Tag: Durham University

Answering questions from #durbbu

Over the past few days I’ve posted artefacts from my keynote presentation at Durham University’s elearning conference. First I shared my presentation, then I shared some of what participants created using index cards during the session. In this post, I want to answer the questions I was asked via the final side of the index cards. I answered other questions in the session, but I guess you had to be there (the audio was too poor to include that part in the recording I made).

So here’s the questions I was asked, followed by some imperfect responses. 🙂

How do you deal with the ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome?

Well, first off, it’s worth saying that if I had a one-size-fits-all answer to that I’d be a very rich man. 😉

But seriously, I think it’s part of a wider question about how people feel collegiality within and across institutions. In my (limited) experience in universities I’ve found that this is tied to people’s identity. For example, when people start identifying themselves as an ‘Open Educator’ then it makes them look for opportunities to collaborate.

I mentioned in answer to one of the questions in the session itself that you can stop things getting ‘stale’ within an organisation by mixing things up regularly. This can be done through things like job titles and hierarchy, but even simply by moving furniture around, starting off interesting projects and even having a cake club.

So I guess my answer is that the ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome (which I’ve seen many times) is tied to a wider issue around identity. There’s no quick fix, but improving the meta-level situation should lead to a decrease in the syndrome!

If Mozilla designed a VLE [Virtual Learning Environment] what would it look like?

What would your inclusive online learning environment look like?

These two questions were asked by the same person so I’ll answer them together.

I don’t think Mozilla would design a VLE because we believe that the web is the platform. A VLE or LMS (Learning Management System) is, almost always, something that is a walled garden, sectioned off, and separate from the open web. I’d point to Audrey Watters’ excellent talk at Newcastle University last year for a history of how universities’ online life has been enclosed by profit-making companies. I did find it odd, for example, during the Blackboard ‘roadmap’ presentation at the conference that they seemed to put ‘speed to market’ ahead of having a feature set that matched their current offering.

But anyway.

There are, of course, things that need not to be on the open web. Commercially sensitive information, personal details, things not ready to share with the outside world. But I don’t think we need some separate, monolithic platform for that. I’m a big fan of the ‘small pieces, loosely joined’. It’s how the web works. This approach means that people need more knowledge and web literacy skills, to be sure, but it means investing in your staff rather than large corporations driven by creating shareholder value.

So I guess it’s less ‘what would an inclusive online learning environment look like?’ and more what would it feel like? And my answer is: it would feel inclusive. And it would feel like that because it was co-designed with the people using it, who would have agency over the small pieces that are loosely joined. The VLE/LMS is a top-down command-and-control technology-as-power approach to edtech.

How does the idea of Radical Participation in HE [Higher Education] deal with students who prefer to stay passive? Would learners that prefer not to engage nor participate then not learn?

I think two things are being conflated here. I tried my best to separate them out during the presentations and the questions immediately afterwards, but let me try again. Radical participation is not synonymous with confrontation or conflict. Nor is extroversion a pre-requisite for those involved. In fact, in many ways radical participation is the polar opposite of this. It’s meeting people where they are, and allowing them, if they choose to participate fully in the life of the institution.

My issue, which I raised in the panel session and then touched on again during my presentation, is that too often in universities the student union is seen as representing ‘all’ students. I don’t think that’s the case any more than politicians of the party that is currently in government represent everyone within the country. There are other ways to get involved. And I don’t think that this has to be a huge deal. It’s about making small tweaks to everything, and more about mindset that policy.

One more thing (a bit of a can of worms, but I’ll open it…) is that people learn to be passive through formal education. Bring me a child from primary school and I’ll show you an active learner. What is it, then, that kills that desire for agency in learning? Could it be our method of assessment from secondary school onwards? Surely not!

Would instructor-less ‘group’ learning/studying work at all levels – e.g. FE [Further Education]?

When is change just for change’s sake?

Again, these two questions were asked by the same person. I’ll deal with the second of these first. Change for change’s sake is when an agenda is imposed on an organisation or institution and doesn’t come from a perceived need for change within the sector. Having said that, it’s not always evident to some people (who need to change) why that change is necessary. So I guess it depends on the specific context. I will say that those who say ‘is this change for change’s sake?’ are usually the ones who have a vested interest in the status quo. The natural order of things is change and flux. It’s us that make it otherwise.

