129 posts categorized "GlowScotland"

August 31, 2015

What it means to be visionary

I'm working on a project where we're trying to inspire engineers to think beyond improving the existing objects and services in our world, and invent what we don't even know we don't even know yet. We're getting them to bump into their own unknown unknowns

This Steve Jobs video, above, is from 1997, where he describes in anecdote how he has created, over the seven prior years, what we know today as cloud computing. And yet, even today, there are plenty of institutions that struggle with the notion of putting everything "up there", where it is faster to access and safe(r) from loss. 

So the question is this: do you want to be a visionary, or follow one for an exciting ride, or be around nearly twenty years later questioning the vision of those who went off and did it? 

July 14, 2015

Celebrating 10 years of edu.blogs.com - could we have yesterday's time with today's thinking?

First edublogs post

It's ten years today since I wrote my first blog post for me, and I wish we could have today's thinking with the space and time of a decade ago.

1999

I've blogged since around November 1999, one of the first users of a new, shaky service... Blogger. My first one was, as a student teacher, some kind of "making sense of Scottish education" affair. It was short-lived, audience-free, and felt presumptuous in the extreme. As a French and German teacher, I used the more stable Typepad service to run blogs with students on all sorts of field trips and school partnerships.

Early 2000s

There were various Paris-Normandy trips, the highlight of my teaching year, where we live-blogged from a Nokia 6230i with a 1.3megapixel inbuilt camera and extortionately expensive and unreliable 2G connection, while munching on smelly cheese and exploring the history of Omaha beach and surrounds. In the early years, mums and dads were sceptical of what it was for and why - most posts would garner barely 30 comments. Just one year on, though, the utility of the blog was clear to all: no more nervous phone calls to the school asking how we Johnny was doing, and literally hundreds of comments per blog. In fact, I've just spent the weekend at a wedding where I met many of the students from the 2005 blog for the first time since then.

Carol Fuller, a US teacher from South Cobb, near Atlanta, who I have never met, but to whom my primary school colleague John Johnston paid a visit over a decade ago, is still an online friend today. She got her students helping in a couple of projects where a US perspective on the world was essential to gain empathy beyond the pages of the textbook. The most popular post in one collaboration on politics was by far around banning guns. Plus ça change...

Her students took the often traumatic and insightful writing of our senior students' field trip blog to Auschwitz and wrote their own play on the back of it. It was pre-YouTube, so VHS cassettes flew across the Atlantic. Having the powerful writing of students still online, still being downloaded, feels important today as our world continues to struggle with terrible things happening in the world, viewed only through a screen. Laura Womersley's Confession is still one of the best pieces of writing I think I've ever read from a student, rendered more poignant than ever today knowing that just a few months later she died, suddenly, from an unexpected illness. Her words live on.

We used our blogs to publish the first high school podcast in Europe, maybe in the world. The wee lad who edited everything is now an accident and emergency doctor, and through micro-blogging - Twitter - is newly in touch with me this past year. He's no long a wee lad, either - six foot tall, and seeking his next challenges in life.

2005: the start of edu.blogs.com

It was only when I left my classroom to start a secondment with the Government, in the summer of 2005, that I knew I would miss sharing with other people. Until that point, it had always been through the conduit of my students' work. Now, I wanted to share whatever I might with a newly emergent group of educators, educators who wanted to share beyond their four walls. The first post was awkward (and indeed called "That awkward first post"). The early posts are bum-clenchingly naïve. But it was also the place that some small things were kicked off, and became big things. A few weeks after the first ScotEduBlogsMeetup, TeachMeet was born in a post in 2006.

Collisions

Early on, Loïc Lemeur, the founder of the blog platform I had been using for so long, invited me to speak at his emergent Les Blogs conference in Paris (now Europe's must-go-to tech conference, LeWeb). It's his birthday today, the day that I started my own blog - serendipity perhaps?

What followed my intervention there was the first sign that people might actually be reading and listening to what I was saying. James Farmer got stuck in, annoyed, I think, that a young buck was on the stage talking about classroom blogging (and he wasn't ;-). He was actually complaining about what everyone else on the panel had said, not what I contributed, which were just stories (much the same I what I try to contribute today). We didn't speak much after that, in spite of promises of beer in Brissie. 

