Page 132 of 184

What I learned at TeachMeet North East 09

TeachMeetNE

Last night I attended my fourth TeachMeet – TeachMeet North East 09 – having previously been to the last two at the BETT show and TeachMeet Midlands 09 last month. It was held at the wonderfully-refurbished Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At the previous three TeachMeet’s I’ve presented either for 2 minutes or 7 minutes, but this time I decided to take a bit more of a back seat and be an ‘enthusiastic lurker’. 🙂

I met lots of people and came away with a few great ideas. These are the ones that stick in my mind:

Steve Bunce’s Neural Impulse Actuator

Neural Impulse Actuator

Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, usually things at TeachMeet I’ve either used in a different context or am planning to use. That is to say they’re ‘on my radar’. I was surprised and amazed, therefore, when Steve Bunce demonstrated a Neural Impulse Actuator last night. This takes the form of a band worn across the forehead that responds to muscle movements and brainwaves. Steve demonstrated fairly simple and straightforward applications using games and controlling bars.

Mark Clarkson’s Collaborative Tools

Mark Clarkson

Prezi is a tool you either love or hate. It was used to great effect by Mark Clarkson in his 15 collaborative tools presentation. Lots of fantastic ideas in this presentation. Mark also created and co-authored an Etherpad document that took notes on everyone else’s presentations. 😀

Fergus Hegarty on ‘Real independent learning’

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the enigmatic Mr Hegarty. He presented on a ‘needs must’ situation where he recently completely revamped his teaching of Sixth Form Chemistry due to a massive teacher shortage in his department.

He spent hours getting all of the admin sorted for the rest of the course, ‘chunking’ and labelling the material needed. Students then organized their own time and decided which work they had to do when he was present (e.g. practicals) and things they could do during ‘independent learning’ sessions. This gave Fergus time to spend with groups of different abilities. Such approaches engender exactly the skills that are needed in young people – I just hope he gets the results so he can feel vindicated in his pioneering work! :-p

flashmeetingIf you’d like to view a replay of the TeachMeet, it was streamed live via FlashMeeting which created an archive of the event here (followed by an extension here)

Lord Bilimoria on leadership.

Lord Bilmoria

Lord Bilimoria is the founder of Cobra Beer, having previously worked in audit, tax, training, and accounting at various organizations.

I took away the following points from watching Bilimoria’s ten 4-minute videos on the 50 Lessons website.

Starting from nothing always ‘against all odds’

Every time you start from nothing there will always be big sacrifices to make and involve frustrations. The key thing is that during hard times you don’t give up. Have faith in both your ideas and yourself. Long-term goals are important – as is instilling the belief that as an organization you are going to reach those goals.

Consult end-users

Never take forward ideas without checking them out with consumers or end-users. Bilimoria gives the example of his beer being called Panther until last-minute informal customer surveys showed that they didn’t like the name. Instead of ignoring this research, the organization changed the name of the beer (after feedback) and it was a success.

The lesson from this is that you come up with the ideas, but you should always check these with the end-users before going ahead. You may not be able to have large, formal research programmes, but you can always carry out informal research.

Dissatisfaction leads to innovation

Channeling dissatisfaction can lead to the generation of new ideas. Every time a good idea comes along, people always ask, ‘why didn’t someone do that before.’ This is usually because you have to ‘make the leap’ to cross the ‘credibility gap’ (which is that nobody knows you or your ideas). People will only let you close that gap if you have confidence and passion – and leads to same on their part. Trust your own judgement as many ideas overlooked as seeming too straightforward.

Contant innovation is a must

It is important to be innovating constantly as other people will always copy what you do. In order to do this you need not only have right environment within your organization but work with the best advisers; this gives you the edge. In addition, the ways in which you work with these advisers, making them part of your team, is important. Always move on and innovate – even if what you think you’ve got is great!

