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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Instead of having a donate now button on my website, I have buy now and hire me buttons.

With the move to platforms like Patreon, it leaves me wondering about the impact on the wider community.


I opened my feed today to find Doug Belshaw has made the move from Gumroad to Patreon. After the recent glitch involving fees, it seems that there is a growing move to the platform within the group of people I engage with online.

Adi Robertson explains how:

Patreon offers individuals the opportunity to provide a more profound level of support: donors aren’t just supporting art; they’re supporting a person, an art style, or an idea.

While Cory Doctorow argues that:

The measure of Patreon’s success isn’t creating an army of full-time creators with middle-class incomes where none existed before: it’s ensuring that the money generated by art goes primarily to artists.

My question is the consequence of depending on patronage. As Seth Godin states in What to do when it’s your turn?:

When you overstate the obligation of the audience, of course they’ll let you down, and when they do, you don’t have to show up again. What a great excuse to stop making art, to hide …

It’s not your turn to win, or your turn to be picked, or even your turn to be guaranteed gratitude … it’s merely your turn to give a gift.

For me, this comes back to Bill Ferriter’s warning about chasing wider audiences. However, it also touches on his idea of ‘bringing your own audience’. For Belshaw, this allows him to provide a more uncensored side to his patrons.

In Show Your Work, Austin Kleon makes the case for giving stuff away and instead focusing on selling art and services:

Instead of having a donate now button on my website, I have buy now and hire me buttons.

A part of this process is the production of a mailing list:

I know people who run multimillion-dollar businesses off of their mailing lists. The model is very simple: They give away great stuff on their sites, they collect emails, and then when they have something remarkable to share or sell, they send an email. You’d be amazed at how well the model works.

Cory Doctorow has reflected on the benefit of giving away his books, discussing how it has led to an increase in readership, people actually buying the books and opportunities:

This “market research” of giving away e-books sells printed books. What’s more, having my books more widely read opens many other opportunities for me to earn a living from activities around my writing, such as the Fulbright Chair I got at USC this year, this high-paying article in Forbes, speaking engagements and other opportunities to teach, write and license my work for translation and adaptation. My fans’ tireless evangelism for my work doesn’t just sell books–it sells me.

Although Doctorow does have a place for ‘donations’, it is so that you can buy a copy for a library.

This approach to giving stuff away is an approach I have taken. I blog, I help out where I can, I share, inspired in part by Kleon and Belshaw.

I started a monthly newsletter. This is as much about connecting ideas within the community as it is about promoting my own work. Maybe one day I will have something else to offer, then I will reach out and share with my supporters. Until then, I will keep on giving stuff away.

I have also taken this mindset to the way that I engage with others. Rather than become a patron, I try and buy what they are selling. For example:

  • Micro.blog: I do not pay for Micro.Blog and did not support the Kickstarter campaign. I neither want my blog hosted on Micro.Blog, that is what I pay Reclaim Hosting for, nor do I want to use Micro.Blog to syndicate, I use SNAP for that. However, I am happy to pay and support Manton Reece’s book once he finishes writing it.
  • Visual Thinkery: I paid for Bryan Mathers stickers. Truth be known, because I love his work. In a strange way, it made me feel a part of the Visual Thinkery tribe. I am yet to use most of them though. However, I use the sketch he made me in my signature, as well as for my newsletter. To me, how I use them is not necessarily the point. It supports Bryan to do more work, that is what matters.

  • Ben Collins: I read Collins’ blog and subscribe to his newsletter/mailing list. He gives away a lot and is always willing to clarify any technical queries. Subsequently, when he announced that he was developing a self-paced course on Pivot Tables, I was there. I started it, but got distracted. I know that I will get back to it eventually, but I also know that I am supporting Collins in a small way to keep on doing his work.


Maybe this is just me? Maybe it merely reflects my privilege of having a contract, rather than living from one gig to the next? Maybe my stuff is not worth selling? Maybe I am just missing something? As always, comments welcome.


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In a recent episode of the Design and Play podcast, Dean Pearman and Steve Brophy spoke about the importance of sticking to their core beliefs and values. This means moving on when conflicted. Although this stance is to be applauded, I was left wondering if it were a luxury to actually be able to move on at will? It also had me wondering if perpetuating such a message is missing a trick?

