Tag: community (page 2 of 3)

Jesus as a Social Marker? (or, How to Build a Community)

This is a scheduled post whilst I’m on holiday in the UAE – my apologies if I don’t respond to comments straight away!

Crucifixes

In my last post I highlighted Hugh McLeod’s work on Social Objects, pointing out just how useful an idea and way of conceptualising the world it is. Hugh does, however, go one step further in the form of ‘Social Markers’. He gives many examples in this post but Example F stood out for me:

“After a year of personal trauma, you decide that yes, indeed, Jesus Christ is your Personal Saviour. You’ve already joined a Bible reading class and started attending church every Sunday. Next thing you know, you’ve made a lot of new friends in your new congregation. Suddenly you are are awash with a whole new pile of Social Objects. Jesus, Church, The Bible, the Church Picnics, the choir rehearsals, the Christmas fund drive, the cookies and coffee after the 11 o’clock service, yes, all of them are Social Objects for your new friends to share.”

The implication is that Social Objects work within your particular circle as anchors around which to have discussions. Outside that circle and when dealing with strangers, Social Objects serve as Social Markers as a kind of shorthand. “I’m a Christian” serves as three-word way of expressing a whole worldview, expected way of acting, and (perhaps) engenders a level of trust.

That certainly seems a persuasive argument from a secular point of view as to the utility of churches in the 21st century. But I’m not really interested in whether or not the sacred can be classified with the profane in the realm of Social Markers; what I’m interested in is the concept of Social Markers and to what extent they can be explicitly agreed upon in advance. In his post, Hugh uses the example of well-known tech blogger Robert Scoble who, he believes, acts as a Social Marker:

“When I visit San Francisco I am always surprised how often the name of my friend, Robert Scoble comes up in random conversation, unprompted by myself. Why is that? Why is he so well known? Is his blog REALLY that good? Is he REALLY that smart and interesting?

Well, I could give a whole stack of reasons to explain why I think Robert’s success is well-deserved. But one major reason that his blog’s traffic is so high, and his name so well-known, is that his personal brand has somehow managed to become a Social Marker inside the Silicon Valley ecosystem. The same could also be said for Mike Arrington, Paul Graham or Mark Zuckerberg. Dropping their names into random conversations allows people to quickly and efficiently contextualize themselves.”

And, of course, as soon as someone become a Social Marker, they’ve got it made. People position and, to some extent, define themselves in relation to the Social Marker. They have an opinion on them/it, they have a relationship with the Social Marker – as does the person they’ve just met. These relationships with the Social Marker are then bridged forming a new connection based upon common ground.

Social Markers are nothing new and people have attempted to find some form of commonality, presumably, since the dawn of (human) time. Where it was probably more useful in the way of life preservation, it’s now a handy way to establish yourself as a node on a network and gain instant social cachet. In both examples the use of Social Markers is method of positioning.

So, you want to be a Social Marker? Easy. Do this:

  1. Decide on something you’re interested in. Find out what it’s called. If it hasn’t got a name, make one up. If it’s new, take every opportunity to explain to others what it is.
  2. Become known for that thing. This can be as easy as expressing an interest in something, asking people to share examples with you, and re-sharing them back (in a curated form) with the wider community.
  3. Tell people what to do with your stuff. Share this, amplify that. Seth Godin is awesome at, essentially, instructing people how to share his ideas and brand.
  4. Big up other people.When people use your ideas, express something you find useful, or share what you’ve created, collated or curated, thank them. Celebrate the formation of a community around an idea.
  5. Don’t charge fans Social Markers are, naturally, usually paid for their opinions and work in their area of expertise. Don’t charge the fans to make money, charge the people who want bespoke work or publishers. Don’t milk the community dry.

Who do *you* know who’s a social marker?

Image CC BY-NC-SA nathangibbs

The future of learning organizations: What do we mean by ‘attendance’?

