Tag: quotations (page 1 of 7)

An Unreasonable Man writes his Damn Book

The above image* was taken by Ian Usher at a co-design event just before I joined Mozilla in May 2012. It shows me in conversation with Oliver Quinlan (left) and John Bevan (right) both of whom are now at Nesta.

* Apologies for those reading this by email, you’ll need to click through!)

About Oliver’s book

Oliver’s written a book called The Thinking Teacher which I began reading this week. It’s a really clear and well thought-out approach for those who want to take a step back and think what it is that we’re actually doing when teaching others. For a limited time his book’s on special offer via Kindle for the bargain price of 99p. You should buy it.

Here’s a few things that I’ve highlighted already:

There are few other careers than teaching where everyone entering already has thirteen years of experience in the workplace.

Great observation. This is why (some) parents seem to think it’s OK to tell you how to do your job – and why edtech entrepreneurs think they know how to ‘fix education’. Of course, spending time somewhere as a ‘consumer’ is not the same as working there. It’s an imperfect analogy, but anyone who’s ever worked in a shop that they’ve also bought things from will know the difference between front and back of store.

If we are in the business of teaching and learning we have to believe that most things are learnable. All things being equal, it is possible to make significant changes in yourself and to learn. Of course, many things are situational: I am never going to be an Olympic gymnast – I am too old and my body is past it already. However, with enough time, dedication and practice I could certainly learn some gymnastic skills and improve.

I think the important insight here is that you don’t have to have the capacity to be the best in the world at something to derive use and satisfaction from getting better at it. Our world all too often tells us differently and it’s up to us as educators to push back on the holistic value of learning.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. (George Bernard Shaw)

Although I’ve heard this paraphrased before, I never knew it was a quotation from George Bernard Shaw until Oliver used it to introduce one of his sections! Such a great and widely-applicable way of looking at the world.

Great teachers are immersed in their field, not as a syllabus but as a changing, developing entity, with new areas to discover and new questions to ask.

This is one of the things I miss about teaching. My field was History, but even that was an ever-changing landscape based on discoveries (‘out there’ and my own) as well as different intepretations and ways of visualising the past. We can apply this mindset to any area, though – for example I’m trying to ask new questions about what it means to be ‘literate’ on the web.

You should definitely snap up Oliver’s book while it’s on special offer. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it! Check out his blog and Twitter account too. 🙂

About YOUR book

Great though Oliver’s book is, my main point in writing this post is to encourage you to Write Your Damn Book. That’s the name of a course I received via email over the past year from Paul Jarvis. He’s now ended it – packaging everything up and making it available as a free PDF (5.2MB)**

You should write your book this year. Seriously. People are waiting to hear your unique take on life. They want to find out more: what do you wake up every day thinking about? For those of you who blog regularly, why not select your best posts and self-publish? Curate your stuff and put it out there for people to read! Books help you reach out of your echo chamber.

You can create a book using your favourite word processing software, export it to PDF and sell it on Gumroad. Or do as I’m doing for the two books I’m writing this year and try out Leanpub as a total solution. If you want a physical copy, I’ve had success using Lulu. There’s something about having a physical copy in your hands but, either way, it’s the intentional curation that counts.

You know, I bought myself a cheap bit of wall art before Christmas. It’s ironic given the title of Oliver’s book, as it says THINK LESS. DO MORE. Some of us need to do less doing and more thinking. But for me, my motto for 2015 revolves around less thinking and more doing. What’s yours?

** If that link doesn’t work, try this one (archive.org)!

An example of innovation being built upon standardization.

Illuminated manuscript

I’ve been reading Reinventing Knowledge: from Alexandria to the Internet over the last couple of days. It takes an interesting approach, looking at intellectual history through institutions rather than individuals: The Library, The Monastery, The University, The Republic of Letters, The Disciplines, The Laboratory.

After I mentioned my belief that innovation is (generally) built upon standardization in a blog post about the Guardian Innovation in Education event, some people asked me for examples. I’m happy to say the book provided one in the shape of the medieval monastery:

By no means the only rule for monasteries, nor the oldest, nor the most innovative, [The Benedictine Rule] nevertheless achieved authoritative status on acount of its simple practicality and realistic expectations of the average monk’s capacity for ascetic discipline. Crafted for spiritual use, tested by time and repetition, and propagated by anonymous scribes, it bears a certain resemblance to the Christian scriptures themselves. Adhering to such a text enabled communities of monks to survive and thrive desipte the personal quirks and transient lifespans of individual members. In Benedict’s ideals and their evelopment in practice we see how monastic time played upon cycles of days, weeks, and years, endlessly repeating, to ensure the survival and stability of the monastery and of learning itself. (p.56-7)

The author continues a couple of pages later:

The genius of the Rule lay in the recognition that monks needed a specific regimen to make this spiritual goal an attainable reality. It was one thing to declare the entirety of one’s life, every moment, was to be devoted to God, another to know precisely what to do during all the minutes that followed sunrise, day after day. (p.59)

We do, of course, have to be careful. As Cathy Davidson points out in her must-read book for educators Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, your attention has to be on the right thing to start off with. Otherwise, you get what Clayton Christensen calls ‘custodial schooling’ with seat time trumping a focus upon learning gains.

