Tag: meeting

Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: the roadmap for 2010.

The Dissertation

CC-BY-NC raffyd

I met (via Skype) with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor, Steve Higgins, last night to discuss my progress over the last couple of months. Regular readers interested in my thesis (What does it mean to be ‘digitally literate’?) will already know that it’s available online as I write it at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis. Here are the relevant posts that make up the parts of my thesis we discussed:


I had several things I wanted to raise, namely:

  1. The structure of my third section: I want to include an analysis of policy documents from various countries and outline a definition of ‘digital flow’. Possible?
  2. This definition of literacy that I developed after an analysis in the early stages of my literature review:

    Literacy involves the mastery of simple cognitive and practical skills. To be ‘literate’ is only meaningful within a social context and involves having access to the cultural, economic and political structures of a society. In addition to providing the means and skills to deal with written texts, literacy brings about a transformation in human thinking capacities. This intellectual empowerment happens as a result of new cognitive tools (e.g. writing) or technical instruments (e.g. digital technologies).

  3. Whether he considers ‘affinity spaces’ to comprise of networks or groups of people (or whether they are ‘third spaces’)?
  4. Which modern-day Pragmatist thinkers should I be reading in preparation for writing my methodology section? (e.g. Richard Rorty)
  5. Is it worth spending time looking at ‘media literacy’ separately (as I have done with ‘information literacy’), or should I simply insert it as part of the evolution of ‘new literacies’?

Steve thought my roadmap seemed sensible, but that I needed to be aware of times at which I would have more/less time to write. Writing the section on the history of new literacies now is fine, but I’ll have to (as I was going to) make sure I’m up-to-date on the latest thinking surrounding ‘digital literacy’ in late 2010.

One of the most exciting aspects of my thesis is how I’m going to publish it. Steve and I are both of the opinion that (only) publishing it in a traditional way would be somewhat anachronistic. Instead, we’re going to think of ways in which my thesis is very much a ‘digital text’. This won’t be an easy option by any means as I will have to balance author intentionality (i.e. what I’m trying to argue) with reader freedom (i.e. to ‘jump around’ the text). I’m going to finish the traditional version first, but have at the back of my mind the digital version. Steve suggested I might want to ‘tag’ sections to help me do this.

Whilst Steve maintained that he’s no problems with ‘the quality or quantity’ of my work, we need to think about how we’re going to prove that it’s an original contribution to knowledge. Suggested ways included:

  • Synthesizing of different conceptions of literacy.
  • Proposing a new definition (‘digital flow’)
  • My method of publication (digital text)

Steve sees a couple of journal articles in the third section of my thesis – perhaps one on analysing policy documents (how ‘digital literacy’ is used as a construct/aspirational term) and then another on how this helps flesh out economic policies, etc.

I then brought up the concept of ‘digital flow’ and how I could use this as a separate lens through which not only to analyse policy documents, but to consider concepts such as ’21st century skills’. There may be something, Steve said, in synthesizing policy presentations of what the ‘digital future’ is going to be like. He reminded me that it’s not just country-specific policy documents I should look at but European Commission, OECD papers, etc. A PhD student of Steve’s is doing a review of the ‘digital divide’ in China which may be useful (to compare, for example, with Futurelab’s report).

The definition of ‘literacy’ (above) that I came up with in the introduction to my thesis seemed reasonable to Steve, although he’s going to have another look at his leisure. He brought up the important point that ‘literacy’ can bring about a transformation in human thinking capacities. I linked this to the reading I’ve been doing of Ong and McLuhan – especially the latter’s belief that:

We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.

There is something beyond ‘reading’ digital texts and manipulating information – how does this alter cognitive structures? Although we both don’t like her conclusions, Steve suggested that looking at some of Professor Susan Greenfield‘s work. I could speculate about longer-term influences here and perhaps link it to my conception of ‘digital flow’. I need to have a realistic conception and presentation of this rather than re-iterating a polarisation (good/bad) of the debate as it currently stands.

We then moved on to the concept of ‘affinity spaces’. I explained how I was interested in these but wasn’t sure whether they were networks, groups or something different. Steve is going to get back to me with some pointers for further research. He did point out, however, that it is usually theorised in terms of ‘cultural spaces’. Each affinity space has its own cultural norms and practices, usually understood by reference to activity theory. I mentioned how these are often ‘third places‘ and that this blurs traditional boundaries. Steve mentioned how the ‘continuity of contact’ that social networking services and affinity spaces provide changes social interactions but also conceptions of identity. He suggested a distinction between ‘temporary spaces’ (not enduring, provisional) and ‘parallel spaces’ (contact maintained over time). It may be interesting to examine the status literacy and ‘digital flow’ in relation to these.

