I’m busy ideating, and talking to people around, Project MoodleNet. When you’re explaining something that doesn’t yet exist, you’ve got to use touchstones and metaphors, starting from where people are to help them understand where you want to go.
In these discussions I’ve been using three things to help me:
A great ‘landscape’ image from Bryan Mathers (see above)
It’s worth, I think, unpacking the third of these — if only so I’ve got a public URL to point people towards when I reference it elsewhere! It’s an imperfect metaphor, as it involves more technical understanding than we’ll require for Project MoodleNet.
Anyway, here goes…
WordPress and Moodle are similar
Free (as in freedom)
Host your own version
Have it hosted for you
How Jetpack works
Jetpack is a meta-plugin, a ‘plugin of plugins’ that adds lots of functionality to self-hosted instances of WordPress. In fact, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to activate Jetpack if you’re self-hosting. It connects your instance to your wordpress.com account, giving you:
Faster page loading (via CDN)
Detailed site stats
Where’s the value for the organisation behind WordPress?
So lots of value for users, but (you may think), what’s in it for Automattic, the organisation behind WordPress? Well…
Secure, fast WordPress sites maintain brand value
Better metrics around installation numbers
Ability to upsell to customers direct from dashboard
Why is this a good metaphor for what we’re doing?
Project MoodleNet will be a standalone social network for educators focused on professional development and open content. It can be supercharged, however, by using a similar model to what WordPress have done with Jetpack.
Imagine users logging into a institutionally-hosted Moodle instance using their Project MoodleNet credentials because the two are connected in a similar way to how Jetpack works for the WordPress ecosystem.
To be clear, I’m not proposing that Project MoodleNet offers the same services as Jetpack, I’m saying that it serves as an example where you can create value in two places and additional value by linking them together.
This would mean…
Teachers: professional social networking within their existing learning platform.
Instructional designers: faster access to curated open resources.
Sysadmins: better security and potentially reduced hosting costs.
(if you’re wondering about ‘reduced hosting costs’ it’s because we’re tentatively looking at how IPFS could be used in the wider Moodle ecosystem)
This isn’t a perfect metaphor by any means, and so I’m looking for other ways to explain what we’re trying to achieve. However, the combination of Bryan’s image, referencing Thingiverse, and explaining JetPack is helping those I’m talking with to understand the kind of thing we’re trying to build.
One of the best ways to help people understand something they’ve not come across before is through metaphor and analogy.
A year or so ago, for example, my son had a cold and said “my nose is deaf” – and I knew exactly what he meant. It contained just the right balance of ambiguity.* When explaining Open Badges to people I’ve found “X is kind of like Y because of Z” helpful in getting them to grasp what I mean. The more useful metaphors, similes and analogies I can find, therefore, the better.
Below are some I’ve used recently to explain Open Badges. They may or may not help you or the people you’re talking to about badges. But give them a read and tell me what you think. Oh, and the animated GIFs are just for fun! 😉
The difference between ‘a badge’ and ‘a badge system’
Mozilla is developing the OBI – the Open Badges Infrastructure. People are free to use it to create their own badges for whatever purpose they like.
It’s a bit like a water company providing the infrastructure so that instead of having to go to a well, you can get water coming out of a tap. What you use that water for, what you mix it with, and how you share it is entirely up to you.
A different analogy might be that a badge is akin to an ‘app’ in an app store. Mozilla may produce some badges of its own, but it’s looking after the entire ‘app store’ in terms of the OBI. This metaphor breaks down for two reasons, however: there’s no one place to see all of the badges (at present) and it’s not a walled garden as many app stores are. Anyone can use badges for any purpose without reference to Mozilla. It’s an open, decentralised system and standard.
Metadata in badges
Metadata is data about data. It’s like when you tag someone in a photo on Facebook – you’re adding data about the data already in the system. In this case the data is the photograph and the metadata you’re adding is the name of an individual in the photo. The index at the back of a book is metadata as well – data about the data in the book.
One way to think about Open Badges is that they’re a bit like barcodes that can be understood by humans. Just as when you scan a barcode you get extra data such as the price of a product, so when clicking a badge you get details of what the earner had to do to get the badge, the evidence for it, etc.
