Collaboration needs to be Disciplined

A reflection on my participation with a collective looking at the re-imagination of student reporting and the innovation associated with people and processes.


I was recently reflecting upon an ongoing reporting collective that I have been a part of for the last year and a half. One of the things that I have noticed is how hard change is. It often takes a long time and considerable commitment to turn turn the ship. For example, in a previous project, a principal shared with me that it had probably taken his school five year to transform the way in which teachers engage with data to inform learning within his school. Unless it is a new school or a school in crisis (e.g. Templestowe College), this timeline seems to be common trend.

It can therefore be a challenge to identify the specific points of change based on a year and a bit. One of the reasons is that sometimes we have a predefined ideal as to what such change might look like. A mindset of revolution rather than renaissance. It therefore occurred to me that I might have been thinking about this all the wrong way. Although the schools a part of the collective had not radically torn up their reports. They were still restricted to what providers make possible and the expectations of the various constituents. Instead the innovation came through in the actions, rather than the end product.

I would break this practice up into four aspects:

Time

One of the biggest inhibitors of change seems to be time. This is captured in part by Tom Barrett’s discussion of innovation compression. There is something about committing yourself to regular meetings.

Structure

It is important to have structure to guide things. This has come in several forms, such as appropriate spaces to work collaboratively and activities that supported the reflective process.

Celebrations

Associated with the structure is the opportunity to celebrate the small wins to maintain energy and motivation. Sometimes when you work in a small team driving change this is missed.

Conversations

Beyond the explicit structures, one of the most powerful aspects to come out of the collective has been the serendipitous conversations. Although it is possible to structure opportunities to share, sometimes the greatest learning comes through in the random conversation. This is something that I describe as the hidden professional development.


In the end, this experience has reminded me that content and change is people, the challenge is being disciplined about the process. As always, thoughts, comments and webmentions welcome.


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Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

I recently attended DigiCon18. I was left with a few thoughts on the nature of presentations. I discussed this before, as well as the re-imagination of such spaces. I find this topic important to continually come back to as much as a reminder about what I myself need to improve upon as anything else.

  • Slow Down: I was in some sessions where presenters would run through all their material. I feel this is something that I sometimes do. One strategy is to provide points where you can stop and reassess.
  • Incorporate Storytelling: One of the things that stood out from all the keynotes was the power of storytelling. I was left thinking that if you do not have a story to tell, you probably need to start making one up.
  • Involve Humour: On the flip side to storytelling, it is important to include humour, this opens presentations and workshops to the human side. One of the hard things about this is that humour is often situational and cannot always easily be contrived.
  • Don’t say what doesn’t need to be said: If you are not prepared or do not know everything, do not admit it. I recognise that everyone is human, but more is lost than gained in my opinion.
  • Structured Hands-On Time: There were too many sessions that involved arbitrary activities. If you are going to provide people time, provide them with purpose and structure. This is something that I have been guilty of not doing well in the paste.

With all this said, I think that it is people that make a conference. Maybe above all else we need to start there.

If you were one of those people at DigiCon18 and had a reflection, I would love to hear it.


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Kath Murdoch on noticing

A reflection on participating in the ‘7 black and white photos in seven days‘ activity and the power of constraint and images.


My one word this year has been ‘intent‘. Although this can mean many things in different contexts, one of the things I have tried to do is participate in meaningful activities when they may arise.

I was therefore taken by Ian Guest’s invitation to participate in an activity focused around sharing photos of my life. The catch was there were a few constraints at play. The images had to be black and white, involve no humans and have no explanations.

Here then are my seven photographs:

Day 1
Day 1

Day 2
Day 2

Day 3
Day 3

Day 4
Day 4

Day 5
Day 5

Day 6
Day 6

Day 7
Day 7


What struck me about the exercise was how much more aware I felt of the world around me. Rather than be drawn into a podcast or simply lost in thought, I was instead thinking about what I could or should capture to tell the story of my life.

In addition to noticing the world, I was also forced to think more visually. Where I am usually dependent on words (or audio) to convey a story, I had to think differently about the story being told.

