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My Google Apps Education Edition ‘nano presentation’ at TeachMeetSLF09

NCEA Google Apps nano-presentation from NCEA on Vimeo.

There’s ways and means of getting to places you want to go. In the case of conferences and meetings a good ploy is usually to volunteer to do a presentation. In the past – with the BETT Show, for example – to get there I’ve either been asked to, or volunteered to speak. That’s allowed me to get there for the real reason I wanted to go. With the BETT Show it’s to attend TeachMeetBETT. 🙂

Today, however, is a bit different; I’m off to the Scottish Learning Festival for the first time. In a (slightly ironic) turn of events I’m being allowed to go by the Academy without having to speak, yet to secure my place at TeachMeetSLF this evening, I’m having to do a (very short) presentation!

The video above is a quick 2-minute overview of how we at The Northumberland Church of England Academy (at which I’m Director of E-Learning) have started to use Google Apps Education Edition. I’m hoping to inspire others to use it as I honestly believe that it can enhance communications – and therefore teaching and learning – within an educational organization. 😀

‘So… what do you do?’

Abstract light 8109

(image by atomicShed @ Flickr)

It should be an easy question. In fact, it’s the one that usually comes in rapid succession after enquiries as to your name and perhaps where you’re from. But ‘what do you do?’ is increasingly a difficult question for me to answer.

If I want to move the conversation onto other things – or indeed to get out of the conversation quickly – I simply say I’m a ‘teacher’. Except I’m not any more (although it is in my portfolio). As a ‘Director of E-Learning’ I’m in a job that has only existed for a couple of years in a handful UK educational institutions

So what do I say? One colleague referred to me recently as ‘Director of Excitement’. Sometimes, to get a cheap laugh, I refer to myself as ‘Chief Geek’.  But, whilst there’s a grain of truth in each, neither’s true in its own right.

The acid test is my 85 year-old grandmother who doesn’t really know what the internet is. I find myself at a loss for words to try and explain the world I inhabit. It’s so different to that which she grew up in it’s unreal; we have few common frames of reference.

So what do I do?

  • I blend digital and physical worlds.
  • I tell stories about how learning can be.
  • I show people stuff.
  • I research.
  • I find the best of the best.

My job’s what I make it. I can live with that. 😀

(N.B. this brief post has been ‘stewing’ a while, but was prompted directly by Chris Messina’s post The Elevator Pitch in which he recounts a similar problem)

What I learned about leadership from Seth Godin’s ‘Tribes’.

TribesSeth Godin’s book Tribes reads like a coherent narrative version of his blog. It’s organized into nice, easily digestible sections. The whole thing is only 131 pages long. It’s nothing if not concise. I managed to read it comfortably in one session and I’d highly recommend you do the same!

Whilst I was reading it I was lulled into a sense of it seeming a bit obvious. It was only on reflection I realised how Godin’s clever use of storytelling and reinforcement had left me feeling empowered to make a difference in the world.

Here’s a potted version of what I took away from Tribes. I’ve collated more quotations from the book on my wiki. 🙂

1. Anyone can be a leader

If there’s one thing that Godin wants you to take away from Tribes it’s that leadership is a choice and that although it won’t be easy, in the end it’s as difficult as you make it. On the second-to-last page of the book he has this to say:

You can choose to lead, or not. You can choose to have faith, or not. You can choose to contribute to the tribe, or not.
Are there thousands of reasons why you, of all people, aren’t the right one to lead? Why you don’t have the resources or the authority or the genes or the momentum to lead? Probably. So what? You still get to make the choice.
Once you choose to lead, you’ll be under huge pressure to reconsider you choice, to compromise, to dumb it down, or to give it up. Of course you will. That’s the world’s job: to get you to be quiet and follow. The status quo is the status quo for a reason.
But once you choose to lead, you’ll also disover that it’s not so difficult. That the options available to you seem really clear, and that yes, in fact, you can get from here to there.
Go.

Godin’s reasoning is that if you’re passionate about an issue or want to change something enough, then gaining credit for that change isn’t important:

If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit.

There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is. (p.115)

Leaders need followers and it’s those followers that Godin calls your ‘Tribe’. There are, apparently (and intuitively, to be honest), only two things that you need to turn a group of people into a tribe (p.21). Those two things?

  1. A shared interest
  2. A way to communicate

In these days of instant digital communications, this should be faster and easier than ever! :-p

2. Hierarchies are about management, not leadership

As a bit of a free thinker, Godin isn’t overly enamoured with structures and hierarchies. In fact, he uses them to explain the difference between managers and leaders:

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it. (p.19)

I took this as meaning that managers work within their job description and expect others to do the same. Leaders, however, see the job description as indicative of a wider truth and ideal.