The metadata is hard-coded into the Open Badge. So, just like when you make a cake, it’s made up of lots of different ingredients (the name of the badge, the identity of the badge earner, the Criteria URL, etc.). Once you’ve baked the cake or the badge, you can’t change those ingredients or get them out. That badge is unique to the individual. If you’ve baked a chocolate cake and now you want a Victoria sponge, then you’re going to have to bake another cake. Similarly, you can’t change a badge once it’s been issued.**
In life, some pathways and routes definitely lead somewhere. That could be a route into employment, a journey to a holiday destination, or some other ‘place’ that you want to get to. There are almost-guaranteed ways to get to that destination, such as going to a travel agent and getting them to take care of your flight, transfers and accommodation. Likewise, completing a recognised project management qualification greatly increases the chances of being employed as a project manager.
There are other ways of getting to your holiday destination and becoming a project manager, however. You could book all of the different parts of the trip yourself. You could hitch-hike. You could use websites like Couchsurfing or Airbnb. Likewise, with the project manager position you could have learned how to manage projects on the job and have lots of experience of delivering successfully. Or, indeed, you may have transferable skills.
But there are some people for whom the journey is the destination. They don’t have a particular path in mind – or, perhaps, they’re blazing a new trail unsure of where it will lead. Being able to capture the knowledge, experience and skills they gain along the way would seem to be a useful thing to do. It surfaces the slightly meandering journey that I think we’ve all experienced during our careers. Badges can help validate these non-linear pathways.
Think of the last time you stayed in a hotel. Unless that was booked on your behalf, how did you end up staying where you did? Some of it may have been down to money, but what other factors were involved? There would have been the 5-star rating system which, until recently, would have been one of the only ways to ascertain the quality of a hotel. But is that the only thing you used? I bet, nine times out of ten, it was either TripAdvisor or some other social ratings/recommendation system.
The value of an Open Badge comes from at least from three different places. First, there’s the reputation of the individual or organisation that issues (or, in future, endorses) the badge. Second, there’s the (essential) Criteria URL in the badge that tells the consumer what the earner of the badge had to do to get it. And, finally, there’s the (optional) Evidence URL that shows just what the earner did with that criteria. It’s a triangulation very much akin to deciding which hotel to stay at: the star rating, a description of the facilities/amenities, and reviews from sites like TripAdvisor.
The point here is that top-down ‘quality’ systems can work, but they’re even more powerful (and can sometimes be replaced) by horizontal, peer-to-peer recommendation engines. It’s the difference between how a system should work and how it actually works.
Deciding that one thing is equivalent to another is not something that Mozilla is (at the moment, at least) concerned with.
I think of badge equivalency as being a bit like mobile phone tariffs. There’s many different plans and tariffs that it’s possible to use/sign up for as a mobile phone user. Most of them offer fairly similar combinations of talktime minutes, SMS messages and 3G data. Some, however, may offer 4G data. Even if there are differences between providers, it’s still possible to weigh up what’s best for you. What you decide to be ‘equivalent’ might not be the same as what someone else believes to be so. It depends upon context.
There will potentially be many different providers of similar badges. The value of the badge will be ascertained by employers and other people providing opportunities by comparing those badges against the others available. Credentials are always used for a purpose, after all. Eventually, some kind of ‘BadgeRank’ algorithm (similar to Google’s ‘PageRank’) may help both earners and employers find the most relevant badges in their industry.
Badges are hosted in a badge backpack and then displayed across the Web. It’s similar to videos being stored on YouTube or Vimeo and being embedded on many different websites. Likewise, you can make them private or public. The difference here is that, once we’ve got federated badge backpacks, you will get to choose where your ‘videos’ (badges) are hosted as well as where they’re embedded.
Some of these work better than others. I’d very much appreciate feedback as well as any analogies you’ve used successfully! 🙂
* More about different types of ambiguity in this paper that I (co-)wrote.