Long-term vision

Having a long-term vision for the organization is vital so everybody knows where you’re headed. In addition, you need smaller, achievable bite-sized targets in line with the vision. Look ahead, but have to have ‘finger on the pulse’ r.e. what’s happening right now.

Mission

‘Mission’ is the ‘what’ of the organization. It is measurable, permanent, and something you can go back to time and time again. You need a role-model in business that can help you understand where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Everything you do should be carried out with integrity – even if you are working against all odds.

Turn obstacles into advantages

Any organization or individual within it is going to come across obstacles. These must be surmounted in some way – by going around them, through them, under them – however. These obstacles can be turned into advantages. Bilimoria gives the example of Cobra Beer being limited by the bottlers to a 660ml bottle instead of a more traditional (in the UK) 330ml. They thought around the problem and now every major brewer has a 330ml opton. Consider how to turn every negative into a positive before dismissing the idea altogether.

Go for ‘will rather than skill’

What makes organizations successful is people. There are two halves to this: getting the right people and then creating environment in which they can flourish. When you recruit, go for ‘will rather than skill.’ Bilimoria gives the example of refugee who spoke very poor English who was desperate to be one of their first door-to-door sellers. They took him on, despite appearances and he is today a member of the board.

Whilst it’s ideal to have both the will and the skills, always go for the former if it comes down to a choice. To allow people to flourish, have to create ‘limitless’ opportunities – if you have too many rules and barriers that can limit opportunities available to individuals and therefore the organization.

Create a culture of idea-generation

Organizations need entrpreneurial spirit and innovative spirit that is pervasive and not just limited to the senior leadership team. People need to feel in control of their own work and this can be done by  putting people’s ideas into action. Leaders need to ‘let go’, giving trust and respect to people. Allowing employees to be flexible comes back as trust and respect for organization.

It’s not about employees ‘earning’ respect, it’s about giving it away so that it comes back. If you ‘let go’ and allow people ‘get on’ with it this leads to a ‘buzz’ around the organization. Create an atmosphere where there’s no fear to come up with ideas. For example at Cobra, people encouraged to put ideas into ‘ideas box’. The top ones are selected each month and prizes are given.

Turn threats into opportunities

It’s useful to go away from the office to carry out blue-sky brainstorming sessions that include SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Bilimoria gives the example of someone identifying at such a session that increasingly, people are drinking wine with their meal. Cobra investigated the wine business and then entered it.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Gill Rider on leadership.

Gill Rider

Gill Rider is the Head of the Civil Service Capability Group, a part of the UK Cabinet Office. Rider has previously worked in the financial markets, healthcare and government industries. She also worked in the customer service area examining industry best practices.

The following is what I took away from watching the collection of her seven 4-minute videos on the 50 lessons website.

Competence and Confidence

Rider talks of a ‘virtuous’ circle of competence and confidence: if you feel competent than that leads to a feeling of confidence. People assume a lack of confidence means a lack of competence, meaning that you need to show and prove that you are competent through projecting confidence. Some people will misunderstand assertiveness and confidence as your being egocentric and arrogance.

Good leaders need to be good teachers

In order to be a good leader you also need to be a good teacher. You can foster this in others by getting them to teach topics outside their comfort zone. They will becoming engaged by this, enjoy the teaching, and will provide a good model for more junior members of the organization.

Rider talks of a ‘teachable point of view,’ an idea she gathered from a more well-known speaker (whose name I missed). This ‘teachable point of view’ consists of binding up ideas, knowledge and opinions to pass onto others. Junior members of the organization are ‘hungry to hear about experiences and stories.’ Leaders therefore need to confidence to go ‘out there’ and teach. Leaders who teach become fulfilled and become the most effective leaders. It improves the overall quality of work being produced and leads to a virtuous circle.

The importance of listening

Listening is a vital skill as it enables you to udnerstand what people are feeling and wanting. You can find out exactly what you want to know by careful listening. A combination of listening and asking questions is important in any dialogue; Rider quotes Mark Twain‘s advice that ‘you have two ears and one mouth – use them proportionally.’