The idea of a platform for innovation, I think, is sound. It doesn’t really matter what the socially-negotiated/accepted base consists of, just so long as there is one to build upon. The best examples I’ve seen are a school where there was a workflow for everything, and my current employers where we have a team-constructed wiki that serves as a knowledge repository.

Image CC BY bazylek100

What I Talk About When I Talk About User Outcomes #5 – Productivity vs. Performativity

Ant Party

Productivity, to my mind, is about doing more of what of what you enjoy doing and doing less of that which you don’t. It’s highly context-dependent, although there are some things that work in most situations – as I outline in #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity.

What I’m concerned about is a condition just shy of Digital Taylorism, that twisted notion of productivity that Jean-François Lyotard calls ‘performativity’. It’s a cancer in the knowledge economy:

According to Lyotard, postmodernity is characterised by the end of metanarratives. So what legitimates science now? Lyotard’s answer is – performativity. This is what Lyotard calls the “technological criterion” – the most efficient input/output ratio. The technical and technological changes over the last few decades – as well as the development of capitalism – have caused the production of knowledge to become increasingly influenced by a technological model. It was during the industrial revolution, Lyotard suggests, that knowledge entered into the economic equation and became a force for production, but it is in postmodernity that knowledge is becoming the central force for production. Lyotard believes that knowledge is becoming so important an economic factor, in fact, that he suggests that one day wars will be waged over the control of information.

Lyotard calls the change that has taken place in the status of knowledge due to the rise of the performativity criterion the mercantilization of knowledge. In postmodernity, knowledge has become primarily a saleable commodity. Knowledge is produced in order to be sold, and is consumed in order to fuel a new production. According to Lyotard knowledge in postmodernity has largely lost its truth-value, or rather, the production of knowledge is no longer an aspiration to produce truth. Today students no longer ask if something is true, but what use it is to them. (Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy)

The reason that performativity is dangerous is because it strips out all of the enjoyment and self-actualisation that work can bring and reduces it to a commodity. Instead, as Seth Godin often gets across in his books and his blog, work should be hard but a fundamentally creative endeavour. Talented people leave jobs if they’re overly- constrained:

Whoever says artists can’t deal with corporate pressures because they have frail minds, is missing out on the potential the artistic mind has to boost company morale and increase productivity. Most artists would just as soon quit once they become conscious of their exploitation and that is a sign of strength not weakness. (Martin Dansky)

Our working lives, even if we are self-employed, involve both physical contracts (I will do X amount of work for £Y) and unspoken, tacit contracts. The latter can sometimes be pre-judged on a visit to a potential future workplace, but certainly understood in the first few weeks on the job. It’s the old “that’s the way we do things around here” chestnut.

Whether you’re a manager or not, make sure you’re focusing on productivity rather than performativity. Sometimes the internalisation of such rhetoric ends up having more of an effect that external factors. Focus on truth. Focus on creativity. Focus on happiness. Our time here is short.

Image CC BY-NC tarotastic


If you’re looking for help improving user outcomes, head over to Synechism Ltd.

From my research: New Literacies around the world

In case you’ve not subscribed to the RSS feed yet, I’m updating my new blog literaci.es regularly with the outputs from my ongoing Ed.D. work:

‘Digital literacy’ in Norway?

The history and status of digital literacy in Norway is complex. The term is presumed by English-speaking researchers and educators to mean, in a straightforward way, the same in Norwegian as it does in English. However, given the difficulty in translating words such as ‘literacy’ into Norwegian, and words such as ‘kompetanse’ from Norwegian, ‘media literacy’ is a term preferred increasingly to ‘digital literacy’.

 

New literacies (or the lack of them) in Singapore

In this standards-based, heavily-pressured educational culture – a society where, anecdotally, painkillers are stocked alongside exam-preparation books (Bracey, 2008) – it is unsurprising to find the dominant ‘new literacy’ to be Media Literacy. In addition, much of the available research literature into new literacies comes from, or through the lens of, Singapore’s National Institute of Education.

