Tag: Kathy Sierra

Let me tell you what I think ‘this’ is.

Last week I wrote a post entitled What’s this? which included the following diagram:

Answers from the comments:

  • DEPTh
  • A planned presentation
  • Apple
  • Nirvana
  • A 21st century educator
  • The future
  • dougbelshaw.com/blog
  • Trust
  • Innovation

Good answers all. 🙂

My answer? The user experience. User outcomes*

Think about it.

It’s what designers, teachers, productivity gurus and technology enthusiasts all strive to improve. And it’s what Kathy Sierra used to blog about. I think it’s time to take up that mantle. :-p

*Thanks to Neil Adam for the pointer!

Experience, skill, and user experience.

It’s amazing that, despite her stopping blogging over 3 years ago, I still use examples and graphs created by Kathy Sierra. She was that good.

I played golf for only the second time in my life today. I suck at golf. I suck at golf because I don’t particularly like it, but more importantly have no reason to invest time in it. I played today to spend time with my Dad who spends most of his time living in a far-off land. Looking at the above graph shows that the main problem I have with golf that there’s too much time between me taking it up and kicking ass.

The 10,000 hours thesis put forward by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers is that it takes around that amount of time to become ‘expert’ at something and achieve success. But there has to be a reason behind the commitment to put all that time in. In all probability it all boils down to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Nick Dennis was explaining to me recently how Bill Gates showed tremendous dedication to put in his 10,000 hours whilst still a teenager. However, he was also given a massive chance in life by his school being one of only a handful to have a computer at a time when even some universities didn’t have them.

So one take-away from this post would be to stick with what you’re both good at and interested in. The other would be to identify what benefits you’ve been afforded by your circumstances, and start practising.

The story behind the new design of dougbelshaw.com

Whilst I haven’t tinkered with the theme for this blog (yet!) I’ve changed the landing page when you visit dougbelshaw.com. There’s a bit of a saga behind it. :-p

A tweet from Kathy Sierra directed me to Brynn Evans’ (@brynn) blog where she had a great post about an idea called ‘betacup’. What struck me about Brynn’s blog, however, was the clear and straightforward layout. Summising that she was running WordPress (most blogs, including this one, do!) I looked in the footer for an indication of the theme she was using.

Brynn - blog footer

Hmm… no dice. Another way to find out a blog’s theme is to use the ‘view source’ option in your web browser (View/Page Source in Firefox). Sure enough, this revealed the following:

Brynn - blog theme

In other words, the theme being used was in a folder with the title love_work. Again, summising that this was probably short for Love & Work, I searched Google for it. No joy.

Refusing to be beaten and now intrigued, I looked at the CSS by following the link above. CSS stands for ‘Cascading Style Sheets’ and it is the method used to ‘style’ the blog. Authors often put their details at the top of such documents:

Brynn - blog CSS

Although a little downhearted that it would seem that the author – a ‘Chris Messina’ (@chrismessina)- created a custom theme (meaning it was probably generally available for me to tweak) I decided to visit his website – factoryjoe.com. I was impressed with what I saw:

Chris Messina - profile

I thought this was wonderful. Not only does it link to everywhere Chris is online (and deems important) but it tells a story. Unthinkingly (and to my shame) I set about copying him. I ended up with this (CC-NC-SA factoryjoe):

Doug Belshaw - old profile

I did mention on Twitter what I’d done (in fact my network were very helpful in my tweaking it) leading to this tweet the following morning from Chris:

Chris Messina - tweet about Doug Belshaw's profile

Whilst Chris was a gentleman and agreeable about it, others were a bit more to the point. The outcome was that I realised I needed to do my own thing rather than copy someone else’s design. After all, as someone who makes his living through web technologies, it’s only fair that Chris’ design is unique. 🙂

I spent a while thinking about what I wanted and, to cut an already-too-long story short, with the help of my Twitter network, I’ve ended up with this:

Doug Belshaw - profile

Yes, I’ve had all the comments that I’ve got stubble on my head, it’s a bit ‘noir’, it looks like a dating site, and I look like I work for Apple. Oh, and my wife wants me to point out that she took the photo. 😉

I may not be finished my tinkering yet. Chris has challenged me to incorporate a hCard and I really like the design simplicity of the Flickr blog. However, again, it’s a custom-designed theme…

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Everything that’s wrong with educational management, summed up in 3 Dilbert cartoons.

Before I start, I must point out that this is not a dig at all the members of the Senior Leadership Team at my current school. Not at all. Rather, it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the practices that traps people in management positions – at all levels – sometimes fall into. They’re therefore traps I’m going to do my best to avoid when I become part of the Senior Leadership Team at my next school!

Shiny Shiny

Dilbert - pie charts

I’ve seen two awful presentations in the past couple of weeks. One was just monumentally bad – the presenter couldn’t find files, sat us through ages of short video clips and sprang questions at us to fill in time – and the other was just rambling and poorly thought-out. What was common to both approaches, however, was the assumption “I’m using technology therefore this must be a good presentation.” Gah.

I take the above Dilbert cartoon in the way that I think it’s meant to be read – i.e. as an extremely sarcastic and ironic look at how easily people are impressed by things that look good. That, to some extent is true. But it’s only true when accompanied by at least some level of competence in presenting information in an interesting and engaging way. Technology does not do the presentation for you!

