February 17, 2015

Cliffhanger learning #28daysofwriting

Television drama's whole point is to bring you through an often slow start, followed by a complex development to a point where there are two or three potential dénouements before, "Cut!", it is the end of the episode and you will have to await the "right answer" in the following week's show.

This post came to me at 10pm last night, on Day 16 of this challenge, after a day of holidaying in London and with my head (and feet) too weary to put finger to touchscreen.

Mrs Mc and I had just watched another live instalment of Broadchurch, murder mystery extraordinaire, particularly since in the second series there is no actual fresh murder to investigate. The verdict is about to be given on the accused killer from Series 1 when the inevitable happens... Cue title music.

This moment has even gained a moniker in British homes, based on the theme tune to the real masters of the four-times-a-week cliffhanger, London-based soap opera Eastenders. It's call a "ba...ba...ba...ba, ba, ba-ba-ba-ba" (YouTube will provide overseas readers with auditory explanation).

Eastenders is such a master of writing in the perfect pace that every 28 minute episode ends with a tantalising screen freeze on the latest shocked face / smirking baddy / confused victim. For really big stories the cliffhanger can last significantly longer. This week, to celebrate the show's 30 year birthday, we will finally find out the answer to a question unanswered for the past 14 months: "Who killed Lucy Beale?"

Now, most classrooms do not involve murder, incest, dodgy deals and danger, but "good teaching" encourages a type of pacing that totally ignores the ingredients that have millions in the edges of their seats every day: the good old cliffhanger. In fact, we see teachers giving away the punchline at the beginning: "Today we are learning this:..."

Just because we tell kids "we are learning" does not mean they will learn it. But the ingredients of good drama can also be found research on what makes good learning:

1. Provocation
Edward de Bono's work takes precisely five pages to talk about the importance of provocation to help the learner learn deeply about an issue or concept and the related tangents ("Lateral Thinking"; "Mechanism of the Mind"). In my team's experience, the intrigue provides enough of an "after-burner" of interest to push the learner deep enough into learning new concepts and ideas that the inherent interest in the content can be discovered.

2. Not planning "a lesson"
In most classrooms, still, we see teachers planning the days before for one lesson at a time, and it is no wonder that learning feels chunked up to the point it is no longer recognisable in its original form. This runs against what David Perkins calls "Making Learning Whole". Making learning whole means that we think of learning like a long, 12 or 16 part drama, and build our story on that long line rather than the minutiae of each lesson. Then, in terms of the detail, we write in the 2 minute catchups from the last episode, the beginnings and, crucially, the structured cliffhangers to retain interest until the next lesson / episode. If you're planning one lesson at a time instead of thinking about the long line of learning this is impossible to achieve.

There you go. 28 minutes is up and a small provocation, I hope, to inspire some different types of planning. Get some more ideas on how to plan that stuff on the NoTosh Lab: http://www.notosh.com/lab

February 15, 2015

#28daysofwriting... on a phone

These stressful moments happen to all fathers: my Mac had to head into the Mac Doctor aka Genius Bar for some replacement organs.

So, I am now properly digital native, frantically writing this with thumbs on an iPhone in the stressful 28 minutes prior to shoving two children out of the door, fed, watered, washed and clothed (OK, the last bit isn't that teenaged a behaviour, but you get the picture).

What I am wondering is whether four days of enforced thumb-blogging is going to affect my writing style, turning thoughtful prose, composed at the larger sensible and serious MacBook Pro, into Facebookish tweet-happy nonsense that no-one except me will care about. That said, given the number of comments left on the first 14 days of this 2015 writing adventure compared to the flowing discussions oneight have seen 10 years ago, I'm not sure anyone cares about many blog posts any more.

February 14, 2015

The school design process is broken. Isn't it? #28daysoflearning

Flexible Furniture - really?

I've been shown hundreds of 'flexible learning spaces' over the years, and none of them are any more flexible than the addition of a wheel here and there might allow. In fact, if you look on Google for 'flexible learning spaces', the above panoply of wheel-laden MDF and plastic is what you discover. Now, I'm all for the wheel - a marvellous invention for which we still find a great use.

