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.

 

#FLcoding16: weeks 3, 4 and course end

progressI recently took part in a FutureLearn course about learning how to code for data analysis. I really enjoyed the course and my interest in the programming language python was definitely piqued. I blogged about previous weeks of the course but in this post I want to summarise my experience of the second half and reflect on the end of the course. 

Week 3 of the course contained the content that at the outset I was most eager to learn: conditional statements (What if…). As an example we learnt how to write and test this kind of conditional statement:

if condition1:
     statements1
elif condition2:
     statements2
...
else:
     statements

I arrived in the last week of the course and found a lot more to learn. While I didn’t manage to finish all the tasks of the week, I probably got the most inspiration out of this final part of the course. There was one exercise playing with pivot tables that was really interesting and the emphasis on showing us where to find and how to export large open data sets was what I wanted to learn about next.

All in all I learnt a lot during this course and the content and structure worked extremely well. Judging from the comments from others I was in the clear minority as I found the types of data we used rather uninteresting. But the useful list of resources in week 4 has pointed me to new possibilities. At 92% completion and with the last week being the only one which I did not complete fully, I feel the course delivered all I was expecting – and I recommend it if you are keen to try.

While I have plenty to be getting on with from the course materials, I also wanted to have a look around for other open courses and resources to help me learn more.

A quick search has led me to discover some possible next steps:

First, I found http://www.learnpython.org/ . As far as I can see the site covers basic tutorials as well as a tool into which you can enter code straight away.

Another search result led me to https://codeclan.com/ – a inititive which is more generally aimed at helping you learn how to code but also offers a specific Python course https://codeclan.com/courses/python/ . This is a much more committed programme of study and may not offer all the flexibility I am after.

A whole range of courses is also available from https://www.datacamp.com/courses?learn=python_programming including a course that includes a Python Data Toolbox, which sounds really interesting.

A more basic approach to starting with Python is also available via Code Academy https://www.codecademy.com/learn/learn-python .

Another open course provider, Coursera, also offers a set of courses on programming with Python from the University of Michigan. This is a seven week course which has recently started and covers basics for university students.

Plenty of options available to satisfy my curiosity and enable me to learn more about Python – probably many more that I haven’t yet discovered. One of the interesting aspects of looking at these sites is to find out more about how the techniques I am starting to learn about can be applied and what they are most useful for. I suppose what I really need to do next is to find a question that interest me and get started on my own. 

#23things: Digital Curation meets Halloween

img_4340I have started week 8 on the #23things course a day early. I am in a Halloween mood and the digital curation project seems like an ideal place to combine some course activity with weekend fun. This week has two parts, first on digital curation, which I am focusing on, then also digital note-taking. As I do that quite regularly I am not going to go into it, but there’s plenty to discover on my first look at Tumblr following the brief to find Tumblr blogs I like and to share them. So here goes: I started searching for things near me, which led me to the Bodleian Libraries account. From what I can see there are frequent posts, a mix of images, short articles and useful information. I really like the visual aspect of this account. Searching for libraries led me to discover a ‘Vintage Libraries’ account where I spent quite a bit of time searching through the archive by decade, having a look at the ‘Vermont Book Wagon’ for example. Looking through this made me wonder how images are licenced on Tumblr, and in the case of this particular blog, I found the following statement: “None of the photos are mine. I’ll always state the original link from where I took the pictures, unless I do not find the original source. If you know the source from any those pictures, please let me know.” . That took me back to thinking about copyright and the previous things we have explored on this course.

Sticking with the literary theme, but also with Halloween in mind, I started looking for authors whom I like and found busy posts by Neil Gaiman. This includes all kinds of random content and it was interesting to compare how this relates to for instance Twitter posts, where I follow the same author. I am not sure whether I would find using Tumblr more useful or appealing, but it’s interesting to explore a new platform. Sticking with the Halloween thread I started looking for themed posts and came across a post that linked directly to Instagram, another platform that I don’t use. Given that it was a drawing of pumpkins and cats, I was interested – but after some more exploring I decided that I had enough.