I remember being told by a boss once ‘if you don’t like it here then you can leave’. I respect that, it was his choice and in the end I did leave. My concern though was not necessarily the location, but rather the leadership, the ‘my way or the highway’ mindset.

Maybe I am idealistic or just naive, but a leader cannot directly do the work of change and learning. Instead, they create the conditions for others to prosper. For some, this is putting ticks and balances in place to make sure that everyone is performing. For others it involves the distribution of leadership, development and collective capacity building.

I am always reminded of the story of Geelong Grammar’s adoption of Positive Psychology. It did not involve a few sessions with staff and students, rather it involved all members of school, including those working in administration and maintenance. This was about creating an environment where everyone can flourish.

Another similar program is Leading Teams. At the heart of this is an organisation leading change from the ground on up. This is not because someone above said so, but rather because it was a trademark agreed upon by the people on the ground. This involves trust. I remember Ray McLean recounting early stories of failure required to achieve collective success. However, too often such goal setting sessions become token, ticked off as something done, with people towing the party line, rather than sharing what they truly believe. Here I am reminded of David Culberhouse’s discussion of ‘positive deviance’, where the focus is on identifying the bright spots within an organisation and using their stories and strategies to help drive change.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone leaves in the end. However, wouldn’t it be better if such decisions happened to further opportunity, rather than fix our values? For in the end, it takes a village and surely that involves compromise. As always, comments welcome.


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Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, recently closed the National Coaching Conference for Educators with a suggestion to move away from false appeal associated with social media. Instead, he encouraged educators to spend their time focusing on ‘deep work’. To support this, Scott spoke about the work of Cal Newport. Ignoring the segmented nature of schools (see Richard Wells) or what we focus on (see Audrey Watters), the debate around reclaiming our attention is not new. However, Newport’s call to close accounts has been doing the rounds. After watching his TED Talk though, three questions puzzled me: what is social media, what is work and how do I differentiate the changes in my mind?

What is ‘social media’ anyway?

The message is clear, get off social media, your career depends upon it. Newport explains that interesting opportunities are not dependent on being online and in fact social media is harmful (see for example Doug Belshaw’s post on Facebook). Although I did not go and close all my accounts, Newport’s video did lead me to reflect on the place of social media within my life. However, as I watched the TEDTalk I thought that maybe I was misunderstanding his message. With his reference to RSS, it seemed that he was suggesting getting rid of all dynamic content? In many respects, social media is just as ambiguous as digital literacies. Is it how we use it? Is there something baked into applications or inherent in various web formats? Does it depend on if the application calls itself a media company? Are applications like ClassDojo or Seesaw examples of social media too? This was all confounded by the fact that Newport, someone who proudly flaunts the fact that he has never had a social media account, himself has a blog.

Finish at Five

Late in the presentation, Newport shares how he rarely works beyond five. This is such an interesting point, which leaves me wondering when ‘work’ starts and stops? People like David Culberhouse and Steve Brophy get up early in the morning to read, to write, to reflect. If they do not check email, does that mean that it is not ‘work’? What is work? My other concern is with the work that we ask people to do. As an educator, I feel uncomfortable telling an specialist teacher with 400+ that the reason they are working long hours to get reports written is because they are not committing themselves to ‘deep work’. Deep work is often associated with flow, I have never entered such a state while compiling reports. Maybe some work is always shallow?

Minds Changed

One of the concerns that Newport raises is that the instant gratification provided by social media rewires the brain.

The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Our inability to commit ourselves to concentrating for lengthy periods of time means that we are unable to complete deep work. Maybe it is just me, but being a parent has taught me to seize the minute. If my daughter is asleep on my knee or I am waiting for pick up I often use my phone to dip into some reading. I get moments. I make the most of them to dig down into awesome ideas that I may not get the chance to do at ‘work’. In regards to putting on headphones or going into an office speaks of privilege? Then again, maybe it is just my broken brain.


In the end, I may have been hooked in by the click-bait nature of the New York Times and the TED Talk? Not sure. Maybe at some point I need to stop doing such shallow readings and dive into a deep reading of Newport’s book?


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