I’m not sure whether the questioner thinks that I was advocating instructor-less ‘group’ learning/studying, but it appears so. Having taught in secondary schools, I’d say that instructor-less ‘group’ learning/studying certainly works for 11-18 year olds, as I’ve tried it! Not all the time, not for everything, but it’s certainly possible. It’s to do with mindsets and getting learners (and teachers) out of the mentality of spoon-feeding for exams. I’d like to see a lot less learned helplessness at all levels.

Are there any examples / case studies of truly RADICAL PARTICIPATION in HE [Higher Education] that go beyond traditional small group of individual MOOC style stuff?

I’m not sure I completely understand this question, but as I mentioned in my presentation, what works in one place doesn’t necessarily work elsewhere. What’s ‘radical’ in one organisation is run-of-the-mill and perhaps even a bit timid in others. One way to check whether you’re on the right trajectory is by looking at the guiding principles of the organisation. Does it have a mission/manifesto? What does that say?

Often, we tinker around the edges and are afraid of wholesale change. The lesson of Charles Handy’s Sigmoid Curve, however, is that we need to constantly re-invent ourselves and our institutions to stay current. To paraphrase what Heraclitus said a couple of thousand years ago, the river looks pretty much the same over time but you’re always stepping into different water.

Which books should we be reading?

Well now. I shared Antifragile: things that gain from disorder during the presentation as I’ve learned a lot from it. There’s lots of fantastic books from which you can learn ideas. Read lots – as Ryan Holiday does.

However, you also need to apply the ideas contained in what you read, after filtering them through your knowledge and experience. I think this is key. Some of that is just blogging or otherwise writing and sharing stuff that you think is worthwhile. I try and have a URL for everything so that I can build it up. If you’re not comfortable sharing that widely then you could just use Simplenote or a personal wiki.

They’re not new, but timeless books I come back to are:

I don’t know, perhaps they’re not useful to you. But I find those books useful that spur my thinking about the reasons why we do stuff. Getting to the foundations is important. For everything else – more practical, ‘one big idea’ stuff – I just read the Wikipedia article. Too often those kinds of books have five pages of explanation then 195 pages of filler. 😉

Update: Ben Leighton got in touch to remind me that, during the Q&A in the session I recommended Thanks for the feedback : the science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. It’s a good book, but you can probably get away with reading just the first few chapters…

Image CC BY Matthias Ripp

Radical participation: a smörgåsbord

Today and tomorrow I’m at Durham University’s eLearning conference. I’m talking on Radical Participation – inspired, in part, by Mark Surman’s presentation at the Mozilla coincidental workweek last month.

My slides should appear below. If not, click here!

I was very impressed by Abbi Flint’s keynote going into the detail of her co-authored Higher Education Academy report entitled Engagement Through Partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. In fact, I had to alter what I was going to say as she covered my critique! Marvellous.

After Abbi’s keynote I was involved in a panel session. I didn’t stick too closely to my notes, instead giving more of a preview to what I’m talking about in my keynote tomorrow. As ever, I’m genuinely looking forward to some hard questions!

Doctor Doug.

Dr. Doug with Prof. Steve Higgins

Dr. Doug Belshaw with Prof. Steve Higgins

Today I graduated from my Ed.D. in the wonderful surroundings of Durham Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

Both my family and my supervisor Professor Steve Higgins were there to witness it and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their advice, guidance and support during the past few years. I’d also like to thank those who have cheered me on both here and elsewhere online. 🙂

My doctoral thesis has been online since I began writing it. You can access it at http://neverendingthesis.com

This event has come at a great time between finishing up my role with JISC infoNet and starting with the Mozilla Foundation. Exciting times!

Learning objectives: the basics

Bullseye

A combination of my ongoing mentoring of an M.Ed. student, a request by a commenter (Ian Guest) and some broken links on the newly-restored teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk has spurred me to write this post.

As a teacher, I’ve never really known a world before learning objectives. It was certainly something that was expected of me during my PGCE at Durham University and from then on in my teaching career. And, to be fair, it’s fairly obvious why. If a learner knows what’s expected of them, and then can ascertain whether they’ve achieved a learning goal, then they’ve been successful.

However, I’ve seen learning objectives used really badly. I’ve seen a ‘learning objective’ that ran something like:

To know who the Romans were.