 

Digital Media Literacy in Australia

The seeming Australia-wide agreement on Digital Media Literacy as the accepted form of New Literacies is explained in part by Gibson (2008). He gives an overview of the ‘literacy wars’ in Australia, quoting Ilyana Snyder on how the press and professional journals keep alive the debates between conservatives and progressives (Snyder, 2008). The battleground over different forms and manifestations of traditional (print) literacy allows, suggests Gibson, Digital Media Literacy to show “some promise of a revival of educational optimism” (Gibson, 2008, p.74).

 

The USA: a New Literacies desert?

Due to the standards-based, testing culture in US schools, NYC’s approach is understandable. They have adopted the publication of an authoritative body who, in turn, have reacted to an environment created by US educational policy in the wake of NCLB. Such an environment stresses the importance of being ‘information literate’ and focuses on the traditional basics but, perhaps, at the expense of a cohesive programme for New Literacies.

 

What I talk about when I talk about ‘user outcomes’ #4

Milan Kundera - The Book of Laughter and ForgettingI re-read Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting last week. It’s not a straightforward read but it’s certainly a challenging and rewarding one. Kundera describes it as “a novel in the form of variations” and “like the various stages of a voyage leading into the interior of a theme”.

To my mind, that theme is the importance not only of History, but celebrating it in its multiple forms and from a variety of perspectives. In terms of user outcomes, therefore, I think that there’s a delicate line to be drawn between influence and obliteration:

The future is an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and it’s countenance is irritating, repellant, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past. We fight for access to the labs where we can retouch photos and rewrite biographies and history. (p.30-31)

“You begin to liquidate a people,” Hübl said, “by taking away it’s memory. You destroy it’s books, it’s culture, it’s history. And then others write other books for it, give another culture to it, invent another history for it. Then the people slowly begins to forget what it is and what it was. The world at large forgets it still faster.” (p.218)

History is a series of ephemeral changes, while eternal values are immutable, perpetuated outside history, and have no need of memory. (p.257)

During the last two hundred years the blackbird has abandoned the woods to become a city bird. First in Great Britain at the end of the eighteenth century, then several decades later in Paris and the Ruhr Valley. Throughout the nineteenth century it conquered the cities of Europe one after another. It settled in Vienna and Prague around 1900, then spread eatward to Budapest, Belgrade, Istanbul.

From the planet’s point of view, the blackbird’s invasion of the human world is certainly more important than the Spanish invasion of South America or the return to Palestine of the Jews. A shift in the relationship among the various kinds of creation (fish, birds, humans, plants) is a shift of a higher order than changes in relations among various groups of the same kind. Whether Celts or Slavs inhabit Bohemia, whether Romanians or Russians conquer Bessarabia, is more or less the same to the earth. But when the blackbird betrayed nature to follow humans into their artificial, unnatural world, something changed in the organic structure of the planet.” (p.267-8)

This idea of one of the most important changes from our planet’s point of view taking place without us noticing really made me sit up and think. But it was this last quotation which was the clincher for me writing this post:

The best possible progressive ideas are those that include a strong enough dose of provocation to make it’s supporters feel proud of being original, but at the same time attract so many adherents that the risk of being an isolated exception is immediately averted by the noisy approval of a triumphant crowd.” (p.273)

In other words, if you want to change things for the better and achieve improved user outcomes, you need to build a constituency. You need to make an idea powerful enough that people are attracted into its orbit.

My favourite quotations from ‘Teaching with the Tools Kids Really Use’

Teaching with the Tools Kids Really UseIn my current role at JISC infoNet I’m working on a Mobile Learning infoKit to be released later this year. One of the books I’ve been reading in my research for that resource is Teaching with the Tools Kids Really Use: Learning with Web and Mobile Technologies. Whilst it has some relevance to Further and Higher Education I think it’s more directly applicable to schools.

As I did with 10 things I learned from ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’, the following are some choice quotations from the book:

Failure to adapt

In the long run, [the] flattening of the world can be advantageous for everyone. But to realize these benefits, people from all walks of life, including (and perhaps especially) educators, need to let go of doing business and usual and begin adapting to the changing world. Emerging nations have been quick to pick up the gauntlet – perhaps because they had little to lose and everything to gain. Developed nations have been more resistant to making the changes needed to thrive in this new global society – perhaps because they fear they have everything to lose. But not taking action is a recipe for failure for these nations. (p.1)

Need for more use in order to develop effective models

[W]e find ourselves in the equivalent of the frontier. Until we are able to openly explore effective uses of these technologies as tools for teaching and learning, we are not going to be able to cite good models. (p.3)

