Common threads

By robynjay On May 24th, 2012

I’m not sure that I can remember the last time I conversed solidly for 2 days about things that matter. Not work things, life things.
It was a gathering of intelligent minds, varied lives and experiences with common threads: social justice, a desire for change, care for our environment and humanity, equity.

It grew from an increasing awareness that good people were butting heads with systems, values, leaderless bureaucracies, complacency etc. I’ve watched inspired innovators lose their ‘fire’ and burn out. I’ve watched the results of what I call the ‘shit floats’ syndrome: uninspired, conservative thinkers, rising to management ranks recruited by higher level bureaucrats who don’t want their own thinking questioned.

It struck me that we fight this within our own sectors and industries and areas of life but there is little opportunity to move beyond this and to look at the underlying issues, and the common threads that link us regardless of circumstance.

So we gathered, 8 of us, around a table with sustenance, heaters, blankets, and despite not knowing everyone well, a strong unspoken sense of trust and respect. The conversation pretty much flowed freely around areas of concern: the media, education, politics, environment/sustainability, change. The organisers among us brought us back to ground from time to time for refocus and direction, and I attempted to capture the essence of discussions with sketchbook and pens.

Many of us were self-described introverts so the size of the group and the ability to drop in and out was important.

A few of us began the weekend with 2 sessions at the Sydney Writers Festival – one on ‘D.I.Y.’ and one on Resistance -and the ideas raised were remarkably relevant for the weekend as a whole. Day 1 ended with a long walk and a chance to connect 1:1

We didn’t save the world but we did leave with a sense of connection and support that will continue. Michael summed it up well in a post-gathering message:
“The moment I left our little gathering on Sunday I had the feeling that we had just done something amazing. A group of people had spent the best part of 2 days just talking about what concerns us – without time constraints or a goal in mind. An aberration in this speedy world.”

in absentia

By robynjay On January 5th, 2012

I’ve been pondering Harriet’s post If you’re not present, you’re absent over at her Technology Twitter blog.

In the post she describes a period of creative reinvention – a ‘rich and a valuable time, productive and exciting, if challenging and complex’ ; one in which she shut off from her networks for personal reflection.
She says:

The creative process is wonderful – at the end.  In the middle I found it complex and contradictory.  My  online networks felt too public a place to expose such fragile thinking.  Do online spaces in their ephemeral nature provide pressure to present finished thought?  Is it really ok to be fragmented and indecisive?’

Perhaps with the exception of Twitter (which still can be archived and curated), I don’t think online spaces ARE ephemeral. That’s the problem. These are not fleeting remarks; they are there for good. They can expose mistakes, foolishness, naivety and raw emotions.

The public transparent nature of contributing online, which ever media it might be, scares most people. There’s a big difference between scribbling in a journal and posting to a blog. There’s a big difference in confiding semi-formulated ideas with a person you trust, or with yourself, and sharing them with the world or even an extended network. Gauging what to share online, when and with who is in itself a digital literacy skill I think. It will vary from person to person according to the issue, thickness of skin, and personal space needs but I’d certainly respect anyone’s right to withdraw at a time when intense personal reflection and introspection is needed.

Perhaps what we can share is metacognitive. Not the details as such, but an understanding of the strategies and processes. We DO need to encourage wacky creative thoughts, lateral thinking, risk-taking, and change. The final product often fails to illustrate the rich, turbulent and harried nature of the creative process but it is often after the process is complete and a result is evident that the significant moments along the way become evident. We do not, for example, see the working sketches of great artists before the final work is published.

From a personal perspective, whether I’m formulating creative projects or pondering life directions, I do most of it in private. When the change or project is substantial it will become all consuming. Shutting down to enable focused attention is a coping strategy and one to be acknowledged.

Best wishes with your new directions Harriet. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of your deliberations when and if you are ready to share them :)

[CC FlickR image by Invisible Lens]

CCC: getting started

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

Michele is kicking off our month long Career Clarity Camp with some personal reflection time and we’ve been asked to consider all or some of the following:

  • What questions are you asking yourself right now? What’s the stuff that wakes you up at night or intrudes during the day?
  • Where do you feel clear?
  • Where do you feel muddy  or confused?
  • How do you currently see yourself at work?
  • How do you spend your days?
  • What do you want more of at work?
  • What do you want less of at work?
  • Who are your colleagues? How do you feel about them? Are there people who are particularly inspiring? Particularly challenging?
  • How does your career seem to fit with the rest of your life? How does it not fit?
  • What are your overall feelings about your career?
  • How long have you been having these feelings?
  • What steps have you already taken to find some career clarity?
  • What steps are you considering right now?