So, in addition to the ’23 things’ things I was exploring, I am now thinking about how alien social media platforms can feel when you don’t use them or have no familiarity to draw on. While earlier weeks looked at platforms I knew well, this week has made me consider what I could use tools like Tumblr, Instagram or Storify for. Storify I come across regularly for tweet chats or conferences, so there seems more of an obvious use for it, but it’s curious to discover a wealth of content in new places that I didn’t come across before. And it’s a useful reminder that it’s necessary to try new things even if I don’t end up using them day to day.

#23things: taking a “flaneur” approach to discovering digital knowledge

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Illustration from Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk http://margininversi.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/walter-benjamin-i-passages-di-parigi.html

The Flaneur is one of my favourite figures, in particular in the writing of Walter Benjamin whom I discovered as an undergraduate. I was, and am, interested in the Flaneur as he is a useful device for exploring a city, for thinking about how urban life changed during the industrial revolution and beyond it – and because of the idea that walking with a tortoise as a fashionably slow accessory/pet one could discover the pace of observation. The Flaneur discovers the world at his, and I think it is a predominantly male, pace and directs his gaze where others may not even glance. I was thinking about this because I have been finding that my own engagement in the 23 things of the course by the same name has very much proceeded at my own, slow pace, sometimes on my own and sometimes in company. That is because I am taking part as part of a team (and I have written earlier posts about our approach) as well as spending time exploring some of the things that I have a particular interest in.

As a team we are in the middle of block 2 of course content and in our weekly team meetings talking about the course has become a useful focus point for discovering common questions, exploring interests and discussing areas for professional development. We, as a group, continue to benefit from the course as a joint venture in learning new things and that in itself is extremely useful.

But beyond our common participation I have been having a look at what the next few weeks of course will bring, what things I might discover… and to return to the Flaneur, I feel very much that there is a host of wonderful things waiting to be discovered in the arcades of digital knowledge before me. One topic in particular that I am interested in is Digital Curation. Not something I am overly familiar with and also a topic that encourages us to explore Tumblr, a tool I don’t use as yet.

So, #23things, while the first 12 things have been very rewarding to encounter and discover so far, I am looking forward to the next 11 even more. With my trusty tortoise at my side I shall proceed at my own pace.

#FLcoding16: we meet graphs in the second week

week-2It’s the second week of the course ‘Learn to Code for Data Analysis‘ and we have started making graphs! Alongside my course participation on FutureLearn I am posting a short summary of my experience on my blog (you can read also my post from Week 1).

I found this week a lot quicker to get started, partly because I am now more familiar with the course structure but also because the Anaconda interface I am using is becoming easier to navigate. That was a good thing because I have less time this week. Picking tings up where we stopped in Week 1 this part of the course introduces new concepts and methods leading to learning how generate graphs using the plot function. I found generating my first few graphs and changing what they showed immensely satisfying. The data we are using this week is about the weather and the project of the week enables you to use weather data from your own location.

In order to practice some of the syntax and get more used to using the interface I have started creating my own fictional data set which I am experimenting with in a separate exercise book. Hopefully there will be more time to play with this and the weather project next week. For now, the course continues to engage and educate – enabling me to learn the basics at my own pace. One study resource that I have found particularly helpful is the weekly glossary. I have downloaded both of these and use them to help remember different concepts. See you in Week 3…

#23things: twitter archive, no facebook… social media reflections

I am using thing no. 7 (Twitter) and thing no.8 (Facebook) of #23things to note some reflections on how I use social media. This is about my individual professional or personal use, rather than any organisational perspective.

So, starting with Facebook, I find I have little to share. I am a reluctant Facebook user, strictly using it for personal relationships with far flung friends and for keeping in touch. Reviewing my Facebook timeline since I joined in 2007 reveals three clear trends: I post about the weather, the weekend and my cat. You could probably write a programme to auto-compose posts for my timeline and no one would know the difference.