I was fed up at how few teachers were sharing long-form thoughts and reflections on teaching, through blogs, and how a self-nominated cabal hectored those of us joining the fray "for not doing it right". Today, I feel that about the self-nominated if-Hattie-didn't-say-it-it-didn't-happen brigade. Back then my chief supporter in the collision with James Farmer and, later, Stephen Downes, was one Peter Ford - still one of my best buddies today, and working partner of the last three years. Collisions, I learned early on, are how we challenge ourselves to learn better. Heck, even Stephen came around to like something I did once... one of the best presentations he's ever heard. The content of it, too, came from collisions on this here blog.

I also had collisions through the blog with people who did not blog, namely my employers at the Scottish Government. I spent a few blog posts correcting newspaper stories in which I was misquoted, and many more writing my own thoughts on why the creation of a national schools intranet, a social network no-one outside schools could see, was doomed to fail. It did. Two years after leaving the education department, I was invited back by a new Education Minister to his expert committee that has overhauled the whole, expensive, useless venture. 

So, collisions on the blog were vital to my job, when I had one, and for the creation of NoTosh, my company. For ten years of professional collisions, thank you. I really wish there were more of them in long form.

TLDR has become the norm as educational discourse takes place in machine gun ratatats-à-Twitter. Where once we had comment feeds, dripping ideas, thoughts and disagreement with our ideas each day, we now have a tsunami of detritus in which we must seek out the comments of yore, never connected directly to the original thought that sparked them. Ten years ago, the half-life of an idea, of a discourse, could be as long as a month. Today, one is lucky if a thought lasts twenty seconds before it falls off the fold of the electronic page.

In the past decade, though, something better has come along, I think. More educators are writing books than ever before. More than most genres, there are plenty destined to become pulp, but there are so many more than a decade ago that offer genuine insight, great ideas, years of learning to the reader for no more than thirty bucks. They even come to your screen in a flash, if you want them to. I wonder, sometimes, if teachers writing books is not the long-form blog post in a different guise.

To that end, I've wondered about going back over ten years of blog posts, ignoring the truly embarrassing ones and unpicking the contentious ones with a more mature head on my shoulders. I'd love to write a book that takes ideas that mattered 10 years ago to me, and see whether they might matter more to people today. I have no idea whether this would work, whether it would even be of interest to people - the same questions I asked in my parents' dining room as I set about kicking off this electronic version of the book draft.

Thanks to those of you who have read my stuff, especially the longest posts like this one. Thanks, too, to those with whom I have collided over the last ten years. And to those who don't read my blog any more, who have unsubscribed because you feel it is "no longer relevant" (that's the most common reason for an unsubscribe), peace be with you. You have no idea of the fun you've missed out on ;-)

January 05, 2012

Collaboration 7: Implementing the Wrong Solution

Wrong solution
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Implementing the Wrong Solution

Following on from misdiagnoses, is finding the wrong solution. Learning Management Systems, as described earlier, were the wrong solution to the wrong problem. IT managers were convinced that some IT, instead of some psychology, would help solve the problem of teachers not sharing their work and ideas.

The same's true of those trying to 'protect' young people by not allowing them or encouraging them to post to the open world wide web: the problem is not so much internet predators as the lack of media literacy skills to not put oneself at risk online. The right solution here is not internet filtering or setting school blog platform defaults to 'private', but to set school blog defaults to 'public' and initiate a superb media literacy programme for every student, parent and teacher.

Morten T Hansen's answer is that we need disciplined collaboration, where leaders i) evaluate what opportunities there are for collaboration (where an upside will be created), ii) spot the barriers to collaboration (not-invented-here, unwillingness to help and preference to hoard one's ideas, inability to seek out ideas, and an unwillingness to collaborate with people we don't know very well).

Picture from Noel C

January 03, 2012

Collaboration 2: Collaborating in hostile territory

Hostile Territory
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Collaborating in hostile territory

Sony was a company that took pride in its decentralised specialist divisions, divisions whose pride led to them competing against each other. When five divisions were asked to collaborate to create a new music behemoth, Sony Connect, the result was disastrous.

The personal computer division based in Tokyo, the portable audio team behind the Walkman, the flash memory player team, Sony Music in the US and Sony Music back in Japan just couldn't work together, so strong was their competition. The PC and Walkman groups released their own competing portable music players, and the Music and other electronics divisions of the company released three competing music download portals. The US group wanted to use flash memory and the MP3 format. The Japan group wanted to use minidisc and Sony's proprietary ATRAC format for music downloads. By May 2004, a very disconnected Sony Connect finally launched and was taken apart by the media and users.

