Famous for 42 seconds. [AUDIO]

BBC Radio 4 - Thinking AllowedLike tens of thousands of people around the world I’m a regular listener to the BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed podcast. In fact, as it’s usually around 27 minutes long it’s perfect for my 5k runs (including warm-up and warm-down, obviously…)

For those of you who don’t listen to it, Laurie Taylor – who’s voice makes the show worth listening to in its own right – divides the near half-hour into three sections. The first part deals with a recent paper or book in the area of Sociology, the short middle bit deals with listener correspondence, and the final part deals with contemporary issues related to Sociology.

The episode on 1 August 2012 was entitled Jobs for the Boys and is summarised as follows on the BBC website:

Laurie Taylor talks to Professor Irena Grugulis about her contention that working class people don’t get job opportunities in the UK TV and film industry because they don’t have the right accents, clothes, backgrounds or friends. The media expert, Sir Peter Bazalgette and Professor of Sociology, Mike Savage, respond to this research and explore nepotism, networking and discrimination in the media world and beyond.

As I walked back to my house after a run to the beach and back again last week I couldn’t help but think that the show had missed out something really important: the role of online social networking.To my mind, social networks like Twitter allow people to build up useful contacts and ‘Personal Learning Networks’ (PLNs) based on interest rather than class.

I quickly fired off an email to thinkingallowed@nullbbc.co.uk and low and behold it was featured in the middle bit of this week’s show! (15 August 2012: Breaking Rules – Wall Street women) I found out, fittingly, through various people telling me via social media.

You can download every episode of Thinking Allowed via the BBC website, including this week’s show. But if you’re interested in just the bit where I’m mentioned (of course you are!) then you can find it embedded below or on the Internet Archive. 🙂

 

Productivity, Organization & #tweetmeet

I’ve spent this afternoon and early evening at a ‘tweetmeet’. These are also known as ‘tweetups’ and are when people who have previously only met, or usually communicate, through the microblogging service Twitter meet up face-to-face. I’d actually met all of the people from the small tweetmeet we had today in Nottingham.* :-p

Such ‘unorganized’ meetings of people – TeachMeet is a similar, slightly more structured example – are the subject of this blog post. What prompted my thinking about organization was part of the discussion we had, foolowed up by listening to a Radio 4 podcast on the way home called Thinking Allowed. I suggest that you listen to it right now!

The whole point of organizations is to achieve something. These may be set in stone and known by all participants in the organizations, or there may be many (and possibly conflicting) objectives framed by participants. All organizations, therefore, have different degrees of productivity, both globally (as an organization) and, depending on their size, on a more micro-scale.

I say this because we discussed at the tweetmeet – which was itself a kind of exemplar – the concept of an ‘unconference’. This is defined by Wikipedia (as I write, anyway…) as ‘a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose.’ Our purpose, I suppose, was to discuss things face-to-face that we’d previously discussed online, and to get to know each other a little better. Then, on the way home, listening the Thinking Allowed podcast (above) it got me thinking more generally about organizational structures.

Michael Thompson, author of Organising and Disorganising, talked about going on a expedition to climb the South face of Mount Everest. He explained how there were two separate groups – ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’ – with the leader and middle managers (as it were) in the former group and the rest in the latter. He explained how this rigid hierarchical structure led to those in Team B, despite being experienced and highly-motivated mountaineers, adopting a chaotic, somewhat anti-organizational structure.

The important thing, however, was that order in fact came out of this structure; order that depended on those involved. This is the thing that is missing in organizational planning these days: the role of individuality. Because, actually, someone who fulfils a role in an organization cannot simply be swapped-out for another person. The whole organizational structure depends on the talents, personality and individual attributes of that person. Change one part of the organization and the whole thing shifts. It may be a small amount in some cases – imperceptible to some – but a rearrangement and alteration does take place.

This helps to explain why organizations seemingly consisting of brilliant minds that should be amazingly productive and innovative fail to be so. An effective organizational structure is one that removes barriers and enables individuals within an organization to reach his or her potential. This, of course, cannot be at the expense of another, otherwise it is a futile exercise. One such way of going about organization, therefore, is to unorganize things, to mix things up a little.

So I’d encourage you, as Tom did me today, to once you’ve attended an unconference, to think about organizing (or un-organizing…) one of your own. You can’t really state in advance the specific things you’re likely to learn, but that’s part of the fun! I’ll leave you with a couple of things. The first is a Twitter message from @hrheingold which sums up in a far more eloquent way than I could ever manage the benefits of letting a little (controlled) chaos into organization:

The second is a link I came across, shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), whilst writing this post. It’s called 8 Tips on How to Run Your Own UnConference. I hope that and this post change your thinking a bit and encourage you to think a little differently about organization, or the lack of it, and how it could impact the productivity of any organization of which you are part! 😀

* I knew Lisa Stevens originally from last year’s TeachMeet at BETT, Jose Picardo from an Open Source Schools event, and Tom Barrett from some work we did for a Becta-funded project into Web 2.0 in the classroom at Nottingham University a few months back. The reason it says #tweetmeet in the title is because on Twitter you can add tags by prefacing words with hash symbols. These then can be tracked by websites such as Twemes.com. You can see this in action on the front page of the tweetmeet.eu website!

