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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)

fontplaydotcom

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?

If you tweet about this post, don’t forget to include a link back to it so that your tweet can be included under the comments section!

A Week of Divesting: ‘Analogue Time’

Snail clock
Image modified under CC license from an original by spike55151

I’ve started doing this over the past few months anyway, but it’s time to formalise it. In fact, some have taken the idea and applied it to a whole day (Analog Sundays). I’m not going to be that inflexible and  groundbreaking, but it’s a start.

A quick scan through my Delicious links bore no fruit, but I’ve read within the last year two posts that had an impact on me. The first said that using a mobile phone before bed can affect teenagers’ sleep patterns. I did a little more digging and it would seem that using any type of screen within an hour of falling asleep can be detrimental.

At the other end of the day, I read on one of the productivity blogs I subscribe to that checking email first thing is a bad idea. Why? You immediately start the day off on someone else’s terms. That made me think, and I now have a coffee/breakfast/spend time with Ben/go for a run before I check email these days. It makes for much more laid-back mornings and allows clarity of thought.

So there we go: no checking of email until an hour after waking, and no screens in the hour before sleeping. Simple! 😀

A Week of Divesting: Domains [incl. a competition!]

This blog post involves a competition to win the domain names http://edte.ch and http://elearnr.org. It’s free to enter, but you have to comment and make a promise! If you’re not interested in the story behind the competition, simply scroll down to the section in bold at the end for what to do.

Hot Air Balloons
Image by a4gpa @ Flickr

Introduction

Every now and then I decide to buy a domain name. It’s usually related to some project or other I’m thinking of undertaking. Sometimes the project doesn’t take off (e.g. tweetmeet.eu) whereas other times it does (e.g. edtechroundup.com). Unfortunately, the two domain names I’m proudest of coming up with are currently lying dormant. That’s causing me increasing angst as I wonder what to do so as not to squander them. I’ve decided, therefore, to donate them to a worthy cause. 🙂

The stories behind the domains

In 2007 I was growing frustrated at ‘only’ being a teacher of History and ICT. I wanted to do something like what I’ll be doing from this academic year onwards as Director of E-Learning. Unfortunately, such positions were still very much in their infancy and it wasn’t clear that schools in the state sector would create such positions. Consequently, I started creating a consultancy and training company. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much further than the business cards and website.

The domain name for this business, however, I thought was clever as it was based on what I consider to be quite a valuable domain: http://edte.ch. This is the first domain name that’s up for grabs. All you need to do is to add a comment to this post explaining what you would do with it. The other thing that you must promise is that it will be beneficial to the educational community in some way and not be for-profit.

The second domain name also has a backstory. In January 2008 I went to the Headteacher of the school where I was teaching History and ICT explaining that we needed a position akin to a Director of E-Learning. The Head agreed that we needed something like that, but that the position I was proposing was a little ahead of its time, shall we say, at that particular school. To cut a long story short, I became E-Learning Staff Tutor for the academic year 2008/09.

Reflecting on this position during the summer holiday of 2008 I realised that whilst a physical presence was necessary in terms of a noticeboard and things in staff pigeonholes, having a central digital place would also be important. I had a think, realised that for various reasons it should be separate from the staff website, and started a blog entitled ‘Elearnr’ (like Flickr – without the ‘e’) powered by Edublogs.

After a while, as it was used increasingly by staff, I realised that http://elearnr.org was available. This not only shortened the URL but solved some of the frustration I’d experienced with Edublogs introducing advertising. This, then, is the second domain that’s available. It’s currently got guides and useful links relating to e-learning on it. If you’re fortunate enough to secure the domain name, feel free to keep or dispose of this content!

What to do to enter the competition:

Want to enter the competition to win one or both domain names? Here’s what to do:

  1. Decide which domain name you’d like (or both!)

  2. Explain what you’d do with the domain in the comments section to this blog post.

  3. Add the following to the bottom of your comment: ‘I hereby promise that I shall use the domain in a way beneficial to the educational community and not for financial gain.’

Be as creative and detailed as you can and may the best entry win! Entries close on Sunday 6th September 2009 at 12pm British Summer Time* and the winners will be announced in a blog post on the same day. If you know someone who may be interested, why not tweet or blog about it, or send them an email? 😀

* Find out what time this is in your part of the world here.

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A Week of Divesting: Media

entroducing.

Image by dearsomeone @ Flickr

I read Dave Eggers’ book They Shall Know Our Velocity a few months back. In it, one of the main characters talks about the ‘slow suffocation of accumulation’ and seeks to give away a large amount of money. I’ve been feeling that suffocation recently, as I explained in the introduction to this week’s focus on ‘divesting’.

Way back in the sands of time (OK, less than 10 years ago) I was an undergraduate student in Sheffield I and I used to work part-time for HMV. I didn’t actually take home that much money as most of it was invested in DVDs and CDs. I even got 40% off the Sale stuff! I say ‘invested’ as I funded a large chunk of my living expenses whilst I was doing my MA at Durham University by selling part of my collection. Although not to the same extent, I did similar working at various bookshops both before and after university.

And therein lies the rub. I’ve been lulled into a belief that one should own a physical collection of DVDs, CDs and books. As though having a personal library somehow defines you, makes you look more intellectual, or even constitutes some kind of artistic statement. I’ve realised that’s not the case.