In advance of meetings, ask people what the objectives of the meeting are and get them to formulate these into questions. It is easy to assume you know what’s going on in any situation, but it’s easy not to go beyond the superficial. Pick up signals from body language and ask questions that probe more deeply.

Don’t exclude minorities

Rider talks of her avoiding the ‘women question’ by just trying to get on with her own career and be as successful as possible. However, it struck her later in her career how little things had changed for the status of minorities at the top organizational levels.

It is difficult to appreciate, Rider says, how minorities feel when you are always part of the majority. Deliberately placing yourself in a minority situation helps you to understand how others may feel. Rider points to research that shows the more diverse an organization is, them more effective it is. Diversity is also important for perceptions of the organization in terms of being representative of communities.

The lack of ‘logic’ in Powerpoint

Rider dislikes Powerpoint as it takes the ‘energy’ out of presentations. People focus on getting the bullet points correct rather than on the overall ‘logic’ of the presentation. Rider herself gets employees to write White Papers that have argument and logic. Powerpoint doesn’t really allow for discussion and the ‘human element’ of going off at tangents.

The importance of trust

Trust is one of the most important things in the business world. Your ego and self-interest needs to be removed from the situation so you can hear where others are coming from. Trust is key to being successful in business world and comes from human beings connecting on personal as well as a professional level.

Matching behaviour to words

Rider tells an interesting story about the chairman of an organization stopping her one day when she was literally running to get to her next meeting. He explained how such behaviour would be interpreted by others and amplified as it went down the organizational hierarchy, eventually being interpreted as ‘panic’.

Rider has a nice phrase, ‘You can’t talk yourself out of what you behave your way in to.‘ Always look like you’re in control.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Colin Day on leadership.

Colin Day

Colin Day is Group Chief Financial Officer and Director of Reckitt Benckiser, ‘a global force in household, health and personal care.’ He has worked for a number of organizations, including British Gas (when it was the ‘Gas Corporation’) from which he draws experiences and lessons in leadership.

The following is what I learned from watching his seven videos on the 50 Lessons website:

Most people like being led

Day believes that most people want to be led and that very few want to lead themselves. This is mainly due to the necessity of making tough decisions as a leader.

Love/hate reactions

Leaders need to movtiave staff and inspire them, otherwise organizations can end up with dissatisfied staff. Inspiring a love/hate dichotomy regarding leadership style within an organization is not necessarily a bad thing.

Good leadership comes from confidence

Leaders need to be preapred to make decisions and lead by example. You need to be seen to be technically competent, which can be demonstrated through motivation, enthusiasm and commitment. Allied to this, however, has to be confidence. If staff see that you have their best interests at heart, that you will not let them down and that you will support them, then they will follow your lead.

‘Open door’ policy

It can be quite an intimidating experience to go an see your boss, which is why an open door policy always some fears. Leaders should be available day or night and tell staff that ‘there’s no excuse for not contacting me.’ People need to be put at ease by not treating them as if they’re slaves to you or in any way second-class citizens. Leaders need to be open with people – which is difficult to do consistently and honestly all the time.

Don’t judge books by their covers

It’s easy and part of human nature to rush into perceptions of people or organizations. Forming judgements from other people’s opinions and the media is easy to do. Leaders need to find out for themselves and be open-minded. Find out the facts so you can form an educated opinion. Ask relevant questions when recruiting and allow them to do due dilgence on you. Day provides prospective employees with a list of people whom they can talk to about his leadership style and what to expect if they work under him.

Autocracy is a necessity

Organizations and the people within them have to accept a certain measure of ‘autocratic’ style as it gets results. Consensus management doesn’t work, according to Day: someone needs to ‘call the shots’ as otherwise nothing gets done. The only leadership style that really works is one where you give very clear direction about what you want and then clear messages about how that should be achieved.