Image credits: iPhone Matrix App -MoPhaic & Podcamp West, both from Flickr

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Synaesthesia, migraines and creativity

It was only about two weeks ago that I found out I’m a bit weird. I was listening to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s All In The Mind (listen), part of which was dedicated to synaesthesia. I didn’t realise that something I experience all the time actually qualifies as a mild form of the condition!

But what is synaesthesia? Nature defines it in the following way:

An unusual ‘mixing of the senses’ in which a stimulus in one sensory modality (for example, a sound) elicits a percept in another modality (such as visual perception of a colour).

All In The Mind explained that this definition can be widened to include something both I and my mother experience: conceiving of time as being physically and spatially located. It’s difficult to explain this in words, and my perspective and view on time changes depending on the period I’m ‘looking at’. To give you some idea, however, here’s something like what I ‘see’ when I think of the period of human history:

The above is a very quick and rough sketch – what I actually see is a lot ‘thicker’ and 3D. As you can imagine, this has its benefits and is probably one reason why I’m a History teacher! :-p

I didn’t think anything more about this until I listened to one of the series of TED Talks entitled A Journey to the Center of the Mind by Vilayanur Ramachandaran. Towards the end of his (fascinating) talk, he mentioned that ‘creative’ people (artists, poets, etc.) are eight times more likely to experience synaesthesia than ‘normal’ people. He explained the condition as probably being due to a malfunction in the gene that ‘trims’ ‘the connections that exist initially between all parts of the brain.

So I wondered… perhaps there’s a link between synaesthesia and migraines? After all, I experience ‘aura’ when I have a migraine – something like a less extreme version of the picture below, usually starting with patches of coloured light:

Sure enough, when I looked it up I found several references, including this one. Now I’m no painter or poet, but I am fairly good at metaphors and making links between (often fairly diverse) subjects.

I’m firmly of the belief that, especially when it comes to the brain, things cannot be studied or considered in isolation. Although I want to do further research, I’m fascinated at the possible link between synaesthesia, migraines and creativity (in the form of associationism). Perhaps, like autistic people who are fantastic mathematicians or artists, migraines have their associated upsides…

Do you experience synaesthesia? Perhaps you see numbers or days of the week as being certain colours or, like me, conceive of time in a sensory way. Do you also get migraines? I’d love it if you could share your experiences! 🙂

(Image credit: My Brain on MRI by CaptPiper @ Flickr)

 

‘In The Night Garden’ as a communist utopia

My son, Ben, like most toddlers, has a routine. This includes, every night before bed, watching In The Night Garden. Now before anyone accuses us of being bad parents, let me just point out that he watches the programme, then goes in the bath, is read a story, has his milk and then goes to bed. 🙂

If you haven’t seen In The Night Garden before, you really should – it’s quite an experience. Each episode is around 30 minutes long, but you can get a flavour from this YouTube video:

I’ve watched most of the episodes several times by now. We record them all as the BBC, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to screen the programme in the morning instead of during CBeebies Bedtime Hour.

The above is by way of prelude to my main point. The programme (probably intentionally) can put you into a state of not quite being awake and not quite being asleep. In that rather nice state of consciousness I got to thinking just how much like an ideal communist society it is:

  • The characters have all of their needs provided for, yet no-one is in overall control (do they ‘own the means of production’, though?)
  • There is no monetary system.
  • Men, women and children are of equal status.
  • There is no mention of, or reference to, religion – the garden just exists.
  • In the most innocent way imaginable there is ‘free love’ – in that everyone kisses everyone else.
  • Liberal parenting (in the form of the Pontipines) prevails.

Whilst I’m sure the group who conceived and produced the show aren’t raging communists, it does make you think of the values being explicitly and implicitly inculcated into even the youngest of children… :-p

 

3 ‘well, duh’ BBC Education articles

BBC EducationSometimes there’s some articles on the BBC News Education pages that make you wonder who’s paying for the research they’re based upon. Here’s 3 just from yesterday:

  • 71% of pupils admit being a bully – and the other 29% are liars if, as I suspect, ‘bullying’ has been very widely defined. Real bullying can blight lives and should not be condoned under any circumstances. Minor name-calling and fallings-out, on the other hand (although some will no doubt disagree), are all part of growing up. It’s the human equivalent of play-fighting in animals.
  • Some exams ‘harder than others’ – really? My goodness! Groundbreaking news. And surprise, surprise, they found History GCSE is harder than Geography GCSE. Perhaps historians’ jibes that Geographers do nothing but colour things in have some credence after all… 😉
  • Unions ‘protecting poor teachers’ – this is something I feel strongly about. There’s a lot of talented people out there who should be in our schools rather than some of the no-hopers I’ve come across in previous schools. I haven’t (thankfully) come across any in my current school, but that’s why we’re a high-achieving specialist school. Having recently received the latest issue of my union’s magazine it’s clear that a great deal of the time they ‘protect’ whinging teachers who really need to get out of the profession and do something to which they’re more suited. That’s not to say that unions don’t do a good job some of the time – both my Dad and myself have had positive experiences – but they really do need to face up to the fact that some teachers aren’t up to the job. There’s only so much ‘professional development’ people can do! :p

What do you think?

 

Why ‘high culture’ for pupils is highly wrong-headed

BalletBBC News reports that the Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham will today launch an initiative that promises access to ‘high-quality cultural activities’. It proposes visits to theatre shows, museums and galleries and the opportunity to learn how to act and play musical instruments. “Great!!” one would think. I disagree.

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