124 posts categorized "eduBuzz"

May 16, 2008

Does the word 'teacher' create a barrier these days?

School of Everything have been pondering how they get across the idea that some people will learn and others will teach through the service, when the word teacher is, apparently, so loaded with negative connotations:

We want to help professional teachers advertise their services, but it's pretty clear from the general feedback that the word "teacher" also puts off many people with skills and experience to share. We think everyone has something to teach - but how many of us would call ourselves teachers? And is calling some of our members "teachers" and others "learners" just reinforcing unhelpful divisions, or respecting teachers for their skills in passing on what they know?

The balance between respect for the role and enabling learning by reducing the perceived barriers is hard to achieve. As adults we rarely refer to those who teach us how to work better as 'teacher'. We've invented a plethora of other words to avoid this: coach, mentor, facilitator...

My guess is that it shows mutual respect to use these not-teacher words, so does this mean that we use the word 'teacher' in schools to reinforce some kind of 'them' and 'us' attitude? And, having read Don and John's convincing arguments, do we really want a 'them' and 'us' approach to teaching and learning? About time, perhaps, that the organisation I work for changes its name simply to Learning Scotland.

Update: David Warlick has a nice take on this, where the differentiation is important, but with the nuance that learners are sometimes teachers, and teachers are learners.


March 07, 2008

Community-building - why bottom-up alone doesn't work

For the hard of understanding: this is not, as Stephen seems to think, a defense of some kind of 'web aristocracy', as very recent posts would make clear. It's expanding some metaphors in a bid to find out how even small 'bottom-up' communities thrive, and whether there is always a central 'core' who are pushing and directing things.

It's a myth to believe that purely bottom-up culture will lead to any form of truly successful community. Purely bottom-up communities are, ironically, difficult for newbies to infiltrate and, once in them, hard for anyone to have their voice heard.

Stuart, from the NCSL, left a really worthwhile and considered comment on my last post, where I was considering why people would want to join a state-administered community at all. He points out the vital role of the top-down working in harmony with bottom-up passions:

"Large, nationally-run initiatives are successful too if they influence the culture in a more ambient fashion, if they encourage people to learn from what can be found within them - creative tools and the opportunity to connect with like-minded people - and then they go off and build their own networks, spaces and connections online.

"There's a role for institutions modelling and supporting these tools and behaviours, giving teachers a kind of first class ticket into a network they don't have to build from scratch like lego. Isn't eduBuzz an example of just such an initiative to kick start a networking culture?"

Indeed, eduBuzz was built in both a bottom-up fashion by being invitational (you were invited to sign up and share, not ordered or expected to) and open door (our Board meetings were Open Meetings - anyone could come along, whether part of the Local Authority or not, teacher or parent...). But there was also a degree of top-down management of the community, which I catalogued in last summer's series of talks at BLC07. What kind of actions were top-down? Here are some:

  • We provided a portal page, to let people know what the principle aims of the teaching and learning policy were.
  • We provided one web address where people could go to learn why they might want to share online, find others doing so in their field or geographical area and start sharing themselves.
  • We helped connect people who 'should' have known about each other, but maybe didn't, being teachers with busy schedules and not as much time to read the panoply of blogs, wikis and podcasts coming out of the local teacher population. (I guess this backs up Andrew Keen's point that innovation comes from individuals rather than the digital crowd.)
  • The Head of Education (now Director of Children's Services and Education) had created his own blog: the messages from this are often top-down, managerial, decision-making related, but coupled with the bottom-up approach of seeking comment and accord.
  • We provided training sessions on digital new media - podcasting, filming, photography, blogging, animation - and used these as a means to encourage people to share the results in the online community.

eduBuzz has experienced a level growth (5000% a lot per year) well above more organic completely bottom-up communities with the same aim (for the previous 18 months the area's online community had stagnated), and was strongly linked to the image, vibe and ethos of a geographical place: East Lothian. It certainly offers all the advantages of being an essentially bottom-up community but with the direction and purpose of top-down.