At the JISC Conference 2011 I presented with JISC Digital Media on Using Digital Media to Improve Teaching and Learning. For my part of the presentation I used the question of what we mean by ‘attendance’ as a framework:

This was picked up by the editors of JISC Inform and tomorrow I’m being interviewed for an upcoming issue of the online magazine. I’ve been asked the following questions, and below that I’ve written up notes in preparation into some kind of coherent format.

  1. How do you think student attendance relates to their performance?
  2. How do you think students measure their engagement/ attendance?
  3. How do lecturers and other educational professionals measure student attendance?
  4. How would you define ‘attendance’?  Which definition works best?
  5. What are the issues associated with measuring attendance when students don’t have to be physically present – for example when they are accessing courses online or using mobile learning technology like an educational iphone app?
  6. How can wise technology use help overcome those issues?
  7. What needs to change about the way we approach teaching and learning to get over this?

In my presentation at the JISC Conference I pointed out that dictionary definitions of ‘attendance’ can be organised into three main categories. The first is attention-based and involves applying your mind to a thing as well as some form of effort. This is obviously something that we want in learning organizations* and we often call this ‘engagement’.

The second type of attendance centres around the idea of service. This is what many would see as a rather 19th-century idea of subservience: somebody waiting upon the actions or decisions of a superior. I would suggest that learning organizations might want to move away from this kind of definition of ‘attendance’.

Third, and finally, comes the definition of attendance as involving community. That’s to say individuals are present at an event that relies upon interaction around a resource or proceeding. Live concerts, court summons and webinars can all be examples of attendance as community.

If attendance is best conceptualised as attention-based and community-based then what does this mean for learning organizations? Does it mean the death of the lecture? Is it possible to measure these types of attendance in the way that you can with the service-based conception?

A while ago, John Popham got me thinking when he mentioned, almost en passant, that learning organizations coud be using something like Foursquare or Facebook Places for registration. This fits in well with, for example, Jesse Schell’s work on the ‘gameification’ of life that’s happening through Facebook, iPhone/Android apps and social media in general.

Technology, therefore, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for social changes to take place. For example: there were mobile phones powerful enough to do what the original iPhone did before 2007 but it took the idea of ‘apps’ for the use of smartphones to really take off. In that sense, it’s the culture and social norms around technology that matter rather than the devices and communications technologies themselves.

Increasingly, and especially in a market-driven learning organizations like that being created in the UK, educational institutions are going to be forced to go where they can get the most engagement. Take the London School of Business and Finance, for example, who have recently launched a Facebook MBA Application. As ReadWriteWeb puts it:

When Bill Gates said recently that in the next five years the best education will be found online, I’m not sure he was thinking about Facebook as the educational platform of the future. But the London School of Business and Finance is, and today the school announces a new course that will make its MBA course materials available online for free, delivered via a Facebook app.

Of course, if you want to actually get your MBA, you’ll have to fulfill the pre-requisites for the program (you need the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree) and you’ll have to pay for the credits and examinations, offered through the University of Wales. The LSBF MBA will cost you £11,500 for British students and £14,500 for overseas students.

The three areas I’m researching at JISC infoNet** – Open Educational Resources (OERs), mobile learning and digital literacies (the latter also for my doctoral thesis) – are part of wider changes that I think can be understood using the ‘attendance framework’. Constant contact, previously only possible through physical co-location, leads to interaction, and interaction to engagement.

The first thing from my research is that I think we’re seeing a move away from the educator’s right to lecture towards the learner’s right to learn in personalised and tailored ways. This, along with the ability to use OERs within iTunesU, OpenCourseware, etc. for marketing purposes means learning organizations can justify less face-to-face ‘broadcast’ time and more interaction time. There are, nevetheless, proscribed numbers of ‘contact’ hours which, unfortunately only count if face-to-face. That will undoubtedly change and, as with the example of Michael Sandel’s Justice course at Harvard, prospective students will be able to base their decision on which learning organization to attend based on observable teaching and learning experiences.