How would a learner or teacher know whether any type of meaningful learning has taken place with this as a learning objective?! A far better one would be:

To list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.

This is SMART – i.e.

  • Specific – ‘list 3 ways’ tells students exactly what to expect.
  • Measurable – both students and the teacher can tell whether the learning objective has been attained.
  • Achievable – the learning objective is open-ended enough to allow for effective differentiation.
  • Realistic – this particular learning objective doesn’t really require any prior learning.
  • Time-related – students need to have achieved this learning objective by the end of the lesson.

Even better practice would be to use ALL, MOST and SOME with learning objectives. This allows for even more differentiation and sets and explicit baseline for all learners.

To use the above example again:

ALL students should: list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.

MOST students should: decide which Roman innovation has been most profound.

SOME students should: explain how Roman innovations have changed/evolved over the last 2,000 years.

It’s only after the learning objectives have been formulated that lesson activities and resources should be prepared. After all, if the activities and resources aren’t focused on learning, what are they focused upon?

Do you have a view or some advice on learning objectives? Share it in the comments below! 🙂

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Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: ‘aspirational naming,’ hegemonic power and finishing early?

umbrellas

Image by gagilas @ Flickr

Last Wednesday I met with Steve Higgins, my Ed.D. supervisor at the University of Durham. I enjoy the level of intellectual conversation I have with him and this meeting was no exception. Our discussion ranged from everything from Foucault to doing online shopping for your grandmother(!) and seemed to fly by. This post serves as a reminder for me and an insight for those interested in my chosen topic of ‘digital literacy.’

Concept maps and ‘umbrella terms’

Those familiar with the enormous Ed.D. concept map I produced will be familiar with the fair amount of complexity it contains. Steve suggested that I go back to it and attempt to synthesize some of the elements, perhaps by reworking it into a kind of Venn diagram. I replied that at the moment it’s something I don’t want to spend too much time looking at (because it took so long to produce), but will go back to it eventually!

I expressed my (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) annoyance that Lankshear and Knobel in the introduction to their 2008 Digital Literacies had pointed out and drawn attention to something I was going to present as a new analysis in my thesis: the ‘umbrella term.’ Many theorists take their conception of literacy and consider all others in the light of it, usually relegating them to some type of ‘sub-literacies.’ Steve suggested I try a different metaphor than umbrellas… 😉

Intentionality and trajectories

Steve reminded me that there is a ‘rhetoric’ to everything produced by theorists, even those who are leaders in the field (e.g. Lankshear and Knobel). There is an intention behind what they are doing; they are, to some extent, ‘tussling for position’ and attempting to prove a point.

All theorists in the realm of ‘new literacies’ deal in neologisms. That is to say they coin terms that they hope will enter common usage. Steve posited the idea of a ‘trajectory’ – that I need to show in my thesis where theorists are ‘coming from,’ what their definition is, what they’re trying to achieve through that definition, and then the logical implications and practicalities of this.

Language issues

At some point during the discussion I mentioned that I’d read that Norwegian has no word for ‘literacy’ as they use a different, but related term. I suggested that this might allow Norwegians to bypass some of the historical baggage bound up with the term ‘literacy.’ Steve pointed out that Norwegian also makes no distinction between ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ which, if you think about it, is rather problematic. I can think of lots of efficient yet ineffective people vice-versa! :-p

I moved on to Gunther Kress‘ argument that because many languages don’t have the term ‘literacy’ then sub-dividing it into ‘visual literacy,’ ‘digital literacy’ and the like was problematic. I mentioned that I wasn’t convinced by his argument. Steve pointed out that English is a richer language (in terms of number of words) than other languages. This means that there may be actually an advantage in breaking down terms in English into sub-areas as it may be difficult to work out of a genuinely complex ‘super-concept.’

Thesis structure

The structure of all theses tend to be in a state of flux until towards the end, and mine is no different. Given that I’m doing a rather bizarre thing – a conceptual, vocational doctorate(!) – the structure is not prescribed nor, indeed, self-evident. I pointed out to Steve that although it is usual to write the ‘methodology’ chapter after the ‘literature review,’ it might actually be a better idea and more coherent to the reader if the methodology comes before the literature review.