As I commented in my introduction to this series [link] I’ve been prompted recently into reflecting on my relationship to ‘stuff’. I’ve realised that, having moved house twice within 18 months, I’ve spent a great deal of time and physical labour moving things I will not watch, listen to or read for a very long time. Yet I’m responsible for it. I’d be upset if it were stolen or I lost it for some reason. Why?

So I’ve decided that it’s going. “What, all of it?” I hear you ask. As far as I see it, there are two approaches I could take:

  1. The over-the-top, ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ approach.
  2. The Pragmatic approach.

Pragmatism is a philosophical approach and method that I’m applying in my Ed.D. thesis. To summarise very briefly and in relation to what I’m talking about here, it holds that for something to make a difference, it has to make a difference in practice. For example, a book may have had a profound impact on my way of conceiving the world and my development as a person. That doesn’t mean it has to sit on my shelf. I may really, really, love a particular album. That doesn’t mean I have to own the physical CD as opposed to a digital version. The same goes for DVDs.

But I need to be careful or I could end up trading one problem for another. In divesting myself of physical clutter I could gain, as it were, ‘digital clutter.’ This is something I shall be discussing and wrestling with later in the week.

What’s my plan, then, to deal with physical media? It’s a fairly straightforward 4-step process:

  • Anything I can, and feel should, replace with a non-physical version (e.g. CDs, DVDs) I shall do.
  • Any book I haven’t yet read or DVD I haven’t watched stays until I have done so.
  • Those physical objects that are collectors items, worth more than a nominal value and fit into one box I shall keep as they are likely to gain in value. I can then sell these when Ben is older to add to his trust fund.
  • Everything else goes to Barter Books, is listed on Amazon Marketplace, sent to Music Magpie or donated to charity.

What are your thoughts on this? A good idea or not? :-p

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A Week of Divesting: an introduction

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, having a Zen moment at home in 1982

I can’t seem to find the exact clip I want online, but there’s an episode of the Simpsons where Homer eats a chilli pepper and hallucinates. He eats it at the Springfield fair where Otto has hippy-like booth encouraging people to “Simplify, man…”

It’s amusing because we’ve all come across the stereotype of the zealot who wants everyone else to live their lifestyle. They sing its praises and assume that as it’s a lifestyle they enjoy and value that it’s both more appropriate and morally superior to others. In the Simpsons clip it’s a lifestyle defined by the mantra ‘simplify.’ What I’m interested in this blog post – and, in fact, this week – is not merely the ambiguous call to simplify one’s lifestyle, although what I’m going to do could be seen to be a constituent part of that. I’m going to spend a week divesting.

The best definition of ‘divest’ that I’ve found comes from Wiktionary:

To strip, deprive or dispossess oneself of something (such as a right, passion, privilege or prejudice).

What prompted this?

I subscribe to a number of podcasts that I listen to whilst driving. One of these is a Radio 4 programme called Beyond Belief. I caught the end of it when it was broadcast live and then listened to the podcast on my way to the National Christian Football Festival the weekend before last. This particular programme was about poverty and whether or not, especially in this time of recession, it could be seen as a good thing. I was particularly struck by what the Jainist monk had to say.

As my wife will attest I have, at several times during our marriage, talked of ‘getting rid of everything’ as I felt it was weighing me down. The Jainist spoke about this directly, and mentioned a poem [find poem] about a prisoner locked in a cage. This prisoner pleaded to his captors now and again. However, his pleading was not to be released from the cage, but simply to have a newer and shinier one. The Jainist likened this to being in the thrall of collecting material objects and wealth.

After the programme, and unusually for me as I like my music, I spent the rest of the journey in silence, contemplating. I reflected upon my new job, my Dad being half-way across the world, and my wife’s accusative statement the other day that all my son sees me do is ‘go on the computer.’ I realised that there’s stuff getting in the way of that which is important. I need to get rid of that stuff.

Why are you telling me this?

It would, of course, be quite possible to ‘divest’ quietly and with only my immediate family knowing about it. After all, as Jesus said, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. Am I showing off or attempting to garner praise?

Not at all. There’s three reasons why I want to document my actions and the thoughts behind them:

  1. Sharing what I’m thinking and what I’m up to comes naturally to me.
  2. I’m human and therefore weak. I may not actually go through with it unless I’m accountable to someone or something.
  3. Perhaps you or someone you know wants to do something similar. This may give you ideas or lend support.

This week, therefore, I’ll be writing blog posts focusing on the following:

The final blog post of the week will be my reflections on whether it’s all gone to plan!

Are you weird?

I expect some of you reading this will assume that I’ve had some kind of re-religious conversion, especially given the references above. That’s not the case. This is purely a secular decision to reclaim some mental and physical space.

Some might think that I’ve turned into a Luddite. Far from it! It’s hardly likely given my new official job title is ‘Director of E-Learning.’ There’s a difference between recognising the appropriate use of technology and being the equivalent of a dog chasing shiny cars.

Others may consider that this is simply a fancy way of saying I’ve got too much stuff in my house and it’s time for a clear-out. Actually, the opposite is true, actually. We’ve moved house recently to a larger property. Compared to others, our house looks quite spartan.

Conclusion

Have you gone through or thought about something similar to this? If so, I’d like to hear about your experiences. Again, I’d like to point out that I’m not doing this for the back-slapping or to be praised. It, like many things I do, is an experiment. I hope it pays off!

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