In the meantime, Apple innovated its narrow, well thought-through line of MP3 player products with no competition worth the name. Apple's divisions had, through Steve Jobs and a culture of unity, collaborated on one perfect player. Sony's interior competition had decimated any chance of creating one dream competitive product.

Competitive units (within an institution) cannot collaborate.
(I've added this note after a great comment, below: competition within an institution breaks collaboration. But competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive. If a leader can unite an organisation in collaboration and turn competitiveness to the outside, then the collaboration will work very well - think: football teams, corporations, or a country of school districts uniting to realise the benefits of scale that come from a nationwide online learning community, rather than letting commercial organisations pick up the financial benefits by uniting to pick off 32 Local Authorities at once.) 

So, then, what does this mean for education? In a school there are many competitive units: individual teachers have, traditionally, been the kings or queens of their manor, the closed-door profession meaning that what happens in their classroom, good or bad, is their responsibility. The result can be a competitive one - "my kids", "my class", "my results". Where teachers are recompensed on performance in any way, even in the form of feedback from superiors, this heightens the sense of competitiveness, making collaboration between teachers in a school impossible. The ingredients of competition - closed doors, one-teacher-one-class, rewards and praise for good performance - may have to be dismantled first, before collaboration can be encouraged.

Between schools within a district, a similar competitive nature exists, if not more so, as schools vie for finite resources from one source - the district. Therefore, for a district to enable collaboration between schools yet more ingredients need removed or altered: funding has to be allotted strictly on a per-pupil basis, not on projects or bids, for example.

Update: Peter Hirst points out further examples of school systems removing competition to enable collaboration, notably in Finland:

Thought I'd link you to an article that intrigued me... The main basis is that by removing competition in Finnish schools collaboration thrives and they succeed - there's no private schools, no school league tables, no performance pay and no standardised tests...

It is no surprise, therefore, that international collaborations of the kind that eTwinning encourages might work better for teachers and schools than collaborating closer to home, but the question that now remains, is collaborating for what? If there's nothing to be lost through competition, there is also, perhaps, a perception that there is nothing to be gained. Cue: collaboration for collaboration's sake.

Pic from Andrew Becraft

April 04, 2011

Why the cloud's important for education: saving $199,995 on one test

Server Farm Cloud Computing
Most school management teams glaze over when you talk about cloud computing. But if I told you that one science test, administered across New South Wales, was delivered for $199,995 less thanks to being hosted in the cloud for one day, rather than on dedicated servers in the education department, would you be interested?

That's exactly what happened, and it sets on a grand scale why the relatively small student-by-student savings we see from digital material being held on a server farm in Texas, rather than a server in the school grounds or Local District offices, are so important in these straightened times.

Such services might be Google Apps being introduced to schools, and the use of web-based "software as a service" (SaaS) programmes such as Every1Speaks to capture and share learning. If schools can look after these pennies, then tens of thousands of dollars and pounds are freed up for teaching and learning.

Using the cloud to cuts ties with out-of-date learning environments

And as more schools feel tied to wonky learning environments that don't really serve their purposes, feeling tied more to the email services provided therein rather than the learning resources themselves, there is a super opportunity to cut ties and bring in the best of breed in email, shared platforms, communication tools and video conferencing on an 'as-needed' basis. This cuts not only the actual cost of services to near nil, but also cuts the educational cost of students using quickly outdated online tools that a school paid for upfront.

Here is the blurb from the Microsoft site, as they explain how their Azure service cut the bill:

The New South Wales Department of Education (DET) is the largest department of education in the southern hemisphere. They wanted to improve the way they conducted Year 8 science tests to replicate what students did in the laboratory and believed interactive online science testing could test a wider range of skills than just pure scientific knowledge. However, DET estimated for them to host an online test for 65,000 students simultaneously would require a A$200,000 investment in server infrastructure. With the help of their partner, Janison Solutions, DET launched its Essential School Science Assessment (ESSA) online exam. In 2010, they trialled an online science exam hosted by Microsoft Azure that went out to 65,000 students in 650 schools simultaneously. Paying A$40 per hour for 300 Microsoft Azure Servers, DET estimated the cost of hosting the online exam for one day was just A$500.

Not only that, but the maintenance and robustness of those servers is handled by the experts, rather than an education department, and if more scale is needed, it gets added on without anyone ever needing to know.

It works on a State level. It needs to start working more on a school by school level.