The second area, mobile learning, is – as I mentioned in these video interviews – a trojan horse for new ways of working and learning. We now take for granted having a device in our pockets that can help us communicate with or broadcast to almost anyone in the world. The opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, as Graham Brown Martin points out in The Napsterfication of Learning, are huge. If post-compulsory learning organizations don’t ensure they have a compelling value proposition, mobile learning could propel them towards a crisis of relevance.

My third area of research is digital literacies, a much-misunderstood topic and one which will soon be the subject of a JISC call for funding. Two of the key things holding back learning organizations from embracing new ways of teaching and learning are the inter-related issues of institutional culture and staff competencies in the digital arena. The two go hand-in-hand: there’s not need for the latter if the former decrees it’s ‘business as usual’. It’s up to those in the senior leadership of learning organizations to convince staff that it’s certainly not ‘business as usual’ and that we’re entering a brave new world where we’re making up the ‘rules’ (if there are any) as we go along.

In conclusion, then, the future isn’t in ‘virtual attendance’ via some kind of Second Life-style ‘avatar as self’. The future of learning institutions is in moving away from service-based definitions of attendance and towards attendance as attention and community. Using that kind of framework or organising schema will help whether there is a business case for continuing existing practices or, indeed, encouraging new ones. Embracing OERs, mobile learning and digital literacies looks to me like the mark of a forward-thinking learning organization.


* I prefer the term ‘learning organizations’ to ‘educational institutions’. Feel free to mentally substitute the latter for the former if you wish.

** A reminder that my research is available at: http://dougbelshaw.com/research

Weeknote #22

This week I have been mostly…

Talking to people

I’ve interviewed more people for the JISC mobile and wireless technologies review I’m undertaking and had my first appraisal on Thursday. The latter was more of a chat – a positive one showing I’m valued. I’m now 25% through my 2-year contract at JISC infoNet in an uncertain economic climate.

What next? Who knows! I’m happy in my current role and not concerned in the slightest about my future prospects. I’ve long since stopped even pretending that I know where my career’s heading – apart from going with what interests me and keeping my family financially secure, of course.

Disillusioned with corporate e-learning

The Oxford E-Learning ‘Debate’ was largely a waste of time. I’ve explained why on my conference blog here.

Realising the importance of community

I voted Liberal in the General Election, mainly in protest against the quite frankly dangerous Michael Gove. That didn’t work. Still, at least the Conservatives’ Big Society gambit seems to offer more than just swingeing cuts. Community is important. That’s why Hannah’s volunteering at the local fair on tomorrow and I’m joining the PTA at my son’s school next week.

Frustrated with my MacBook Pro

The thing I’ve loved about using a Mac every day since 2006 is that it’s usually a frustration-free experience. No crashing. No viruses. No constant maintenance. For some reason, almost every application seems to now crash on my MacBook Pro and it looks like I’m going to have to do a Windows-like reinstall. Let’s just hope it’s not going to turn into a bi-monthly thing (as it was when I used PCs…)

Pragmatism, dead metaphors & the myth of the echo chamber.

Building upon Karl Fisch’s post from July about the myth of the echo chamber, this post reflects my thinking towards engaging and building consensus amongst colleagues as a result of studies towards my Ed.D. thesis.

There has been much discussion – in fact ever since I can remember – about the problem of ‘echo chambers’ in any given community. As in:

That’s all very well, but aren’t we perpetuating an echo chamber here?

You’re preaching to the choir; we need to get out there and spread the gospel.

And so on.

Whilst I understand the sentiment, it’s always felt a little odd to me that the two activities of community-building and inquiry on the one hand, and bringing others into that community on the other, should be seen as separate. I’ve been looking recently at the work of a number of Pragmatist philosophers which has helped clarify my thinking in this area.

So that people actually read this post rather than dismiss it as an abstract philosophical argument, I’m going to boil down what I want to say into the following three points:

1. Engagement and acceptance

If you engage with another community you lend some legitimacy to their programme. As Stanley Fish puts it:

It is acceptable not because everyone accepts it but because those who do not are now obliged to argue against it. (Fish, 1980:257)

Sometimes refusing to engage and accept someone else’s point of view is the best idea. In the context currently under consideration, that means ploughing on with the ‘echo chamber’ until others want to join it.