In terms of Pragmatist philosophers and thinkers that I need to make sure I’ve read, Steve suggested Quine in addition to Rorty. He also mentioned Mead (although this strays into anthropology) and perhaps Merleau-Ponty. Pragmatism itself is always presented from a certain point of view – for example, Rorty tends towards right-wing libertarianism. I asked whether there was a collection of articles on Pragmatism that Steve recommended. He’s going to look for this, but also picked Gutting’s Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity from his shelf as one I could look at. I should also look at Neopragmatism and its influences.

I then suggested that I should write my introduction, set out my stall, and then go about explaining my methodology in depth. Steve agreed, stating that this should be a justification of my approach to the thesis and include underpinning epistemologies. He outlined the difference between ‘necessary’ and ’empirical’ epistemologies – i.e how things ‘should be’ versus how they actually are. This is something I need to explore further, but Steve said that it was perfectly possible to have a strongly empiricist or realist epistemology in a digital world. He cited Tim Berners-Lee, the ‘father of the internet’ as someone who had a traditional view of the exchange of knowledge.

This reminded me of a debate I’d heard on Radio 4’s Start the Week about Wikipedia and its history. Steve talked about the role of the expert and the fact that there is in fact some type of hierarchy within Wikipedia. He related this to Peirce‘s idea of a ‘community of enquirers’, explaining that what Peirce had in mind in terms of 19th century Boston wasn’t quite the same in digital, hyperconnected spaces. Steve continued to state that there is an elision underpinning Wikipedia: the notion seems to be that knowledge is not tied to context and intention, whereas we always know something for a purpose. How ‘disinterested’ in information/knowledge can you be, asked Steve, if you’ve chosen to write about it for free? (Platonic forms don’t exist!)

After this I brought up my question surrounding the concept of ‘media literacy’ – should I incorporate it within a history of ‘new literacies’, or would it be better to consider it by itself? Steve’s response was really useful and enlightening. He said that media literacy was ‘quite a meaty chunk’ and was probably worth considering by itself. Whilst analysing ‘information literacy’ has allowed me to get a handle on the ‘literacy’ part of ‘digital literacy’, an analysis of media literacy would allow me to look at the ‘digital’ part. What he meant with this is that information literacy is predicated upon the neutrality of information/knowledge, whereas media literacy recognises communicative intent. A comparison of these against various definitions of digital literacy would be Pragmatic with a capital ‘P’.

Steve warned that I need to be careful how far down the media literacy rabbit-hole I go, as there are many forms – film, TV, radio, etc. I suggested that I should look at the work of (for example) Negroponte and Tapscott (especially the latter’s Growing Up Digital and Grown Up Digital). Steve suggested that there are two main conceptions of ‘digital’:

  1. Similar messages communicated in different ways (e.g. film/poem, text/graph)
  2. Translatability – moving things across different contexts

I mentioned how the latter could be conceived of as a ‘networked literacy’ and could be linked to ‘digital flow’. Steve agreed, mentioning how nowadays things ‘spill out across contexts’. We linked this to mashups and memes.

To conclude, Steve talked about how the level and detail of what I’m looking at is complex. I therefore need to think about how the reader is going to scaffolded through this, to impose a structure to help the reader understand. I could have alternative routes through the structure (through the use of hyperlinks) but then readers could lose the intended structure. As a result, I will need more scaffolding than usual and keep going over my arguments. I noted that I’ve already started doing something like this by writing my thesis on Google Docs but taking out blog posts that need to stand by themselves. Steve re-iterated that a potential contribution to new knowledge could be a synthesis of the ideas and form of my thesis.

We’re going to be looking at potential external examiners in 2010. Steve’s currently thinking someone from the London Knowledge Lab or similar – someone who ‘can deal with’ presenting my thesis as a digital text.

Steve and I will be meeting (via Skype again – it works well for us) in about a month’s time. I’m going to consider the 3 (or so) main points I want to make in my thesis, as I will need to reference these throughout the digital text by way of scaffolding. At the moment, I’m thinking that two of these will be:

  1. Digital literacy is not useful term to use as consensus cannot be reached.
  2. Digital flow is a useful for conceiving of post-21st century skills.

Finally, Steve’s invited me to meet up with a couple of his other doctoral students who are working in similar areas to kick around some ideas. I look forward to it! 😀

How to SPIN your way to giving more constructive negative feedback.