I’m planning to write a chapter on ‘digital flow,’ after being inspired by Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. One of the issues with ‘digital literacy’ is, as Steve put it, ‘aspirational naming’: we come up with terms describing states to which we aspire. ‘Digital flow’ (as I shall define it) would be on the same spectrum and would, inevitably, include value judgements and aspirational statements about how I want the world to be. We’re came back our earlier mention of intentionality.

After coming up with a (tentative) definition of ‘digital flow’ I shall be doing some policy analysis looking at whether conceptions of digital literacy and/or flow are embedded in pronouncements and practice in countries ranging from the UK to Singapore. Steve suggested that I look at the relation between literacy and hegemonic power; ‘the position of the individual relative to the discourse.’ Steve’s of the opinion that power comes as a ‘valuable incidental’ to those in power and control and that they don’t necessarily reinforce this on purpose through such things as literacy practices. It’s a question of ‘coherence and complexity’ despite Marxist rants to the contrary. He suggested I look at the difference between devolved and ‘real’ power (c.f. Foucault).

The nature of literacy

I’ve avoided in my thesis up to now discussion of ‘media literacy’ as I thought it would take me down a rather tangential rabbit-hole. However, as Steve pointed out, at the end of the day it’s all about semiotics and the encoding of meaning. It’s about production and reproduction, said Steve, as letter-based literacy is a ‘dense’ and precise method of exchange. Visual literacy, media literacy and the like points towards more metaphorical use of language. Poetry, for example, would be somewhat of a ‘halfway house.’

It was at this point that I re-conceptualized what Steve said as being almost a continuum ranging from the ‘literal’ use of language in literacy left to ‘metaphorical’ use of language on the right. Text-based literacy would be on the left whilst umbrella terms – metaphors of metaphors (or ‘second order metaphors’) would be on the right. It may be interesting to plot conceptions of literacy on such a continuum in my actual thesis.

This reminded Steve of C.S. Peirce‘s idea of ‘firstness,’ ‘secondness’ and ‘thirdness.’ This relates to something which equates to ‘raw perception’ (‘firstness’), the ‘idea’ of it (‘thirdness’) and the way of trying to express this (‘secondness’). I think this could be a really effective addition to my discussion of the ‘red pillar box’ in my phenomological introduction (sample below):

Human beings are tasked with making sense of the external world. We feel the need to decipher and communicate oft-repeated experiences and sensations, allowing other minds to share the same (or similar) conceptual space to our own. For example, research in Phenomenology tells us that two individuals may have two markedly different sensations when viewing a red pillar box. If, however, they agree on the category ‘pillar box’ to refer to approximately the shape they see before them, and that the colour sensation they are experiencing shall be called ‘red’, then meaningful discourse can ensue.

Returning to the policy document analysis, Steve re-iterated that I need to concentrate on producing an ‘interesting synthesis’ rather than getting bogged down in detail. I also need to separate out in my thesis the difference between ‘digital literacy’ and ‘being digitally literate.’

Finishing early

I mentioned to Steve – as I have done at previous meetings – that I’d like to have my thesis finished by next summer. That’s a year before my official end date, after which people are still allowed a year of ‘writing up.’ There’s three reasons why I want to finish early:

  1. I want to finish before I’m 30 (December 2010)
  2. It’s costing £thousands every year.
  3. Every additional year I take is another year in which I have to consider and attempt to synthesize other people’s work into my thesis.

The official line for the Ed.D. is that the taught elements give the skills to undertake something at equivalent level to Ph.D. This is usually done where there’s a professional dimension to this ‘something.’ However, overlaps with other areas (in my case, for example, politics and philosophy as well as education) is inevitable. The examiner will ultimately be looking for ‘doctorateness’ and whether the thesis is sufficiently conceptually rich. 🙂

Steve said he’d get back to me with whether I’d be able to finish early, which he did the next day. It turns out that, officially, the earliest I’m allowed to submit is January 2011. I could apply for a concession to submit early, but given Durham’s ‘glacial bureaucracy’ and the second point in the list above, it’s unlikely that would be successful. I’ve decided that to have ‘finished’ by December 2010 and to submit on 1 January 2011 is fine by me!