However, the humble wheel is not the basis of flexible learning.

We need to stop spending billions on school spaces, technological and physical, that respond to a brief about learning that reinforces the (mistaken) understandings about what makes great learning experiences still held by many architects and the commissioners of new learning spaces.

I'm preparing a new talk on designing spaces for learning, based on NoTosh's work in helping school innovators, leaders and architects to move beyond the current clichés of "flexible learning":

Learning space design and construction has never been a more pressing issue for schools in both state and independent/private sectors. Even those with small or no budgets are seeking to renovate and constantly improve the learning environment to better harness our growing understanding of what makes for strong learning, and the ever-changing technology options that we face.

And yet, most of our multi-million dollar decisions are based on anecdote and seeking to emulate or synthesise what others have done, with little research or questioning “why” before the budget is allocated, the masterplan produced, and the work on design begins.

In this keynote, Ewan McIntosh, founder of global creative and learning consultancy NoTosh, and Subject Coordinator at Charles Sturt University’s Designing Spaces for Learning Masters, sets the scene for what’s working, what’s not, and where the most innovative learning space design might want to head. Above all, how can our learning space help us to raise attainment and better engage learners in a more current, engaging form of learning?

The traditional process of deciding a new space is required, writing a brief, commissioning an architect to create a masterplan, involving the community in the masterplan creation and the subsequent phases of build is, frankly, the wrong one. It cannot, by definition, be user-centred. The users are involved far too late in the day. The architect needs to know the bid is worthwhile going in for. The commissioner needs to know the budget in order to write a brief which, by default, adds a constraint that, for most architects' masterplans, leads to a different set of pastel shades with which to paint the now de facto glass, steel, atrium and, yes, 'flexible' spaces for all that wheel-endowed furniture.

This fault-line strikes most design - the designer is nearly always at the centre of the process, rarely the people who will use the design. Even in so-called 'human-centred design' practice, you'll find it's the designers, not the users, who end up doing the synthesis, coming up with the ingenious ideas to 'solve their problems'. I'm a firm believer in bringing users into the design process. I don't think designerly skills are that specialist that they cannot be taught, in time, to better prepare the ground for a design.

And when you're going to spend $40-80m on a new build, that investment of time and effort is worth it, to get it right for the users' needs.

There are some examples of people getting it right, or at least righter. Dear Architect is a joyous document, written and designed by the students of one generation to build a space for the next group to come up to Walker's "The Works". By designing the brief, by doing the lion's share of the design before the architects even get sight of it, these students and teachers have gone a long way to changing their existing practice, too. Just by envisioning where they'd like to be, helps shape a move from the status quo to something new in the teaching and learning, new building or not.

The talk has a way to go to move beyond rant (like this) and into the research that I uncovered in writing the Masters course. And it has even further to go before a 16 week course can become a 20 minute punchy, inspiring talk. But the basic premise is one I'd like to bounce around with educators - is this a process, behaviour and frustration you recognise?

February 13, 2015

Would you rather look smart or be smart? #28daysofwriting


Reggie Watts breaks me up every time I hear the beginning of this TED Talk. It's funny because, so many times before, I've heard this kind of faux-erudite nonsense from self-proclaimed intelligentsia, in an unfunny context. It comes from people who want to look smart, instead of just being smart. Click play and read along...:

"... and that's one of the things that I enjoy most about this convention. It's not so much, as so little as to do with what everything is. (Laughter) But it is within our self-interest to understand the topography of our lives unto ourselves. (Laughter) The future states that there is no time other than the collapsation of that sensation of the mirror of the memories in which we are living. (Laughter) Common knowledge, but important nonetheless. (Laughter) As we face fear in these times, and fear is all around us, we also have anti-fear. It's hard to imagine or measure. The background radiation is simply too static to be able to be seen under the normal spectral analysis. But we feel as though there are times when a lot of us -- you know what I'm say'n? But -- you know what I'm say'n? Cuz, like, as a hip hop thing, you know what I'm say'n, TED be rock'n -- you know what I'm say'n. Like so I wrote a song, and I hope you guys dig it. It's a song about people and sasquatches -- (Laughter) -- and other French science stuff. That's French science. Okay, here we go. ♫

Watts is then just smart.