On a slightly tangential note, I’m also concerned about the uncritical and all-too-credulous nature of otherwise intelligent people when presented with graphics that represent statistics. It’s critical literacy and a basic understanding of statistics. A grasp of these should be a pre-requisite for a career in any professional occupation…

Surfing the status quo

Dilbert - 'good'

Hiding behind desks is something that people in management in the world over are particularly good at. In schools its especially straightforward to seem good at your job if you get the data right. Schools only have to be seen to be doing things correctly – they aren’t inspected very often, parents are often (sometimes voluntarily) left out of the everyday loop concerning their child’s interactions at school, and the status quo suits most people very well.

So if you can engineer a situation where you or your institution seem to be doing everything right, the weight of conservative opinion and social inertia are on your side. As a manager you just need to jump through the oft-renamed hoops.

What am I planning to do? Aim to be an expert. Of course, I’ll never actually achieve my goal for, in a Socratic manner, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know. Still, it’s the process that’s important – as Kathy Sierra pointed out back in the day on her much-missed blog:

How to be an expert - graph (Kathy Sierra)

Most managers are ‘amateurs’ on this graph. They find a way that works for them and then keep on doing it. Over time, this means inconveniencing others and distorting things to make things fit into their system.

Those who choose the ‘expert’ path and challenge themselves to keep learning become – perhaps inadvertently – leaders, as the enthusiasm for continuous learning and their own professional development attracts others like a magnet!

‘Drive-by’ management

Dilbert - drive-by management

One of the results of being an ‘average’ manager (see above) is that, by not challenging yourself to learn new things, you will have spare time. Feeling guilty about this, managers then want to make sure they look like they’re doing their job and have authority. They therefore make things up for people to do, are awkward just for the sake of it, or ‘drop-in’ on people and point out irrelevancies.

I’m going to take as a fundamental maxim that people should be trusted to be professionals and get on with their job. Yes, there should be as much appropriate communication as possible, but attempts to micro-manage and meddle usually backfire. I suppose you could say that’s a fairly laid-back approach. Fair enough, but I’ll be demanding results! I think people will respect that. 🙂

What do YOU find wrong with management in education? Share your opinions in the comments section below!

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Is Twitter bad for you?

I have to confess that, at first, I couldn’t see the point of Twitter. Since then, however, I’ve become somewhat of a convert, getting in touch with many people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Lately, however, Ive had cause to re-evaluate my use of the service. I’ve been prompted to write this post by three things, the most recent of which was one of Doug Noon’s comments on my last post:

I’ve avoided Twitter because I don’t want to be *that* connected. I know that it might be “useful” on some level, but so would joining clubs, taking classes, reading great books, working for non-profit civic organizations, and spending time with family. Everyone should set their own priorities, and define some limits.

The second was an incoming link to one of my posts over at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about the potential of using Twitter in the classroom. They didn’t like the idea, although the way they tried to link together ‘facts’ to build an argument was woeful:

Nearly one million people use Twitter. That is almost negligible for a US website but guess how many people work in IT in California? Nearly a million. So how many “normal” people do you think use Twitter?

Erm, I don’t think they’re one and the same group of people. But anyway, they continue:

When was the last time anyone normal (i.e. not people who get paid to look at these things) did anything (that did not  involved a dancing seal or laughing baby) as a result of Twitter or Digg or Second Life – or even to a slightly lesser extent Facebook or FriendFeed or MySpace?

They may have a point about preaching to the choir here. But I suppose this post is to do with business and the (monetary) value of getting involved social networking and Web 2.0 as a whole. Perhaps more damning is my all-time favourite blogger, Kathy Sierra (much missed after the debacle last year) who showed us the dangers of The Asymptotic Twitter Curve:

The idea behind Kathy’s worries about the use of Twitter stems from a book by the wonderfully unpronounceable Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi entitled Flow. It’s a book I’ve been threatening to read for around 5 years now! The state of ‘flow’ is, unsurprisingly, a highly productive state in which an individual is ‘in the zone’. Kathy argues that this is almost impossible when you’ve got constant interruptions and distractions. Twitter’s certainly one for putting you off the task in hand.

So what I’ve begun to do, following the example of someone I read recently (but have now forgotten where) is to have two modes of working. The first is best described as outwards-facing, the second inwards-facing. When I’m in the former mode, I’m available on Skype, Twitterific automatically refreshes my friends’ tweets every 3 minutes, and I’m available on Google Talk via GMail. I’m using all four of my virtual desktops via OSX Leopard’s ‘Spaces’ feature and I’m moving around flitting from this to that. Effectively, I’m in ‘networked’ mode.

On the other hand, when I’m in the latter, inwards-facing mode, I’m working minimalistically: I’m invisible on Skype, Google Talk is closed, Twitterific is closed down, and I’m working with – at most – 2/3 tabs in Firefox. Almost everything I do is created and stored online these days, so usually it will be Google Docs and a couple of other websites for reference. I find this, coupled with the right kind of music, to be much more conducive to a state of flow than the ‘networked’ method of working. 😀

What do you think? Is Twitter a bad thing? How do you use it?

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