To demarcate qualities of leadership from those of management (there has to be some elements of management in senior positions, after all) Godin produces a list on p.107 of ‘The Elements of Leadership’. These, handily, all begin with a ‘C’:

Leaders challenge the status quo.
Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
Leaders connect their followers to one another. (my emphasis)

These are going on my wall. 🙂

3. How to effect change

The biggest enemy to change is a surprising yet, on reflection, obvious one. Stalling change is actually worse than resisting it. After all, if someone refuses to engage with a problem there’s no way you can convince them of the errors of their ways!

The largest enemy of change and leadership isn’t a “no.” It’s a “not yet.” “Not yet” is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. “Not yet” gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put of the inevitable for just a little while longer.
Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late. (p.101 – my emphasis)

You could spend your whole time trying to convince others of the validity of, and need for, the change. But talking is sometimes an academic exercise. To quote a famous tagline, Just Do It!

Nobody is going to listen to your idea for change, sagely shake his head, and say, “Sure, go do that.”
No one anoints you as leader.

Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness, later. (p.60)

Godin says that leaders need to do two things which, to my mind, come under the one umbrella: walk the walk. First of all, leaders need to share ideas that are worth mentioning, that start conversations:

A remarkable product or service is like a purple cow. Brown cows are boring; purple ones are worth mentioning. Those ideas spread; those organization grow. The essence of what’s happening in the market day revolves around making purple cows. (p.38-9)

Second, leaders should stick to their principles by being radically different and selling that radical difference to others:

[G]reat leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful that a larger group ever could be. (p.57)

But how do leaders effect this change in practice? How do you go from being a voice crying out in the wilderness to being the leader of a tribe? Godin tells us to target the curious people. These will do the work for you!

A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it.

Curious people count. Not because there are a lot of them, but because they’re the ones who talk to people who are in a stupor. They’re the ones who lead the masses in the middle who are stuck. The masses in the middle have brainwashed themselves into thinking it’s safe to do nothing, which the curious can’t abide. (p.54)

Once you’ve gathered together your game-changers, it’s time for you as a leader to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. Godin explains:

A thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer.
The thermometer reveals that something is broken.

Organizations are filled with human thermometers. They can criticize or point out or just whine.
The thermostat, on the other hand, manages to change the environment in sync with the outside world. Every organization needs at least one thermostat. These are leaders who can create change in response to the outside world, and do it consistently over time. (p.87)

Conclusion

I found Seth Godin’s Tribes to be a great read. It ticked all of the boxes that I’d want from such a book. It’s concise, it’s practical, it’s aspirational, and you finish reading it feeling empowered.

Great stuff! 😀

elearnr posts now at dougbelshaw.com/blog

elearnr posts now at dougbelshaw.com/blog

As regular readers are aware, I’ve ‘divested’ myself of some stuff recently, including a couple of domain names. The legendary Dave Stacey will be taking over elearnr.org, the space I used in my previous position as E-Learning Staff Tutor to provide ‘e-learning links, resources and guides’.

Whilst Dave has indicated a desire to keep the existing content, I didn’t want him to feel restricted. I’ve imported, therefore, all of the content that was at elearnr.org to this blog.

Here’s some examples:

Use the search function to find more! 😀

Leadership by gesture.

The Art of Worldly WisdomI stumbled across a book recently that I think is going to have a major influence on the rest of my life. The philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both recommended it highly and it is, in a way, a western equivalent in scope (but not style) to the Analects of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching.

Written in the 17th century by a Spanish Jesuit scholar by the name of Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom consists of 300 pearls of wisdom. Reading through some of them last night, number 43 on leadership caught my eye:

Natural leadership. It is a secret force of superiority not to have to get on by artful trickery but by an inborn power of rule. All submit to it without knowing why, recognizing the secret vigor of natural authority. Such magisterial spirits are kings by merit and lions by innate privilege. By the esteem that they inspire, they hold the hearts and mind of those around them. If their other qualities permit, such people are born to be the prime movers of the state. They perform more by a gesture than others by a long harangue. [my emphasis]

It’s this last sentence that intrigues me. That it can be counter-productive to harangue people with words when you can say much more by action and example. I’ll be bearing that in mind over the coming weeks… 🙂

N.B. Whilst I highly recommend you consider buying the book, the full text is available online here.

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Heuristical Templates (or, how to review elearning stuff in a way that benefits others)

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Image CC-BY photoplaydotcom @ Flickr

I’m not so sure on the name, but it’ll do for the time being. What follows comes from a few discussions I’ve had with EdTechRoundUp folk and a previous post entitled The importance of heuristics in educational technology and elearning. You may want to read the latter to understand what I’m getting at.