Spin

Image by jaqian @ Flickr

It’s difficult to give feedback, especially when it’s not positive. However, as a leader, it’s something that’s necessary to get the best of people. I know I keep banging on about Jo Owen’s book How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed but it’s excellent. Concise wisdom is what it is. 🙂

Owen believes that using the acronym SPIN can help leaders give more constructive feedback:

  • Situation specifics
  • Personal impact
  • Insight & interpretation
  • Next steps

Situation specifics

First of all, make sure the time and place is right. Give negative feedback in private when the person to whom you are giving it is calm. This needs to be as close to the event as possible (‘feedback, like milk, goes off fairly quickly’) but not when they are shouting and screaming!

Be specific about what happened. Using terms such as ‘unprofessional’ is not helpful and can actually be provocative. Talk about what it is in particular that is the problem (e.g. lateness to meetings).

Personal impact

People can argue about objective matters but not about how things make you feel. For example, saying that arriving late for meetings makes you think they don’t consider them to be important cannot be argued against.

Going down the ‘personal impact’ path allows you to talk about the issue without arguing, for example, about the number of minutes late, number of times, etc. Deal with the issue and

Insight & interpretation

Instead of telling people what to do, ask them if the impact that they’ve made (i.e. upsetting you) was the impact they wished to make. Get them to reflect on their actions. They are much more likely to value the solutions they come up with above any solution that you hand them.

Next steps

Once you’ve been through the above steps, you should now be able to calmly agree ‘next steps’ between you. Focus on the future being positive and constructive. Don’t play the ‘blame game’ and avoid discussing the past at this point.

Conclusion

Owen advises taking time over each step and not rushing through them. Although no-one looks forward to giving negative feedback, I am happier now that I’ve got a constructive way of approaching it!

What are your thoughts? 😀

Open Source Schools curriculum meeting

I spent yesterday afternoon with a like-minded group of educators who are part of the Becta-funded Open Source Schools project. We spent four hours (!) discussing the ins-and-outs of what educators  want and need from us. We were joined virtually by a number of educators from the FlashMeeting  (see replay). In the spirit of being open and sharing, here’s an overview of what was discussed! 😀

  • We’re concerned with not replicating what is already available elsewhere in the Open Source community. Our focus should, and is, on pedagogical application of Open Source Software (OSS).
  • Starting with the half-term after Easter, we shall have a ‘push’ in a given subject area. This will not be at the expense of providing resources, links and discussion for other subject areas. We have a number of historians who are part of the project (including myself), and so will be kicking things off with either History or Design and Technology, where teachers have also expressed a strong interest.
  • The idea of ‘having a competition’ was raised at various points at the meeting. Usually it was in an attempt to get students engaged. I had misgivings about this, especially after Clarence Fisher’s excellent recent post.
  • As would be expected, there was much discussion of Moodle. I’m not against it, I’m just not a huge fan. The problem is with Moodle is that there’s a fair learning curve, and it’s best deployed as a whole-school learning platform. I’m more concerned with getting teachers, students and parents using OSS they can install easily and locally. :-p
  • I floated the idea of having posters that could be downloaded from the site and printed off by educators who want to promote OSS and the Open Source Schools website. We discussed getting professional designers to come up with these, but eventually decided that user-generated ones (after exemplars) would be  more in keeping with the community spirit.
  • I mentioned that a good way to get parents engaged might be to show ways in which they can control their children’s access to the Internet at home. We need to explore this more as existing OSS solutions we could think of are difficult to deploy on a single machine. I suggested OpenDNS, but it turns out that this is free, but not Open Source. 🙁
  • We discussed how to get teachers started with OSS. I pointed out the fact that our unique selling point is pedagogical use of OSS, not just being a one-stop shop for everything Open Source! To this end, we’re not going to be providing step-by-step guides on how to download and install programs (unless we’re specifically asked to, of course…)
  • It was agreed that video is a powerful medium, and that 5-minute TeachersTV-style examples of OSS being used in an educational context would be useful. This could take the form of screencasts (created using Wink, for example) or videos recorded and uploaded to Archive.org. These would be created by educators on a voluntary basis (after being seeded with some examples) instead of being of broadcast-quality by film crews parachuted into schools!

If you’d like to get involved in the Open Source Schools project, please head over to the website. We’re keen for as many people to get involved as possible and it’s far from an exclusive club.

See you over there! 😀

What does it take to build a community?

I spent today down in London with some great educators and those involved in the Open Source community. We were part of an advisory group for a Becta-funded project allied to the website opensourceschools.org.uk. Part of the discussion naturally focused on starting a community of educators interested in using Open Source Software (OSS) in their schools. The question we were tasked with was: how do we get started?