Stuart's comment makes me think of what Charlie Leadbetter was talking about on Monday night (after I had written my previous post) in his tête-à-tête with Andrew Keen. In a chapter of his new book, We-Think, that wasn't published, he talks about cities, both those designed on a bottom-up settler tribal ethos (e.g. Lagos) and those designed on a purely top-down state-controlled basis (e.g. Shanghai). Neither extreme works particularly well, with one a chaotic, crime-ridden, slow-developing sprawl and the other a successful burgeoning but not particularly human-friendly concrete jungle. You can hear more of Charlie about the role of users and consumers in his TED Talk from 2005.

I'm waiting on my review copy of We-Think to arrive in the post, but I think it may provide some leads on where our various 'state-controlled' online communities might stand in the future, and how much of that leash needs to be slackened to ensure both the unthreatening and helpful intervention from 'them up there', to help those at the bottom get the most out of them and the people in those communities.

And where does this leave my analogy of the bothy as the enviable bottom-up community that we might want to emulate? Well, I guess there is actually a strong element of top-down in bothy culture: historical expectations. The people who use bothies are coming with a particular cultural and historical contextual baggage, expectations of how that bothy is used, how we treat others within it, and how we leave that community when we leave it. Likewise, those who choose to blog and stick with it come having done a little homework (reading others' blogs) and bring a set of expectations from history and culture that, ultimately, are top-down, coming from those who've been 'mastering' the art of writing or speaking through the medium. Blogs, wikis and bothies all have this hidden (or not-so-hidden) aristocratic history woven through them.

It's no mistake that Jimmy Wales has called 'his' wiki's Editors the 'aristocracy' of Wikipedia, with him as the Monarch. But it works. For him. Bottom-up, it seems, always requires a bit of state, monarch or Parliament, to make it work in the long term.

March 06, 2008

eduBuzz - 176th most popular wiki in the world

Edubuzzlogobanneroffset_copy The guys from Wikio got in touch today having seen eduBuzz.org/support, the training and support wiki we created for teachers and learners in East Lothian Council in 2006, become the 176th most popular 'business' wiki in the world.

The wiki sums up a lot of the ethos of eduBuzz and the East Lothian Teaching and Learning Policy: openness, collaboration and the inclusion of all in the decision-making process. One of its highlights was the co-creation of safe-use guidelines for social media in the classroom by teachers, parents, students and managers over a two week period back in 2006.

eduBuzz isn't just the wiki, but a collaborative online space of over 1300 well over 1400 blog users and countless readers (1.3m page views per month) based on WPMU (see David's comment below about the problems of knowing the real, higher number of participants). While the online project was greatly enhanced by LTS funding some time and effort in an initial year-long period, this is a just another sign that the project goes from strength to strength in a sustainable fashion. Real community-building built on realworld tools.

March 05, 2008

Naace08 Keynote: Our future, our lives, our technology, our learning

A vague title so that I could get away with pretty much anything that I wanted to at last night's killer slot, 8pm, after dinner and before the next time Naace delegates could get to the bar. They did pretty well to make it through to the end and have some energy to talk about the issues I ended up raising. John, Ian, David and the Naace livebloggers managed to capture elements of what I cobbled together.

I could have done something zingy around the whizzbang technology that really is engaging our kids (and offer delegates the chance to view that presentation in full now that they've done the serious thinking). In the end, I took the strands of thought that have been hurtling around my head this past week (community, participation, tipping point or not, and a bit of the "We're adopting" talk) and wove them together with one common message:

The people who will make the difference in the classroom will not be the national organisations, the regulators or the civil servants. It will not be the QCA, Becta or various exam boards in England (though I think the leaner Learning and Teaching Scotland has potential to offer an extension of expectations that our counterparts on the border have failed to yet deliver). It will be the teacher, the one actually working with the child, who will make the difference.

March 04, 2008

Tipping Point Toast for Communities?

There's new research from a Yahoo mathematician researcher which shows that Malcolm Gladwell's 'Tipping Point' theory, where small groups of influential people tip new objects or ideas into the mainstream, may be mere whimsy. In my experience, he may be right.

