Author: Doug Belshaw (page 1 of 180)

Discipline in the field of edtech

I’m always wary on the rare occasions I’m in any form of disagreement with Audrey Watters. It usually shows I haven’t read enough or perhaps have grasped the wrong end of the stick. However, in Disciplining Education Technology, to me she asserts something that I certainly don’t feel is true:

Education technology is already a discipline; education technology is already disciplinary. That is its history; that is its design; that is its function.

Perhaps this perspective is a function of my geographical location. The edtech sector is tiny in the UK, and the closest that educational institutions seem to get to ‘edtech’ is employing learning technologists and technicians. Again, I may be wrong about this; it may be just invisible to me. However, it seems to me that if edtech is indeed already a discipline, it’s almost entirely US-focused.

Martin Weller, also UK-based, gives reasons (my emphasis) for embracing the idea of a ‘discipline’ of edtech:

  1. “[I]t allows us to bring in a range of perspectives. One of the criticisms of ed tech is that people come in from one discipline and are unaware of fundamental work in a related one. So the Ed Tech discipline might well have components from psychology, sociology, education, computer science, statistics, etc. This would help establish a canonical body of texts that you could assume most people in ed tech are familiar with.”
  2. “As well as establishing a set of common content, Ed Tech can establish good principles and process in terms of evaluating evidence.”
  3. [I]t creates a body against which criticism can push. When a subject becomes a discipline, then it is not long before you get a version of it prefaced by the word “Critical”. Critical Educational Technology sounds fine to me, and could sit alongside Practical Educational Technology to the mutual benefit of both.”

An additional point I’d add is that formalisation and scaffolding creates career paths for people, rather than them having to reside in the spaces between other disciplines. Look at the field of Design. There are schools within the discipline, there are career paths, but there are also consultants and freelancers who are seen as part of the bigger picture 

As a UK-based consultant who sees edtech as my ikigai, you’re often seen as ‘outsider’ unless you’re in Higher Education or work for a vendor. Work in schools and colleges is also often looked down upon. Bringing everyone together and establishing norms, processes, procedures, and ‘canonical knowledge, could  make it easier for people to move in and out of various organisations and institutions. It would certainly make funding easier.

Of course, the $64,000 question is who gets to decide what constitutes the discipline? I’d hate to see that discussion locked up in expensive academic conferences sponsored by vendors, and/or happening in paywalled academic journals. Perhaps paradoxically, open educators are exactly the kinds of people in the best position to push for a discipline of edtech.

I’m definitely in alignment with Audrey when she talks of the importance of a ‘radical blasphemy’ against the establishment of orthodoxy. My concern is that, currently, this orthodoxy isn’t explicit. What we’ve got is an implicit  orthodoxy predicated on vague notions of terms such as ‘edtech’ and ‘open education’. As I’ve already argued, I think we can move towards more productively-ambiguous notions, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of edtech as (what Richard Rorty would term) a ‘dead metaphor’.

Perhaps the crux of the problem is with the word ‘discipline’. It certainly has negative connotations, and focuses on control. Given that ‘field’ is a near-synonym, I’d suggest that perhaps we use that instead? I’d very happy introducing myself to people by saying that I “work in the field of edtech”.

Perhaps we need an unconference…

Weeknote 38/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’ll be in Newcastle on Monday, working from home Tuesday/Wednesday, speaking at the launch of Badgemaker in Glasgow on Thursday, and then heading up a mountain to get in two Quality Mountain Days on Friday/Saturday.

Weeknote 37/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’ll be working from Campus North on Monday, in meetings on Tuesday, flying to Jersey on Wednesday (afternoon) and then working with Victoria College on Thursday and Friday. Due to flights, I’ll not be back home until Saturday afternoon.

Work with me: Dynamic Skillset / We Are Open Co-op

Digital Literacy, Identity and a Domain of One’s Own [DML Central]

My latest article for DML Central has just been published. Entitled Digital Literacy, Identity and a Domain of One’s Own, it’s an attempt to get beyond ‘ownership’ to think about identity online.

Here’s the final paragraph:

A world where one’s primary identity is found through the social people-farms of existing social networks is a problematic one. Educators and parents are in the privileged position of being able to help create a better future, but we need to start modeling to future generations what that might look like. Let’s start with a domain of our own, but let’s keep pushing that envelope in terms of our digital skills to fully realize our own digital identities.

Read the post in full

I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to add your thoughts on the original post. You may also like another recent post of mine if you’re into this kind of thing.

