The Future of Education in the House of Stairs…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting into the #23things habit – team update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#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

passages-3
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…