** So, technically, we are thinking very carefully about badge revocation but we don’t want people reaching into people’s badge backpacks willy-nilly and changing them. There possibly will be a ‘nuclear’ option for revocation, however – such as when you’ve accidentally awarded a PhD-level badge to a six year-old…
In September 1998 the late, great, Douglas Adams gave an off-the-cuff speech at Digital Biota 2, held at Magdelene College Cambridge. Whilst I’d recommend reading the whole thing, what I find fascinating about the following extract is the nuance in his approach. It’s a fantastic example of why our relationship with others and our environment is so complex – and why we often require metaphor as a lens:
I want to talk about Feng Shui, which is something I know very little about, but there’s been a lot of talk about it recently in terms of figuring out how a building should be designed, built, situated, decorated and so on. Apparently, we need to think about the building being inhabited by dragons and look at it in terms of how a dragon would move around it. So, if a dragon wouldn’t be happy in the house, you have to put a red fish bowl here or a window there. This sounds like complete and utter nonsense, because anything involving dragons must be nonsense – there aren’t any dragons, so any theory based on how dragons behave is nonsense. What are these silly people doing, imagining that dragons can tell you how to build your house? Nevertheless, it occurs to me if you disregard for a moment the explanation that’s actually offered for it, it may be there is something interesting going on that goes like this: we all know from buildings that we’ve lived in, worked in, been in or stayed in, that some are more comfortable, more pleasant and more agreeable to live in than others. We haven’t had a real way of quantifying this, but in this century we’ve had an awful lot of architects who think they know how to do it, so we’ve had the horrible idea of the house as a machine for living in, we’ve had Mies van der Roe and others putting up glass stumps and strangely shaped things that are supposed to form some theory or other. It’s all carefully engineered, but nonetheless, their buildings are not actually very nice to live in. An awful lot of theory has been poured into this, but if you sit and work with an architect (and I’ve been through that stressful time, as I’m sure a lot of people have) then when you are trying to figure out how a room should work you’re trying to integrate all kinds of things about lighting, about angles, about how people move and how people live – and an awful lot of other things you don’t know about that get left out. You don’t know what importance to attach to one thing or another; you’re trying to, very consciously, figure out something when you haven’t really got much of a clue, but there’s this theory and that theory, this bit of engineering practice and that bit of architectural practice; you don’t really know what to make of them. Compare that to somebody who tosses a cricket ball at you. You can sit and watch it and say, ‘It’s going at 17 degrees’; start to work it out on paper, do some calculus, etc. and about a week after the ball’s whizzed past you, you may have figured out where it’s going to be and how to catch it. On the other hand, you can simply put your hand out and let the ball drop into it, because we have all kinds of faculties built into us, just below the conscious level, able to do all kinds of complex integrations of all kinds of complex phenomena which therefore enables us to say, ‘Oh look, there’s a ball coming; catch it!’
What I’m suggesting is that Feng Shui and an awful lot of other things are precisely of that kind of problem. There are all sorts of things we know how to do, but don’t necessarily know what we do, we just do them. Go back to the issue of how you figure out how a room or a house should be designed and instead of going through all the business of trying to work out the angles and trying to digest which genuine architectural principles you may want to take out of what may be a passing architectural fad, just ask yourself, ‘how would a dragon live here?’ We are used to thinking in terms of organic creatures; an organic creature may consist of an enormous complexity of all sorts of different variables that are beyond our ability to resolve but we know how organic creatures live. We’ve never seen a dragon but we’ve all got an idea of what a dragon is like, so we can say, ‘Well if a dragon went through here, he’d get stuck just here and a little bit cross over there because he couldn’t see that and he’d wave his tail and knock that vase over’. You figure out how the dragon’s going to be happy here and lo and behold! you’ve suddenly got a place that makes sense for other organic creatures, such as ourselves, to live in.
So, my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it’s worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it’s worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there.
I’d argue that there’s many such metaphors at work in our everyday life and that, in fact, almost everything we do is predicated upon cultural norms that colour our perception. This is known as the ‘theory-ladeness’ of observation and, taken to one extreme, would mean that we do, in fact, encounter the world entirely through metaphor.
What does this mean for user outcomes? Controlling metaphors means controlling behaviours.
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.