Final thoughts

Other things we mentioned that I need to consider:

  • How would you go about ‘teaching’ digital literacy? (Foucault & power, etc.) Mention the ‘digital divide’ etc. and equality in society.
  • Make sure show aware of Prensky, ‘digital natives’ etc. – so ‘immersed’ and it is ‘second nature’. Two-edged sword – miss the ‘critical’ element. Intentionality? (step back, underlying conceptions – HTML, programming, etc.)
  • At the moment, people can still refuse to engage in digital world, and still function. Link to power and authority? Teenagers can’t do this? Bridging technologies (chequebook and Switch card)
  • Need to define ‘digital’ (definitions often aren’t bounded) – more than text (images, other media, etc.)

Very finally, we discussed the rather problematic issue of how I should submit my thesis. Given the nature of my thesis it would be more than a little anachronistic to only submit it in a printed paper format. Therefore we’re going to look at ways which would satisfy the university as well as ourselves (and the wider community) for the final thesis. Steve’s thoughts are that the appendices at the very least should be some sort of website. Given issues relating to ‘digital permanence’ Steve pointed out the very useful website snapshot-archiving tool iCyte which I’ll be exploring in more depth…

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Daniel Goleman on Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman

Watch a video of Goleman being interviewed about emotional intelligence here.

Last week, when I mentioned to my Twitter network that I needed to do some reading on ‘Leadership’, quite a few recommended the work of Daniel Goleman. Then, when I looked at the ‘Further Reading’ section of Jo Owen’s How to Lead that I’ve just started reading, Goleman was mentioned again. How to Lead cited some contributions Goleman made to the Harvard Business Review. Thankfully, I’ve access to this electronically through being a student at the University of Durham.

What follows are my notes and thoughts on 5 articles (and a letter) by Goleman, all published in the Harvard Business Review. Each subtitle is the name of Goleman’s article, along with the year published. 🙂

What make a Leader? (1998)

IQ-EQ icebergMany believe that leadership is an art rather than a science. Why? Because ‘every businessperson knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled executive who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job.’ Goleman believes that whilst IQ and technical skills are not irrelevant (they are ‘threshold capabilities’) but what is much more important is emotional intelligence. Indeed, Goleman asserts that his research shows that this is twice as important as a driver of outstanding performance compared to the other two factors.

Goleman states that emotional intelligence is made up of the following characteristics:

  • Self-Awareness – ‘the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.’
  • Self -Regulation – ‘the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods’ and ‘the propensity to suspend judgment – to think before acting.’
  • Motivation – ‘a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status’ and ‘a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.’
  • Empathy – ‘the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people’ and ‘skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.’
  • Social Skill – ‘proficiency in managing relationships and building networks’ and ‘an ability to find common ground and build rapport.’

Emotional intelligence is not easy, says Goleman, but it can be learned!

Leadership That Gets Results (2000)

Goleman contends that what leaders should do is get results. Pure and simple. The question is how is this achieved? Research by the consulting firm Hay/McBer found there are six main leadership styles ‘each springing from different components of emotional intelligence.’ Goleman likens these leadership styles to golf clubs in a seasoned professional’s bag: you choose the correct club (‘style’) for each shot (‘situation’).

The six styles are:

  1. Coercive – demand immediate compliance.
  2. Authoritative – motivate people towards a vision.
  3. Affiliative – create emotional bonds and harmony.
  4. Democratic – build consensus through participation.
  5. Pacesetting – demand excellent and self-direction.
  6. Coaching – developing people for the future.

These styles impact directly on the ‘climate’ of an organization, defined as comprising the following elements:

  • Flexibility – how free people are to innovate.
  • Responsibility – the sense of responsibility people have to the organization.
  • Standards – the standards that people set.
  • Rewards – the accuracy of performance feedback.
  • Clarity – how clear people are about mission and values.
  • Commitment – how committed people are to a common purpose.

Of the six styles, four of them act positively towards the climate of the organization and two in a negative sense. The two that damage the climate of an organization are Coercive (‘do as I say, now!’) and Pacesetting (‘do as I do, now!’). That being said, there are times, usually during times of crises when these leadership styles can prove effective in the short-term.

Being able to switch between the six styles is a matter of Emotional Intelligence, something akin to changing habits, says Goleman. It is something that can be learned and has to be practised.

Primal Leadership (2001)

Primal LeadershipGoleman, Boyatzis and McKee continued Goleman’s original research into emotional intelligence, coming up with the concept of leaders having an ’emotional style.’ This, they believe, sets the tone for the whole organization, that ‘the leader’s mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business.’

