17 posts categorized "Books"

May 07, 2010

[Book Review]: Me And My Web Shadow, Antony Mayfield

I thought I'd share some of my love for the great books I've been reading lately (and further back), in a semi-occasional book review.

The first one up comes from someone who, over the years, has become a strong online friend, despite the fact that we've only ever met a half dozen times at various random cities across Europe. He was one of a merry gang who helped change my life, too, back in Copenhagen in 2007 when he and Mrrs Moore and Semple suggested that I should set up my own company.

Antony's premise then was that the things we were doing online as an added extra created enough value, eventually, to employ them in the centre of everything we do.

His new book, Me and My Web Shadow: How to Manage Your Reputation Online, illustrates in a mix of textbook, handbook and extended blog post how anyone, from a school kid to a CEO, a teacher to a parent, can harness their online footprint for their own personal good, and the good of the communities around them.

Me and my Web Shadow Book
Antony  set about writing Me And My Web Shadow to help inform the kind of person "who doesn't quite get Twitter yet", or who thinks privacy issues on Facebook are a good enough reason to avoid it. It was for his wife, amongst many others. It's pitched in the kind of way that wouldn't patronise a proficient user of social media but which is also accessible to newbies. If there were a French translation I might even purchase a copy for my mother-in-law, to help her understand the grey areas between private and public, friends and Friends.

Despite having risen through the ranks of PR to a Senior Vice President position at iCrossing, the world's biggest SEO company, he talks his reader through privacy and openness in a blog-like, non-corporate, friendly way. This book reads for itself, combining practical tips and examples of people getting it right (and wrong), along with some Thinking Man's theory of why all this is so.

And his tone of voice means that Me And My Web Shadow is the ideal starter book and reference tool for people both in education and in the corporate world. It's a tough balance to strike, and Antony's nailed it.

If you want to provide some quick, light, intelligent reading to parents or colleagues who don't quite get all this malarky yet, then Me and My Web Shadow (UK) is possibly the best first port of call they could ask for. They'll understand the main issues and have some practical next steps as to how they can take control of their very own web shadows. It's not one to read cover-to-cover, but rather to have to hand when those "what happens if" questions crop up.

Follow the book on Twitter or, if you prefer humans, Antony himself.

Me And My Web Shadow: How To Manage Your Online Reputation is launched May 15th in the US Store: reserve your copy now in my book store.

April 13, 2010

Reasons for literacy to love the iPad #1

I'm selling a bunch of iPad ideas to my investment panel tomorrow on behalf of my client companies and looking forward to producing some fun, engaging and hopefully profitable little apps early on in the new marketplace, before it, too, gets over-over-overcrowded.

This example of how Alice in Wonderland will be iPadised has a budget well above our prototypes, but creates the kind of eye-popping engagement for reading that most of us learning and teaching reading in any language wouldn't want to miss.

March 01, 2010

"If you want more PCs you only have to ask"

From the Leader of Newcastle City Council John Shipley at the superb libraries conference Edge2010 in Edinburgh Castle came this phrase. He believes that:

"libraries come cheap at the price, reducing costs in almost every other problematic area of public spending: policing and crime prevention, vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, social exclusion".

When he and colleagues built the new City Library in Newcastle it was an architectural and social revolution, one of the few spaces in a city centre that you could go to and not have to spend money. As such, it is becoming the pillar of interaction for citizens, and it's not just to read.

Shipley's number one preoccupation on his visits is counting the number of laptops that are free for people to use. If he doesn't spot enough of them, he'll make sure that more are supplied. Access to information and civic services is such a core entitlement, in his view, that the expense of more hardware is a small price to pay compared to what other parts of his council will have to fork out if the library wasn't fulfilling its role to the full.

This is profound. It's profound in an age where libraries are often the first in line to be cut, closed and stalled in their work to make us more fully informed and wise citizens. His point is that it's the cheapest thing to keep going given what it does to mop up the social problems of a city through engagement. Fact: a £0.5m ($1m) annual cost of an enormous city library is equivalent to half a penny rise in local taxes. It's a negligible price to pay for what it can offer.

August 03, 2009

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?


If we all knew the idea we'd not be writing blog posts like this, reading them or doing workshops on the matter. We'd be busy pulling that limitless supply of creativity out of its hole to see the light of day and bring us riches, joy, learning and new friends.

