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.

Open CPD, Visual Thinkery, art school: my week made me think

This post is inspired by two things I did this week: first, taking part in Wednesday’s @LTHEchat on the topic of Open CPD with Chris Rowell and second, reading my weekly delivery of Visual Thinkery in Saturday’s newsletter. Both are highly enjoyable, interesting and rewarding so if you haven’t already I strongly recommend you take a look.

CC-BY-ND @bryanMMathers http://bryanmmathers.com/
CC-BY-ND @bryanMMathers http://bryanmmathers.com/

Both of these activities made me think about being online and what I do when I am online. Is it part of a process, a place or a platform? How do I do what I do and why? It’s useful to step back at times and take a look at what I do and the reasons behind it.
In my case a lot of how I work and think was shaped during my years at art school. For six years fine art and specifically making sculptures was what I spent most of my time doing. It was where I first developed a creative process, learnt to do research, gained critical thinking skills and so forth. In practical terms being in a sculptor’s workshop is not at all like being online: it’s all about physical materials, sensual perception, working with your hands and a lot of messiness. Making something has its own pace, too. Some days go by fast and productive, on others nothing happens and sometimes you spent all your time doing something that turns out to be a disaster. In my last year at art school I learnt how to carve marble. Or rather I attempted to.

Marble
Marble…. largely unchanged

I learnt the technique – but then discovered how LONG it would take to actually carve something. I ended up making a single mosaic over two terms and had a small block of marble still sitting on my table largely unchanged. While I don’t make a lot of things anymore the skills and processes I learnt serve me well in my work now, especially online.
One thing I learnt was to be comfortable sharing a process, rather than a result. Like many people, I think of most of what I do as a process and some of the formal output is just a by product. It’s necessary, but it’s not the main aim. Similarly, place is important. Whether it’s physical or virtual doesn’t really matter, it’s equally important to me. Both in the chat, when we talked about making time for CPD and creating safe spaces in which to share/experiment/fail, and in the drawing Bryan included in the newsletter (which I have included also in this post), I thought about having control over your own places and spaces. It might be a desk or a domain, an office or an open course, a train compartment or a tweet chat. Different places for different times and activities depending on what you want to do. What’s important is to make use of it effectively. A sculptor’s studio is usually a growing collection of inspiration, sketchbooks, materials, models and more. It’s a place which you can use to think, talk, create – but it doesn’t dictate what you do.
In a university setting I shared the space with others, had my tutorials in it or gave presentations. My place became the platform from which I launched my handiwork into the realm of critical evaluation by others. My work became my platform later on, when it sat on the floor of a gallery or in a portfolio. In many ways what I do now is the same. This blog for example acts both as a workshop and a platform, it’s about process and being part of a community of peers.
The Visual Thinkery newsletter and the tweet chat alike made me reflect on how I use technology, how I engage in online activities and spaces. Am I doing it on my own terms? Or am I letting technology dictate the pace and mode of interaction?  Is being connected overriding other aspects? Jaron Lanier’s you are not a gadget comes to to mind here and on that note I think I have found some inspiration for the week ahead.

You are #neverweird – thanks for a wonderful listen @feliciaday

imageHaving finished reading/listening to a new memoir by Felicia Day – You are never weird on the Internet (almost) – I wanted to note my thanks. So here goes:

I’ve never met you, Felicia Day, but I am grateful to you for adding your voice to the story of the Internet, of gaming, of women working in tech-focused industries and for sharing your story of incredible achievement against many odds.
It’s inspiring to read how hard making things happen can be and how the generosity and engagement of your community has made things possible. It’s important I think to tell stories about living, working and playing with technology both good and bad.

If you haven’t read it, you might enjoy it. I certainly did. The only draw back is that it will probably be a decade or two until the sequel is published…

Fictional learning places #blimage

#blimageIt’s been inspiring to follow people’s thoughts #blimage and with some encouragement for which I am grateful, I’m using this opportunity to make a contribution of my own. If you’re new to what’s happening #blimage I’ve included more info at the end of this post.

I’ve not chosen an image for my inspiration, I have ended up choosing stories instead. I hope that still counts and for me the pictures stories conjured up in my mind have been a powerful force for shaping my perspective on education. So here I am sharing some of my favourite fictional places/stories about places of learning:

First up, the Unseen University from the Discworld universe Terry Pratchett created. Over time, this university has been a fertile battleground for tradition and innovation, from the admission of women wizards to participating in community activities and its uneasy relationship with its home city and the world at large – the Unseen University for me is one of the richest reflections of Higher Education.

More traditional and still more peculiarly British is the Oxbridge of for example Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited, where sun-dappled quads are over-looked by student lodgings – or the stories of university life chronicled by Stephen Fry echoing Oscar Wilde. Or the starting point for the adventures of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. The setting of so many myths and stories of learning and living in an era which still comes to life at times in the Oxford I work in today when the streets fill with undergraduates in black gowns. Growing up and later when I was at university myself, the image of yellow stone and ancient libraries, of tutorials and essay writing, has always coloured my image of what a university can be.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book meanwhile creates a tutorial system staffed largely by the undead for a human boy living in a cemetery. In this story he learns about the world, history, maths and how to survive his adventures guided by a vampire.