The authors state that the brain’s limbic system, it’s emotional centre, is an ‘open-loop’ system. Unlike self-regulating closed-loop systems, an open loop system relies on external sources to maintain itself. ‘In other words, we rely on connections with people to determine our moods.’ That’s why we find it difficult not to smile or laugh ourselves when we hear laughter. It is this that the emotionally intelligent leader needs to tap into as good moods, it would appear from the research, transmit more quickly that bad ones! 😀

Leaders cannot simply ask those further down the hierarchy for feedback on their emotional style. Why? Job security and the personal nature of such feedback are two very good reasons. Instead, leaders need to go on journeys of self-discovery and personal reinvention that are ‘neither newfangled nor born of pop psychology.’  The authors point towards eiconsortium.org as being a useful starting point.

The journey of self-discovery and personal reinvention, contend the authors, is a five-step process of asking questions:

  1. Who do I want to be?
  2. Who am I now?
  3. How do I get from here to there?
  4. How do I make change stick?
  5. Who can help me?

I find these questions, if I’m honest, a little patronising. But then, after studying Philosophy at university as an undergraduate, I’m fairly self-reflective in any case. What do you think? Useful questions or not?

Never Stop Learning (2004)

Emotional IntelligenceIn this very short article Goleman says that leaders can survive without much ’emotional intelligence’ if everything is going well for the business. However, this is exactly the time that leaders should be building up and developing their emotional intelligence for the downturn and potential crises.

The data shows that people’s emotional intelligence tends to increase with age, but this is not to say that it is a function of, and comes with, experience. One of the most frequent criticisms of newly-promoted leaders is that they lack empathy. The problem, of course, being that they have been promoted for their intelligence and outstanding performance rather than their leadership skills.

Leaders can improve their emotional intelligence if they are given:

  • Information – candid assessment of their strengths and limitations from people they can trust.
  • Guidance – a specific development plan using ‘naturally occurring workplace encounters as the laboratory for learning.
  • Support – someone to talk to as they practice how to handle different situations.

It’s hard to argue with the principles and ideas behind Goleman’s emotional intelligence, although I do wonder whether the inclusion of the word ‘intelligence’ is helpful… :-p

Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership (2008)

Research shows, says Goleman and Boyatzis, that certain things leaders do affects their brain chemistry and that of their followers. In fact,

researchers have found that the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system.

Great leaders, say the authors, are at the opposite end of the ‘neural continuum’ than those with autism or Asperger’s, social disorders ‘characterized by underdevelopment in the areas of the brain associated with social interactions.’

Social IntelligenceThe authors therefore introduce the concept of social intelligence, ‘a set of interpersonal competencies built on specific neural circuits (and related endocrine systems) that inspire others to be effective.’ Pointing to recent research in neuroscience on ‘mirror neurons’ which act as ‘neural wifi’. When we detect other people’s (emotions through their actions), our mirror neurons reproduce these emotions, leading to a feeling of shared experience.

So, Goleman and Boyatzis say, the ‘old carrot-and-stick’ approach for encouraging people to perform better, doesn’t work. Smiles, laughter, nods and positive reinforcement are much more conducive to improving performance. Followers of effective leaders experience rapport with them – what the authors call ‘resonance’.

‘The only way to develop your social circuitry effectively,’ say Goleman and Boyatzis, ‘is to undertake the hard work of changing your behavior.’ Linking back to Primal Leadership, the authors believe this is a process of building a personal vision for change and gathering feedback. It is especially important to undergo this when things are going well, as during times of stress as ‘soaring cortisol levels and an added hard kick of adrenaline can paralyze the mind’s critical abilities.’ Leaders fall back into old habits during these times – all the more reason to become more self-reflective.

A Reply to Ken Otter (2009)

Finally, in a letter to the Harvard Business Review, Ken Otter gave his thoughts on an article by Goleman and Boyatzis. The authors took the time to reply to this, in which they made the following point – important and especially relevant to me about online communication:

Andrea Zambarda’s query about whether the brain’s social circuitry operates as well during communication by phone and videoconference as it does during face-to-face interactions raises an issue that is becoming increasingly important to companies. The brain’s circuitry picks up crucial social signals during communication, receiving the most during face-to-face interactions, somewhat fewer during videoconferences, and fewer still during phone calls. When communication is via e-mail or text alone, however, no emotional signals whatsoever are received, resulting in the greatest likelihood of missed cues.