According to Day, it’s all about focus. If you say something and stick to it enough you will find people take onboard what you say. As a leader, you need to make sure that everyone shares your focus. Don’t lead initiatives until the last minute – plan well in advance and provide clear direction from the top so that ‘everyone marches to the same tune.’

Detail

Leaders need to know how much detail is required in various situations and how much to demand of their workforce. Analysis and statistics is not important if the bigger picture is being ignored. In Day’s experience, people hide behind detail for confidence purposes, producing endless charts tables to try and make a simple point.

As a leader, demand people focus on the larger issue. Use instinct and experience as much as data. Make documents short and to the point; they should be 4-5 pages long or take 4-5 minutes to present. If a point cannot be made in that amount of space or time then there’s something wrong.

No ‘job for life’

There are no ‘jobs for life’ any more: don’t encourage staff to think in that way. Instead, encourage them to talk about their career options, taking them out of their comfort zone, preparing them to take  risks and look outside of the organization. Career-seekers are more motivated than ‘company’ people. Those who stay in one job for a long time stagnate.

Self-confidence

It’s not enough for leaders to be intellectually brilliant or extremely technically competent. You also have to have the confidence to pull things off even when wrong-footed. Confidence also needs to be built and nurtured in your staff as well. Give them responsibilities to deliver on important projects. They will feel like they are part of the decision-making process even if not making the final decision.

Confidence can only be grown, not ‘taught’. Day talks of a ‘rock of granite’ within people that others can chip away at but will nevertheless remain solid. Look for this ‘rock’ when hiring people.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

David Brandon on leadership.

david_brandon2

David Brandon is CEO of Domino’s Pizza. He’s one of the contributors to the 50 Lessons website. This website incorporates is a series of 4-minute videos from inspirational leaders of organizations. Brandon was a successful American Football player at college, an experience he looks back to often when thinking about leadership issues.

The following is what I took away from viewing his five videos on the 50 Lessons website:

Treat people the way they want to be treated

Leaders need to be able to adapt the way they deal with people to individual circumstances. The wrong approach is to take the same leadership style and apply it to all your dealings with staff in your organization. Find out the way people want to be treated and treat them that way. Brandon says this is the best piece of advice his father (who himself had no formal leadership experience) gave him early in his career.

Have a plan for ‘sudden change’

From an American football game between the Ten...
Image via Wikipedia

Looking back to his college American Football days, Brandon talks about how his coaches trained the team to recognise sudden change within a game and to respond to it in a positive way. Transferring this to organizations, it’s importance to instill the idea that ‘change is good’ whilst recognizing that many will approach it will trepidation and indeed may resist that change.

Brandon talks about when he was unveiled as CEO of Domino’s Pizza and kept his message simple. He contrasted ‘sitting around talking about the good old days’ with embracing change to make a good organization even better.

Things either get better or they get worse

An unfinished  miniature portrait of Oliver Cr...
Image via Wikipedia

Brandon’s comments on things ‘never staying the same’ reminded me of a saying I had on my wall in my old classroom, attributed to Oliver Cromwell. It read, ‘He who stops being better stops being good.’ It’s a phrase I saw every day and spurred me on.

Brandon believes that when things are going well  for an organization or team – sales are up, the team is winning every game, academic results are getting better every year – then it’s easy to fall into the mindset of ‘just turning up.’ To counter this, he says, coaches when he played American Football drummed into them the belief that ‘things either get better or they get worse, but things never stay the same.’ Fostering this mentality in your organization leads to constant striving towards improvement.

Don’t rely on internal benchmarks

It’s all very well hitting or even surpassing benchmarks and targets set internally within your organization. However, if no attention is paid to others in the field, then you can be left behind. Brandon talks about finding the best in the field and becoming as good or better than them.

With schools, this is less of an issue of competition and more one of keeping up with best practice, I believe. Of course, there’s local competition in terms of persuading parents to send their children to your school, but in the bigger picture it’s about raising standards across the board.