Effective education and technology

Effective education is the foundation of successful societies. But in recent years, at least in developed countries, the survival of the existing institution seems to have trumped the importance of providing relevant, timely instruction. This trend can be changed, but the time to take action is now. One way to move education forward is to embrace emerging technologies that make it possible to implement programs where students master core academic content, hone applied 21st-century skills, and learn how to find success in an increasingly digital world. (p.3)

The futility of banning mobile phones

How does [routine confiscation of mobile phones] waste time? Because many students are turning over either old, disconnected phones or replica phones, which they have purchased online for about two dollars. Students cheerfully relinquish and retrieve these devices each period while retaining possession of their real phones… It is far better to find positive ways cell phones can be used as tools for teaching and learning by identifying and enforcing realising parameters within which students may have cell phones in their possession than to fight what is ultimately a losing – and unnecessary – battle. (p.15)

Mobile phones and etiquette

Students misuse cell phones in exactly [the same ways as the rest of society]. But how are they to learn better behavior without appropriate adult models who take the time to teach digital etiquette? Granted, parents need to take responsibility for teaching good manners to their children, but so do teachers and other school personnel who often spend more waking hours with students than do their parents! (p.18-19)

1:1 requires pedagogical underpinning

Experts generally agree that purchasing and installing equipment to reach a 1:1 ratio of students to computing devices is not enough to make a difference in academic achievement. For this investment to pay off, teachers need to rethink their approach to instruction by trying out student-centred strategies that focus on collaboration, communication, and problem solving. In short, although online research and word processing have their place, these activities are starting – not ending – points. (p.41-2)

Objections should not be deal-breakers

Unfortunately… objections are often used as deal breakers. Although it’s important that these concerns be put on the table, the driving purpose should be to enable educators to have open discussions about potential unintended consequences. Once everyone’s concerns are out in the open, it’s possible to consider solutions or strategies for working around problems. (p.113)

Exciting times for educators

This is an exciting time to be an educator. The possibilities for reaching and engaging students are growing daily. As new tools for communication and collaboration continue to be developed and made readily available to people around the world, educators continually need to adapt their approach to instruction to ensure that classroom activities remain relevant. Fortunately, these changes are doable. All that’s required is the will to move forward. (p.121)

Things I Learned This Week #50

Please note that this will be last of these posts for this year. I’ll be back in 2011 [why?]

A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure

Offline this week I learned that there’s literally two types of people in the world (Dweck was correct!), that ‘female festive frenzy’ is now a term in general use, and that brandy hot chocolate is almost always better without the chocolate… :-p

http://delicious.com/dajbelshaw/TILTW50

Technology

Productivity, Inspiration & Motivation

You probably only have to interrupt someone a couple times a day before they’re unable to work on hard problems at all. (Paul Graham)

  • Do you feel like you do ‘fake work’? Here’s how to spot it and deal with it.
  • Your job is a platform for what you do. So sayeth Seth Godin (with my blessing, obviously)

Education & Academic

[T]here is a class of random walks called Lévy flights, which include occasional long-distance jumps. The distribution of step sizes is described by a power law, which means that there are steps of all sizes and no well-defined “average” step size, at least for one class of Lévy flights. They have been observed in various natural settings, most famously in the search strategy of certain animals when food is scarce. For example, hungry sharks will typically scour back and forth over small areas, but if the search is fruitless, they will intermittently “jump” to new, far-off areas [1]. “People have also [studied] Lévy flights in stock prices, epidemics, and small world networks,” says Ajay Gopinathan, from the University of California, Merced.

Data, Design & Infographics

  • And whilst we’re on the topic of superheroes, this minimalist poster of well-known characters is just fantastic:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-hlP8Ql384?rel=0&w=640&h=390]

Miscellaneous

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejbNVWES4LI?rel=0&w=640&h=510]

Why did people stop wearing hats?

Quotations

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)

The people who matter will recognise who you are. (Alan Cohen)

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. (Mary Lou Cook)

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

(more quotations at my quotabl.es page)

Main image CC BY auspices

Things I Learned This Week – #49

Shmuck

Offline this week I learned to fly direct and take only carry-on luggage where possible, that the UK is ridiculously underprepared for snow compared to other European countries, and that thrash metal isn’t as bad as you’d think… :-p

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Things I Learned This Week – #48

taste of winter

Offline this week I learned to buy more bags of winter grit than I think I need, to do exercise even when it’s too slippery to go running outside, and that a bad seated posture can give you headaches. 😮

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Things I Learned This Week – #47

Red trees, LWPF, & a path

Offline this week I learned that large beanbags offer the most comfortable typing position ever, not to drink cheap red wine, and that the seats by the Chinese books in Newcastle City Library are almost always vacant… 😉

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