AlphaPlus, the consultancy firm employed by Becta to run the project haven’t had a great deal of experience in Open Source, although they’ve done a decent job so far. What was great was that there were some ‘big hitters’ there to get things moving along. At the meeting, apart from myself, were:

In the morning session we discussed who we were aiming the website at. It was agreed that there already exist some excellent ‘technical’ website for network administrators and the like, but that more was needed for ‘beginners’ and those new to OSS. At the moment, opensourceschools.org.uk is a framework to build the community upon. We were concerned with how to go from eager early adopters using the site to gaining mainstream traction.

The key question of a previous blog post of mine (Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software) was used as a stimulus to discussion. The point was raised that actually we need to move one step back: why should teachers even care about software? From there we discussed recent Becta license agreements after which Josie mentioned that at present students are taught how to use specific software (usually Microsoft) instead of more generic skills.

Michelle shared with the group the policy at her school of giving Year 7 students a USB flash drive containing all the software they will need during their time at the school. It is all Open Source and the school computers all run Linux. As a result, teachers can be confident that students have access to the software they need at home as well as school. A representative from Becta built on this, talking about the complex license agreements for some companies mean dealing with OSS is a lot easier for schools.

This got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if the (eventual) community at opensourceschools.org.uk could discuss and agree on customised versions of the OSS available at portableapps.com? For example, a version of Firefox with useful plugins for students pre-installed, or OpenOffice with everything set up in a way students and teachers alike would find intuitive.

Josie then took over to do some scenario planning for the community we are planning to attract and build on the site. She asked us to split into groups and come up with two axes on a graph in order to think about the type of community we want to foster. our group wanted to steer a course between a place that was almost unbearingly positive and back-slapping and a forum that involved lots of flamewars. On the other axis we put ‘enablers’ and ‘reticent’. Obviously, there’s no point in ‘preaching to the choir’ and just setting out to attract those who already know and use OSS. Whilst those people are needed, we need to focus on those who are at present disinterested and do some evangelism. Other groups talked about having specific roles in the community and whether the site should operate largely as a repository or a community.

After lunch, we had more of a freeform discussion about the website and how we could go about building the community. Many agreed that whilst Drupal is a good example of Open Source Software, it perhaps isn’t best for the purpose in mind. One of the AlphaPlus team mentioned that they’d planned to have ‘roadshows’ in order to do some form of evangelism. I suggested that they may want to run some ‘unconference’ sessions in a spirit similar to that of TeachMeet. The short presentations could be filmed and form a set of rich-media case studies to go on the site. More importantly, however, people would be able to meet face-to-face and share advice and ideas.

The best bit of the day, for me, was meeting in person people I had only previously met online. It’s great to spend time with like-minded, positive people who care deeply about education. 😀

Check out opensourceschools.org.uk. What would YOU suggest? Are you interested in using OSS in education?

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An invitation to a conversation…

EdTechRoundup logoI’m delighted to be able to invite everyone in the edublogosphere to a special EdTechRoundup meeting this Sunday (6th July) at 8pm BST (your local time here). As usual we’ll be rounding up what we’ve found useful in the world of educational technology, but we also have a special guest!

Mike Jones, Divisional Director of Core Projects & Technologies (UK) Ltd. shall be joining us. If you remember, a couple of weeks ago there were some issues surrounding comments I made about their VLE product TALMOS. Mike shall be giving the other side of the story and helping us get at whether there is (or should be) a personal/professional divide.

Do join us if you can! 😀

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Introducing TweetMeet

TweetMeet

Twitter‘s great. It allows you to not only network in semi-realtime, but also to have access to a network of experts and engage in borderless conversations. Usually, these are people with which you share something major in common. In my case, almost all of my Twitter friends are educators.

That’s all well-and-good, but there’s really nothing like meeting up face-to-face to discuss things. That’s why conferences still thrive in this Web 2.0 world. To facilitate Twitter meet-ups – or ‘TweetMeets’ – I’ve set up a new website:

http://tweetmeet.eu

Why .eu? Well, the domain name was cheap… 😉 (feel free to use it worldwide!)

Head on over! I’m not allowing just anyone to edit the whole thing as I don’t want it taken over by non-educators. If you’d like a login to be able to organize TweetMeets, send me your email address via direct message on Twitter. (d dajbelshaw Hi…)

If you want to discuss TweetMeet, can I suggest that you use the global hashtag #tweetmeet please? (# is ALT-3 on UK Mac keyboards) You can then track the conversations at Twemes.com 🙂

Edit: Inugural TweetMeet planned for Saturday in August – either 2nd or 9th. Tweet @dajbelshaw with your preferences for meeting up in the Peak District, England! 😀

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