Would you rather look smart or be smart? For the past decade I've been a fiendish reader of all things simplicity, especially the art of making complex ideas simple. I've often been off the mark on that one, but not for wont of trying. I take solace from the fact that most policy on education, most curricula, most education research is written in such a way as to render its content useless for the people who need to understand it most.

One way writers aim for simplicity is to pace themselves against readability scores. Andy Maslen, copywriter genius featured in yesterday's post, has just fist-bumped himself with a lifetime best score of 98.2 for readability of some copy he wrote. The other end of the spectrum is just as amusing. Marcel Proust's Swann Way has one sentence whose score is -515.1: 

"But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I would at once bury my head in a nest, built up out of the most diverse materials, the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of an evening paper, all of which things I would contrive, with the infinite patience of birds building their nests, to cement into one whole; rooms where, in a keen frost, I would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world (like the sea-swallow which builds at the end of a dark tunnel and is kept warm by the surrounding earth), and where, the fire keeping in all night, I would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury air, shot with the glow of the logs which would break out again in flame: in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts near the window or far from the fireplace which had therefore remained cold—or rooms in summer, where I would delight to feel myself a part of the warm evening, where the moonlight striking upon the half-opened shutters would throw down to the foot of my bed its enchanted ladder; where I would fall asleep, as it might be in the open air, like a titmouse which the breeze keeps poised in the focus of a sunbeam—or sometimes the Louis XVI room, so cheerful that I could never feel really unhappy, even on my first night in it: that room where the slender columns which lightly supported its ceiling would part, ever so gracefully, to indicate where the bed was and to keep it separate; sometimes again that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the colour of the curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent loftiness of the ceiling."

I'll admit this now. I've not read the book. Nor have I actually read the sentence that I just copied and pasted here. Why? Because it's not really the point of this post.

The point of this post is to place an intellectual earworm in your mind, ready for Monday morning, or the next time you turn finger to keyboard, pen to paper, to convince anyone to do anything. No-one cares how smart you try to show yourself to be,  how smart your strategy might look, how smart your tech programme appears to be. They care how smart all of it really is, meaning your job is to share it in as simple a way as possible.

(The readability score of this blog post, without Proust, is 80. #fistbump)

February 12, 2015

Your strategy does not interest me. Next! #28daysofwriting

Andy maslen

NoTosh doesn't just help scores of schools and private business with their strategy; we're in the process of adjusting our own course, too. What I've noticed, is that the activity known as 'wordsmithing' is normally referred to dismissively, with disdain, as something someone else will do much later on, once they "real work" of strategising is done. These leaders could not be more wrong.

Far from the afterthought or polishing to which the task is often reduced, getting the wordsmithing right as you create your strategy is vital if you want people to really believe in it.

To help me on NoTosh's own strategising I've been diving into Andy Maslen's tomes (that's his distinguished mug on the top of the post). For a copywriter extraordinaire, he tends to spend at least half his books helping the reader understand what it is they are trying to do and why the hell they're doing it. I can imagine a few strategies dying a necessarily premature death by around p.43 of most his books. 

A key point that resonates as I undertake a few schools-based strategy projects, is this one:

People want to know what's in it for them (WIIFM?).
They don't care how clever you are.
They don't care that you are proud / humble / honoured about anything.
They don't care how much excellence you promote.
People want to know what's in it for them.