Suffer the poor person new to the wonderful world many of us inhabit. I don’t think the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ quite covers it any more, to be honest. Some have clutched at different titles to set those who inhabit this ‘other’ space – some have talked of the ‘networked teacher’, the ‘connected educator’ and so on. I’m not sure sure we need a formal title, but I think most people will know what I mean when I say there’s a difference between being a teacher in a classroom with a textbook, and being a teacher connected to literally hundreds of others worldwide through various communications technologies and conventions. 🙂

The trouble is, how do you get into this cocktail party?

  • What happens if you don’t know who to turn to?
  • What if you haven’t got a Twitter network to support you yet?
  • What if you’ve just found a tool and you’re wondering if it could be used with students?
  • What if you can envisage an end product but don’t know the technological means of getting there?

That’s where this idea of heuristical templates comes in.* If people committed to using a common format to review and discuss tools and applications relating to educational technology and e-learning, then this would have a number of advantages:

  1. It would give the newbie a common structure that they could seek out.
  2. If Creative Commons licensed, these could be syndicated in a central place.
  3. It would lead to some cohesion in certain parts of the edublogosphere.

An example of someone who blogs extremely well about new tools and approaches is Tom Barrett. By the end of reading one of Tom’s posts you know what the tool can be used for, why you’d use is, any problems there may be, and other people who have used it before.

To that end, and inspired by Tom, I suggest the following structure taking Posterous as an example.

* Perhaps E-Learning Templates is better? Hmmm…


Posterous

Name

Posterous

URL

http://posterous.com

What is it?

Posterous is a blogging solution. A blog is a website that is easy to maintain and which has the most recent content at the top. Posterous sets itself apart from other blogging solutions as it is almost entirely updated by using email. Sending an email to post@nullposterous.com serves not only to set up the blog but to update it. Posterous deals ‘intelligently’ with email attachments – for example turning MP3s into an embedded media player and Powerpoint presentations into slideshows.

How much does it cost?

Posterous is free for up to 1GB of space. The FAQ says that in future Premium (paid-for) features will be add-ons to the functionality available for free.

Opportunities

  • Low barrier to entry – everyone can email!
  • Does intelligent things with attachments.
  • Can blog via mobile phone.
  • Integrates with Twitter, Flickr and Facebook.
  • Custom avatars.
  • Group blogs (by adding more than one email address to a blog)
  • Custom domain names.
  • Blogs can be imported from other platforms.

Barriers

  • Limited customisation (stuck with white background)
  • Moderation?
  • Sidebar not very useful
  • Ads in future?

Examples please!

Reviews


So what are your thoughts? A good idea or not? :-p

A video introduction to using Google Calendar for timetables and meetings

I pushed out a new video to all staff at the Academy today. It’s 6 minutes long and demonstrates how to use Google Calendar in conjunction with Google Docs for lesson timetables and meetings. Although there’s unfortunately no RSS feed for it, you can catch these kinds of videos and general E-Learning stuff I produce over at NCEA E-Learning Updates.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFs4ntTk7mU&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

This can be seen as an update to the following posts I wrote a few years ago:

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A Week of Divesting: Reflections

If you haven’t read the posts which precede this one, you might want to take a moment to do so:

Two equestrian riders, girls on horseback, in low tide reflections. Serene

Image based on an original (under CC-license) by mikebaird @ Flickr

Overview

The aim of this week was to ‘divest’ myself of unnecessary things. It wasn’t so much a move to live more cheaply or simply, but to establish a flow. Let me explain.

Take, for example, books. I tend to buy quite a few, usually when I see them on offer or at a second-hand bookshop. I’ve a huge number of books I’m yet to read, but what of those that I have read and don’t love enough to buy in hardback? Previously, the languished on my shelves, taking up space just in case I ever wanted to read them again.

Now I’ve got a flow. Books come in as they did before. Those that I love are bought in hardback. But those that previously languished now move on. To be sure, there will some that I’ll re-buy. But that’s worth freeing up a large amount of space for!

Now that we’re back in Northumberland I’m closer to Barter Books in Alnwick. They have a ‘two carrier bag per week’ limit on taking books for which you can gain credit. I took about half of the ones I want to get rid of the other day and managed to gain enough credit to get a rather nice three-volume boxed set of the Domesday Book (yes, that one – I’m a History teacher!)

Books on shelf

I’ve kept about 15 DVDs. Most of those I haven’t seen, with only a few that I’m likely to want to keep on watching on a regular basis – North By Northwest, Monty Python & The Holy Grail to name buy two. I’ve decided to get rid of all of my CDs. Even the limited edition ones. The future is in services such as Spotify almost every track under the sun to wireless devices. I shall be investing the proceeds of my CD collection in buying a year’s Premium membership of Spotify.