However, given that we're not, over the next month or so (or however long it takes me to splurge out those thoughts) I'll be summarising on this here blog some of the best online and offline reading and viewing that has attempted to answer that question, throwing in my own unresearched but tried and tested notions (and a few that haven't even got that far). This post will change to reflect the updating posts that will take a peek at:

  1. Why it's important to (want to) know Where Good Ideas Come From.
  2. Stand There And Do Nothing: Designing beautiful solutions rather than solving ugly problems
  3. Creative Genius. Man At Work: Arguments for not working as a team
  4. Getting Creativity Done (GCD): How to get productive and clean down the mental decks
  5. Nurturing creativity: Worrying about "Tanya's Bow" or the Dinosaurs: Some arguments for caring about the team, not pissing them off and really understanding what failure is
  6. Finding your tribe
  7. Creating visions, not missions

As they're posted, please leave comments, disagree, add your own links, videos and pictures. I hope that by the end of it we'll have a resource to which we might come back with the stories of how the works, thoughts and attitudes of others have changed the way we operate.

Bookmark this post and come back to it for updates, and subscribe to the blog to get a daily email or RSS feed in your reader every time there's a new post. Take a look at my instructions on how to subscribe.

Brill pic from Chris Metcalf

June 14, 2009

Seth on why the textbook industry deserves to die


Seth Godin doesn't just 'do' marketing but he teaches it regularly, too. His latest rant is on the insidious growth of the business of textbook writing and publishing, as a result, he believes, of laziness in the market and cynical money-grabbing by a select few from an ignorant system.

The argument is certainly not that books are inherently wrong in a schooling environment (Seth has sold his share of millions of books). Books such as those I read offer insights from leaders in their fields, normally insights which are relatively up-to-date (give or take 12 months) and which would be a nightmare to try and consume on a 500 pixel-wide blog posting.

But textbooks, written as they are, out-of-date, error-ridden by mistype or time passing, curations of general knowledge rather than journeys through learning with personal insights, almost always are the professor's/teacher's lazy option. Says Seth:

The solution seems simple to me. Professors should be spending their time devising pages or chapterettes or even entire chapters on topics that matter to them, then publishing them for free online. (it's part of their job, remember?)  When you have a class to teach, assemble 100 of the best pieces, put them in a pdf or on a kindle or a website (or even in a looseleaf notebook) and there, you're done. You just saved your intro marketing class about $15,000. Every semester. Any professor of intro marketing who is assigning a basic old-school textbook is guilty of theft or laziness.

This industry deserves to die. It has extracted too much time and too much money and wasted too much potential. We can do better. A lot better.

Seth's assumption is the same as mine, and the underlying pretext of the eduBuzz platform: that teachers are paid to share their knowledge, not just with those students in front of them but with anyone in their learning communities, and sharing with this community will make us all better teachers and learners.

Arnie's got the right end of the wrong stick: it's not a question of changing the media through which the textbook is published, it's about changing the very notion of the textbook.

By far the easiest way to do this is to blog regularly, in bite-sized, timely learning chunks that can be read, commented upon, linked to and adapted by students, their parents and your peers. It is much harder for everyone to publish this in a textbook, ends up much more inaccurate and, above all, is less accessible due to cost than an internet connection in every home.

Sharing, and sharing online specifically, is not in addition to the work of being an educator. It is the work.

February 07, 2009

Ken Robinson's The Element: reincarnating creativity

Ken Robinson Ken Robinson's "The Element" gets launched in the UK this week. It's a superb tome, and one that every educator, employee or entrepreneur should read, if only to check that they themselves are in the right place personally and professionally. Do your natural talents and passions meet at the same time and place, or are you plugging away at the wrong thing completely? Ken's book contains no simplistic lists of things one must do to survive the 21st century - it's Johnny Bunko for the over-educated.

Update: The RSA have now featured a film of his Element Lecture from February 2009.

Many of the messages will be familiar to those who have viewed his famous TED talk which proclaims, rightly in this blogger's opinion, that schools kill creativity. Why? Here's some of the stimulus from Ken's book along with some of my own observations, thoughts and inaccurate takes on the world of education.