This experience reminded me of Alan Levine’s recent discussion of picking a noticing pattern, something that keeps the brain active and engaged. For Levine, the pattern is ‘106’:


“A House of DS106” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0

Amy Burvall on the other hand is always open to creative pursuits. Rather than looking for something in particular, she recently celebrated ‘looking down‘ and capturing the serendipitous surfaces:

Amy Burvall's Unicorn
Twisted unicorn in Canberra

What each of these situations has reminded me is that creativity can be cultivated, nature is full of inquiry if we are willing to notice it and sometimes it just takes something to spark that intent.


NOTE: Without a hashtag, they can be hard to collect. Although John Johnston has collected his, many others have just left them on Twitter. If anyone has a collection that would like to share, I would love to see them.


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James Bridle’s book shines a light into the New Dark Age


Have you ever been to a movie that surprised you? Having seen the trailer and watched past movies from the same producer, you assumed that you knew what was going to happen. That is the experience I had with James Bridle’s new book New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future
.

When I read the title, I expected a book describing the coming collapse of Western civilisation. The problem is that this crash is already upon us. Whether it be the breakdown of infrastructure, Eroom’s Law, the unreliability of images and the rise of machine learning algorithms, the darkness is already here.

This book is less about the actual technologies at play and more about their impact on society. It is what Ursula Franklin describes as ‘technology as a system.’ Bridle’s focus is on new ways of thinking about, through and with technology.

In light of the recent revelations around Cambridge Analytica and GDPR, I recently reflected upon the importance of informed consent. I argued that we have a responsibility to:

  • Critically reflect and ask questions
  • Learn from and through others
  • Engage in new challenges

Bridle’s book starts this journey by actively informing us. He then puts forward the challenge of what next.

There is a kind of shame in speaking about the exigencies of the present, and a deep vulnerability, but it must not stop us thinking. We cannot fail each other now.

Although the book offers more questions than answers, it does it in a way that left me feeling somehow hopeful. Whether you are coming from the perspective of culture, education or politics, this book is a must read for anyone feeling at all dissatisfied with the current state of the world today.


For a different introduction, listen to an interview with Bridle on The Guardian:


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Alan Levine recently put out a request for stories about domains as a part of the Ontario Extend project

What is your domain name and what is the story, meaning behind your choice of that as a name?

In part, my domain name comes from my interest in the notion of marginalia, the stuff that we write, but never gets written. As J. Hillis Miller explains:

As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.

It was also inspired by a friend, Fiona Hardy, and her blog Read, Watch, Listen. My first incarnation was on Blogger, where I had to use Reading Writing Responding. Although I liked the active nature of this, it was just too long.

I also had a little help from some friends as a part of the Connected Courses MOOC:

What was your understanding, experience with domains before you got one? Where were you publishing online before having one of your own?

My move from Blogger was initially about finding a place of my own. I saw a domain as being an opportunity to renovate and stick up posters without the landlord coming through for inspection. The wider ramifications for having a domain had not even crossed my mind. Not only could I have a space of my own, but in fact have infinite spaces, each with their own purpose.

What was a compelling feature, reason, motivation for you to get and use a domain? When you started what did you think you would put there?

Initially my attention was my primary site. However, my interest in (sub) domains was piqued as I opened the door to the #IndieWeb and the idea of POSSE. I setup an instance of Known and started using it for posting images to Flickr. This is one of the ways I have found self-hosted different from WordPress.com or Blogger. Although you can add a domain to both platforms, when it is your own space, there is so much more you can do with it.

What kinds of sites have you set up one your domain since then? How are you using them? Please share URLs!

Beyond my main space, I have created a number of sites for various purposes. They have included:

  • Aaron Davis – Built on Alan Levine’s Big Picture theme, I designed this space as a landing page for my presence on the web. My own version of an About.me page.
  • Read Write Wikity – Built on Mike Caulfield’s Wikity theme/platform, this space was about developing knowledge over time. It is an extension on social bookmarking.
  • #WhatIf – Interested in the possibilities and potential of Known, I started a short blog to record ‘What Ifs’. This is partly influenced by Amy Burvall’s #rawthoughts and Ian O’Byrne’s own short blog IMHO.
  • Read Write Curate – A Known site developed in my exploration of POSSE.

More recently I have made some effort to condense some of these spaces into a secondary site, Read Write Collect. In part this stemmed from my interest inreclaiming the presence on the web. One of the limitations is that webmentions can only be attached to so many sites, so that is why I moved much of my content into two spaces.