This provides some further thought not only about why people might (not) join online communities in the first place but who might join online communities. Duncan Watts is published in the latest Fast Company magazine showing how the notion of the Tipping Point, from its incarnation as the "opinion leaders" thesis of 1955 through to the notion of 'six degrees of separation' in 1967, can be proven less persuasive with some maths:

"In 2001, Watts used a Web site to recruit about 61,000 people, then asked them to ferry messages to 18 targets worldwide. Sure enough, he found that Milgram was right: The average length of the chain was roughly six links. But when he examined these pathways, he found that "hubs"--highly connected people--weren't crucial. Sure, they existed. But only 5% of the email messages passed through one of these superconnectors. The rest of the messages moved through society in much more democratic paths, zipping from one weakly connected individual to another, until they arrived at the target."

I subscribe to many ideas from Gladwell's Blink and Tipping point books, mainly the notion that people thin slice (make up their minds on something the instant they see it) and that good ideas require a small targeted group of people to help it spread initially. Gladwell's example was a bunch of influential fashionable hippies who spread the wearing of Hush Puppies around Manhattan in the 90s. My example is of good teachers sharing new ideas about how we can do our jobs better.

It's not how influential you are...
However, I've never believed that the influentual-ness of those individuals is particularly  important. It's more been a case of finding people who believe in the notion, idea or service that I believe in and helping them spread the word on whatever it is to others. Influential people already come equipped with presumably equally influential contacts and that way of explaining things to others, but that doesn't preclude 'non-influentials' (yuck, horrible term) from becoming influential in their own right, simply by being passionate to their friends, colleagues and community. And here's the plus side: with influentials probably 'selling' stuff to other influentials there comes the risk that your idea simply remains in its echo chamber. Get some regular folk together and you have a chance that your idea hits the mainstream.

In the eduBuzz community, where rapid growth in the numbers of teachers sharing their work on blogs and other collaborative sites was initially linked to the Tipping Point notion, we quickly realised that, in fact, there was a chaotic blend of classroom teachers, parents, librarians, students and managers taking the lead - not necessarily our "Top 10% Influencers" that we may have identified beforehand; just good learners or teachers who found plausible the idea that sharing learning experiences was a good thing.

Ultimately, we would understand from the Fast Company story, it has little to do with the person trying to propagate the trend, and everything to do with the trend itself. If a community is ready to embrace a trend then anyone can help kick that trend off. If, however, the culture of a community prevents people from easily getting 'infected' with the new idea, then whether persuasive influencer or Average Joe, you stand little chance of getting that idea to spread.

Ed Keller, author of The Influentials, disagrees with this based on his own experiences, where top 10% influencers happen to be five times more likely to dispense advice, and they're early adopters, too, using mobiles and the net years before anyone else.

If being influential isn't important, wherefore professional organisations?
But he concedes an important point: "Duncan is making a straw-man argument. Because nobody, including myself, thinks that Influencers are the only group of consumers who matter."

This, again, puts a compelling question mark at the foot of communities. What is being part of a community? Tonight I speak at the annual Naace strategic conference, a professional organisation which prides itself on being influential, having that cachet as a group of innovators, the Hush-Puppy wearers of the Education ICT world. Does this stand up in an age where anyone with ideas that society can grasp can take on an influence of their own?

Gareth Davis of Naace already has some ideas on this, although in the light of this research it would be interesting to see them developed further. I think there may be a case of what Mark suggests, that we distort what actually happens in the light of retrospection.

February 23, 2008

Social media for open education - the video

The LIFTers have managed to put up video from this month's event in Geneva. My five minute open stage talk, voted for by the conference participants, was marred by a dodgy mic and some even more dodgy conversion of the fonts on my preso (must remember to remove older versions from memory pens before handing them to the techie guys). This is the reason, dear conference organisers, that I much prefer just plugging in my own Mac - worth sacrificing 30 seconds of speaking time for :-) Nice versions of many of the same slides are in a 20-minute version of the talk that I've slideshared.