Over the past two years I have also had to use Facebook for a project, more reluctantly still, and I have to admit that I have a lot to learn if I ever want to leverage that network for my professional aims. Moving on…

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Twitter archive using TAGS

Twitter I joined a few years and 3k+ tweets ago – to provide holiday cover for someone who was travelling. It took me some time to get the hang of it, but since then it’s become a most useful space for me and I would echo many of the observations made by other participants in their posts about how valuable it can marentags2be. It’s easy to forget how few people in general are using it however and I find it irritating at times when media becomes to referential to what people have tweeted instead of finding other sources. Last year I installed Martin Hawksey’s TAGS twitter archive (read more about how to make your own) and ever since then I have been happily archiving my tweets and conversations. This is actually the first time I have had a look at the “top hashtags” in my own little universe of tweets and while it’s predictable to me it’s also interesting and useful and will probably be more so over time. I like tweeting about my own work as well as interesting or useful things I come across, but there is always a lot more on Twitter than I can follow. I dip in and out and enjoy the random things I find. Unless I am at an event I rarely tweet at high volume and I have plenty of days when I don’t use it at all. There isn’t always something to say.

#23things: (algorithmic) transparency and diversity

This week on the #23things course that I am participating in together with my colleagues I read an article on diversity, described thus:

Can computers be racist? Big data, inequality, and discrimination– An excellent article, including video of a lecture given by Dr. Latanya Sweeney, on how big data can perpetuate and exacerbate existing systems of racism, discrimination, and inequality (see this week’s full text here)

I found the article really stimulating not least because I am interested in the growing movement behind public interest technologists (link to the full article). One paragraph in particular caught my eye, specifically a recommendation on how we may overcome the bias in relation to inequality inherent in big data practices:

Pressing for “algorithmic transparency.” By ensuring that the algorithms underpinning critical systems like public education and criminal justice are open and transparent, we can better understand their biases and fight for change.

It’s a recommendation I think makes a lot of sense, but I have come across many instances where this isn’t the case. In many cases only the expert developers involved in creating the system really understand how it works. That leads me to consider where efforts to make algorithms underpinning critical systems more open and transparent will meet the growing expertise professionals in for example education need to have in order to approach the technology at their disposal in an effective way.

Yet while the article has certainly prompted me to think and read further, it’s also reminded me that even the simplest or most commonplace technology can create problems. #23things uses examples like exploring accessibility features on mobile devices or the use of emoji/bitmoji to get us thinking about wider issues and those are easy to relate to. Anyone who like me functions as tech support for family members for example has likely been grateful that a mobile phone’s text size or colour contrast adjusted to suit the needs of elderly users. There is a huge spectrum of issues that opens up before you when you start focusing on accessibility and diversity.

For me, these two of the #23things are a useful reminder that this is an essential part of what we do every day and that there is always a lot of room for improvement.

Omni-directional expansion of the ‘Google me’: exploring my digital footprint in 10 screenshots

Hello, and welcome to thing no.3 of the #23things course (also, this is my 100th post on this blog)… As I mentioned previously I am taking part in this course together with my team. If you are curious about our approach read the post, but here it is in a nutshell: we have given ourselves permission to lurk, audit, explore or participate in each thing as we deem fit on an individual basis. So… this is my attempt to contribute:

img_4038This task starts with searching for yourself on Google and that’s where I have paused. It feels strangely personal writing about my own search results, but then of course that is the point of the exercise. This information is already in the public domain and easily discoverable by anyone. Why did searching for myself give me reason to pause? I want to explain why, using 10 screenshots I took:

Front page: The most public version of ‘me’ is on the first page of results. Like most of you I monitor the information about me online regularly and the results presented here are what I expected. It’s sometimes surprising how high events I participate in appear in the search results, but so far, so good.

img_4036Old News: In contrast to the first search results, this is not a list I look at frequently, but I’m already uncomfortable. Giving interviews or quotes is a circumspect business but no matter what I say it can read badly after a few years  (or sometimes far sooner). Looking at this list also reminds me that I am not consistent when it comes to archiving news items, so I suppose one advantage of having whatever you say archived and indexed is that you can compile at least a partial list at a glance. Next!