He suggests a couple of writing tools that will help education strategists (any strategist, really) to convey their 'why', and in turn the WIIFM, so much more clearly:

  • KFC:
    What do you want your reader / student / parent / teacher / peer to know, how do you want them to feel about it, and what do you want them to commit to?
  • Don't use the 'F' word - use the 'B' word
    Don't list off the features of your latest product / school / initiative / programme of work / technology roll-out. Tell us the benefits in our lives. This works in the same way as I suggest people should pitch new ideas to their peers: start with a 'pain', turn the thumbscrews until we're begging for an answer, and then tell us all about how your idea is going to make our lives so much better.
  • FAB: Grab me by the ... benefits
    Features first, then tell me the general advantages of working in this way might be, and then tell me the benefits to me personally.
  • Don't assume I'm paying attention
    Too many governmental policies, school strategies and "research-based" approaches to learning simply assume that the audience should be receptive to the new idea. This is a fatal flaw, and undermines even the best ideas. Assume that your audience has plenty of other far more interesting things to be doing, and write your strategy or pitch to wrestle their attention back towards you. Try starting the strategy with the words "How" or "Now" and see how people want to take part in making it happen.


February 11, 2015

Working out a school's competitive position even when it's not competing #28daysofwriting


Most schools are state schools, so the idea that leadership might spend time working out a competitive position, or value proposition, often seems absurd. Surely that is an exercise the preserve of private schools and, even more so, private business? State schools are for local kids - the value proposition is that the school is closest to your home. Period.

Steve Mouldey blogged yesterday about his own school's vision, and how it sets this state school, Hobsonville, apart from other schools in the area. In this post he cites an excerpt from Grant Lichtman's #EdJourney (pp. 92-94) where the notion of value proposition is justified on the fact that students have more mobility between education provision (other schools, homeschooling, online) than ever before. Steve talks about a notion of value proposition that I'd disagree with:

"The Value Proposition, as I understand it, is about what you actually do compared to what you say you will do (much like Espoused Theory vs Theory in Use by Chris Argyris)."

In our startup work, the value proposition is much more clearly understood as what you do compared to what your competitors say they do, or are perceived as doing, by their customers. The competitors might not actually deliver on what they say they do, but the perception of the customer is all.

For example, in my local area of Edinburgh are three primary schools:

  • the closest one to home is in a Victorian building, where school inspectors have repeatedly made the point that capital building and repair projects eat into funds that could otherwise be used for learning. I decided not to send my child there;
  • the one at the top of the hill has a fabulous reputation, thanks to the perceived quality of the high school with which it is associated. The high school changed head teacher years ago, and has been on decline since then. The primary school's inspectorate report is average. I decided not to send my children there;
  • the Catholic school is the furthest away from home. Catholic education is often perceived as a good choice - parents chose to send their children there, whereas the other state schools are often default schools, being closest to home, ergo, parents who make a choice care more about their kids' learning, ergo: the kids will be more engaged at home as well as in school. Also, on a visit to the school, this perception was reinforced during a school tour and two successful first years for our eldest. We chose to put our first kid there.

But this school's value propositions (in this case: quality of learning, getting the job of learning done, lowering cost (it's free!)) were not consistently applied. As soon as our daughter hit Primary 3, the key reason for using this school - quality of learning and getting the job done - suffered. A new teacher, needing some solid support from other teaching colleagues and the leadership team, struggled as neither was offered sufficiently. The cost of sending my kid there increased dramatically - she was unhappy, which made her mother and me devastated. The cost was not financial. The cost was emotional.

My kid no longer goes there. We've increased costs substantially, by opting out of the local education system and sending her to a school 20 minutes away. However, we are guaranteed on the value proposition of the new school - a consistently excellent education, no quibbles.

A value proposition, even if you are a state school, is a vital value to hone down, not just so that kids aren't ripped out of your school but so that everyone, including the leaders, can be held to account when kinks in the system appear. If you state that excellence in education is your value proposition, then you'd better get that nailed, all the time, every time, or perceptions will change and take a long time to bring back.

And defining a value proposition is easy - you can really only choose one top value you pursue, and a close-place second one. Beyond two core value propositions, your team will be lost and not know what they are chasing:

  • newness
    New schools can use this as a value proposition for a few months for each new school year to be introduced, to gain traction fast but, above all, to inspire distributed leadership and innovation in teaching and learning among its staff. It won't just happen - it needs stated as the value proposition by the school's founders.
  • performance
    Is your school in the top 10, top 20, top 50 of the country? Work out where the cut-off point for your excellence might be, where your performance is considered worth talking about. Equally, movement from mediocrity to excellence is worth talking about. The Bohunt School (11th best in England, from the middle ground, in six years flat) is my global fave for that kind of heroes story.
  • customisation
    Do you offer a learning experience that is genuinely student-led - can I make the kind of education I want?
  • "getting the job done"
    Do you consistently get kids what they need - not excellent, not poor, but you will get them into college / into an apprenticeship, and you fail no-one?
  • design
    Amazing facilities? Beautiful resources? Great food in the restaurant (not canteen...)?
  • brand/status
    Are you already in a position of being "the" school that people send their kids to? How do you maintain that with another value proposition that no-one else offers? This nearly always goes hand in hand with another value proposition that justifies the brand.
  • price
    Most state schools are free or near-to-free to attend. Price isn't a great VP in that case. For private schools, this is a huge consideration.
  • cost reduction
    Much like price, the cost of education is already low for most. Being geographically well-placed reduces families' costs of getting to school. Providing transport for children is another way. Providing technology is another.
  • risk reduction
    Do you reduce the risk that a child will fail, through additional support or a specific strategy?
  • accessibility
    Do you give access to activities or experiences that are normally the preserve of private schools? Or do you offer access to university early on, to students who would not normally expect that? Or do you provide access to business-building where most schools do not?
  • convenience/usability
    Are you close by, or run with flexible hours? Are you approachable for parents? Do you have facilities that help students stay in school longer? Holiday learning days?

Pic  |  Ref: Business Model Generation

February 10, 2015

Failure: When is it "a fail too far"? #28daysofwriting

At a concert in Gothenburg Concert Hall October 23, 2013, Christian Zacharias stopped playing in the middle of Haydn's Piano Concerto, interrupted by a cell phone ringing for the second time the same concert. Was he right to stop?

In this interview, that I've used in two recent keynotes on creativity and failure, Zacharias makes the point that listening to a concert is one of the rare moments in our lives where we can concentrate on just one thing, without interruption. Much like deep thinking or learning, interruptions by phone rings (or bell rings in school) are catastrophic for our projects and ideas.

In this instance, it was just too much. On the up side, Zacharias says, after such an interruption, the audience is even more attuned to what is going on, on the stage.

But not all interruptions need to be treated with the same disdain: 

I love the shrug at the end, a realisation that something simple and playful can diffuse the potential blot on a whole performance. 

In teaching, it's easy to let interruptions get in the way of our thinking. We respond with anger, frustration, telling offs... But it is the regular interruptions to our thinking - the bell, the timetable, the examination - that risk being the biggest incumbrance to sustainable levels of creativity and deep thinking of school students the world over. 

10 years ago, I might have been amongst the masses to point out that the bell, the timetable and the examination are all thrust upon me, as a teacher, and that I have no chance of controlling them merely in the name of creativity. Today, however, I know that teachers can achieve so much more if they design their way out of it. I've just come off a call with educators at Nanjing International School where, in preparing and prototyping ideas for a new strategy:

  • students have taken longer periods of time with specialists, rather than the chop-change of a regular schedule - more learning, less running around between classes;
  • homework has been replaced with home learning, based on the self-created projects students undertake during the day;
  • students develop personal projects get deep into learning outside the classroom, where there are no bells or timetables (said one kid: "When you're interested in it it's really easy!");
  • parents are sitting in with their sons and daughters during class and lunchtime, to see how they learn what they learn;
  • students are starting kernels of social entrepreneurship firms whose objective is longevity and sustainability, not short-term money-making.

All of these have come as a result of the school working as a whole, with design thinking mindsets along the way, to think differently about learning, to make learning happen from the point of view of what works for the student, more than what works for reinforcing the existing system.

Less of the status quo can only ever be a good thing...


I should finish by pointing to the encore of Zacharias, where his playfulness is finally visible.

February 09, 2015

A vision statement should only ever work for your organisation #28daysofwriting


Does your organisation have a high level vision statement? That's it. On page three of the strategy document no-one reads. The motto that makes everyone roll their eyes slightly. It probably involves something to do with excellence, being "the best", or caring, or striving, or something else with a similar drone. What if I suggested that you might come up with a vision statement that no-one else on the planet, no other organisation, could ever get away with using themselves?