What helped you or would have helped you more when you started using your domain? What do you still struggle with?

What has helped me is having continual support from Reclaim Hosting. Not only do they help in resolving most of my technical issues, but they also have a wealth of resources too. If there is something that I still need to work on it is archiving some of my older sites as static HTML, as well as sharing resources across my sites.

What kind of future plans to you have for your domain?

I am sure there will be cases for spinning up a new domain to test a new application and/or theme. For example, I am interested in PressForward as a means of organising research if I ever went further with my studies. Overall though, I am pretty happy with how things are at the moment.

What would you say to other educators about the value, reason why to have a domain of your own? What will it take them to get going with their own domain?

It is easy to create a WordPress.com or Edublogs site and add in your own URL. This will often alleviate concerns around updates and security. However, the effort required in maintaining your own space seems a small price to pay for the power and possibility it can provide.


It feels like every time I tell my story I add something different. I am sure that there are parts I have left out or failed to elaborate. If this is the case, feel free to leave a question or a webmention. The conversation only starts here.


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Technology as System

A reflection on changing positions within a complex system.


I have a confession to make. I am not the #EdTech coach who you think I am. Let me rephrase that, I am not the #EdTech coach I imagine others to be. The title associated with my current position was ‘eLearn Implementation Coach’. The job description was littered with mentions of technological change and transformation, I was sold.

As is often the case, the reality on the ground is vastly different to the stories we are told. The transformation I felt I was a part of was that of my role. I went from supporting schools through a change management process to learning a whole new set of applications and becoming a proverbial ‘fixer’.

Things will change again. My work is progressively realigning to being more reactive, but these things take time. The question in this situation is how one responds.

I came into the position believing I would be supporting schools with technological transformation and innovation. Instead, it has become focused on responding to policies and implementing transactional processes associated with as enterprised system. This has me rolling out student reports, booking programs and pastoral applications.

It is a very niche roll in education. Although it is a part of schools, it does not necessarily involve students or teaching. It certainly does not feel what my own education prepared me for. Yet it has highlighted to me how technology is a system with many parts, people and processes at play.

Some days I wish I was still in the classroom, especially when I attend regional meetings. Other days I envy those explicitly leading technological change within schools, especially when I listen to the Design and Play podcast. However, when I stop and consider the worth of the work I am doing I feel it is purposeful and does have an impact.

The further I dive into my current work, the more I appreciate the ground that change is built upon. It would be nicer if it were someone else testing, documenting and working everything out, sadly though I am yet to meet this someone else is. So for now it is me.

It is not the ideal of the #EdTech coach that I had envisioned. However, maybe this is the reality of the #EdTech leader, always doing many things? As always comment and webmentions welcome.


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Comments are the power of the village

What does it mean to be caring in online spaces and how is this related to sharing?


I recently came across a message on a blog that stated ‘sharing is caring’. This was placed next to buttons for the various social media silos. This had me stop and think. Is this this in fact a lie we have been sold? I have spoken before about paying ideas forward and feeding back into the stream, but I wonder, are there means of caring that do not involve sharing into somebody else’s backyard? This then involves stopping to reflect on two questions: what does it mean to share and care?

Sharing

I love to share. It was one of the things that really drew me to Twitter and then blogging. It offered the ability to post short snippets, telling a story over time. This though touches on the first consideration, what should we share?

I often share quotes, visual creations and links. In the past, this was straight to Twitter. However, over time this seems to have become about something else. Although I was backing up my Tweets, my contributions seemed conflicted.

Recently, I have taken to posting everything on my second blog – Read Write Collect – and syndicating from there. This often involves capturing a quote or a short reflection. The question I have is, when I share out, whose link do I share? If I share a link to a bookmark or like then it will bring back all the responses using webmentions. However, then the question is about whether I am sharing for the original author or myself? Should I instead by retweeting a tweet from the author or share out the original link? This then leads to the second point of caring.

Caring

I imagine caring can come in many shapes and sizes. When sharing out on social media, I have long made the effort to mention the original author in the post to indicate to them that I care. Sometimes this also involves attaching a graphic or a quote that caught my attention. Although this is good, I wonder if there are better ways to show care?

