November 22, 2007

The problem of talking about the new web: you have to do it, too

I do hope Stephen Heppell responds to Bill Kerr's points on his Australian keynote speech, points that sum up something with which I, as a conference presenter, become increasingly uncomfortable:

1) An important international expert arrives from overseas to tell us that local knowledge is the most important thing;
2) We sit in lecture mode hearing that the lecture is no longer important;
3) The limitations of web2.0 apps are not mentioned. There was no context either historical (computer science) or historical, about all the knowledge discovered before computers were invented.

When I'm giving a talk I'm nearly always within the constraints of the organiser: "can you please come and give us a talk at this time slot", they ask. I then go on to lecture on how important it is to collaborate, but hope, at least, that collaboration will take place after the initial lecture.

The extended conference experience - not just a lecture
In my classroom I would start with 2-5 minutes 'lecture', setting the context, before the carousel of collaboration would begin for the rest of the 50 minute period. On the same scale, if I'm giving a one hour lecture you can expect the collaboration to go on for at least ten weeks thereafter (one hour a week responding to the concerns of locals who attended the talk). An essential part and package of my offer is the blog, and that people have the courage to at least email or leave comments on the 'lecture post'.

This both shows that local knowledge and skills are indeed the most important element but within the context of a global communications space, hence my professional relationships with teachers in New Zealand and the States being, arguably, more in-depth than my professional relationships with non-blogging teachers in Scotland.

The final point, about historical and cultural positioning of new technologies, is vital. That's why one of the talks I enjoy giving the most is Why Scotland's Been Blogging For 5 Million Years, applicable to most countries in showing that this is less a revolution, as a reformation. It's not so much new, as reminding people of what it means to be a human being, what makes us tick, and bringing that back into learning. These things include connecting to others, conversing, asking questions and giving answers. None of that, of course, is achievable in a traditional lecture format, but possible in my 'extended lecture' notion. If only more keynoters picked up discussions on their blog (if they had one of them, if... ;-)

If you haven't seen or heard Stephen speak you can catch him at the Scottish Learning Festival video website, in one of many videos captured for the Learning about Learning series or in the new Journey For Excellencedownload him onto your iPod for the trip home tonight.
site (search for 'Heppell'). You can even
Enjoy - it's good stuff - but you may have to do some of your own thinking to work out how it applies to you. And I can't think of anything good teachers would enjoy more than thinking about how to do their stuff better.


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I was thinking the same thing today Ewan, for a different reason. An awful lot of the succesful bloggers I read are people who spend a lot of their time jetting around the world giving (usually very good) presentations. It struck me that these would be successful presenters pre-blog world and that there is something of an obsession with the traditional presentation amongst bloggers. What I would hope for are new types of dialogue and thinkers, who wouldn't have been successful before, ie that blogging is a different medium, not just an extension of the pals network. It is to an extent, but I am always surprised at how much face to face celebrity seems to drive it too.

Well, the only reason I've managed to speak to interesting people around the world is because I blog. I certainly wouldn't have had my voice heard as a lowly, young, inexperienced French and German teacher in the East Coast of Scotland, but by blogging people can see whether you really do walk the walk or are just all talk. For that, I am grateful. It's literally life-changing.

hi ewan,

I read your Scottish history piece (part one). I think the title is a bit unfortunate - technology eats it children, we invent tools and then they shape our outlook, a blogger looks at history through web2.0 eyes, what does he see?

A comparative study with Australian history would reveal many similarities as well as some important differences. I question the notion that the local is more important than the global as some sort of general truth. The notion of "local hero" appeals as do stories and myths, it taps into the universals . But modern societies have much in common. We would be better served by viewing the local / global as a dynamic relationship and that often the global component is more important

If you wish to think about this more have a look at my summary of furedi's book in which some of the sources of the local dogma are explored in more depth

Hey Ewan,

We've used blogs to support some classes on MBA and Masters level courses at MBS.

One of the immediate effects we noticed was that the dialogue was more constant and involved across the ten weeks.

Typically, it's been my experience both as deliverer and receiver of lectures that there are peaks and troughs in engagement. We run three hour lectures...there's a peak in interest during the lecture which is then diminished in the period between it and the next session, where interest and engagement again peaks.

Similarly the students would take a while to 'warm up' at the start of each lecture.

Our blogging of the current and upcoming topics throughout the 10 weeks, as well as having the students blog themselves not only levelled out these peaks and troughs somewhat, but also significantly reduced the 'warm up' time...students come to the lectures eager to discuss the blog posts and interim discussion as well as what we were planning to cover that session.

I think that in no small part was it responsible for the incredibly positive feedback we received...


Thanks for the response Ewan. I was interested in the interface between virtual social networking and 'real' social networking. I agree - blogging is life changing and easily the most rewarding thing I've done over the past two years. As someone who works a long way from where they live, I spend a good deal of time every week away from home as part of my normal job. Consequently I don't do a lot of extra travelling (conferences, workshops and the like). So blogging is, for me, a means of having that extended intellectual community without doing too much extra travel. So I guess the question I was trying to ask myself was "Do you need to do lots of face to face networking in order to have a reputable blog?". I think the answer is 'no, but it probably helps".

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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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