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
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)
Part of the problem with technology adoption in education comes from perceived parental pressure and expectation. This is fuelled by a rather reactionary media who use outdated metaphors and reference points in their discussion of education.
Want to represent education? Here you go:
The trouble is, I can’t remember the last time I saw a teacher in a mortarboard, a child giving an apple to a teacher, or a blackboard in a classroom. These are outdated metaphors.
Come to think of it, why should the following represent ‘accessibility’?
I’ve been reading about Universal Design for Learning recently, which makes ‘accessibility’ an issue to consider for every student and individual. It’s not just about people with disabilities.
We need new metaphors. The way we communicate things is hugely important and imagery is especially important given the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.* We need metaphors that help to explain education as it should be in the 21st century, not the 19th.
How can we represent learning and education more generally in a more forward-thinking way?
* I can’t seem to find a source for this scientific study although it’s often mentioned.
If you’re still wondering what’s wrong with the introductory image (which I took at a service station recently) it uses a green RSS icon instead of the recognised wifi logo. It’s not the end of the world, but they should know better.
Owen calls the middle management of an organization ‘the matrix’. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult place from which to emerge, he says. The five most common pitfalls of survival are:
The expert in the matrix
The cave dweller
The boy scout
The expert in the matrix
The expert in the matrix has been promoted because of their technical competency. On becoming a leader they are out of their comfort zone and therefore lean on their exceptional technical skills. They are likely to demand almost impossibly high standards from their subordinates leading to friction and discontent.
The cave dweller
Cave dwellers try to avoid the matrix as much as possible by hiding in their ‘cave’ of pseudo-certainty. In an attempt to recreate the security they felt lower down the organization they become more territorial and less valuable to the organization. These, says Owen, are likely to be the first to go in any organizational ‘rationalisation’.
Coming across as rather too enthusiastic about ‘learning the dark arts of the matrix,’ the politician works hard to cultivate a power network. They are constantly on the lookout for new initiatives and seek a position in relation to them. Politicians seek to be close enough to projects to be able to claim a stake in them if successful whilst being able to distance themselves from projects that fail or are discredited. After a while politicians are seen for their true colours and are ignored.
The boy scout
The opposite to the politician is the boy scout. They think that by working hard and delivering results they will automatically receive recognition and promotion. In practice, however, they got ‘lost in the matrix.’ Boy scouts need to stake their claim and show that they are leading and delivering.
Autocrats act as if they are already higher than they actually are in the organizational hierarchy. Whilst they talk about the importance of being a team player, in reality they are chiefly concerned with people being loyal to them. If they perform well, autocrats can succeed and are promoted. If not, they become irritating and a burden to their colleagues.
The path through the matrix
So how do middle managers be successful in and/or find their way out of the matrix? Owen believes this comes back to the ‘three and a half Ps’ that he outlines at the start of the book:
People – focus not only on those you have direct formal control but those ou can motivate and coach. These widens your circle of influence.
Professional – model the values needed as a senior leader. One of the best ways to do this, believes Owen, is to chair meetings well.
Positive – being positive is especially important in the middle of the matrix. Treat ambiguity and change as opportunity instead of risk. Learn how to deal with conflict in your particular context and you will be successful.
Performance (the half-P) – you need a ‘claim to fame’ to emerge from the matrix. Show that you can deliver exceptional results out of ambiguity and complexity. Actively take on challenge.
I really liked this section of Owen’s book In fact, the whole thing is becoming invaluable to me as I step up from being a an ‘expert in the matrix’ (and ‘boy scout’ at times) to, hopefully, becoming an effectively and successful senior leader! 😀
As part of my Ed.D. course through the University of Durham I had to take some taught modules. One of them that I took back in 2006 was entitled Management, Leadership & Change. It was an excellent course from which I gained a lot. Unfortunately, unlike many of my classmates, I wasn’t then at a time where I could use this knowledge being then only just finished my second year of teaching. Now that I’m in a position that carries more responsibility, management responsbilities and leadership opportunities, it’s time to revisit that course and related reading.