A step beyond sharing a tweet is posting a comment. I am not sure if it is the effort involved or the process behind it, but I have always valued a comment more than a tweet. In recent times, this has included posting comments from my own site (where applicable) or pasting in.

Another part to this is linking to ideas when I know that they have come from elsewhere. I think this is often overlooked and I really like the latest change to the webmentions plugins that allows you to turn mentions into comments.


Maybe it is just me. Maybe sharing online just works? However, I agree with The Luddbrarian that where we need to start in regards to Facebook and social media in general is ‘expand our imagination’ in this area. I think that this starts by asking questions. What does it mean to be digital? How are we really caring in online space? Does it have to involve sharing? As always, comments welcome.


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Often we talk about ‘being digital’ but what does this imply in reverse? What might it mean in today’s day and age to be analogue?


In a recent post reflecting on Nicholas Negroponte’s book Being Digital, Mal Lee and Roger Broadie discuss what it means to ‘be digital’. The authors reflect on some of the changes, especially in regards to learning. They also explain the fluid nature of ‘being digital’.

As the children within digitally connected families grow, mature, develop their cognitive, inter and intrapersonal abilities, become sexually aware, build relationships, socially network, operate at a higher order of thinking and continually attune their ways to the evolving technology so they will develop their own form of being digital – and will continue doing so, in subtly different ways, at the various stages of life.

This all begs the question, if being digital is such a thing, what does it mean to be analogue in today’s world? Assuming that is the opposite? Is it even possible anymore?


I recently watched the film adaptation of Into the Wild, a story about a student, Christopher McCandless, who goes off the grid after finishing his tertiary studies. In some respects, it reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, where the main protagonist wanders around search of a sense of self and identity.

What was interesting was comparing it with Dave Eggers novel The Circle. A fictional social media company that makes the argument for radical transparency. As things unfold in the world that Eggers creates, it becomes impossible for anyone to go off the grid, to start again, to forget the past.

SECRETS ARE LIES SHARING IS CARING PRIVACY IS THEFT

Through the power of the crowd, there are no more ‘Alexander Supertramp’s’ (the psuedonym taken by McCandless), there is only truth and power.

The era of false identities, identity theft, multiple user names, complicated passwords and payment systems was over. Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal. Once you had a single account, it carried you through every corner of the web, every portal, every pay site, everything you wanted to do. TruYou changed the internet, in toto, within a year.

What then does this all mean for being analogue? For identity? For memory?


There are some in Silicon Valley, like Tristan Harris, who talk about ‘aligning technology with humanity’. If only we have a little more humanity in it all then everything will be ok. The problem with this is that this perpetuates the belief that technology and humanity are somehow distinct and can be harmonised.

In a recent interview, George Seimens suggested that our focus should be on ‘being skills’. Jenny Mackness summarises this conversation as follows:

Technology can ‘out know’ us, artificial intelligence is taking over human roles, and that in the future technology will become a co-agent rather than an enabler; you, me, colleagues, algorithms and robots will all work together in a techno-socio distributed learning model. George tells us that learners (humans) need to learn how to participate in this and that this will be through ‘Being skills’ which, as yet, machines can’t succeed at. He says we are necessarily entering a ‘being age’ because the technological systems around us are more intelligent than we are.

What is intriguing about this is that although Seimens tries to focus on what separates us, we are led back to the work of mindsets and behaviourism. Interestingly, Mackness extends her reflection by exploring the notion of living things and machines. Maybe then being analogue is merely living?


Just as Steve Brophy stops and questions 1:1 computing, I think that sometimes it is important to stop and consider the world that we are buying into. Today this meant stopping and wondering about being. As always, questions and webmentions welcome.


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Quote on tools from Austin Kleon

I started writing this post a few months ago but did not get around to finishing it, subsequently my initial notes have lay waiting. I was reminded of it by recent posts from Jim Groom and Alan Levine reflecting on the purpose of blogging. Here then is my contribution to the conversation.


In the March edition of the Loose Learners podcast, Mariana Funes and John Johnson discussed the difference between small b and big B blogging. In part, this was a response to a post by Tom Critchlow on ideas and the power of the network.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale.

Although big B blogging maybe associated with link blogging and ‘interesting ideas’, the focus is on broadcasting, rather than connecting and commenting. The notion of big B blogging is usually associated with those like Jason Kottke, John Gruber and Richard Byrne.