Think about some of the great strategy or vision statements of our time. These ones are taken from my new book:

  • Amazon: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.
    Ford: Democratize the automobile.

  • Google: Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

  • JFK's Moon Challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

  • Microsoft: A computer on every desk and in every home.

  • Disney: Be the best company in the world for all fields of family entertainment.

  • Hewlett-Packard: Be one of the best managed corporations in the world.

  • Sony: Embody changing the image of Japanese products as being of poor quality; create a pocket transistor radio.

Closer to home, I was lucky enough to hear the backstory to the vision statement of Linn, the world's best music player company (based in Glasgow, Scotland):

Linn makes anything you listen to at home sound better.

Let's break that down:

Linn makes (in our factory) anything (games, tv, iPad, MP3, streaming music) you listen to (Linn products are so good, and relatively expensive, that they are not the kinds of product that you would just "hear" in the background, while you do the hoovering) at home (not at the office, nightclub, restaurant) sound better (this is their major technological point of difference: reduction of loss from studio to ear)

It took Linn's MD Gilad Tiefenbrun and his team over 18 months to get to the point where they had this one sentence that helps any one member of staff, and their customers, understand precisely what they are getting, and how it is made. Every word counts. Together, they create something that is genuinely unique and exciting for all those involved in building, and listening to, the product.

What's your current vision, and how might you change it to make it unique?

Pic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/167418602

February 08, 2015

Unknown unknowns. #ungoogleable thinking for #28daysofwriting

Designing the unknown | Long Version (25min) from CGS Mines ParisTech on Vimeo.

In short: you don't know what you don't know. And given that you do not know you don't know it, there's no way for you to ask specific-enough a question to get a specific answer back, from Google or for a friend. It is the theory behind the much simpler concept I came up with, of "Ungoogleable Thinking". 

I write the Masters course at Charles Sturt Uni on Designing Spaces for Learning. The key concept above is  described in this video clip. It's simple, and at the same time one of the most complex concepts for my students to get their heads around.

The key point made in the video is what my team and I have tried to show through our work with schools: as you cannot seek out the answers to questions you cannot ask, you need another way to 'bump into' those unknown unknowns. The only two ways to do this are chance (have someone tell you something you didn't know - but that means a lot of teacher talk to get to a few morsels of new stuff for a whole class) or you enter into a voyage of discovery - everything else is going to be stuff you know you don't know, or that you know already. 

This is where a teacher can curate resources, and provoke learners, to such an extent that we can take a safe guess that students will bump into concepts that they didn't know they didn't know. And when this happens, the learner needs to connect this new concept to what they know before, thereby creating new understanding and knowledge. 

This means that, while useful some of the time, the traditional "understanding by design" project is unlikely to ever facilitate deeper learning of the "unknown unknown" variety. Why? Because the teacher has defined the end point and an ever-convergent route of arriving there for the students. 

In our design thinking work, we tend to look at much fuzzier problem areas, leading to multiple routes to several potential outcomes. Learning goals are not met at the end of the project, therefore - there are too many potential routes to showing understanding or problem-solving for even the most expansive rubric to be usable. Instead, success criteria are met during a much more predictable period of immersion, where the resources curated by the teacher are highly likely to help learners understand their prior knowledge (known knowns) and stuff they knew they didn't know, but can find out to help them answer key questions (known unknowns). A troubling provocation is often the launchpad for students to try and take prior knowledge and new ideas, to try and create something new. 

It is only at the point of students making their own independent synthesis of the rich information they've gleaned, that a potential disjunction might be created, a point at which the student wants to dive deeper or off at a tangent to explore a much fuzzier area of their understanding of the world. 

If ever you are seeking ways to help every student hit their zone of proximal development, then Hatchuel and Weil's C-K Theory is not a bad place to start (though you might need more than 28 minutes of reading and viewing to get it, and see how your practice might change thanks to it!).