One of the books I read for the Management, Leadership & Change module was Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization. I found it a revelation, especially being so fond as I am of metaphor. Morgan uses eight metaphors as a lens through which to view organizations:
Organizations as Machines
Organizations as Organisms
Organizations as Brains
Organizations as Cultures
Organizations as Political Systems
Organizations as Psychic Prisons
Organizations as Flux and Transformation
Organizations as Instruments of Domination
Each of these perspectives teaches the reader something about organizations; it’s a very clever and interesting way of presenting insights.
Having just come across this neat overview of Daniel Goleman‘s idea of the various leadership styles, I wonder how much overlap/synergy there is between the two?
I’m especially interested in the idea of organizations as ‘organisms’, ‘brains’ or ‘cultures’ as I believe these lenses to be the most powerful for effecting positive change. The remainder of this post will look at organizations as ‘brains’.
Organizations as brains
Morgan starts off the chapter comparing brains to holographs where ‘everything is enfolded in everything else’, there is not centre or point of control and, most importantly,
Pattern and order emerge from the process – it is not imposed. (Morgan, 1998:73)
The philosopher Daniel Dennett, someone who I read fairly widely at university during my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, suggests that our highly-ordered stream of consciousness is actually the result of ‘a more chaotic process where multiple possibilities are generated as a result of activity distributed throughout the brain.’ (ibid.) Competing parallel activities can make complementary and competing contributions into a coherent pattern.
‘Just In Time’ and perceived chaos
Morgan gives the example of ‘Just In Time’ (JIT) manufacturing as being a process that is highly organized yet without ‘boundaries and patterns of membership’:
To an outsider, it may be impossible to distinguish who is working for whom. The fundamental organization really rests int eh complex informaiton system that coordinates the activites of all the people and firms involves rather then the discrete organizations contributing different elements to the process. (Morgan, 1998:75)
The above leads Morgan to wonder whether it is better to refer to a ‘system of intelligence’ rather than an ‘organization’ when describing such states of affairs. These systems break what Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate, called the ‘bounded rationality’ of human beings. To my mind it’s Morgan picking up on the start of what Clay Shirky has shown to be completely revolutionary in his excellent Here Comes Everybody (which I’m currently reading).
Understanding how organizations can become capable of learning in a brain-like way is similar to understanding how robots and other objects in the study of Cybernetics are able to ‘learn’. The latter discipline involves negative feedback. That is to say error-detection and correction happens automatically to maintain a course towards a desired goal. In order to be able to self-regulate, systems must be able to:
Sense, monitor, and scan significant aspects of their environment.
Relate this information to the operating norms that guide system behavior.
Detect significant deviations form these norms, and
Initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected. (Morgan, 1998:77)
This negative feedback system is only as good as the procedures and standards that underlie it. So long as the action defined by these procedures and standards is appropriate dealing with the changes encountered, everything is fine. The ‘intelligence’ of the system breaks down, however, when these are not adequate leading to negative feedback attempting to maintain an inappropriate pattern of behaviour.
In order to prevent the above happening (so called ‘single-loop learning’) the model of ‘double-loop learning’ has been promoted by Donald Schön and Chris Argyris. This builds in a self-review ‘loop’ to the learning process:
There are three major barriers to double-loop learning: budgets, bureaucracy and accountability. One of the most famous examples of double-loop learning and organization being thwarted by these three barriers came with the US Challenger space shuttle explosion.
So, how are ‘learning organizations’ created? Insights from cybernetics would suggest the following:
Scanning and anticipating change in the wider environment
Developing an ability to question, challenge and change operating norms and assumptions
Allow appropriate directions and patterns of organization to emerge (Morgan, 1998:82)
Morgan follows this with stressing the importance of ‘framing and reframing’ which reminds me of Lord Bilimoria’s discussion of the value of regular SWOT analyses (see this post). ‘Many organizations,’ says Morgan, ‘become myopic, accepting their current reality as the reality.’ (Morgan, 1998:84)
Organizations that embrace double-loop learning sound like the type of places I want to be part of:
For successful double-loop learning to occur, organizations much develop cultures that support change and risk taking; embrace the idea that in rapidly changing circumstances with high degrees of uncertainty, problems and errors are inevitable; promote an openness that encourages dialogue and the expression of conflicting points of view; recognize that legitimate error, which arises from the uncertainty and lack of control in a situation, can be used as a resource for new learning; recognize that since genuine learning is usually action based, organizations must find ways of helping to create experiments and probes so that they lear through doing in a productive way. (Morgan, 1998:85)
Coming back to the metaphor of brains, the intelligence of the brain is not predetermined. It is not centrally driven. It is emergent. A top-down approach to management leads to single-loop learning and therefore is the opposite of such a model of emergence. To prevent chaos and incoherence targets should take the form of vision and value-sharing.