Pic from Sugree

March 25, 2011

Content is not king

Cory Doctorow

Listening to a presentation in Belfast from m'old colleague Andrew Brown from LTS, he reminds me of this quote from blogger, storyteller and, yes, content-creator Cory Doctorow, pictured:

Content isn't king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you'd choose your friends -- if you chose the movies, we'd call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.

One of the key points I've been driving in the past year has been the importance of schools providing places for conversations and exploration to take place, perhaps through a design thinking-based pedagogy and process. Such a process takes the onus off the teacher to be the one preparing resources for children, effectively doing the learning for the youngster. Instead, it forces interaction around content, rather than content to be consumed or 'learnt', to take centre stage.

Pic from Joi

January 10, 2011

Quite possibly the best virtual learning environment in the world

William Bill Rankin
Dr. William Rankin is an associate professor of English and Director of Educational Innovation at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He describes an amazing learning tool, a virtual learning environment so successful its engagement levels can be tranched as follows:

  • 86% of participants use it for social knowledge construction
  • 58% for system-based reasoning
  • 37% for counter arguments
  • 28% for harnessing data or evidence to win an argument
  • 11% for model-based reasoning

And the name of this learning platform?

World of Warcraft.

December 04, 2010

What makes an online community explode during snow days?

EduBuzz
In a small Local Authority in Scotland, thousands of students, parents and teachers have been getting together to learn and share their snow-day experiences on an open source blogging  platform. 25,000 visits a day, 1827 posts and 2477 comments were left throughout the three or four days of closed school this week on eduBuzz.org in East Lothian, Scotland.

Disclosures: Throughout 2005-6 David Gilmour, me and a growing bunch of enthusiastic teachers throughout East Lothian set about planning and launching eduBuzz. It's a WordPress MultiUser platform where students, teachers and parents can share their learning as often as they want. In 2005, I ran a project for LTS to look at how to best engage teachers nationally online (each semester we engaged at least two thirds of our demographic: languages teachers). Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), the organisation behind the national schools intranet Glow, then funded me part-time for eduBuzz.org's development throughout 2006.

Glow has also been hailed as successful during the snow-bound period in one or two Local Authorities, but it's not really clear how successful - there are no national statistics yet for last week (the only usage information we have are 32 pdfs of rather vague, annualised, local data [how many are unique visits, returning visitors? What's the bounce rate?). From a couple of press stories and tweets it seems to have had about 700 daily clickthroughs on its shortened links, and 900 visits a day in one of its two most active Local Authority areas.

If we were to extrapolate the East Lothian success over these snow days in engaging people online (25,000 visits a day for 15,000 students) then we might have expected at least 415,000 visits from the 250,000 students off school this week. Glow hasn't performed this well, though, so what lessons might be out there for us to learn from the likes of eduBuzz and similar platforms in schools around the world?

What lessons on community has the snow-driven use of online communities shown us?

I was asked in November at a Scottish Government policy consultation:

"If you don't think Glow in its current form is what Glow should be, what would you do differently?"

I don't now know the whole recipe I'd have, but the one we mixed up in East Lothian five years ago has worked better and better over that time, with continued growth. I'd argue that the spike in traffic when snow somes to the country shows that it has a high local or at least Scottish audience. What are the elements I see in eduBuzz that have not been designed into Glow?