2. Dead metaphors

The vocabulary of a community is that of dead metaphors. So, for example, the metaphor of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ may have stimulated thinking in 2001 for a few years, but this metaphor is dead and lacks utility to those in the community to which it originally engaged.

As Richard Rorty puts it, citing Davidson, it is like a coral reef:

“Old metaphors are constantly dying off into literalness, and then serving as a platform and foil for new metaphors.” (Rorty, 1989:118)

Metaphors are used when the words and phrases within our vocabularies are not rich enough to capture something of value. ‘Memes’ often have an element of metaphor, therefore, as they correspond to something compelling yet previously-unexpressed.

3. Language games

It’s true of almost every community that one or two, or even a whole subset of, individuals get caught up in semantics. As Ian Hacking puts it, deciding whether something is a ‘truth-value candidate’ depends upon whether a sentence has a fixed place in a ‘language game’:

This is because it is a sentence which one cannot confirm or disconfirm, argue for or against. One can only savor it or spit it out. But this is not to say that it may not, in time, become a truth-value candidate. If it is savored rather than spat out, the sentence may be repeated, caught up, bandied about. Then it will gradually require a habitual use, a familiar place in the language game. (Rorty, 1989:119-120)

This brings us back to the idea of a ‘dead metaphor’ – something which I think will eventually happen to the concept of ‘digital literacy’. Echo chambers are thus important for pinning down a metaphor so it may do some work.

Conclusion

Echo chambers are good if, and only if, they exist for consensus building. This is, to paraphrase Charles Sanders Peirce, not a short-term project but one that tends towards the ‘end of enquiry’. That is to say the project involves grabbing a metaphor and killing it through use in order to feed ongoing discussion and community-building.

Or something like that. :-p

References

  • Fish, S. (1980) ‘What makes an interpretation acceptable?’ (in Goodman, R.B. (ed.) (1995) Pragmatism: a contemporary reader, p.265)
  • Rorty, R. (1989) ‘The Contingency of Language’ (in Goodman, R.B. (ed.) (1995) Pragmatism: a contemporary reader)

Literacy -> Digital Flow: digital epistemologies & ontology.

This post comes from my (ongoing) Ed.D. thesis, which can be read in full over at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis. You may want to check out my wiki to follow up references.

CC BY-SA luc legay

Some would reject the idea of a dialectic when it comes to literacy. Instead of encouraging an interplay of old and new conceptions of literacy, they would espouse a clear demarcation. New technologies call for new literacies – and perhaps, epistemologies:

[A] seemingly increasing proportion of what people do and seek within practices mediated by new technologies – particularly computing and communications technologies – has nothing directly to do with true and established rules, procedures and standards for knowing. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:242-3)

There are three main reasons why “what people do and seek within practices mediated by new technologies… [have] nothing to do with true and established… standards for knowing.” The first relates to the personality traits of people involved. A common internet saying is that “the geeks will inherit the earth” – certainly they are the early adopters, the first to figure out ways of using new technologies. By the time technologies reach the mainstream they are far from neutral having been tried, tested, accepted, rejected or accommodated by a ‘digital elite’. Skewed epistemologies can lead to skewed literacies.

The second reason why practices surround technology-mediated practices are different is down to identity. Digital interaction removes a layer of physicality from interactions. This can be liberating in the case of, for example, a burns victim or someone otherwise disabled or disfigured. It can also be ‘dangerous’ as individuals are often able to remain anonymous in online interactions. Physical interactions are bounded by time and space in a way that digital interactions are not. Whilst asynchronous interactions have been possible since the first marks were made in an effort to communicate, digital interactions go beyond what is possible with the book. In the latter, it is difficult to accidentally take something out of context as one has to deal with the book in its entirety. With digital interactions, however, it is much easier to misrepresent and distort the truth, even accidentally. Interactions and texts tend to be shorter online. Thus, in the fight for the soundbite distortion can take place.