…and that’s why I almost always put a smiley in my tweets, text messages and blog posts! 🙂

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Are organizations like brains?

Images of OrganizationAs part of my Ed.D. course through the University of Durham I had to take some taught modules. One of them that I took back in 2006 was entitled Management, Leadership & Change. It was an excellent course from which I gained a lot. Unfortunately, unlike many of my classmates, I wasn’t then at a time where I could use this knowledge being then only just finished my second year of teaching. Now that I’m in a position that carries more responsibility, management responsbilities and leadership opportunities, it’s time to revisit that course and related reading.

One of the books I read for the Management, Leadership & Change module was Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization. I found it a revelation, especially being so fond as I am of metaphor. Morgan uses eight metaphors as a lens through which to view organizations:

  1. Organizations as Machines
  2. Organizations as Organisms
  3. Organizations as Brains
  4. Organizations as Cultures
  5. Organizations as Political Systems
  6. Organizations as Psychic Prisons
  7. Organizations as Flux and Transformation
  8. Organizations as Instruments of Domination

Each of these perspectives teaches the reader something about organizations; it’s a very clever and interesting way of presenting insights.

Having just come across this neat overview of Daniel Goleman‘s idea of the various leadership styles, I wonder how much overlap/synergy there is between the two?

Goleman - Leadership Styles

I’m especially interested in the idea of organizations as ‘organisms’, ‘brains’ or ‘cultures’ as I believe these lenses to be the most powerful for effecting positive change. The remainder of this post will look at organizations as ‘brains’.

Organizations as brains

Morgan starts off the chapter comparing brains to holographs where ‘everything is enfolded in everything else’, there is not centre or point of control and, most importantly,

Pattern and order emerge from the process – it is not imposed. (Morgan, 1998:73)

The philosopher Daniel Dennett, someone who I read fairly widely at university during my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, suggests that our highly-ordered stream of consciousness is actually the result of ‘a more chaotic process where multiple possibilities are generated as a result of activity distributed throughout the brain.’ (ibid.) Competing parallel activities can make complementary and competing contributions into a coherent pattern.

‘Just In Time’ and perceived chaos

Morgan gives the example of ‘Just In Time’ (JIT) manufacturing as being a process that is highly organized yet without ‘boundaries and patterns of membership’:

To an outsider, it may be impossible to distinguish who is working for whom. The fundamental organization really rests int eh complex informaiton system that coordinates the activites of all the people and firms involves rather then the discrete organizations contributing different elements  to the process. (Morgan, 1998:75)

Clay Shirky - Here Comes EverybodyThe above leads Morgan to wonder whether it is better to refer to a ‘system of intelligence’ rather than an ‘organization’ when describing such states of affairs. These systems break what Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate, called the ‘bounded rationality’ of human beings. To my mind it’s Morgan picking up on the start of what Clay Shirky has shown to be completely revolutionary in his excellent Here Comes Everybody (which I’m currently reading).

Understanding how organizations can become capable of learning in a brain-like way is similar to understanding how robots and other objects in the study of Cybernetics are able to ‘learn’. The latter discipline involves negative feedback. That is to say error-detection and correction happens automatically to maintain a course towards a desired goal. In order to be able to self-regulate, systems must be able to:

  1. Sense, monitor, and scan significant aspects of their environment.
  2. Relate this information to the operating norms that guide system behavior.
  3. Detect significant deviations form these norms, and
  4. Initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected. (Morgan, 1998:77)

This negative feedback system is only as good as the procedures and standards that underlie it. So long as the action defined by these procedures and standards is appropriate dealing with the changes encountered, everything is fine. The ‘intelligence’ of the system breaks down, however, when these are not adequate leading to negative feedback attempting to maintain an inappropriate pattern of behaviour.

In order to prevent the above happening (so called ‘single-loop learning’) the model of ‘double-loop learning’ has been promoted by Donald Schön and Chris Argyris. This builds in a self-review ‘loop’ to the learning process:

Double-Loop Learning

Image cc-by-sa Ed Batista

There are three major barriers to double-loop learning: budgets, bureaucracy and accountability. One of the most famous examples of double-loop learning and organization being thwarted by these three barriers came with the US Challenger space shuttle explosion.