  • Make it work as a place where people choose to go. It's not obligatory to go to eduBuzz on a snow day, but a large minority or small majority choose to. It needs to feel like an online microcosm of that one kid's classroom, where the teacher has curated materials and resources and the students make up the vast majority of discussion, more often than not leading it.
  • Make it a place that's easy to get into: we chose eduBuzz.org as a web address and 'brand' because we needed something that a five year old (or a sixty-year-old looking after their grandchild) could remember. It's unique, not a common noun or verb, so it shows up top on Google, even when you misspell it. There is no log in required until the point where you want to write your own personal site post.
  • Make it open, presenting the path of least resistance to engage:
    • read, view or listen to content without having to log on anywhere;
    • leave a comment without logging on (we made the decision to trust people, believing most folk are generally pleasant online when given the trust to be so).
  • Make your management open.
    EduBuzz open meeting David Gilmour, the community manager, almost daily updates the community on its usage, the highs and lows of traffic, how people are using it. He also helps makes 'manual connections' between schools who he spots are doing similar things. Because David, as a person, is so strongly tied to the initiative it means that educators and other users feel they're reaching out to a real person, not a Government body. The Glow team have harnessed tools like Twitter and their blogs to make that connect, too, but the challenge now is finding a way for this to scale without having to pile on more employees.
         As for statistics on usage and openness of leadership, there is huge room for improvement on Glow. Traditionally, Government has seen itself as a corporation: we will not release statistics of how our sites are being used lest they be held against us at a later date. However, showing the community what's working and what's not helps engage them even further in developing better content, better forms of online discussion and, when you're on the up, it makes people feel part of something large and exciting when they can see they're part of a throbbing community.
         East Lothian's then Director of Education, Don Ledingham,  stretched to making the management meetings of the eduBuzz network totally open. Our fortnightly meetings were open to anyone, including those outside the Local Authority, meaning we often had a mix of parents, student teachers, visiting teachers and managers from around the Department coming along to offer their ideas and advice.
  • Provide a social-network-like 'wall' of latest activity so that it's easy to see what's going on elsewhere (we made a mistake in the early days of eduBuzz [my fault ;-) ] of going for a clean, Google (or GlowScotland.org.uk) look - the bounce rate reduced by half the moment we started displaying most recent content on the front page. People tend to rely more and more on these streams of information (you take what you get when you stop off by, and don't worry too much about what you missed from hours/days before) that are well-placed throughout communities (you don't have to go to a homepage to see these streams; they're visible on individual sites, too).
  • Remember the two audiences you have: for teachers you can make this feel about learning, but for students it's about providing a place they can easily connect to their class community (most students in schools are still too young to engage in 'real' social networks, or the ones they do engage in do not unite them together as a class cohort).
         If the idea behind your community is to upload lesson plans and content for learning, then your community will feel like a classroom storage cupboard: dark and slightly threatening.
         If the idea, as it is with eduBuzz, is to provide a hub for the relationships of the individuals within each classroom and each school, then the whole atmosphere changes. It's not about being there to suck down content or to pick up homework that teachers have dropped off for you. It's about seeing your mates. And to take these communities from out behind a password protection, to put the communities out in public, means that these communities can naturally form into networks.

There are a ton of other things that have been 'done' to increase engagement, but the hat tip has to go to the teachers throughout East Lothian who, over the past five years, have come to believe in the benefit of sharing what goes on in their classroom day in, day out. That one principle is the hardest thing for people to 'get', and in East Lothian a significant and increasing numbers of teachers, the gatekeepers of a successful online learning community for schools, have certainly got it loud and clear. Nationally, there needs to be more of a campaign to help educators get to grips with the questions around sharing, issues that stretch beyond education and schools, and issues that too many have not yet understood. As well as being a tools issue, it's a media literacy one above all.

You can read more about the eduBuzz journey and how it grew in the early days to what it is now in my 2008 presentation, We're Adopting - A Social Media Strategy for Schools.

November 18, 2010

What is a community?

"Community is a larger loose group with a common background defined in more focus by a smaller group with a goal who act."

I just came up with that in response to a question around the future of professional development on Scotland's national intranet, Glow. I was quite happy with it. What would you add? (In 140 characters, of course ;-)

November 09, 2010

Do I Have Your Attention?

This is one of my favourite moments in the film, The Social Network, that has been remixed as a beautifully produced piece of Prezi, filmed, and set against the dialogue from the film. It's let down by an apostrophe that doesn't belong and a lack of dictionary or spellcheck use, infuriating since the rest of it is rather clever.

Update: a corrected version and the backstory published now on this blog.

While we're thinking about attention, how often do schools and teachers assume the attention of youngsters, of parents, of our colleagues? My gut feel: nearly all the time.

  • We assume that learners want to learn because they chose subjects.
  • We assume that learners will want to learn because we like the way we do something.
  • We assume parents care about their child's education.
  • We assume that our colleagues want to learn how to do their jobs better/differently.
  • We assume that adults know how to learn on their own.
  • We assume that chuldren don't know how to learn on their own.
  • ...

We need to work consistently at gaining attention, retaining attention and turning that attention into value, much in the same way as a tech startup like Facebook would do (check out Dave McClure's busy but genius presentation on attention and metrics if you want to delve more into how). I'm fairly convinced that somewhere in these tech startup metrics are the assessment tools for the new forms of learning that are emerging, but fighting against assessment structures of old that don't fit anymore.

And in using new metrics to measure success, we can engage in new learning with more confidence, new learning that is almost certainly more likely to get the attention of those around us.

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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