Morgan continues on to articulate a vision of ‘holographic organization’ based on five principles:
Build the ‘whole’ into the ‘parts’ (i.e. ‘networked intelligence’)
The importance of redundancy
Requisite variety (i.e. ‘internal complexity must match that of the environment’)
Minimum Specs (i.e. don’t define more that is absolutely necesssary)
Learn to learn (i.e. ‘double-loop learning’)
After fleshing out these princples, Morgan concludes this chapter with listing the strengths and limitations of the brain metaphor.
Gives clear guidelines for creating learning organizations
Shows how IT can support the evolution of organizations
Gives a new theory of management based on the principles of self-organization
Addresses the importance of dealing with paradox
There could be conflict between the requirements of organizational learning and the realities of power and control
Learning for the sake of learning can become just another ideology
I can live with these limitations. I think the ‘organization as brain’ metaphor has a lot going for it. What do YOU think? 😀
A couple of years I wrote a post exploring a metaphor of the Teacher as DJ. It was well-received and stemmed from the amount of music I use in an average lesson! Today, I came across another metaphor that ‘got at’ something central to my life in the classroom: the teacher as a gameshow host!
Joel at So You Want To Teach? (an excellent blog in many respects), wrote a post entitled Pacing: What Every Great Band Director Knows about the importance of transitions, engagement and procedures in the classroom. It struck a chord with me as I’ve been stressing these things to the student teacher currently in our department. You need to be smooth – and it pains me to see it when colleagues are otherwise.
Some of this comes through experience, but much has to be planned. I’m far from perfect, but if you’re starting off on the journey, here’s some tips:
Make everything look professional
Don’t give out badly-photocopied worksheets, use Powerpoints with awful, clashing colour-schemes, nor recycle folders to keep work in. Show some respect, get some respect back. The students in front of you are used to highly-polished media environment. Put some effort into your ‘stock lesson’ to make it better by seeking relevant help. My tip? Subscribe to blogs like Presentation Zen!
Focus on engagement
You can know your subject inside-out, use the best metaphors and diagrams you can muster, but if students aren’t engaged in your lesson, very little learning is going to take place. Play games with them that test their understanding of topics. I love, for example – and this is very relevant to this post – Game Show Presenter. Cheesy, but fun! Another favourite is Andrew Field’s marvellous ContentGenerator.net products, some of which are free. 🙂
Develop a winning formula
Never let it be said that teachers shouldn’t mix up lessons a bit, but there needs to be a basis on which this can be done successfully. As I’ve mentioned above and many times previously, I use a lot of music in my lessons. For example, students enter the classroom to a theme tune (think: Rocky, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, etc.) and know to write down the date, title and lesson objective. I then take the register whilst slower writers catch-up and those finished consider what the lesson’s keywords might mean. It works for me!
During the lesson, I play a variety of music – for example the Countdown 30-seconds-left tune, to fun stuff like the Oompa Loompa songs, to a bit of Speed Garage (if they’re working too slowly) or the occasional Mashup. You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears… 😉
Work on your transitions
After a while, links between classroom activities come naturally. As a teacher you’re prepared to go off at somewhat of a tangent to explore an arising issue, then bring things back-on-track smoothly. But to begin with, this takes work! Anecdotes and interesting facts are really useful in this regard – as a History teacher I tend to glean these from Horrible Histories books and suchlike. The lesson should have an obvious progression toward meeting the objective that is clear to the student. Framing the title of lesson as a question works well in this regard.
If you’re a teacher, do you consider yourself to be like a gameshow host? a DJ? or something entirely different?