A year ago I resigned from a well paid job to work for myself again. Looking back now at my last 2 employee positions I realise the importance of skilled leadership and talent management when supervising and supporting staff strengths. I experienced neither. It was soul destroying.
I love working for myself. Michele sums up the benefits here – 7 reasons most professionals should work for themselves

But it’s not easy! There are two things I battle with most and which keep me awake at night – uncertainty and focus.
That fortnightly deposit that magically arrives in your bank account regardless of effort, outcomes or even attendance is seductive.
How do I find a niche, or should I spread myself widely?

And of course there are archaic systems to stymie opportunity. Do you work with them or treat them as road blocks and head another direction?
Often acceptance brings with it an unnecessary waste of time and money. Probably the biggest road block for me at present remains the Certificate 4 in Training & Education but more about that later.
Right now I know I need to take time to promote myself better, to focus in on particular strengths as niche areas, and to find some detours around those road blocks.

[CC FlickR image by Irargerich]

I know my sanity depends on remaining artistically active, so I need to find the mental and physical spaces to enable that. I know my health depends on more exercise, and I need to allocate time and energy towards that. And when it all feels too hard I need the reassurance and support of a loving partner, and I’m blessed with that.

Mid 2011 those uncertainty fears drove me to begin looking for paid employment once again. What I discovered was a) when times are tight the public service closes its doors and recycles (often) ‘dead wood’ rather than bringing in fresh blood, and b) the private sector wants low paid work horses NOT innovators.
Already, with Michele’s encouragement I’m willing to refocus efforts on making self-employment work. Step #1

Over the next month I’m looking forward to making time for reflection and finding tools and strategies to move forward. Thanks Michele for facilitating this!

trade winds

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

[CC FlickR image by nyoin]

Next week we kick of our Career Clarity Camp with Michelle Martin and I’m really looking forward to some dedicated time to reflect and set a fresh path.

In preparation Michelle has asked us to journal some reflections on our current state but before posting on the past year I thought it might be interesting to look back on where I was at 5 + years ago. Towards the end of 2004 I was privileged with an Adult Learners Week NSW Innovation in Learning award. A week before the ceremony our contract positions with the Community Colleges were axed due to Government funding cuts to an already way under-funded sector, so my speech was seriously deliberated over!

Here’s an excerpt…

Its innovation that allows organisations to adapt to the constantly changing conditions.
Without innovation, an organisation stands still while ideas, technology and pedagogy move forward around it.
It’s about knowing how to make new ideas highly infectious;
It’s also about rocking the boat, and stretching the business as usual mentality and it requires passion, persistence and an open mind

However, innovation does not occur in a vacuum – it requires a dynamic healthy environment that is empowering and flexible, that honours new ideas, tolerates risk, identifies and celebrates champions, and encourages fun.
Innovation is a catalyst – but only one ingredient in a process that must be sustainable to be of value.
In education, the lasting value of any innovation is measured by its uptake by teachers and learners.
Teachers really are the key – unless they are given opportunities to critique, reflect, research and learn new skills; to feel encouraged, supported, and positive about their roles and skills, and are shown strong leadership we will not meet the changing needs of our communities.

In a climate of funding cuts it is tempting to slash easy targets such as Professional development and research
However…. It is at these times that we need skilled innovative staff most of all.
Difficult times are a spur to innovation…. It is the time when organisations must think analytically and creatively

I’m passionate about making that happen – about enabling passionate teachers, about designing innovative solutions. What drives me hasn’t changed and I’m glad.

”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

conflict of interest

By robynjay On March 3rd, 2011

In her DEHub summit presentation Gilly Salmon spoke on continuity and change, and the critical challenges facing us to address both what Governments want vs what learners want, and referred to the work around a new definition of quality and CALF.