Third, practices mediated by technology are different because of the element of community involved. Traditional Literacy, is predicated upon a scarcity model of education and exclusionist principles. An example of the latter is a near-synonym of ‘literate’ as ‘cultured’ (in the sense of having a knowledge of ‘high’ culture). Communities on this model are based on the who rather than the what – identity rather than interest. With technology-mediated practices, even ‘niche’ interests can be catered for.

These, then, are three reasons new technologies can be linked to new epistemologies. Whether new epistemologies necessarily lead to new literacies is an interesting question. As Erstad notes in quoting Wertsch (1998:43), all interaction is mediated and involves social and psychological processes. This is transformed when technology is used to do the communicating:

Regardless of the particular case or the genetic domain involved, the general point is that the introduction of a new mediational means creates a kind of imbalance in the systemic organization of mediated action, an imbalance that sets off changes in other elements such as the agent and changes in mediated action in general. (quoted in Erstad, 2008:180-1)

It is at this point that Lankshear and Knobel’s demarcation between ‘conceptual’ and ‘standardized operational’ definitions of literacy becomes useful. Conceptual definitions are what primarily interest us here – the extension of literacy’s “semantic reach” as opposed to ‘operationalizing’ what is involved in digital literacy and “advanc[ing] these as a standard for general adoption” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2008:2,3).

Instead of coining terms and giving existing concepts a ‘digital twist’, those who reject the dialectical approach propose ‘New Literacies’. They would reject Gilster’s (1997:230) assertion that ‘digital literacy is the logical extension of literacy itself, just as hypertext is an extension of the traditional reading experience.’ Instead, New Literacies theorists such as Lankshear and Knobel believe that ‘the more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship…, the more we should regard it as a ‘new’ literacy” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:60).

In an attempt to flesh out this conception of New Literacies, however, the authors tie themselves up in knots, so to speak. By seeking to explain what is ‘new’ about New Literacies, Lankshear and Knobel make reference to ‘a certain kind of technical stuff – digitality’ (2006:93) which seems to somewhat beg the question. What is ‘digitality’? They do concede, however, that ‘having new technical stuff is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being a new literacy. It might amount to a digitized way of doing ‘the same old same old’.’ The authors attempt to deal with the difficulty of New Literacies involving identity by demarcating between ‘Literacy’ and ‘literacy’. Their demarcation is worth quoting in full (my emphasis):

Literacy, with a ‘big L’ refers to making meaning in ways that are tied directly to life and to being in the world (c.f. Freire 1972, Street 1984). That is, whenever we use language, we are making some sort of significant or socially recognizable ‘move’ that is inextricably tied to someone bringing into being or realizing some element or aspect of their world. This means that literacy, with a ‘small l’, describes the actual process of reading, writing, viewing, listening, manipulating images and sound, etc., making connections between different ideas, and using words and symbols that are part of these larger, more embodied Literacy practices. In short, this distinction explicitly recognizes that L/literacy is always about reading and writing something, and that this something is always part of a large pattern of being in the world (Gee, et al. 1996). And, because there are multiple ways of being in the world, then we can say that there are multiple L/literacies. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:233)

Earlier, Lankshear and Knobel moved from new technologies to new epistemologies, here they move from ontology to literacy. It is not clear, however, that such a move can be sustained. What do the authors mean by stating that ‘there are multiple ways of being in the world’? What constitutes a difference in these ways of being? Does each ‘way of being’ map onto a ‘literacy’? The authors claim that to be ‘ontologically new’ means to ‘consist of a different kind of ‘stuff’ from conventional literacies’ reflective of ‘larger changes in technology, institutions, media and the economy… and so on’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:23-4).

This is so vague as to be effectively meaningless.

