Page 135 of 192

Activity, Passivity and Failure.

quotation marksPerhaps I’m one step away from ‘the Voices’ telling me what to do, but some days a thought swirls round in my head and ends up fully-formed in a quotation. Here’s what has been doing the swirling today:

Failure does not spring from any one type of activity but from almost every type of passivity. (Belshaw, 2009)

What does it mean? I know in my context, but perhaps you could tell me about yours? I really hope I haven’t inadvertently claimed someone else’s work as my own – that would be embarrassing! 😮

My next job is to find a relevant Creative Commons-licensed Flickr picture using something like CompFight to which I can add the quotation. Perhaps you could direct me to one in the comments? 😉

Sign up for TeachMeet ETRU edition 09!

I’m delighted to announce on behalf of EdTechRoundUp that we’ll be having a (completely online) ‘TeachMeet’ on Sunday 6th December 2009. It’s called TeachMeet ETRU edition 09 and will hopefully be the first of many!

If you’re not too sure what a TeachMeet is, watch the excellent explanatory video by the BrainPOP team below:

Please do sign up to do a 7-minute ‘micro’ presentation, a 2-minute ‘nano’ presentation or to be an ‘enthusiastic lurker’. The idea is that we’ll be using Adobe Connect Pro for the TeachMeet. Presentations can be done live, but I for one will be pre-recording mine! 🙂

I noticed that TeachMeet Falkirk had a QR code* to make life a bit easier for those publicising the event. Here’s one containing the URL of TeachMeet ETRU edition 09

qrcode

Finally, please remember to include the tag TMETRU09 when discussing the TeachMeet on Twitter, uploading Flickr photos, YouTube videos or blogging about it! 😀

* A QR code, for those who don’t know, is kind of a barcode that stores information – in this case the URL of the wiki page (more at Wikipedia). Try it by downloading the software from qrcode.kaywa.com.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping.

Double Yellow Lines

Image CC-BY-NC-SA pitty.platsch @ Flickr

I’ll admit it. From 2004 up to about 2007 I was a bandwagon-jumper. I wanted to be the early adopter, the first to use pretty much anything to do with educational technology in the classroom. But that came at a cost. That cost – and it’s difficult for me to admit this to myself – was borne by my students who had a teacher who was too focused on the shiny shiny and not learning outcomes.

The trouble with bandwagon-jumping is that you’re not entirely sure where that bandwagon is headed; whether it fits in with where you want you and your students need to go; whether it’s potentially dangerous territory to head into. The bandwagon may be driven by sensible, rationale people in it for the long-haul, or you could be left stranded in the middle of nowhere by overnight cowboys. That’s not a safe place for teachers or students to be – even in a metaphorical sense.

Much better then to be a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker knows where they want to go. They don’t mind the odd detour or two so long as they get there. Whilst the destination is of ultimate importance, the journey is also important and life-enriching. So too educators who choose to be metaphorical hitchhikers. Sometimes we can ‘go it alone’ with our classes to blaze new trails to destinations, but often it’s better (and safer) to stick with others and figure things out together.

So if others use new technologies, websites and services before me, that’s fine. I’ll use them when it’s time for me to head that way, when my own or my classes investigations necessitate us exploring those areas.

Until then, I’ll leave the bandwagons to others. :-p

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Carol Dweck on ‘growth mindsets’ and motivation.

Last week I attended the Scottish Learning Festival. I was there for two reasons: an official reason (for which the Academy kindly paid my expenses) and an unofficial one. The latter I’ve already blogged about in the form of My Google Apps Education Edition ‘nano presentation’ at TeachMeetSLF09 but the former has taken a little longer to put together… :-p

A few weeks ago our Executive Principal introduced the Teaching & Learning team to Carol Dweck’s ‘mindset’ theory of motivation. I wanted to find out more and was informed (via Twitter) that she was keynoting SLF09. Spying an opportunity, I asked for (and was granted) permission to attend – on the proviso that I produced some type of ‘video podcast’ to inform staff of what I’ve learned.

The 8-minute video at the top of this post is a sneak peek at what I’ll be distributing to colleagues at the Academy this week. I’d very much welcome your feedback! 😀

(Dweck’s book Mindset: the new psychology of motivation can be found at Amazon and, as they say, ‘all good bookshops – and probably some average ones’….)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Assessment in UK schools: a convenient hypocrisy?