How to be an effective knowledge worker and ‘manage yourself’

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, at the moment I’m reading eight books on repeat every morning. One of these is Peter Drucker’s magnificent Managing Oneself. I’ve actually gifted it to a couple of Critical Friend clients as it’s so good.

There’s some great insights in there, and some sections in particular I’d like to share here. First off, it’s worth defining terms. Thomas Davenport, in his book Thinking for a Living defines knowledge workers in the following way:

Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution or application of knowledge.

So I’m guessing that almost everyone reading this fits into the category ‘knowledge worker’. I certainly identify as one, as my hands are much better suited touch-typing the thoughts that come out of my head, sparked by the things that I’m reading, than building walls and moving things around!

Drucker says that we knowledge workers are in a unique position in history:

Knowledge workers in particular have to learn to ask a question that has not been asked before: What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: What does the situation require? Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done? And finally, What results have to be achieved to make a difference?

This is a difficult thing to do and, to my mind, one that hierarchies are not great at solving. Every time I’m re-immersed in an organisation with a strict hierarchy, I’m always struck by how much time is wasted by the friction and griping that they cause. You have to be much more of a ‘grown-up’ to flourish in a non-paternalistic culture.

Drucker explains that knowledge workers who much ‘manage themselves’ need to take control of their relationships. This has two elements:

The first is to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are. They perversely insist on behaving like human beings. This means that they too have their strengths; they too have their ways of getting things done; they too have their values. To be effective, therefore, you have to know the strengths, the performance modes, and the values of your coworkers.
[…]
The second part of relationship responsibility is taking responsibility for communication. Whenever I, or any other consultant, start to work with an organization, the first thing I hear about are all the personality conflicts. Most of these arise from the fact that people do not know what other people are doing and how they do their work, or what contribution the other people are concentrating on and what results they expect. And the reason they do not know is that they have not asked and therefore have not been told.

The answer, of course, is to become a much more transparent organisation. Although The Open Organization is a book I’d happily recommend to everyone, I do feel that it conflates the notion of ‘transparency’ (which I’d define as something internal to the organisation) and ‘openness’ (which I see as the approach it takes externally).  For me, every organisation can and should become more transparent — and most will find that openness lends significant business advantages.

Transparency means that you can see the ‘audit trail’ for decisions, that there’s a way of plugging your ideas into others, that there’s a place where you can, as an individual ‘pull’ information down (rather than have it ‘pushed’ upon you). In short, transparency means nowhere to hide, and a ruthless, determined focus on the core mission of the organisation.

Hierarchies are the default way in which we organise people, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the best way of doing so. Part of the reason I’m so excited to be part of a co-operative is that, for the first time in history, I can work as effectively with colleagues  I consider my equals, without a defined hierarchy, and across continents and timezones. It’s incredible.

What this does mean, of course, is that you have to know what it is that you do, where your strengths lie, and how you best interact with others. Just as not everyone is a ‘morning person’, so some people prefer talking on the phone to a video conference, or via instant message than by email.

Drucker again:

Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates. They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid. They are wrong. Whenever someone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful. But why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

[…]

Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust. The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is therefore an absolute necessity. It is a duty. Whether one is a member of the organization, a consultant to it, a supplier, or a distributor, one owes that responsibility to all one’s coworkers: those whose work one depends on as well as those who depend on one’s own work.

Reflecting on the way you work best means that you can deal confidently with others who may have a different style to you. It means it won’t take them weeks, months, or even years to figure out that you really aren’t  going to read an email longer than a couple of paragraphs.

[This] enables a person to say to an opportunity, an offer, or an assignment, “Yes, I will do that. But this is the way I should be doing it. This is the way it should be structured. This is the way the relationships should be. These are the kind of results you should expect from me, and in this time frame, because this is who I am.”

It’s a great book and, reading it at the same time as The Concise Mastery by Robert Greene is, I have to say, a revelation.

Image CC BY-NC gaftels

Weeknote 36/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’ll be in Newcastle and then Gateshead on Monday, working from home on Tuesday, in Sunderland on Wednesday, working from home on Thursday, and then pottering about during my Friday ‘Doug Day’. I’d still really like to get down to London for Futurefest next weekend as it was excellent last year…

Image CC BY-NC-SA Jonathon Hurley

Igniting my Mondays

Back when I worked for Mozilla, I’d occasionally drop into Campus North, home of the Ignite100 startup accelerator, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I even ran an event there, a Maker Party, back in 2014.