How ‘microblogging’ sites such as Twitter can be used in education

microblogging_small

This week we’re going to be looking at three tools. I’ve labelled them ‘microblogging’ tools, but that’s something of a misnomer as they’re all much more powerful than that. If you do actually just want something to quickly and easily get content onto the Internet, try Tumblr or Posterous.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the three tools we’re going to look at are:

They all have slightly different uses and focuses, but I believe that they can all be used successfully within educational environments. I’ll discuss each in turn, looking at the features specifically relevant to educators.

Twitter logo

Obstensibly, Twitter is a micro social networking utility designed to answer the question ‘What are you doing?’ In practice, it’s used for a multitude of other things, from news reporting to marriage proposals(!).

Educators have been using Twitter ever since it was launched to connect to one another and share ideas, resource and links. There’s an element of social networking in it, inevitably, but it’s very professionally-focused and a wonderfully powerful thing to tap into.

Just launching yourself into Twitter will leave you baffled and confused. The Twitter experience is only as good as your network, consisting of those who you ‘follow’ (track updates of) and those who ‘follow’ you. The best way to do this is organically. By that, I mean:

  1. Find someone you want to follow on Twitter (@dajbelshaw is a good start…)
  2. Check out that user’s network and read the mini-biographies.
  3. Follow the users who look like they are related to something you’re interested in!

In terms of interaction, there’s 3 basic ways of interacting on Twitter:

  • Sending a ‘normal’ message that goes out ‘as-is’ to your network.
  • Replying to someone (or bringing something to their attention) by including their username preceded by an @ sign – e.g. @dajbelshaw then message. This can still be viewed by everyone who’s following you.
  • Sending a direct message by entering d <username> – e.g. d dajbelshaw then message. This can only be seen by the person to whom you sent the message and they will receive an email informing them of what you have sent.

If you want some ideas for how to use Twitter in an educational setting, you could do a lot worse than checking out Laura Walker’s post entitled Nine great reasons why teachers should use Twitter. Although I’ve tried using it with students, it’s not something I’d recommend for the faint-hearted. Use one of the other tools below for that. I see Twitter as being like a giant, worldwide staff room or café. It’s great! 😀

Edmodo logo

Edmodo‘s just been upgraded to v2.0 and is an amazingly useful tool. The only reason I haven’t used it a lot more extensively is that it effectively replicates – for free – a lot of the features of very expensive, commercial Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). For example, some of the features:

  • Set assignments for students (and attach files)
  • Manage classes
  • Share a calendar with fellow teachers and students
  • Interact in a safe and closed environment with students without sharing email addresses
  • Securely share learning resources
  • Grade students’ work

In their own words:

Edmodo provides a way for teachers and students to share notes, links, and files. Teachers have the ability to send alerts, events, and assignments to students. Edmodo also has a public component which allows teachers to post any privately shared item to a public timeline and RSS feed.

Although I haven’t used this with students yet, I know people who swear by it* and I’ve explored the features using test accounts. Certainly, if your school VLE isn’t up to scratch – or if you haven’t got one – you should definitely be checking out Edmodo!

* José Picardo has discussed Edmodo on a couple of occasions in Edmodo: microblogging for the classroom and Edmodo: What students think – both well worth a read! 🙂

Shout'Em logo

Shout’Em describes itself as a kind of roll-your-own micro social network:

Shout’Em is platform on which you can easily start co-branded microbloging social networking service. Something simple as Twitter or with more features like Pownce. It is up to you 🙂

Networks on Shout’Em are “lightweight social networks”. They have small set of features: microblogging, links and photo sharing, geo location sharing and mobile browser support.

I think Shout’Em is probably best suited for those who want something a bit more engaging than a forum for their students, but not anything as full-blown as Edmodo. Shout’Em enables you to have a private community, like Edmodo, and they’ve even entitled a blog post on their official blog The 15-Minute Guide to Microblogging in Education!

Check out their video to find out more:

ShoutEm Demo from vikot on Vimeo.