Anyway, I hope that in 5 minutes (and 20 seconds) I manage to do justice to the sterling work of the team back in East Lothian and at LTS. It's certainly had positive feedback, both on the day and since then on some blogs. It is probably the last time that I use that pesky cupstacking video (thanks, Stephen), although I'll have trouble not talking about the continued importance of audience, of purpose, and of sharing what we do. Above all, I hope that some LIFTers take my challenge seriously and help their local learning communities to start sharing a heck of a lot more than they currently do.

December 29, 2007

3/5: eduBuzz: East Lothian online publishing increases 5000%

This is the third of five parts in a personal learning log review of 2007. It might be of  help to you, might not be. Bear with me, and normal service will be resumed...

Edubuzz I was employed from August 2006 to see how Learning and Teaching Scotland could help enhance a teacher-sharing project, Exc-el, in East Lothian Council. I joined a team that, throughout 2007 created such a passion for online publishing we netted a 5000% increase in sharing practice and ideas online, from 20 teachers sharing their expertise, to over 1000 teachers, managers, technicians, students and parents working together in a new service: eduBuzz.

January 9th, and after three months of research, training events and talking with the teachers of East Lothian, we were looking at changing most of the old Exc-el formula - eduBuzz was born. Six months later we had just over 1000 bloggers in East Lothian.

July 18th: I was able to share how we created this excitement and increased morale, in part down to the technologies team, at the Building Learning Communities 2007 conference in Boston. On October 12th I was invited to expand on this in a keynote the Building Learning Communities 2008 conference on the theme of how online teacher development can help change attitudes and culture, and on August 12 published the adoption strategy outline in time for a Scottish outing at the Learning Festival.

January 19th: The first structure for TeachMeet Roadshow training events was floated. This now forms a highly successful basis for training teachers in constantly moving technology in East Lothian and beyond, including those working in the Higher Education sector who turned up on July 1st to see how the form of their professional development could change for the better.

On January 21st, I set out why schools shouldn't have school websites, but have more messy networks of blogs. In December, we hear that Musselburgh Grammar School has, four years after and small group of students and I started to blog there, moved completely over to self-publishing for its school website.

February 15th: We sneaked through a change to take East Lothian education resources into Creative Commons.

June 14th was an opportunity to guage how we were doing with a visit from education and technology visionary Stephen Heppell. Far from focusing just on technology in East Lothian - something one just can't do since it's part and parcel of a fulsome education being delivered to students, from active playful learning and critical thinking approaches, to the use of students' own gaming consoles for learning and learning environments.

The latter had been of interest in particular since hearing about the Stovner school in Norway, on May 23rd about which I spoke, in an East Lothian context, to our Head Teachers on June 19th. Since then, the whole notion of why we come to school in the first place and how many students should 'attend' at once has been challenged by my visit on July 17th to the MET Schools in Providence.

I no longer work in East Lothian Council, after five-and-a-half years of teaching French and German, working with the ICT Team and then developing national projects from that work. I'm already missing my classroom, and know I'll miss working with such a great team at the Council HQ.

Related posts:
1/5: Hit or miss? Spotting innovation that's worth spotting
2/5: The changing ways of the public sector 
4/5: Building a business
5/5: Having a bash - social media gets social

August 14, 2007

10 Top Tips for Unplanning the Perfect Unconference

Unconferences What's the secret of some of the unconferences in recent years that have had educators and learners excited, enthralled and changing their ways of working and thinking? Well, I'm not sure there is a secret per se, but having unplanned a good dozen or so unconferences and visited a score more there are some things that keep cropping up from which we can all learn.

As we head hurtling towards an online-offline unconference at the Scottish Learning Festival, that is, TeachMeet07 on the evening of September 19th (sign up now!), I've also been preparing some of the ground for another year of TeachMeet Roadshows in East Lothian, informal, funky training events which have already proven highly successful in getting some swift and sustained adoption of new technologies in our classrooms. Both use the following ten top tips.

  1. Trad_conf Get started on your (cool) terms
    "Right, if I can have your attention please. Just a minute. Great. Now, I would like to introduce to you..."...
    Oh dear. We all know it. It's like being back in the rows at school, waiting to see someone very important attempt to hold our attention for an hour with more bullets than you could point at the Sundance Kid and that drawl we remember from the adults in Charlie Brown (it was actually a trombone, did you know?).