Learning organizations

So, how are ‘learning organizations’ created? Insights from cybernetics would suggest the following:

  • Scanning and anticipating change in the wider environment
  • Developing an ability to question, challenge and change operating norms and assumptions
  • Allow appropriate directions and patterns of organization to emerge (Morgan, 1998:82)

Morgan follows this with stressing the importance of ‘framing and reframing’ which reminds me of Lord Bilimoria’s discussion of the value of regular SWOT analyses (see this post). ‘Many organizations,’ says Morgan, ‘become myopic, accepting their current reality as the reality.’ (Morgan, 1998:84)

Organizations that embrace double-loop learning sound like the type of places I want to be part of:

For successful double-loop learning to occur, organizations much develop cultures that support change and risk taking; embrace the idea that in rapidly changing circumstances with high degrees of uncertainty, problems and errors are inevitable; promote an openness that encourages dialogue and the expression of conflicting points of view; recognize that legitimate error, which arises from the uncertainty and lack of control in a situation, can be used as a resource for new learning; recognize that since genuine learning is usually action based, organizations must find ways of helping to create experiments and probes so that they lear through doing in a productive way. (Morgan, 1998:85)

Emergent organization

Coming back to the metaphor of brains, the intelligence of the brain is not predetermined. It is not centrally driven. It is emergent. A top-down approach to management leads to single-loop learning and therefore is the opposite of such a model of emergence. To prevent chaos and incoherence targets should take the form of vision and value-sharing.

Morgan continues on to articulate a vision of ‘holographic organization’ based on five principles:

  1. Build the ‘whole’ into the ‘parts’ (i.e. ‘networked intelligence’)
  2. The importance of redundancy
  3. Requisite variety (i.e. ‘internal complexity must match that of the environment’)
  4. Minimum Specs (i.e. don’t define more that is absolutely necesssary)
  5. Learn to learn (i.e. ‘double-loop learning’)

Conclusion

After fleshing out these princples, Morgan concludes this chapter with listing the strengths and limitations of the brain metaphor.

Strengths:

  • Gives clear guidelines for creating learning organizations
  • Shows how IT can support the evolution of organizations
  • Gives a new theory of management based on the principles of self-organization
  • Addresses the importance of dealing with paradox

Limitations:

  • There could be conflict between the requirements of organizational learning and the realities of power and control
  • Learning for the sake of learning can become just another ideology

I can live with these limitations. I think the ‘organization as brain’ metaphor has a lot going for it. What do YOU think? 😀

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)

‘Flow’ and the waste of free time

flow_bookHaving twice got the classic work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience out of Durham University Library and having it twice recalled before I got a chance to read it, I decided to just go ahead and buy the book. It’s a very famous work, cited in almost everything I read – despite the fact that the author, Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, has an almost-unpronounceable surname…

Upon its arrival from Amazon, I eagerly opened and flicked through Flow. Just as sometimes you’re sitting in an audience and you feel that the speaker is talking directly to you, so it was with the section ‘The Waste of Free Time’ (p.162-3). Here’s my abridgement of that short section. Do you recognise yourself in it? I do!

Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate, and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

The tremendous leisure industry that has arisen in the last few generations has been designed to help fill our free time with enjoyable experiences. Nevertheless, instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we got to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.

The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere. Collectively we are wasting each year the equivalent of millions of years of human consciousness. The energy that could be used to focus on complex goals, to provide for enjoyable growth, is squandered on patterns of stimulation that only mimic reality. Mass leisure, mass culture, and even high culture when only attended to passively and for extrinsic reasons – such as the wish to flaunt one’s status – are parasites of the mind. They absorb psychic energy without providing substantive strength in return. They leave us more exhausted, more disheartened than we were before.

Most jobs and many leisure activities – especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media – are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving us only feeble husks.

Eloquently put, I’m sure you’ll agree! It reminded me somewhat of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in terms of the vision it conjures of a mass ‘citizenry’ obediently doing what the guiding voice behind the media they consume tell them to do.

It’s a wake-up call for me. Instead of spending money on gadgetry that allow me to consume mass media at an ever-increasing rate, I’m going to focus on creativity and meaning-making. For me, that will mostly be in a written format because of my interests and talents. But, you never know, it may stray into areas musical as well… 😀

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