Do any of these ‘microblogging’ services fill a need? Have you tried any of them? What did you think?

The Vortex of Uncompetence

I had Monday and Tuesday this week off school. I had a cold, felt lousy, and felt my recently-self-diagnosed SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) kicking in. Just as I didn’t believe that children were born with personalities before we had Ben, I used to think that ‘disorders’ were ways to label avoidable abnormal behaviours. I don’t think that any more. 😮

In schools and businesses we pay very little attention to the fact that it is human beings involved in these institutions and who, as such, fluctuate, change, and are affected by external factors. As I’ve blogged about before, one disorder I suffer from is migraines. There’s no way that those who don’t suffer from these can know what they’re like, of the way fluorescent lighting affects the way I see and think sometimes, and the ‘fuzziness’ associated with it. Likewise, those who don’t suffer from something I’m labelling SAD for convenience can understand what it’s like for a usually energetic and enthusiastic person to completely lack all motivation. 🙁

The stimulus for this post came from reading Dan Meyer’s blog post Wherever You Can Find It, signposted on Twitter by Darren Draper, who stated, “I’m telling you: 5 years ago, I was @ddmeyer. Absolutely no doubt about it” – linking to this comment in particular. The first part of it reads:

And maybe that kind of leadership is enough to staunch some of this new teacher blood, but it isn’t enough to staunch mine.

Because I came here to do a job, just a job. I wasn’t “called” here but I knew that job was essential to the future and polity of our country. That job was too hard. I failed. Then I learned. Then I started blogging. I torched a lot of terrible personality defects on the altar of better teaching. I sacrificed a lot of time to improve. Now I’m good at this job.

How many other professions would tie that kind of growth to zero extrinsic (and particularly financial) reward?

There is no promotion. There is no pay raise. There is no bonus. And lately, most obviously, there is nothing to compensate me for the time I spend elevating student achievement, time which other teachers spend throwing frisbees on the beaches of Santa Cruz with their wives.

As I commented on Dan’s blog, I’ve suffered burnout, depression and the effect it can have on the relationships with those around you whom you love. My advice to Dan and to all young teachers working all hours for the benefit of students is to beware of the Vortex of Uncompetence. It goes a little something like this:

If you can’t see the above clearly (it’s meant to be a little trippy), then here’s the stages:

  1. Identify deficiency – you feel as a teacher that there’s something not right with the system.
  2. Discover community – either in school, socially or online, you realise you’re not the only one to feel this way.
  3. Attempt to remedy situation – you decide to do something about it, working hard to make your lessons and the learning experiences of students, different.
  4. Face barriers – there are problems regarding student behaviour, assessment schemes, line manager comments, or you’ve not got enough time to do what you want to do.
  5. Work at solutions – you work harder and harder, trying to convince others, meanwhile attempting to be radically different.
  6. More barriers – becoming almost zealot-like, you meet a lot of resistance.
  7. BURNOUT – unable to take on the might of the educational system, your physical and/or mental health suffers, along with relationships with people who matter to you.

Some may wonder why I’ve included the ‘discovering community’ part in step two. It’s a case of wanting to be seen to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’. When you’ve committed to something, staked out your claim as a believer, you’ve got to act in a way that’s befitting. Sometimes, this can engender more problems than if you’d slowly tried chipping away at things over time – evolution, not revolution.

Why Vortex of Uncompetence? It’s a tongue-in-cheek term I’ve made up, probably after reading too much Dilbert. Teachers who go down this road are not incompetent – far from it. But then, they’re not competent in the ways expected for traditional teachers. They’re uncompetent: they refuse to be held to the standards set by the majority view in education. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex and, as a husband and father I can’t afford to be pulled into it again. I’m trying to position myself as a catalyst for fast-paced evolution. Almost everyone resists revolution – the status quo is just too comfortable… :-p

Do YOU recognise yourself or anyone else entering the Vortex of Uncompetence?

(the Vortex of Uncompetence is based on an original image by ClintJCL @ Flickr)

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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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edte.ch barnraising: get involved in forming a community!