Deal with minor issues quickly

The time to deal with minor issues is as quickly as you can and when things are going well. Restructuring, procedural issues and suchlike are much better done at times of stability rather than when your organization is on ‘the edge of a cliff’. Making changes when things are going well means the organization is more resilient and can be more focused on those changes rather than on the survival of the organization.

Pivotal moments & decision-making

As a leader there will be ‘pivotal moments’ when going one way could lead to great rewards, whereas going the other way could lead to disastrous consequences. It’s the easiest thing in the world to make a decision when you and 100% of the people around you agree on what should be done. The tough decisions come when there is a 50/50 split.

When such a decision has to be made, make it and then act with ‘confidence, passion and a true sense of calm.’ Leaders, after all, must lead. Your actions after the decision has been taken are almost more important than the decision itself as you can energise the workforce into taking action for the organization to succeed. You need to explain your decisions and then stand by them.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The future of education? My visit to RM’s REAL Centre

Can’t see the slideshow? Click here!

The ICT Consultant for the Academy arranged for me to visit RM’s REAL Centre today. I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but when I mentioned it to others some were excited on my behalf whereas others mentioned that it ‘didn’t live up to the hype’. Given that I wasn’t aware of the hype (it was at BETT 2009) I went in fairly unbiased! 🙂

As you can see from the pictures above, the spaces were set out differently from standard classrooms. All together, it worked well and whilst walking around I was impressed. On reflection, however, given that no school’s likely to have all that’s in there, I started thinking about specifics. Here’s my takeaways:

21st century interactive whiteboard

Current interactive whiteboards tie teachers to the front of the classroom and perpetuate at 20th (19th?)-century model of teaching. That’s why I really liked the ‘horizontal [and vertical!] interactive and collaborative surface’ that was on display. It was a combination of three things, really:

  • A rotatable (fairly standard) adjustable project table
  • An ultra-short throw projector
  • A clip-on sensor to the table (surface) for the ‘interactive’ element

The great thing was that not only was the table rotatable and height-adjustable, but had wheels and a single plug so could be easily be moved around learning spaces. 😀

Eye-tracking hardware/software

Although I’ve read about them before and seen videos, it was great to try out an eye-tracking device for myself. It took less than a minute to calibrate and get myself up-to-speed on what to do, and after that I was able to write sentences and get the computer to speak them back to me! The only downside was that, being a contact lens-wearer, my eyes felt a little dry afterward. Felt fairly futuristic, though, and potentially life-changing for some of the profoundly disabled students we’ll have at the Academy.

Inexpensive USB microscopes

I’m sure these have probably been around for ages, but it was my first experience with a USB microscope that was both robust and inexpensive (around £30). It fed real-time images to an Asus Eee PC via a USB connection, which could save them for future reference. With the netbook and small microscope, students are able to go outside and investigate things, come back and show what they’ve found. Loved it. :-p

Soundproof pods

I didn’t get a chance to check out how much these cost, but I think they’re a great idea. The photo above explains what I’m talking about: soundproof, circular ‘pods’ that allow for meetings, speaking and listening exercises, or some quiet study to take place.

I can see these being used in break-out spaces, in reception areas for meetings with parents – for a whole host of things, in fact. The great things was that, whilst they’re soundproof, they’re comfortable and have clear windows so teachers can see what is going on. A great idea.

Student-centred seating

Again, variations of the seating that was on display at the REAL Centre have been seen before, but it was good to see thought going into ergonomics. The seats, along with the tables, on offer could be stacked into a very small space to allow for drama-based activities. It was almost impossible to lean backwards on them such that the front legs came off the floor. You could, however, rock forwards slightly which was pleasing.

Some other seating featured an attached circular table. These moved together on wheels until sat on, whereupon they would lock in place. The swivel chair made for multiple configurations of separate work areas when students are working at computers. Well thought-out. 🙂

Visualizer

Apparently these have been around for ages and, indeed, I seem to remember the Politics department at the University of Sheffield using something similar when I took some modules there in my first year (1999!) However, when paired with a projector you begin to wonder whether an interactive whiteboard isn’t just an expensive luxury that perpetuates an outdated system. Having a visualizer makes examining sources, ‘real-life’ stuff and students’ work much easier and much more likely to happen.