Today, after a discussion with Phil Veal, I realised that a good way to increase my ‘serendipity surface’ would be to commit to basing myself somewhere else for one day per week. That’s why from next week, I’ll be spending every Monday based in Campus North.

The fees are reasonable, the wifi is fast, and the company is always terrific. If you’re in Newcastle on a Monday, please do ping me and I’ll take you for a coffee!

Image via Paul Lancaster

Weeknote 35/2016

This week I’ve been:

  • Returning home after almost a month away. You can read my write-up of that here.
  • Re-connecting with people on Twitter, via email, and on our We Are Open Slack channel.
  • Spending time with my children, taking them to watch jesters at Alnwick Castle, helping our youngest learn how to ride a bike and tie  her shoelaces, and finding the best walking route to school for our eldest (who’s beginning Middle School next week!)
  • Agreeing a three-month sponsorship of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter from Makers Academy. I’m delighted to have them as a return sponsor!
  • Meeting with my fellow We Are Open members John Bevan and Bryan Mathers to discuss our upcoming thinkathon for Creative Commons around their burgeoning CC Certification program. Our other co-operator, Laura Hilliger, is on a road trip at the moment…
  • Discussing ways forward with CoderDojo’s use of Open Badges.
  • Losing half a stone in weight due to some serious remedial action in terms of nutrition and exercise. I wrote about what I’m putting into my body, and which books I found helpful here. I’ve also been beasting myself up and down sand dunes at Druridge Bay and have started running again (despite the increased migraine risk).
  • Setting up meetings for next week and the week after with people and organisations I think can benefit from what I can offer through Dynamic Skillset, and what we can offer through We Are Open.
  • Getting back in the swing of using an RSS reader in the guise of Feedly. Since I last used it, they’ve added a great new feature called ‘knowledge boards’ which I’ll be using along with my wiki for curatorial purposes.
  • Informing existing email subscribers to this blog that they’re now subscribed to my Thought Shrapnel newsletter instead. I include a roundup of posts I write both here and on other blogs in each issue of my newsletter. If anyone wants to subscribe by email to individual posts from this blog, they can plug the RSS feed into a service like IFTTT or Zapier.
  • Writing:

Next week I’ve got my calendar full of meetings. I also need to do lots of writing to get down all of the things I thought about while I was away! Bryan and I are doing some work with London CLC, and I’ve got a critical friend meeting with a client.

I’ll be taking Fridays off, as usual, as my ‘Doug day’. I noticed that Amazon are experimenting with 30-hour weeks for new teams (although at 70% pay) but there’s plenty of research that shows that people who work fewer hours are happier and more productive! As this article suggests, a four-day workweek is likely to be a recruitment incentive in 2017 and beyond…

We’re back!

At over 1,200 words, this is a long-ish post so just  a quick heads-up that I’ve divided it into sections (signified by the included Prisma-enhanced images) covering: an overview our holiday, my new fitness regime, what I’ve been reading, why I’m planning to use my wiki more, and how we can work together. 


It’s been a great summer.

One of the great things about being your own boss is the fact that, on a macro level at least, you’re in charge of your own time. That means I get to choose to be ‘away’ when it suits me — for example, during the school summer holidays, or in December when my Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in.

I’d been banging the same drum with my family, repeating the same mantra over and over again: “we’re going away camping for the whole of August”. My wife thought it was too long. Friends said that three weeks would probably be a better idea. But I stuck to my guns. I even shaved my hair off in preparation!

Well, it turns out that other people were right: spending more than a couple of weeks under canvas is hard work. In the event, we split the month into several sections — partly due to external circumstances, partly due to conscious decision-making.

The original plan had been to travel down the east side of France, go a little way into Italy, come back along the south coast of France and into northern Spain, and then wend our way back up the west coast of France back to the UK. It didn’t quite work like that because of….

Ants.

Thousands of them. And on the same night that our youngest contracted a tummy bug. Imagine being in a campsite on an Italian mountain with a five year-old up several times in the night to be sick, and ants swarming round you. It was me who decided enough was enough. We were going home.

My wife persuaded me to stay one night in an apartment (“just to get ourselves sorted out”) before the trip back. Now that Munchkin #2 was feeling better and we were in more salubrious surroundings, it all didn’t seem so bad. So we changed our plans, aiming to spend the money we would have spent on camping on hotels. We’d just have a shorter, more comfortable holiday.