Dilbert on graphs

There’s a couple of lines in the otherwise-average film In The Loop that not only made me laugh but made me think. At one point in the film, a British civil servant is remonstrating with his US counterpart. They end up in a very modern-looking chapel within a government building. The British civil servant starts shouting and swearing at which point the American reminds him that they’re in a sacred place, adding:

Neither of us believes that, but it’s a convenient hypocrisy.

I’ve realised that convenient hypocrisies happen often. Unfortunately, I believe it happens with assessment in UK schools every day. 🙁

Now I’m no expert on assessment, but even I know that research has established the following:

  1. Students regress as well as progress due to emotional, psychological, sociological (and other) factors.
  2. National curriculum levels and sub-levels are intended as summative, end of Key Stage assessments.
  3. Not all students progress at the same rate.

Yet, in all of the schools I’ve worked in during my teaching career, we’ve done the following:

  • Used National Curriculum level descriptors on a half-termly (or even a weekly) basis.
  • Set students targets based on the number of National Curriculum sub-levels an ‘average student’ will get through during a Key Stage.
  • Make few allowances as to the reasons why students’ attainment might fluctuate.
  • ‘Level’ as much work as possible when we know that doing so destroys any impact formative comments may have.

Using data systems based on numbers for assessment purposes looks impressive, gives control to senior leaders and produces pretty graphs and reports for parents. But is it useful to students? I’d argue that it’s not. Students become hung up on progressing through National Curriculum levels that aren’t always coherent and meaningful. It’s also very easy for Heads of Department to artificially inflate the National Curriculum levels of students whom they’d like to take their subject at GCSE. After all, if you’re a Year 9 student and you’re on a Level 6b in Geography and a 5c in History, which one are you going to take?

The reason for my inclusion of that particular Dilbert cartoon at the top of this post is that I reckon most UK teachers couldn’t differentiate between a Level 4b and 4a in their subject. In fact, the distinction’s pretty meaningless. I’ve seen some schools use the sub-levels as following:

  • Level 4c – some work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4b – most work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4a – all work at Level 4 standard

In that case, why use the sub-levels in the first place? :-s

It’s my belief that Assessment for Learning, that buzz-phrase from a couple of years ago, has been hijacked and contorted into something it’s not. I’m certainly not arguing against students knowing where they’re at in a subject and how to improve. It’s just that using National Curriculum levels as a means for doing this smacks of laziness to me. Instead, professional teachers should be able to convey the key skills, processes and subject knowledge students need to be able to progress. That’s just good teaching.

If the above has left you feeling the need to brush up on your knowledge of assessment, you might want to read Beyond the Black Box and/or view the TeachersTV videos on the subject.

What are YOUR views on assessment? :-p

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive!

Ever since I read Matt Mullenweg’s post How P2 Changed Automattic I’ve been thinking about how I could best utilise a similar system. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this video:

But then it dawned on me this morning: there’s no reason I couldn’t use such a system for private, me-only stuff!

As E-Learning Staff Tutor last year and as Director of E-Learning this year, I’ve been keeping a record of what I’ve been up to. This is as much about me being able to cross-reference stuff as proving to others (if needed) that I’ve been fulfilling my role. Up until now I’ve been using Google Docs, which looks like this:

Work record on Google Docs

Now, however, with WordPress, the P2 theme and a plugin called Absolute Privacy, I’ve got a close, web-based system that should hopefully be a lot more flexible and powerful:

Word record on WordPress/P2 system

We’re discussing productivity for educators tonight at EdTechRoundUp‘s weekly meeting. Why not join us? I’ll post my reflections on this system next week! 😀

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

E-Learning Strategy Overview (a.k.a. my 3-year plan)

I’ve already blogged about why I want to make myself redundant as Director of E-Learning after 3 years. At the end of this month – next week, in fact – I’m due to hand in my E-Learning strategy. I wanted my strategy overview to fit on one side of A4. Unfortunately, it’s run to two sides, but at least it’s still fairly short and to the point! 😀

It’s available ‘live’ (with any subsequent changes) here (via Google Docs), or below as a static PDF:

Creative Commons License

I’d very much welcome any comments or thoughts you may have on the above! 🙂

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! 😀

css.php