The rest

Obviously there was more than just the above at the REAL Centre, but nothing I hadn’t really seen before. There was Lego Mindstorms stuff, a ‘teacher wall’ to provide space and cupboards around interactive whiteboards, flexible tiered seating areas, chroma key hardware, sensory equipment and a stop-motion animation studio, amongst other things. I’m a big fan of the touchscreen Asus Eee Tops that were on display there but, again, I’ve seen them before.

Conclusion

All in all, a worthwhile and enjoyable day. RM have asked for feedback for which I’m pointing them towards this blog post. I’d advise them either to put price tags on everything or give brochures with clear prices immediately after the tour. It became a bit annoying for me, and embarrassing for them, having to ask how much everything costs at every turn!

You could read about everything that’s in the RM REAL Centre online. You may even have come across half of it in the flesh, so to speak. But having time to be shown it all in one place and think about how it could transform teaching and learning is a powerful thing. I’d recommend that if you can, you go and have a look. 😀

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: the confusion around ‘digital literacy’.

literacy

I had another Skype chat with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor, Steve Higgins, last night. I really enjoy our informal video conferences as he’s at the forefront of things at the University of Durham (and further afield!), as well as being very experienced and intelligent.

I’d been a bit apprehensive as during our email exchanges prior to the Skype chat he’d talked about bringing in my second supervisor. I assumed that this was because I wasn’t organized enough, wasn’t on track, etc. – but it turns out that it’s a result of the university’s new QA procedures. Steve said he’s ‘no concerns about the quality and level of my work’. So that’s good to know! 😀

I’m in the slightly odd position of undertaking a vocational doctorate (Ed.D.) in a purely conceptual and philosophical manner more suited to a PhD. That’s because my doctoral course is an extension of my previous MA (and before that my PGCE!) Steve urged me to focus on the overall conceptual schema so that the whole thing ‘flows’ and fits together. We agreed that the following thesis structure (which I’ve blogged about before), with one added section, has the scope to do that:

  1. Literacy (what is literacy?)
  2. ‘Digital literacy’ (literature review)
  3. Pragmatic methodology (what is the ‘core’ of definitions?)
  4. ‘Flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work – ‘digital flow’?)
  5. Application to schools (how ‘digital literacy’ as a concept is applied in educational systems around the world)
  6. Meta-level definition (*new*) (pragmatic definition of ‘digital literacy’ or similar)

Texts as metaphors

Steve and I started by revisiting the idea of ‘texts’ as metaphors. Whilst some would question this use of the word ‘text’, it is use widely in the literature to refer to even objects (digital/physical) that do not have an alphabet-based written element to them. Steve talked about the ‘denotative’ as well as ‘connotative’ meanings of texts, which is something I’m going to have to explore further… :-p

Hierarchical model of digital literacy?

I brought up the possibility of coming up with some kind of ‘hierarchical model’ of concepts in the digital literacy arena. Perhaps ‘digital competency’ would be at the bottom, with ‘digital literacy’ above it and ‘digital fluency’ as being at the top of the conceptual pyramid?

Steve agreed that this may be possible as ‘competence’ has a restrictive element to it in that it can be assessed or measured – it is bounded in some way. Literacy implies some kind of transferability which is, presumably, why educators like it as it assumes more than mere ‘competence’. Problems arise, however, when people want to be able to ‘assess’ digital literacy as what would such a test look like? Finally, the idea of ‘digital fluency’, Steve wondered, would surely be an extension of digital literacy rather than something separate?

Again, this is something I need to go back to the literature and investigate!

