing, smelling – sensing the seasons change, that gets me out of the door.

Comedy & competition: putting a virtual race app through its paces

Photo of road in early morning

I was interested to read The History of the Pedometer (and the Problems with Learning Analytics) by Audrey Watters, published on 22 June 2017, in particular as this week I was putting a virtual race app to the test.

The virtual race I took part in was a paid for race, for a charitable cause, and its premise is that you can run wherever and whenever you choose, tracking your progress and then adding your results to the ‘global leader board’ – raising funds in the process. I signed up because 1) I was curious to try out the app/virtual race concept, 2) I wanted to support a good cause, even if in a small way, and 3) the idea of taking part in a race without having to physically go to one appealed to me as someone who isn’t particularly competitive and prefers running at dawn.

The marketing around the race & app was very similar to the kind of things you read in Learning Technology press releases but the reality did not quite measure up to its vision of being part of a global army of empowered fundraisers each experiencing a fun & inspiring ‘personalised’, celebrity endorsed run. Instead I came up against a lot of small, technical niggles that made using the app less than ideal and required giving it access to a lot of information on my phone before the running had even begun. The account I had to create and the data I had to share only added to this.

The actual running was supported by a prerecorded soundtrack of comedy commentary from celebrities sharing their ‘race progress’, something along the lines of “I just made it to the halfway stage – keep going!”. Personally I thought it was too simplistic to be really amusing. You could listen to your own music as well, although I failed to make that work. For runners who were more competitive and wanted to know how they were doing, the app did not deliver either. Despite tracking your progress via GPS it was unable to tell you how fast you were going, which made the whole idea of competing with the celebrity runners from the soundtrack a bit pointless. You could guess how much time had elapsed since they passed a particular time marker, but that was it. Given that the soundtrack was so limited, it seemed to me that neither comedy nor competitiveness were served well.

My 5k run was soon approaching the finish line and the end of the race was for me the most disappointing moment: a half-hearted soundtrack of cheering was interrupted by a signal and then “You can how stop running”. That was it.

When I turned to check the app I also realised that the timer had kept going, counting the minutes, although I had already crossed the virtual finish line. For a race app this seemed a fatal flaw as it felt frustrating to not have an accurate race time even for a casual participant like myself. I can only imagine what more serious runners made of this.

Having used a lot of different running apps and gadgets over the past year I think you could do a much better job building a virtual race app and organising a race – indeed I think it could be a really good experience! It has great potential. But in this particular instance neither the technology nor the delivery measured up. It was a soulless experience for me that seemed to fall flat and left no scope for the imagination and seemed to not even try to cater for or understand its users. If any actual testing of the soundtrack took place, I would be very surprised. I hope at least it raised funds for a good cause.

#RaceForLife – this year we are a mother + daughter team

Maren & Angele

In spring 2016 I started running to raise funds for Cancer Research, to give something back to those who extend my mum’s life and run my first 10k.

One year on and we are celebrating another year together by participating in a 5k charity walk. I’m also doing some 10k runs and hopefully my first half marathon later this year, but this one is something we want to do together.

Last year I was aiming to raise money, but unexpectedly running has become part of my life, something that keeps me going and that I really enjoy. There have been countless early mornings and evenings over the last year when I have been grateful to be able to put on my trainers and head outside.

Being a carer can be a full time job and I really appreciate that I have colleagues, friends and family who support, encourage and inspire me. Many of you have similar experiences and responsibilities, so all those cups of tea (and the occasional whisky), conversations and motivation are doubly welcome. Thank you. 

If you’d like to give to Cancer Research and support us – donate now.

Reflecting on what’s important… randomly

Image of a turtle with the word "rhizo" on its shell

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.