Non-media stuff

I’m delighted that I’m now running almost all Open Source and free software on my Macbook Pro – I’ve no pirated stuff on there at all. I’m not checking email for the first hour after waking up and not looking at screens for the hour before sleeping. That’s going quite well. The expected revolt over my change in blog design hasn’t happened, thankfully. 🙂

Competition winners

Last but not least is the small matter of the competition winners of the domains http://edte.ch and http://elearnr.org. I’ll no doubt get accused of bias, especially given Richie Laurence’s impressive entry, but I’ve decided to go for the following:

  • edte.ch – Tom Barrett
  • elearnr.org – Dave Stacey

Why? Because I know the domains will be used in a fantastic way. Whilst I was very tempted to name Richie as the winner of edte.ch, Tom’s been talking about moving his site away from Edublogs for so long that I thought he needed some stimulus to do so! 😉

Many thanks to those who entered and for the kind comments about the existing content at http://elearnr.org. Additional thanks to those who have joined me on my journey this week. That word – ‘journey’ – is used all too often these days to make things sound more interesting than they are. Perhaps that’s the case here! But for me, this has been a truly important week in my life. A time when decisions were made, stuck to and carried through to their logical conclusion.

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A Week of Divesting: Blog design

If you’re reading this in a feed reader, you might want to click through or click on the images below.

A short post, this one. I’ve been working on-and-off for the past few weeks on a new blog theme courtesy of an excellent WordPress plugin by the name of Theme Test Drive. This allows administrators (i.e. me) see a different theme when they visit this blog than non-logged in visitors (i.e. you).

Here’s the difference between the two:

Old blog theme - 'Digital Statement'

The old theme – ‘Digital Statement’

New blog theme - 'New Geeky White'

The new theme – ‘New Geeky White’

Some may say they prefer the old one. It’s certainly more ‘visual’. But I didn’t like the font and the amount of time it took to load. Serif fonts are much more pleasing on the eye and it’s certainly faster loading. Readers don’t have to click through to read the most recent post, and I don’t have to write a summary and crop pictures down to 90×90 to go next to that summary.

Taking my inspiration from the Flickr blog and Seth Godin’s blog (see images below) I pared everything down as much as possible.

Flickr blog Seth Godin's blog

I took as my starting point the (very yellow) Old Popular Yolk theme, which looks like this:

Blog theme - 'Old Popular Yolk'

It was then very easy to modify the CSS to end up with what you see now. 🙂

I’ve called this derivative theme New Geeky White. I’m no good at CSS or WordPress hacking in general, but if you really want to use the theme get in touch and it’s yours!

A Week of Divesting: Software

N.B. If the makers of any of the software I mention are reading, this is a metaphorical post invoking artistic license…

Pirated softwareImage by ONT Design @ Flickr

I used to have an objection to people making money from non-physical things such as software programs. After all, they can be reproduced perfectly and cost virtually nothing to distribute – yet end users are often  charged a fortune. This objection vanished recently after a couple of things happened…

First, I secured my new position as Director of E-Learning. This means that my livelihood is dependent upon the work of others: no e-learning hardware and software equals no job for Doug! More than that, though, the producers of such things are dependent upon me. Without schools and academies buying their products, they would not have the money to employ staff. This got me thinking about the economy (especially because of the recession), and about whether the ‘free lunch’ we’ve been getting through Web 2.0 tools was sustainable.

Second, a couple of months ago I listened to a debate on the radio about huge pharmaceutical companies and the price they charge for drugs that treat Swine Flu. The debate included discussion about treatments for HIV and I came away realising that the pharmaceutical companies aren’t all bad. They invest literally billions of dollars into researching these treatments which, after all, greatly benefit the human race. They have to recoup these costs. Despite this, in Africa, most drugs are sold at cost price or slightly higher. That got me thinking about ‘hidden costs’ in general, and how companies that produce software also have costs that they need to recoup.

I’ve had dodgy versions of software ever since I can remember. In fact, I can remember as an 18-year-old pretty much everything on my Windows-powered computer being pirated. This has changed over the last 10 years, however: there’s only a couple of programs that I’ve refused to pay hundreds of pounds for yet enjoyed their functionality. None of the programs on the Linux-powered netbook upon which I’m writing this cost anything, so I’m alright there. However, on my Macbook Pro, I’ve substituted the following for Open Source Software:

The rest of the software I use, from CD/DVD burning (SimplyBurns) to FTP programs (Cyberduck/FileZilla) are free to use.

So really, this post is about ‘coming clean’, about getting rid of the last vestiges. As you can see, it’s not about the fact that I can now afford these programs. It’s about making a decision that it’s either worth the license or its not. And if its not, doing without the functionality. Well, at home at least – I’ll have access to more programs and licenses through the Academy… 🙂

What are YOUR thoughts on this?

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