My most recent favourite discovery however is The University as imagined by Patrick Rothfuss in his ongoing series starting with the Name of the Wind. Not only does it contain the wonderfully expansive Archives (complete with a story arc about the competing classification systems used to catalogue its various collections) but it becomes one of the main sites for the adventures of the main protagonist, its rooftops, surrounds and not least its population of students and staff. It’s interesting that in order to learn what he must know, the main character ends up travelling in the world – seeking what he can’t find in books or lectures.

There are so many more stories that I haven’t mentioned that I think this thread may continue – but if nothing else I must carefully plan my own reading for the weekend. Suggestions for further reading always welcome 🙂

#blimage from the blog of David Hopkins:

“…if this is the first time you’ve come across #blimage, here’s a brief summary of what it is. In short, Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), in conversations Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) and Simon Ensor (@sensor63), started the #blimage challenge, which is:

“a confection of Blog-Image. (Yes, we are now in the age of blim!) You send an image or photograph to a colleague with the challenge that they have to write a learning related blog post based on it. Just make sure the images aren’t too rude. The permutations are blimmin’ endless.”

– See more at: http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/#sthash.VYrW98Qj.dpuf

Some thoughts on data and a world made from LEGO

In Douglas Coupland’s book Microserfs there is a page with large print. The page looks at you and proclaims: Hello, I am your personal computer. When I read this in 1995, I didn’t feel that the generic welcome message my computer displayed or any other communication I received from it was personal. I didn’t use technology in a way that made me question whether it had a consciousness, either its own or one derived from what I was inputting. But today, the technology I use is largely designed to be personal both in the way it is constructed and the way in which it presents data to me. Unlike the personal computer in the story, which turns into a receptacle for the protagonists hopes and dreams in the form of diary entries, our digital devices, like those of billions of people across the world, are very personal to us indeed. Not just in the way we use them, but the way in which they facilitate a staggering amount of small packages of data about us and our activities to be generated.
Research shows the increase in the amount of data we generate as a species and the conclusion we come to is that is it a lot. The company that made it its mission “to organise the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful” is Google. To my mind, Google are the equivalent of a very ingenious individual sorting through an expanding box of all possible LEGO bricks and creating order in the multi-coloured chaos which allows us to build everything imaginable, with the added benefit that the box will never empty, as we are all just using copies of the data bricks and thus never run out.
Billions of people benefit from this endeavour to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible. Although a lot could be said here about the commercialisation of this project, what I am interested in is the final word in the mission statement: useful. Usefulness is both obvious and complex. You cold argue that by making the information accessible, it becomes useful. The more data is available to people, the more they can use it for a plethora of purposes. More people having access to more data must cause some useful application of the data and thus, usefulness exists.
In another way, more people using more data also generates more data in turn. We know of many ways in which our interactions with the world are recorded and this data in turn can be used by people and they can put it to use. Some of that data is universally accessible, some of it is not. Some of the data we are explicitly aware of, some of it we may not be able to imagine yet.
When I played with LEGO as a child, the best afternoons were spent making structures using the small coloured bricks, and then adding all sorts of other toys into the game. LEGO was the glue that kept it all together, but the addition of tiny duvets made from tissues and fabric cut offs with help from my mom made my characters brick-built beds infinitely more fun to play with.
I suppose I feel the same way about digital data. You can use it for all sorts of things, and there are no limits to what you can make with it. But in the end, its the things that exist outside of the digital dataverse that give it relevance and meaning – and make it fun to play with.

April 2012

With the Easter break behind us and the weather improving again it looks like spring is now properly underway and there are a lot of different things going on. 
Virtual museum visits
I have been enjoying walking around art galleries I’ve never visited in person trying out the Google Art Project. It made me think about the way in which art is experienced and how the impact of having a fixed view point might change the way in which 3D artworks are understood. It would be fascinating to see this kind of work extended to include public and landscape art, possibly with walks around large sculptures or installations curated by different parties including the artists and the local community. These kinds of artworks would also require their context to be included in the record be that architectural, historical and so forth and I am curious whether one day we will take a virtual walk through the Forum in Rome or stand next to the Angel of the North. Similarly, the question of scale and how it can be represented, becomes much more important in this context, as the quality of the digital images is so high that tiny and huge works can look very similar at first glance. 
Tortoises and the internet
Besides looking at art, I’ve also been reading with interest about the flâneur in a technological context (interesting article in the NYTimes), which draws on the ideas of Walter Benjamin to examine how changes to the way in which the internet and our usage of it works influence the way in which we experience it and by extension parts of our world. One of the key characteristics of a flâneur in the more traditional context was the slow pace at which he (and I believe it was predominantly a male gaze or step that was being portrayed) experienced the city, the arcades – the hurrying people. This slow pace could be set by a pet tortoise on a leash. No doubt a somewhat eccentric accessory for a Parisian boulevard, but effective. That made me think: where is the tortoise on the web? What is the virtual metaphor that sets the pace of discovery? 
So, here is a tortoise inspired book recommendation: Momo by Michael Ende (1973) a wonderful book which is all about hurrying, loosing time and how a tortoise might help to get it back.