The edublogosphere is a wonderful place. It’s a place that’s grown almost exponentially since I joined it 3 years ago, making it a wonderfully diverse arena for discourse. 🙂

However, sometimes it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost. How do you get in touch and interact with those facing similar situations and challenges as yourself? In addition to a network, there’s a need for groups.

Enter edte.ch. As I’ve already discussed, edte.ch is to be a place for educational technology professionals and students. I’ve no financial interest in the project: I’m acting as domain name owner, facilitator, and contributor. 😀

I want it to be a grassroots community, a place for postgraduate students to find people to bounce ideas off, an arena for instructional technologists to discuss barriers and opportunities. But I need YOUR help to get this off the ground.

  1. If you’re an educational technology professional or student, imagine the type of community to which you’d like to belong.
  2. Imagine how you’d interact with that community.
  3. Contribute your ideas to the barnraising section of edte.ch
  4. (optional) Share links to good stuff at http://friendfeed.com/rooms/edtech
  5. (optional) Get involved in a synchronous chat towards the end of the week (to be organized) about the future of edte.ch

Although I’ve obviously got my own ideas, I don’t want to be overly-prescriptive. I’m a great believer in the ability of people to organise themselves on a grassroots level. I’ve already been contacted by a great number of people who would seem to be in need of something like this. I know I am – let’s make it work! :-p

*Wondering what I mean by ‘barnraising’? It’s a predominantly Amish practice and a two-day event where the community comes together to build a barn. I first came across this in the film Witness.

Are you an ‘Edupunk’? I’m not.

Apparently, “the concept of Edupunk has totally caught wind, spreading through the blogosphere like wildfire” according to Stephen Downes. I must have been too busy with Twitter and FriendFeed to notice.*

This may show my ignorance, but I’ve never heard of Jim Groom. Please forgive me if I’ve committed a heinous crime by saying that, but in four years of reading (lots and lots) of posts in the edublogosphere, I can’t remember him being mentioned once. Which is not to say that he’s not to be listened to or that he doesn’t have good ideas – of course not! He’s probably never heard of me. I’m just sayin’… 😉

Here’s what Jim has to say about the concept of ‘edupunk’. His context is Blackboard‘s aims to try and trademark and sue everyone else out of existence:

I don’t believe in technology, I believe in people. And that’s why I don’t think our struggle is over the future of technology, it is over the struggle for the future of our culture that is assailed from all corners by the vultures of capital. Corporations are selling us back our ideas, innovations, and visions for an exorbitant price. I want them all back, and I want them now!

Enter stage left: EDUPUNK!

My next series of posts will be about what I think EDUPUNK is and the necessity for a communal vision of EdTech to fight capital’s will to power at the expense of community. I hope others will join me.

Sorry Jim, I’m not going to be joining you. Despite the fact that I’ve set out my stall saying that the edublogosphere is (in some ways) changing for the worse, an ‘Edupunk’ movement is not the answer. Why?

  1. It’s a group, not a network – i.e. 1.0 not 2.0 (OK, so I know you reject labels…)
  2. It harks back to a time when either I wasn’t born or was very, very young. I have no meaningful connection with the metaphor you’re trying to use.
  3. It makes any members of the movement sound vaguely violent. 😮
  4. It seems to have the assumption behind it that we (either individually or collectively) have the answers, when actually we’re learners like everyone else.
  5. Most Web 2.0 apps are free, and I’m at liberty to pick and choose them at will and use them how I want.

I’m all for being counter-cultural, anti-capitalist and bold towards authority, but I don’t think the right essence has been captured with ‘Edupunk’. Sorry. Perhaps I’m not ‘of a certain age’… 🙁

Further reading:

*That’s not a flippant comment, by the way; it’s almost impossible to keep up with the number of decent-quality blogs in the edublogosphere these days, so I prefer ‘almost’ real-time interactions to get at what people are currently thinking. Blogs are still great. :-p

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