Governments are calling for:

  • competition
  • face to face learning contact
  • the pursuit of excellence
  • tight budgets and constrained funding
  • research

What learners really want is:

  • visibility/connectivity – for peers and employers and to make lecturers more visible
  • openness – personalisation, customisation, their own learning pathways, to ask more and prepare better
  • virtualisation – using many media
  • purposefulness – tell me what I’ve learned and what I can do with it
  • expression – search, research, express

[cc FlickR image shared by mikebaird]

on openness

By robynjay On March 3rd, 2011

‘If you don’t like change you are going to like irrelevance even less’

Notes and reflections on the Openness panel @ the DEHub Summit.

There was quite a lot of talk around Open Education REsources (OER) at the event so it was good to see this panel focusing more broadly on openness in general.

Terry Anderson began by speaking on ‘open scholars’ who he said:

  • are transparent with a key critique element
  • self archive
  • do open research and openly apply research exposing the learning that happened
  • filter and share with others
  • support emerging open learning alternatives
  • publish in open journals
  • assign open textbooks
  • induce open students
  • teach open courses
  • build networks
  • are change agents

Rory McGreal reminded that one third of internet connectivity in the world is ONLY via mobile devices and that our current model of elite education is simply not sustainable:

  • a balancing act is needed between bandwidth and performance etc
  • fluid design is needed to enable displays for different screens etc
  • OERs include games – titanic, mudball wall..

He asked how do we recognise what people learn on their own?

Don Alcott reminded that nothing is ‘free’ – so who does the work? who funds OER? – and stressed difficulties in a climate of competition and closed learning organisations.

Grainne Conole stressed the need to move from a focus on content and resources to practices, activity and use in open education (hear, hear!). Shae introduced her projects based in cloudworks and asked:

  • If learners and their context have changed, we need new approaches to L&T. How can we harness sophisticated tools and OERs
  • What are the quality implications?
  • Will a focus on OER practices lead to improvements in quality and innovation?
  • Will openness enable or restrict social inclusion?

I’ve pondered the last point myself for years.

Are we producing an elite group of learners?

The assumption that any potential learner is capable of finding, filtering, engaging with OERs and establishing connections is unfortunately absurd. So what is needed to support this – community OER mentors and Govt funding/resourcing?

[CC FlickR image shared by Paul Downey]

down to earth portfolios

By robynjay On February 27th, 2011

On day 2 of DEHub I enjoyed a workshop by Debra Hoven (now at Athabasca) on e-portfolios. Although plagued by internet problems (will conference venues EVER get it right!) that meant we were unable to build ideas in Debra’s wikispace (some great resources here) it was an engaging conversation across a very diverse group. Debra’s approach was very much one of student choice/ownership and a focus on narrative/ digital storytelling.

Here’s a few notes I took during the session:

  • E-portfolios are about the development of personal ‘brand’ not about proving something
  • A purposeful and cumulative aggregation of digital items/ artefacts – ideas, reflections, evidence, feedback
  • How to select? – choose 5 artefacts and justify selection
  • The repurposing of content has implications for use in recognition/RPL
  • We must be careful of validity – what is actually being assessed? the ability to reflect? technical skills?
  • Attempts to implement an e-portfolio system that is scalable and manageable assume something being DONE TO students
  • The benefits of being electronic (discussion) – portability, varied voice, connections, multimodality, updating anywhere/anytime, easier, variable access, sorting/categorisation potential
  • Avoid showcasing (as opposed to assessment) which tends to only highlight the best aspects – encourage discussion of things that didn’t work
  • How can we scaffold reflection? – this is particularly of interest to me as I continue to experience teachers, let alone students, who lack the ability to engage in critical reflection around their practice

Debra’s students shared the following pointers for supporting the use of e-portfolios:

  • Provide top 10 tips and best practices
  • Give examples of model e-portfolios
  • provide examples of artefacts
  • develop tutorials
  • provide access to one person who has completed a portfolio
  • offer videos of past students discussing how they used their portfolio to gain employment
  • set up facilitator/student discussion forums
  • record podcasts from staff explaining uses and how assignments are relevant to the portfolio

[CC FlickR image shared by nickrate]

3G pedagogy

By robynjay On February 27th, 2011

In his DEHub summit keynote Terry Anderson spoke on the technical challenges and opportunities of 3 generations of distance (in its loosest sense) education pedagogies. It was a balanced, eclectic approach that aligned to our approach in designing the PiE course at SWSI (moodle based).

