September 17, 2006

How often do you 'freechase' something?

Dave Weinberger's been thinking far too much for a Sunday morning in this post on 'freechasing' (pronounced like purchasing) where we take something that we value for free, but upon which we wouldn't spend a penny. For example, we eat peanuts in a bar when they're handed out but don't buy any thereafter.

Dave's speaking at this week's SETT Learning Festival (and we'd love him to come to TeachMeet06) and so the who, the where and the when got me thinking about the what: how many educators are freechasing technology? How many people will I meet this week who will happily nod their heads and take the ideas back to school but then not invest any of themselves in making them happen?

You see, freechasing isn't always a bad thing. Like Dave, I've freechased some music and then gone on to buy the whole album with my own money.

It's maybe a bit depressing but I know that a large proportion of folk at the conferences this week will freechase my ideas but then not part with their own effort to do something with them. It's got me wondering how we can do better at sharing ideas so that more people really buy into new stuff. Are conferences the best way? Or is there another way?

Looking at the huge growth of blogs in the past year there has been a mixture of conference work, inspiring blogs inspiring more blogs, personal shoving in the right direction and subtle persuasions over glasses of wine. The one which has worked least well is probably conference work. Sure, the impact is short term but often the mass of people there have not got a passion for blogging, but for something else vaguely techy (I thought I would pop along and see what it's all about). However, when someone is talking about a need to a friend ("I wish we could connect easier") then the suggestion is made to start a blog. And there, the passion keeps the postings fuelled.

Update: Maybe what all schools (and maybe even LTS) need is a Passion Manager.


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I think it has quite a lot to do with the amount of effort involved. Sure, an idea may sound great in a conference and I may think I'd like to try it out. But get me back to school and then that's where the effort comes in. Liking an idea takes far less effort than implementing an idea.

I think it also requires being open to things not working quite right the first time and being willing to keep trying to make that idea happen.

But are these qualities not the qualities of any teacher worth their salt? Do people seriously expect to go to a conference and not realise that there is an investment afterwards. Guys like you, Matthew, are worth every penny spent sending on a conference because you go and experiment and do something. But it can cost a school hundreds of valuable pounds to cover an absent teacher, pay travel and possibly accommodation and subsistence - hardly worth it if they get nothing afterwards, no?

Oh, I totally agree, Ewan! In my opintion, that's why I go to conferences and things like that.

But for every teacher who brings back an idea, how many teachers are there who keep doing things 'the same old way'?

(I'm already trying to figure out how I'll explain wikis to my Head of ICT - who is also my line manager. Right now, I'm doing them 'secretly' until I have good evidence to show.)

Of course it may not be the fact that people consciously refuse to implement new ideas. Often people don't adopt new ideas because they don't see (or won't see) how it can possibly help them or their students. Maybe they need specific, concrete examples.

(Or maybe I'm being too charitable.)

I know I've said this to you before, Ewen, but I still stand 120% behind it. You can enthuse people all you like but as long as the gap between where they ARE and where you would like tham to be ia a CHASM, and a chasm mined by their local authority it just is't going to work! I've been trying for about 16 months to do things that to you are a stroll in the park and in spite of the MANY and VARIED hurdles thrown in my way I'm still struggling on, sometimes making no progress then making a big leap forward, often bridging the gap by investing a lot of my own precious money to sidestep those hurdles.

On Friday I set up a noticeboard in the staffroom for AifL - the idea of the week. I showed exactly what was needed, gave it a star rating for difficulty of setting up, star rating for benfit from that effort and above all contact information for two colleagues they all know who are willing to chat to them about their own experiences.

The gap between where they are is a short step, a colleague is there holding out a hand to help them across.

You fire people with enthisiasm and I am sure many go home willing to have a go but are confronted with meaningless gobbledigook (often even in the step by step guides) find that what is supposed to happen doesn't or more likely is blocked and most give up or put it on their " deal with later" list.

Please don't take offense at this Ewen because none is intended. What percentage of the time you have spent firing people with enthusiasm was spent on trying to persuade the authorities to ALLOW us to do what you are encouraging because without their support we are going NOWHERE, regardless of enthusiasm!

I 100% agree with your final comment. people like concrete examples and they need to see their way to getting there in a few preferably not too painful steps.

Eva F

I think the point on authorities is an important one and, up until this year, I have not been in any position really to influence what an authority does or doesn't block. Now that along with East Lothian I am helping to provide models for other LAs to follow there should be a slow change in attitudes. But, as you know, Eva, I have less patience than you when I see what kids are missing out on in school.

We are seeing the gap between real life and school life growing at a horrendous rate, because LAs are too slow to adapt. I hope that in East Lothian we have an example of an LA which wants to act swiftly to engage its learners.

Just another point - I like the idea of actually writing out the rating for effort in versus value of output. What I wonder, though, is how novices know what the output is before they invest their time. Is there a degree of walking into things blind in the name of trying something new, with the risk of wasting time for no results? Is that a risk worth taking?

Hi Ewan,
I'd not get too depressing about folk freechasing (great word), your ideas, if they get it and use it then they are passing it on.
I'd sort of think of it as talking under a ShareAlike License. If folk use it then they are sharing it.
I love downloading wee bits of software or javascript/php code I don't always use them, but when I do I attribute. Folk at a conference will get a ton of ideas, I will next week, but I know I'll not be able to use them all.

The scotsEdu blog world, for teachers at least, has grown enormously over the last year, people now know what a blog is, and are much more open than they were a year ago, so I don't think you efforts are in vain.

Have you watched the short video "Did you know?" on It scared the shit out of me and as I told a class - I'm glad I'll be dead by 2050! The whole tech thing is spiralling exponentially out of control. People know that. Sometimes they rebel and just refuse to go digital/switch to DVDs etc, even the young who have failed to use the new generation phones in the way the manufacturers hoped they would. Will the number of those seeking an alternative lifestyle in the Hebrides rise exponentially too?

I don't think that those who go to tech conferences fall into that category - they are open to change but I have to come back to another point I made a long time ago and I firmly believe drives most things and that is the lack of time and energy in a profession whose avergae age is frighteningly high. I can hardly keep my eyes open by about 6pm. The will is there but .......... and I'm sure that is the case with many. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

No sooner have you mastered one technology than it is obsolete - see the comment on above video about how that studied in year one will be obsolete by year 3!! That is SERIOUSLY scary!

In answer to the question "How do novices know what the output will be" Because they can talk to someone they know who is already doing it, they can pop along and SEE if they want. They could talk to the kids too to see what they think.

And as regards my patience LOL That is a quality I would NEVER EVER claim to have! patience, no. A PERSISTENT BUGGER, yes!!

A passion manager sounds like a good idea - someone who's job is to excite people rather than require paperwork, to find ways to do something rather than reasons it won't work, and to encourage rather than plan meeting.

I like it!!

I've been thinking some more about the points that you made and I can understand your anger at what seems to be so much money spent for no purpose. I think the problem is that at a conference where you are finding out about so many different things you inevitably go home without a proper understanding of any of them. Perhaps the answer is what you are already doing - more local and intense groups dealing for a day, hald day with one issue only.

As regards time and energy I'm sure our experience over the past few weeks in not untypical. One member of staff off for almost three weeks, another for one week and that out of a department of five. When you are preparing for and teaching other classes as well as your own it doesn't leave much of the above for other things.

I have attended a few CPD activities recently but because of insufficient information I was unable to ascertain in advance whether it would be more of what I already know or of use. I think the whole training thing needs to be tightened up. There needs to be more structure.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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