In a recent interview, Kottke shared how his blogging has developed over time. He explains in particular how advertising and making money from his site has changed. What is interesting is the connection between big B blogging and making money. Although he shares his workflow and intent, what comes through is that it is still a job. I wonder if there is another possible definition of ‘Big B’ blogging that goes beyond advertising?

When I think about blogging, there is a cross-over between technology and the way it is used. Big B bloggers are those who take each to their extremes. Content is important. But so is process and product. It is something personal, stemming from our changing circumstances and intent.

For me, blogging is about utilising the various features and affordances available, but also trying to push the boundaries in understanding how they work. In Martha Burtis’ keynote for Domains17, she argued that Domain of One’s Own is more than just learning WordPress, rather it is about learning how to “publish online in an open-source Web application”. As she explains,

Every moment in which we walk a student through a fix is a deeply teachable moment — a moment not just to provide step by step instructions but to narrate for them what each step means. When we bring meaning to the breaking and the fixing we are pushing beyond the boundaries of the merely practical.

For some this experience is distributed across several spaces, such as a space to collect ‘breadcrumbs’ and a main space for longer forms. For others, it is about creating spaces specific purposes and then syndicating back to one place.

I think that this is what interests me about the IndieWeb. The focus is not just about content, but how content is presented. This focus on what and how stems from a why of developing a ‘demonstrably better web’.

So big B blogging to me is about allowing growth and development both personally and collectively. Although some spaces may have subscription accounts, this is not necessarily what keeps the lights on.

So what about you? What does blogging mean to you? How do you find balance between creation and construction? As always, comments welcome.


Also posted on IndieNews


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The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

There are many challenges to sharing specific data in Google Sheets, some of these can be overcome using the QUERY formula.


I attended a day recently continuing the look into ongoing reporting. One of the focuses involved reflecting on various points pf data. Something that stood out was the willingness of teacher to share data. Whether it be with students, teachers or parents, for some providing access can still be a challenge.

I discussed this with a principal attending the day and one suggestion made is that it can be hard to share particular data, without sharing everyones data. This is especially the case when talking with parents or conferencing a student. An answer is using the QUERY formula.

With Google the chosen platform, a lot of teachers store their data in Google Sheets.

QUERY combines a whole lot of functionality into the one formula. As David Krevitt explains:

QUERY combines all of the capabilities of arithmetic functions (SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE) with the filtering abilities of a function like FILTER.

It is a language developed by Google, using the principles of Structured Query Language (SQL).

For example, you may wish to share the results of just one students:

To do this, you select the columns you want to copy from the MASTER tab and which value you wish to filter by:

=QUERY(MASTER!A:F, "SELECT C,D,E,F WHERE A = 'Donna'", -1)

If you wished to quickly create a tab for each student, Alice Keeler has created a script for generating tabs from a list. This personalised information can then be shared with students (see Jake Miller’s explanantion). Another thing to consider is to protect formulas by adjusting permissions at a celular level, as well as prevent others from copying the file, therefore getting the information that way.

The other option is to create a dynamic selector involving either a name:

Or even a whole form:

These options might be used when working with colleagues or talking with parents. You are able to bring up just the information required. Depending on the data, you can also create dynamic charts. One other benefit to using the QUERY formula is that it allows you to quickly and easily reorder the representation of data. So lets say ‘F’ is associated with literacy testing and you would like that at the start. Rather than writing SELECT C,D,E,F you would write SELECT F,C,D,E.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what the QUERY formula can do. For more information, see posts from Ben Collins and David Krevitt. Collins also ran two webinars, which you can go back and watch. One on the basics, while the other getting a bit more complicated.


One thing to note when using Google Sheets to store data is what sort of information you are collecting. In some districts and regions there are issues raised about storing ‘sensitive data’ in platforms like Google.

Reflecting on Class Dojo, Ben Williamson explains that ‘sensitive’ can be the consequence of collecting data:

The ‘sensitive information’ contained in ClassDojo is the behavioural record built up from teachers tapping reward points into the app.

This same concern needs to be considered in regards to Sheets, especially with the changes being brought about by GDPR.


As always, comments welcome. Webmentions too.


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