Forms of literacy

Steve mentioned en passant that librarians have really latched on to the term ‘information literacy’ as it describes what they are trying to engender in students and library users. We then discussed the use of ‘umbrella terms’ by those coming at new literacies from a particular angle. I mentioned the fact that not only do people try and use their preferred term as some type of overarching term encompassing other literacies, but that some make up words to try and make a name for themselves when doing so!

21st century skills

Regarding 21st century skills, I wondered about the relationship such an idea may have with ‘digital literacy’. Steve said it was worth looking at in terms of the formation of the phrase and where the drive is coming from. Is it coming from politicians worried about global economic competition and effectiveness, or from educators? If the latter, is it coming from those who would be considered ‘digitally literate’ or not?

We discussed the EU, and Norway in particular, as being at the forefront of ‘digital literacy’ from a participatory rather than simply an economic perspective. I’m going to compare and contrast this with views from (for example) the USA and Singapore.

Can literacy by dissected?

I mentioned to Steve that I’ve read this week about Knobel & Lankshear’s belief that literacy cannot be ‘dissected’. I thought I knew what this meant, but then when trying to explain to Steve got a bit tongue-tied. Steve talked about literacy being ‘complex’ – not complicated – but fundamentally difficult to understand and prise apart. If the various parts are teased apart do they still make sense in isolation? The danger is that literacy is reduced to competency – and therefore susceptible to tick-box tests… 🙁

Paolo Freire and ‘conscientization’

Whilst I was aware of some of his work, Steve thought that Paolo Freire’s idea of conscientization might be applicable to my thesis. This is something I need to explore more thoroughly, but the concept of an ’emancipatory literacy’ which is in some way opposed to ‘functional literacy’ would set up a good dialectic in my argument, I think! We came back to the previous discussion of whether ideas of ‘literacy’ in the EU, Singapore and USA involved an emancipatory element.

Solid and liquid modernity

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how struck I was with Martin’s idea of ‘liquid modernity’. Steve and I discussed the relationship between knowledge and technology and how, because of the rate of change of technology, ‘literacy’ and ‘knowledge’ are always in a state of flux. I raised my concern with Steve that this would mean not even a working definition of something like ‘digital literacy’ could be achieved. He responded that going to some type of ‘meta-level’ without specific mention of technologies, so long as it was rigorous enough, would work.

Steve mentioned the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium‘ in evolutionary theory and how technological advancements can be seen in a similar way. We moved into discussing cultural practices – for example the difference between being able to quote someone and/or use their ideas in your own words, compared with copying word-for-word what they said. At what stage will we privilege ‘organization’ as a higher-level skill?

After Steve raised the above, it got me thinking about Lessig’s book The Future of Ideas, which I’m currently reading (and have blogged about). Lessig talk about ‘remix culture’, something which Steve said he had a slight problem with as it has a negative connotation as being ‘derivative’. Howeer, if there is some type of granularity of reassembling, then such works should be valued as much as the originals.

Returning to the idea of a ‘meta-level’ definition for literacies, Steve talked about how they are not susceptible to shorter-term change, but must be applicable retrospectively to, for example, someone in Roman times. Obviously the ‘digital’ element will not apply, but the other elements should have some explanatory power.

What is ‘digital’?

Just before we finished, Steve drped a bit of a (positive) bombshell. Up until now I’ve been focusing on the ‘literacy’ aspect of ‘digital literacy’. But what about the ‘digital’ part? What makes something digital? How are, for example, a cassette recorder and a digital recorder different? Do they involve different skills?

In an attempt to tease this out a bit we talked about interoperability and connectedness. I thought about the conceptual difference between a book and a Word document (very little difference) and the difference once hyperlinks are added (quite a lot of difference!)

The idea of ‘digitality’ is something I’m going to have to explore further! 🙂

The way forward

Finally, Steve gave an example from a project he’s working on. He’s part of a group at the University of Durham experimenting with ‘multi-touch tables’. He talked about how some Year 6 pupils had seen him and other supervisors use ‘hidden menus’ within the software. The children only had to see this once to be able to access this themselves. Steve wondered wither this would fit into ideas of ‘digital fluency’.