Videos: I often ignore how much video there is now of img_4037me. Granted, it’s a tiny amount in comparison to others, but not even 10 years ago there was no video of me at all. In most cases the video is a recording of a live event either in front of an audience or online. It’s often improvised, never polished and can make for cringe-worthy watching for me. On the other hand, some of my favourite moments in my professional life have been in front of an audience, so on balance I think I am glad to have these videos and hope that some are useful or interesting to others.

And now… images: this is where you can go down all sorts of rabbit holes and find surprises. First up: pictures in weird settings or combinations:

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img_4033

Images I have no control over and that are ranked highly, can feel like an annoying part of my digital footprint. In other instances the images are not of me, but made by me or posted by me at some point in the past. It can be fun to rediscover a former self , but it strongly reminds me that each time I publish anything, this post included, I make a decision to add to this expansion of stuff about or by me:

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Some images, like this one above for example, I posted at some point and thought I had removed. Others, like the one below, are a blast from the past. In this instance it shows an outdoor trade-show of funerary wares, mainly coffins, that I visited as part of my doctoral research.

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Finally, there are also images I post on sites like JustGiving, when I was raising money for Cancer Research. I am not sure how I will feel seeing this in a few years time, particularly if my personal circumstances or those of my family are different by then. What if you find images of raising funds for someone who is no longer with you? img_4035

All of this information about me is on the surface. I haven’t really started digging into what else you can find about me online and there are dire warnings about what can be done with personal information that isn’t safeguarded. That’s one reason why I am taking part in this course. Being online, particularly as an open practitioner, is making yourself vulnerable. Josie Fraser gave an inspiring keynote at ALT’s Annual Conference this year and I’ll end this post by encouraging you to watch it. Don’t let trolls follow your digital footprints…

#23things: Getting started with a team

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Team-made biscuit plate…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve signed up for some new open courses this autumn. Since then, I’ve encouraged my colleagues from the ALT staff team to join the 23things course and we are now embarking on it as a team.

Like many organisations we are always looking for effective ways to provide CPD opportunities around use of technology and I think the course looks like a great way to meet that need. Given that we are a small, distributed group a course that is wholly online and has some flexibility as to when and how you learn seems ideal.

As we want to take part as a team, we have set up some additional “taking part” support, including adding a discussion about our experiences to our weekly team meetings and a shared Google folder and doc “scratchpad” for everyone. While we are taking part in an open course I also want to create a safe space for everyone to experiment and share their views without them being public.

So, I am joining in with this first post about what I’d like to gain from the course and also some reflections on the social media guidelines that we follow:

First, social media guidelines: that’s something I think about quite a lot and as well as the guidelines of our host institution we publish our own policies governing our different platforms. Some of us are very active on social media, others less so – but events and membership activities are increasingly finding their voice on different platforms. So, as well as developing various digital literacy skills, the course will provide an opportunity for us to talk about our approach to social media as a team. I found Eric Stoller’s talk at the Jisc Digifest very inspiring on this topic.

Secondly, what do I hope to get out of the course? Learning new things is definitely the top aim, but this time round I hope we can learn something new together. In our organisation we move very quickly from one project to the next and sometimes there isn’t enough time to enjoy the process of finding a solution to a problem or implementing something new. I hope the course will provide a way for us to share more of that experience.

Open/closed? I have thought quite a bit about writing this post, because in the past when I have shared my practice openly I haven’t written directly about the colleagues I work with daily. There is a lot to consider when you share your practice openly and my own participation should support and contribute, not hinder anyone else’s progress. So I think the approach I will take is not to write about anyone’s personal experience or journey – or at least not without their express permission. I won’t share anything unless it is already in the public domain (and intentionally so) and with my colleagues’ consent. And I will contribute, just like my colleagues, in our internal spaces as well as this more public forum.