    If you want people's attention before you get started proper, don't let someone else bring you down before you even get started, and don't start by effectively telling off your participants. Learn from the way jazz musicians get started. Make the opening to the presentation enticing, using some video or the cadence to some quieter musak you've cued up to grab attention or mark the beginning of your spot.
  2. Practical_conf Conference participants, not bystanders
    From the weeks before the conference even takes place get your attendees to suggest topics, spread the word and market the conference to their friends, by displaying a logo or taking part in Facebook groups, for example.

    The worst thing that can happen for a conference or training event is for people to go home actively disagreeing with what one (or all) the presenters had to say. You've got to provide an opportunity for people to make their views known and give the presenters a fighting chance of bringing them around.

    Q&A is one way to do this but people haven't really had time to digest and come up with a good question. By far the best thing to do is get people up presenting themselves. Back-to-back shorter presentations of soapboxes are often entertaining, always interesting given the divergent views and let people get it off their chest. It also opens up the conversations in the more informal parts of the conference, since people know who they want to go to talk to.
  3. Make the conference the coffee break
    We all know the best parts of conferences are, of course, the coffee breaks and social events, where you get a chance to pore over someone's laptop for 15 minutes and learn one new really cool thing you can actually use, have late-night discussions over serious stuff, helped along by a few drops of amber. Why not just make this the conference itself? Provide coffee and tea all day long, lots of muffins and biscuits like they did at Reboot and, even better, open a bar like we do at BarCamp.
  4. New_conf Flat pack your conference
    Let people make up their own conference. One of my favourite parts of BarCampScotland and Reboot9.0 were the large blank sheets of paper as you walked in - the participants plan what they want to hear and when, by putting up what they are going to talk about next to a time and a location in the venue. Make sure you offer a number of large, medium and small rooms for the large, medium and small egos ;-)
  5. Don't hold yourself to one sponsor
    A good unconference does cost some money although if everyone pulls in it needn't cost a fortune: food, drink, space, projection facilities, audio visuals, publicity beyond the web... Getting a good sponsor might seem the answer to your dreams, but it might end up being a noose around your neck. Do not take all the funding from one place, and then be held to their publicity, their terms and their way of doing things. Some BarCamps put an upper limit of £150 ($300) per contribution to have a feast of many, not a gathering for one. Once you've had a successful event or two under your belt the sponsors will come to you.
  6. Encourage speaking at the back of the class
    It's cool to have a place where people can extend the discussion beyond whatever the presentation is about. This is called a backchannel. You can use a blog set up to receive mobile phone messages, but it's easier to get everyone onto a Jaiku channel, or display messages left by people from the mobiles or computers on Twitter (Twittercamp is lovely to do this).

    At LTS, because the digital savvy of many attendees at the Learning Festival won't stretch to Twitter, we've set up our own text service, for launch on Sept 7 or thereabouts, which will display comments on keynotes under the blog posts that talk about them. Clever, huh?

    In some conferences it's displayed behind the speakers. Much better, in my opinion for what it's worth, is to equip the stage with a large monitor so that speakers can take a peak and have a chance to respond to criticisms or misunderstandings before they're picked up by too many other people. Presenters also need to be aware that there is a public backchannel in the first place.
  7. May the wifi be with you
    You need wifi. Ideally you have electricity in abundance, too, for bloggers to blog, photographers to Flickr and for the backchannel to survive. Good wifi is a must, but make sure everyone knows about it so that they actually bring their laptops and cameras.
  8. Tag, tag, tag - and tell people about it
    Make sure that everyone coming to the conference, everyone who wanted to and couldn't and all the major events sites (e.g. Upcoming.org) know what the conference tag is, otherwise all that online coverage is going to be lost. Tags need to be short, memorable and mean something to the people there.
  9. Students_in_conferences Cover the event yourself - but get young people to do it
    At every nearly every conference I organise I make sure that I have some young people producing the podcasts, the videos or some blogging. This isn't because I want cheap labour, it's because of the angle they take on it and what they are able to contribute in this way to the arguments given in the conference. Their legacy is also far more long-lasting than that of the adult participants this way :-)
  10. Don't give a giveaway
    People increasingly don't need a memory pen, a linen bag, a pen, a pad (they're blogging, remember)... What's more, people are beginning to become more conscious of the environmental impact of all those wasted products and paper. Far better to make your giveaway on the web or via Bluetooth to people's mobile phones.