Schools are built for, and in the image of, the industrial revolution
Schools are not only built for an industrial revolution past but also in its image - my first ever teaching placement in the most deprived area of Scotland was marked by every period of learning being 53 minutes long, something more like a chicken processing plant's shifts than a stimulating learning environment, with students batched by age and subject to standardised tests for quality before shipping to the real world. Conformity has thus always had a higher value than diversity. Disciplines on offer are subject to a hierarchy (maths and native language, followed by the sciences with music and the arts chasing the coattails).

Creativity and standardised testing can't share the same bed
We know this set of unchanging givens is killing creativity not just in high schools, though generally to a much lesser degree in primary schools, but also in Higher Education establishments. As the number of school leavers not in employment, education or training (NEET) creates a political headache for governments around the world, they are failing to tackle the continued problem in universities and colleges where the numbers also falling into the NEET category are surpassing the figures for high schools.

From recent personal experience of the 'creative output' of some UK Higher Education institutions I can vouch for a killing of creativity, independent thought and entrepreneurship, as hoardes of undergraduates and MScs fight to conform to what university markers want to see and take advantage of the spread of 'cramming courses' at the expense of pursuing personal passions at their best effort. When working on personal projects that are put forward for commissioning (i.e. asking for several £00,000s from the likes of 4iP) or for national and international media and technology prizes, the constraints of the learning environment ("a one-month unit using only x or y software") are used to justify downright poor propositions. Where's the passion that makes them stay up until 11pm and be up at 5.30am to work on their Big Idea? (These are the times 11 year olds at the New York KIPP schools regularly keep to tackle their learning, something about which they, at least, are passionate).

I said earlier that elementary schools have largely escaped this struggle for conformity, but even this elevated position is being gnawed away by standardised tests and curricula. Nothing in the past three years has made me more depressed about the state of education in England than hearing a young Wolverhampton child, part of a PDA-in-the-classroom project, saying that his prime goal from learning was to "get a five" - I still have no idea what "a five" is, but I have a feeling that it's not something that inspires me.

The death of entrepreneurship

This desire to "get a five" or to gain the best possible SAT test result is based on a wrong assumption, both in the creation of such tests and their perceived value in the wider world, particularly in the growing creative sector (worth £50b a year in the UK). Malcolm Gladwell's (right) Outliers, which I read immediately after Robinson's Element, offers a great counterpart in where creative success comes from in the first place. It explores the element of chance, background and opportunity in one's success, but also the need for a serious superhuman degree of practice at something before you reach the beginning of your prime, somewhere, that is, in the region of 10 years or 10,000 hours of passionate practice.

In the schooling environment we still see in most countries' high schools and higher education establishments, it's rare that the personal passion of a young person is given the chance to steer activity, resource and time in order that they might get close to achieving that 10,000 hours quicker. But it's not all the fault of institutions' structures and strictures.

More often than not, the successful student pictures themselves working in the 'safety' of faceless institutions rather than taking their passions and ideas to market themselves. History shows more entrepreneurs who were not successful students making it in the relative unsupported privacy of their entrepreneurship. Most students fail to realise, as Robinson puts it so well, that a degree these days is not so much a passport to a good job and salary, but a visa, something that needs renewed on an ever more frequent basis. But institutions and Governments are not particularly vocal in promoting this fact, thus encouraging the self-perpetuating myth that going to univesrity is better than going to college which is better than following a passion that, while you're willing to spend every waking hour working on it, might not lead to anything.

What is it that needs to change? Clue: It isn't curriculum or assessment
Nearly every country I've worked in for the past three years, from India to China, New Zealand to the states and provinces of Canada and the USA, from my native Scotland to our neighbours in England and Wales, is fiddling with two things: curriculum and assessment. Technology is often seen as the means of making teaching and learning better. I don't want to tackle here whether it does, but one thing is sure, as Arthur C Clarke (via Sugata Mitra) put it: "If a teacher can be replaced by a computer, then they should." This doesn't mean that all teachers should be replaced by computers, of course. It doesn't even mean that poor teachers should be, really. What it does highlight is that the myth an education system has no poor teachers or even a large hump of mediocre teachers needs to be met head on.

We also need to recognise that, largely, those teachers who use technology the most effectively and lead the way with its use are also, by and large, excellent teachers with or without the technology.