This reminded me of the work of Sugata Mitra, creator of the ‘Hole in the Wall’ computer and ’emergent literacies’. This is, again, something I need to explore in more depth, but Steve said it fits in with the currently-popular Activity Theory (of which he’s not a big fan) and his concerns about the literature on literacy focusing on meaning rather than intention. It turns out that Mitra is now at Newcastle University, which is handy!

I’m going to concentrate now on my literature review, which I’ve already written a couple of thousand words on. Once that’s (almost) complete I’ll start work on fleshing out the pragmatic methodology. 😀

(Image credit: Literacy by ~Anarxur at deviantart)

Why governmental educational reforms fail.

failing_streetI’m sure that I’m not the only teacher sick of wave after wave of governmental reforms, tweaking and general tinkering about with the education system in the UK. We all know it needs changing, but it needs changing root and branch, not some remedial (and expensive) tree surgeon work!

The trouble with tinkering is that it prolongs the problem and means that year after year of students entering school for the first time don’t start off on the right foot.

It hit me in the shower this morning that the model Thomas Kuhn set out in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions applies here. For those (like me) who find diagrams easiest to understand, here’s one that gives an overview:

(source)

kuhnian_science_overview

Think of Einsteinian physics replacing the previous model based on Newton’s work:

  1. Normal science – everything seems to work under Newtonian physics so people get on with ‘doing science’.
  2. Model drift – some anomalies mean that some ‘fiddling’ has to be done or scientists have to compensate for the shortcomings of Newtonian physics.
  3. Model crisis – there are now so many anomalies that it is interfering with ‘normal science’ taking place. This would happen at the atomic level with Newtonian physics.
  4. Model revolution – a time of great upheaval where scientists propose new theories and models to explain the phenomena. Think of the early 20th century when Einstein came up with his Theory of Special Relativity.
  5. Paradigm change – a model that explains the phenomena and allows science to move forward is settled upon and ‘normal science’ begins again.

I hope you can see already how this model pertains to educational reform. Although Kuhn’s model is of the order of a ‘grand narrative’ there is, I think, much explanatory power behind it.

If Kuhn’s model is applied to top-down government-funded educational reform then ‘normal education’ (akin to ‘normal science’) cannot progress. Teachers (akin to the scientists in the original model) have very little or no control over where their discipline is headed. There’s also the lack of an adequate feedback loop to explain the anomalies.

Finally, the clincher for me under this model is that governmental top-down reforms in education don’t take into account context. This is of fundamental importance and the biggest reason, to my mind, why such reforms fail. Using the Kuhnian model, the length of ‘normal education’, the number of anomalies, and the possible alternatives are dependant upon any number of local factors and features. In fact, not only is every Local Authority likely to be different, every school is likely to be different.

(read more on Kuhnian paradigm shifts here)

What are YOUR thoughts? Does the Kuhnian model work for you? :-p

(image credit: Failing Street by Chris Daniel @ Flickr)

How to promote organizational innovation.

future_of_ideasI’m reading Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas at the moment. It’s excellent. 🙂

After charting the history of the Internet,  and especially relating to its ‘open’ nature after the government’s relationship with AT&T, he explains that there are three ‘layers’ to the Internet:

  1. The Physical layer
  2. The Code layer
  3. The Content layer

If all three layers are controlled then this ‘chills’ innovation. I agree.

It made me think about innovation within organizations and I knocked up this table to help clarify my thinking:

3 layers

Whaddya reckon? 😀

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

One step ahead of the storm.

Ahead of the Storm

Started as Director of E-Learning yesterday. Not going to be teaching at all until September – even then probably only 8 periods per week ‘across Key Stages’. Mostly team-teaching and modelling good practice. My primary role is to support teaching and learning using educational technology.

I have a vision.

Lots of meetings. It would seem I need to become more of a political animal…

(Image credit: Ahead of the Storm by Roy Levi @ Flickr)

css.php