He began by explicitly stating his values:

  • student control and freedom
  • continued educational opportunities as a human right, and that
  • we can continuously improve the quality effectiveness, appeal, cost and time efficiency of the learning experience

and his belief that ‘technology sets the beat and timing, and pedagogy defines what you do with it’.

The 3 generations – behaviourist, constructivist and connectivist – in themselves and their definitions were nothing new but he did a good job at positioning them as an integrated approach to meet the needs of life long learners in complex contexts.

A behavourist approach was presented as useful for

  • logically coherent self-paced study
  • context free skills and concepts
  • transmissable knowledge
  • presenting multiple representations
  • a support for student modelling and adaptation
  • reflection amplifiers
  • highly scalable teaching
  • reducing insecurity

Interestingly he placed most OER content in this bucket.

A constructivist approach is useful for:

  • presenting multiple perspectives
  • a focus on negotiation
  • metacognition
  • small group learning
  • dialogue
  • less structure
  • google docs, locked down spaces, discussion forums, voicethread

and a connectivist approach for:

  • learner control
  • highly scalable
  • emergent, soft skills related to real world engagement
  • connection forming
  • unpredictability
  • non-sequential

Terry encouraged a focus on NETWORKS of practice (as opposed to CoPs) and asked the audience ‘what is YOUR footprint online for others to connect with?’ and stressed the need to:

  • challenge our assessment models
  • use the network to filter/manage connections
  • rethink learning as a process of filtering and pruning
  • stop trying to MANAGE learning in a connectivist model but trust self-based accountability

My question is how do students learn the underpinnings of a connectivist approach to learning – the ability to filter, prune, connect?

Are some individuals destined to be excluded from the benefits this approach offers? What are the implications of this?

Terry’s slides:

recent changes camp

By robynjay On February 6th, 2011

Finally finding a minute to post some notes and reflections on last weekends RCC in Canberra focusing on wikis.

I’ve got to say that beforehand I couldn’t see how 3 days could possibly be spent talking about wikis, and while for me the conversations around learning and teaching were far more interesting, the breadth of wiki-related topics covered and the diversity of wiki interests represented was great. Two of the education focused conversations were captured by Steph over at TalkingVTE here and here, and there are moves to write up a Declaration (called Bruce) that as Tom Worthington aptly describes  ‘is intended to inform current government inquiries into education and into the NBN. Policies, programs and funding could then be provided to have services directly to students, resources for teachers and for educational institutions’.  See Tom’s post for more on this and if interested let us know.

Mark Dilley from AboutUs.org acted facilitator. I’m still trying to get my head around how useful and/or sustainable the site might be. It’s described as ‘for and about businesses, organizations, blogs, forums -really anyone who has a website’…. aiming to ‘provide visitors with information about websites, a way to share their knowledge about websites, and a place to promote their own sites.’ Given that I have trouble posting to and keeping up to date my existing sites I’m not sure how I’ll go with this but ready to be convinced….

It was interesting to speak to the guys from Lonely Planet about their wiki use and perceived future directions. They freely admitted that the company is still book-oriented and agreed that changes were needed if they were to remain the travel guide/network of choice especially for the younger travelers. They need to be responding to these kinds of demands and fast.

There was a lot of talk about Wikipedia and mediawiki. After my failed attempt to create a page on wikipedia with Alex Hayes and the subsequent lack of any forum for discussion about it, or recourse, I’m not a big believer of its democratic capabilities. There was however some interesting discussion around troublemakers, editors, peacekeepers and facilitators. Although some form of moderation via ‘official moderators’ or the community is clearly needed I kept getting a niggly sense that its pretty autocratic in the end.

We spent a couple of hours talking about the wiki ‘facilitator’ role. Having educators, users, editors etc all side by side enabled some interesting discussion which I attempted to capture here…

[CC FlickR image by robynejay]

Thanks to all the sponsors and participants for an interesting few days!