This helps us see what many of us appreciate already: the one biggest element of improving education, making learning more creatively inclined and entrepreneurial, is the teacher. It's not curriculum, class sizes (though smaller class sizes make the teacher's life easier) or even assessment. This is something I've been reporting back from research for two years (and which I've been blown out on more times than I can count). It's not about letting students lead the way with technology and "show us teachers" how it's done. Students are generally quite narrow in their knowledge of how to harness technology or creative venture.

No, it's how teachers and parents teach that is important. It is, to use a piece of edu-jargon, pedagogy, both at school and at home.

Yet no national strategy - and I would love to be corrected - headlines pedagogy as the key factor. Think about it: A Curriculum for Excellence (Scotland); No Child Left Behind (assessment: USA); New Zealand's curriculum is about values, competences, subject areas... Also, there's no large educational business à la Pearson that places its centre of gravity around pedagogy forcing the issue with superb pedagogy-based programmes of change, and with good reason - the business of standardised testing, where pedagogy must play second fiddle to cramming and passing the test, is worth in the USA between $1.2 and $5 billion per year per state. How much is teaching the teachers worth? Currently, a lot less.

Fundamental change through Brains Trusts

When I was having a post-panel-session chat with Clay Shirky (I was on the panel and he was the first question-asker of the day) he talked about my current place of employment not in terms of what it was, but in terms of who was in it: "What a brain trust you guys have there", he said. What did he mean? He meant that the organisation employed what it felt were the best people for the job of moving its business forward, and left them to get the hell on with it. The result of feeling that you're part of this brains trust is that you strive more than you ever have to be the best in the world. How many times has someone called the teachers in your school a "brains trust"? Or, for that matter, the management team? Or the parents? Or the students? How many times a day are you aware that you're goal is to be the best in the world?

When we were developing eduBuzz for students and teachers in East Lothian, we centred it around the people, not the platform or the politique of the education authority's management (who, in some schools and particularly in the early days, riled against what we were doing). In a LIFT talk last year, I made the point of saying that its success as a project was probably down to the fact that it offered an immediate change from the importance placed on the school - school boards, school achievement, school councils - and moved it instead onto a level where individuals - people - were the focus. People, not institutions and paper-borne structures, are the sole way to help individuals find their element, nurture it and take advantage of that for the greater good. It's just that most people who have ound their element have had to go and create their own institutions or projects to find a like-minded tribe - education institutions where one is packed away by age and ability, ability determined through standardised tests, are not the place to find fellow tribesmen and women who want to be the best in the world.

It's the nurturing of the brains trust in one's place of work or place of learning that counts the most if we are to improve learning. Schools are pretty poor at identifying talents that are not testable, yet alone nurturing it (this happens thanks to the actions of individual teachers rather than a systemic ability and framework to nurture talent, in the same way as, say, a broadcaster like Channel 4 does; there, the raison d'être is to nurture alternative voices and new talent, with a budget and infrastructure built more or less solely around this. My own department, for example, manages some £50m of public and private money to nurture new talent in online, mobile and gaming media alone.).

Making sure that our current and future students in schools and higher education establishments are capable of entrepreneurship in many areas of their lives, of coming up with solutions that marry new technology (bringing with it new possibilities we could not have before thought through) with strong understanding of design to tackle issues that really matter is the number one task to ensure that they can fully participate as citizens. Simply providing access to part of that equation is not enough: broadband for all without understanding for all, community without happenstance on a global scale, a child's creativity without understanding of the potential technology brings.

August 20, 2005

New tech for old tech

Vendingmachinebookparis Another Saturday silly, spotted yesterday on Yahoo News. For a very reasonable 2€ bookwormish Parisians can get their latest read for the métro from a Livremat. The automatic book dispensers are appearing all over town from the Maxi-Livre chain (known by those of us who were students in France for its blockbusting "Cuisine avec un Wok") and contain the top 25 titles of the shop. This means you have the big classics next to French-English dictionaries and aforementioned Wok how-tos, in case you find yourself with a Chinese literary agent in Paris and need to whip something up sharpish.

Coming next, an explanation of Technorati, for which, I hope you don't mind, I am making my claim in this post. Technorati Profile

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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