February 07, 2015

Unplug from this. Plug back in to that #28daysofwriting


This is Saturday's #28daysofwriting, written on Saturday February 7th, but not typed up until Monday February 9th. Why? At the weekend I make every attempt to unplug from technology. Most of my best ideas do not happen while staring at a screen, small or large, but from doing the opposite: experiencing life around me.

Stating this will annoy some of the 28 people awaiting a pitch, programme, plan, project proposal or reply. Some of them will have waited a week, as last week's trip to Canada was so intense I didn't have the energy to give them the quality of thinking and time they deserve. 

But unplugging on a regular basis, and not just splurging on an "analogue August" or "wifi-less winter" is something we should all aspire to do. Less little and often, more significant time offline and regular.

I know my own team tend to take their weekends for getting down to the beach, into a restaurant or two, or heading for brisk walks through English woods or Scottish coasts. As such, I'd never expect an email reply from them, from about midday on Friday through to mid-morning on Monday (leaving them time to prioritise first thing).

Quartz reports on an entire Connecticut-based marketing firm who had a whole-organisation offline, no device day. To be honest, I was surprised that one day offline for a team was able to make the news n the first place. But then I thought a little harder, and realised that for a whole team to decide in advance to go native (and not digitally so) was still a rare thing, even if just for one day.

The story reveals some of the reasons it might be important to take more frequent time off instead of these newsworthy splurges:

  1. Thinking benefits, not features
    “I’m having second thoughts,” a latecomer said. “I’m supposed to build a Powerpoint deck today.”

    This reveals so much. She's not supposed to be building a Powerpoint deck - it's just that this has become the usual means of trying achieve a multitude of other goals. In the creative industries it has become commonplace, mistakenly I believe, to write ideas down as Powerpoint decks. We write prose in a document, presentations on a deck. It is unlikely the Powerpoint deck was really the best way for this account director to communicate her figures, or for a creative to convey a risky idea. What else might people do in a tech-free day? I'm reminded of the gloriously analogue presentation given by Drew Buddie at one of the first London-based TeachMeets, where he extolled the virtues of stone-stacking through the use of an entire ream of 1980s printer paper.

  2. Digital snobbery
    "Disconnected from their usual feeds, two communications people walk to a bookstore to get the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Cincinnati Enquirer, documenting the three-block journey with an old-school Hi8 camcorder. On the elevator as they returned, a freelancer was arriving for the day and told the unplugged: “I’m holding. Are you jealous?”"

    This is the equivalent of the "how big / new / shiny is yours" that festoons technology use, everywhere. School systems are amongst the worst offenders. No-one outside education understands BYOD or one-to-one. No-one talks with pride of how many computers and devices their insurance company has, as a means, no less, of stating how good that company must be. And yet, that's exactly the kind of lame discussion I hear tech directors having at most meetups. I'd be more proud to come from the school that has a regular tech-free day, placing an accent on thinking first, no excuses.

  3. You're not connected. You're bored
    "In a meeting-induced boredom reflex, I pulled out my phone to check my notifications (there were very few, and none of any importance whatsoever) and immediately felt like a cad for doing so. “Our whole point was to make people feel like assholes,” Chief Creative Officer Nathan Hendricks later joked."

    Most technology use, if we were honest with ourselves (and not actually trading eight hours solid at the LSE), staves boredom, or makes more of 'down time'. Surely the oxymoron is enough - downtime is there to step your brain down for a brief moment. Boredom is there to act as the space between your ears where you can idly just think and reflect.

  4. Can you not just be present?
    "The device room wasn’t supposed to reopen until 4pm, but I am notified on a walkie-talkie that the doors have opened early because some people had to leave. This causes a bit of a reconfiguration of plans."

    If you really want to get under my skin, if you really want to have a good chance of a public shaming, leave a meeting or workshop before the due time. There are always other, more important things to do than think deeply, plan better for the future or reflect on where you've come from in your learning. Because you leave early, you will always be firefighting, coping with the latest unexpected thing. And technology is the key reason you do it. Tech can lead to everything becoming urgent and important, unless you know how to master it. And that involves taking some time out, often.

The pic on the post is mine, from Soho, London - the one place where you might get away with being both plugged in and unplugged at the same time. 

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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