To cut a long story short, we ended up making our way, via Avignon, Reims, and Orange to our favourite campsite: Municipal de Sézanne. We stayed there a week, enjoying the huge outdoor swimming pool, immaculately-clean facilities, and the fact it was (including electricity) only 15 Euros per night!

That final stretch of time on a single campsite, with a trip to Paris, leisurely walks through Champagne-producing vineyards, swimming, reading, and general messing about, was the best bit of the holiday. After returning to the UK via the Eurotunnel, we stopped off at the in-laws in Devon for a few days, then made our way back home via an overnight stay in Sheffield (where my wife and I met, at university).

Camping

It turns out that if, for a month, you do a lot less exercise than you’re used to, have pastries for breakfast every morning and an ice-cream every afternoon, you put on weight! Who knew?

Last week, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. So I decided to do something about it. Luckily, I’d re-read most of the excellent Fitness for Geeks while I was away, which is a great addition to anyone’s shelf. In the last seven days I’ve lost half a stone, mainly through eating as little carbohydrate as possible, by starting running again (despite it increasing my risk of migraines), and by consuming the same things for breakfast (smoothie made from fruit, coffee, and various powders) and lunch (four egg omelette with cheese, tomatoes, spinach and peppers).

I’ve got another half a stone to go, but that should be gone by the end of September, especially seeing as our paused gym membership kicks back in today. One of the things I’ve had the children accompany me in doing is running up sand dunes at our nearest (National Trust) beach. My father used to get us down for pre-season training when he was manager of our football team, so I’m just passing on the baton. It’s hard work, I’ll tell you that!

NOT A REAL DOCTOR

Stepping out of the stream for a month is, unsurprisingly, a great way to reflect on your life, your priorities, and your habits. Something I’ve realised is how much I enjoy being up before everyone else in the morning. Not only does this give me a chance to read before the normal hustle-and-bustle of family life begins, but it gives me a chance to take my own emotional temperature before helping other people increase theirs.

One of things I like doing with my morning reading is to read things on repeat. My go-to for this purpose over the last few years has been the relatively-unknown work of a 17th-century Jesuit priest named Baltasar Gracián. Sometimes translated as ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom’, the Penguin version I’ve got (both in print form and ebook) is entitled The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. It contains 300 maxims about ways to approach the world and, in the Stoic tradition, is kind of a pithier version of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Over the last few months, and in the last few weeks in particular, I’ve collected eight books in total which I’m currently reading on repeat. I’ll swap out any when I feel I’ve fully digested what they contain. So in addition to the two above, I’ve also got as a Kindle ‘daily reading’ collection:

At the other end of the day, before bed, I tend to read fiction. Right now, I’m reading the excellent Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell. It’s set partly in Northumberland (where I live) and was recommended to me a few years ago by a colleague when I was at Mozilla. I should have paid attention as it’s great!

Since we’ve returned from holiday, I’ve settled into a new routine in the evening after putting the children to bed. I’ll put on some ambient music and read in the small ‘cubby hole’ (for want of a better word) that we’ve got next to our bedroom in our new-ish loft conversion. I’ve just finished Invisible Forms: a guide to literary curiosities, which I stumbled upon in a secondhand bookshop while I was away.

Paris

A quick note about my intentions for where I’ll be focusing my attention over the next few months. I’m wary of making grand pronouncements of what I intend to do because, as the saying goes, man plans and God laughs. However, I do intend to make more use of my wiki in the future.* Along with starting to use Feedly again (and its excellent ‘knowledge board’ feature) it’s time to spend at least as much time on the side of the river, curating, as it is in the stream itself.

Spiral staircase

Finally, I’m always looking for ways in which I can help people achieve their goals in a way that also helps me reach mine. I make my living as a consultant, which means I’m a knowledge worker, someone who advises, synthesises, and creates. If you, or someone you know could do with my input, please do direct them towards my Dynamic Skillset website, or towards We Are Open Co-op!

#BelshawBlackOps16 Pt.1 has started!

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be away for the month of August, camping with my family around Europe. I’m back online in September.

That means no personal email, no social networking, no blogging, no weekly newsletter, and no podcasting.

Consultancy-wise, I’ve still got some capacity from September so I’ll occasionally be checking work email to interact with new and existing clients. I hope you have a great summer (northern hemisphere) / winter (southern hemisphere)!

Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com / doug@nullweareopen.coop

Image CC BY-NC-SA freeflo

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