Here are some more hints and tips for budding unconferencers:

and some ideas for those wanting to create education training events around the same ideals:

August 13, 2007

Extreme Learning by any other name?

About now teachers across Scotland go back to school, the kids joining them later on this week. For secondary teachers comes that interesting moment of meeting your new 'S1' students, the ones just out of primary school. At this time another feeling would come into my mind: "I just can't do this French textbook with them; it'll bore them silly and they've done it all before".

Being a little maverick, I would dump the textbooks asap, using them almost as a way in to see where everyone was at. Within six weeks my students were already writing their first every fairytales in French, and loving every moment. I've still got them all in my files - I'll have to share some of them online one day. Better than "j'ai un chien" any day.

Extreme Learning has, for the past couple of years, been an idea fermenting in East Lothian as a means to bridge that gap between primary and secondary that exists in most cases, where students spend the first two years of secondary going off the boil, repeating things they've already done, seeing 10 teachers a week instead of one, discovering more interesting things than school work... It essentially evolves around the tried and tested methods being used in New Zealand and, particularly, Australia, where projects involving rich tasks lead to a deeper understanding of not only the matter at hand, but also of learning itself. Take a look at an example project to see what we mean.

My personal Eureka moment came barely four weeks into my Scottish teaching career in 2002 during a fluke invitation to New Brunswick, Canada. There, in a Miramichi primary school, I saw 70 anglophone children being taught by three amazing teachers en français. They were grouped into tables of about eight (that magic number again) and the teachers indulged themselves in their own favourite specialties, class-teaching with a borg-like microphone attached to ear and mouth, teaching in smaller groups made up of project-based sub-groups. The students' attitudes to learning and what they were able to produce in a second language was incredible.

On reading Futurelab's Vision magazine I was delighted to see that work needn't pay for the whole team to visit New Brunswick to see this in action. In the article we see that Djangoly City Academy in Nottingham has created its own New Basics Curriculum around the rich tasks model of Queensland, Australia, providing a means for the core subject content and skills to be taught indirectly through a series of defined rich tasks.

Extreme_learning Some different angles for Extreme Learning?
For me, there are two takeaways for Extreme Learning. The first, is that the design of the tasks is worked out quite heavily in advance. It is only a framework, which can be steered and manipulated by students, but it is a framework that 'covers' the essential skills we'd expect over a period of a couple of years (i.e. not covering what a child in eighth year of education, term two should have covered).

Second, and I think importantly, their students are grouped as one unit of 70 with four teachers - almost identical to the Canada model - and flexible projection and panel units mean that smaller groups can be created instantly. "It is similar to the primary school set-up they are used to but it is a secondary curriculum," says the Assistant Principal, Sanjesh Sharma. Not only that, but it offers the best opportunity to work collaboratively, because the physical space and sheer numbers of potential collaborators, as well as the curriculum, aid collaboration, rather than creating barriers to it.

As East Lothian heads off into yet another year of innovation I wonder whether a trip to Nottingham might help reignite some ideas about where Extreme Learning could head.

What are your favourite podcasts for you and for your learners?

Teachmeetrs In East Lothian we're creating a new year of TeachMeet Roadshows, training events which, it's hoped, anyone can pick up and roll with. They follow a fairly 'samey' pattern, but it works since a whole school or set of departments in a school leave the event with a relatively high basic understanding of one new technology.

In the podcasting section I'm trying to work out what people reckon their favourite podcasts are, both for them as teachers developing professionally and also for students who are studying in a subject area. John and David's superb Podcast Directory provides more than enough choice for younger learners, but what about teachers? I'll try to do the same for the blogging training events soon, so feel free to add your thoughts there.

If you have a contribution to make, if you want to give a shoutout to your own podcast for teachers or learners, please do head over to the wiki and add a link.

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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