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

scaffolding learning design

By robynjay On March 3rd, 2011

In my last post from the DEHub summit I’ll cover what was a very interesting keynote by Diana Laurillard from the London Knowledge Lab on ‘The critical role of teachers in optimising technologies for open learning’. Lots to cover in this one…

Diana introduced work on a new tool (starter kit) to support collaborative learning design. Strangely enough I had been describing something similar only weeks before but was totally at a loss how the technology would work, so I’m excited to see how the tool might be adapted for our work in VET.

Diana began by presenting some major challenges:

  • the best people to take forward thinking in L&T are the practitioners themselves however time and funding are lacking and we are NOT going to get this from Governments
  • lack of teacher training and confidence
  • lack of senior staff involvement
  • lack of reward
  • need for documented case studies of good practice
  • dislocation between research and practice
  • top down strategies and policies are not followed through
  • bottom up activity is plentiful but not improving – market driven by software companies and localised

So what to do about it?

  • trust the professionals if we give them the right tools
  • a middle out approach where we focus on supporting teachers as collaborating innovators
  • a learning design support environment providing tools for design, development and sharing
  • focus on an iterative loop to support innovation – sharing learning designs → innovating pedagogic patterns → evaluating learning designs → implementing courses → expanding knowledge of teaching and learning

The aim of the design tool was to:

  • expand knowledge and encourage progression to new methods,
  • encourage thinking outside the box,
  • encourage reflection and sharing,
  • enable teachers to build on the work of peers
  • import existing ‘pedagogical patterns’ of good teaching – patterns of digital versions of what teachers do now
  • model pedagogical and logistical benefits and disadvantages
  • allow play and experimentation, testing in practice
  • allow redesign and adaptation

To do this the form and content are separated; content is stripped out and the pedagogy/design/form is left – fill in the gaps style. Each teacher, regardless of field of study, takes, adapts, improves and gives back. teachers are able to create a new design or import one. A range of outcome categories are presented and a choice of L&T activities (simulations, discussions etc). All properties are editable and can be dragged/dropped onto a timeline and then resized by emphasis/ % of time. The design data is presented via pie charts on the types of learning (practice,inquiry,production,acquisition,discussion) and the implications on cost (staffing etc).

You can try out the draft tool here!

[CC FlickR image shared by Giant Ginkgo]

what game are you in?

By robynjay On February 21st, 2011

Most of last week was spent at the DEHub/ODLAA Education 2011-2021 Summit: Global challenges and perspectives of blended and distance learning here in Sydney. I’ll try to share some of the highlights here followed by a couple of session specific posts.

To begin I was intrigued by the choice of terminology in the title and the purposeful exclusion of ‘e-learning’ and while we did on the whole get it over and done with on day 1, there WAS a lot of wasting of time and posturing around definitions. We should be flexibly meeting the needs and interests of ALL learners via a blend of methodologies and strategies whether they be distanced from the actual physical institution (physically, socially etc) OR within its walls. It is absurd to think that models of ‘distance education’ that abounded in the 1980s when I first studied independently, and which I was horrified to hear described as “the glory days of distance education”, which comprised solely of large bundles of text based readings and study guides, are indeed models that should be still in place today. (At the time of was finishing my education degree while teaching casually on Melville IslandI had no contact with my peers or lecturer apart from comments on returned assignments). Efforts to maintain a viable position for outdated models of provision came across as little more than geriatric academics attempting to remain relevant. Of course we have taken from those old models what worked; of course they were better than nothing in their day.

During the Day 1 morning panel it was revealed that some employers and in fact some countries are refusing to recognise qualifications completed via virtual labs and online study. Some are calling for the modality of courses to be listed in the academic transcript. Interesting given the apparent growth in Open Universities including the OU of Nepal discussed by Mohamed Ally on Day 3. Mark Brown from Massey Uni raised the current NZ policy stance that ‘real education happens on campus’ and the implications of this for a country where 80% of DE learners are over 25, two thirds are women and it is the preferred mode for 35% of Maori learners. Unfortunately he says ‘Government is not interested in personal narrative’ when it comes to policy decision making. Mark also discussed trends in the US for corporate ownership of universities (Kaplan owned by the Washington Post and the Walmart/Uni partnership as egs) as the commoditisaton of education.

Yoni Ryan raised issues around the reactive (as opposed to interactive) nature of current online design, comparing the common current model of making a few minor LMS content tweaks and a few comments in discussion boards, to both private US institutions like the Uni of Phoenix where new online course development is supported with 10-20 hrs/week over 5 months and also to previous DE team development models.

Throughout the conference there was a call to separate research intensive and teaching intensive roles in Higher Ed.

Terry Anderson prefaced his Day 1 keynote with the values of:

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

He spoke of 3 generations of distance education pedagogies – I’ll return to this in a later post.

On Day 2 I enjoyed a workshop by Debra Hoven from Athabasca on e-portfolios, a panel on ‘Openness’, and a presentation by Gilly Salmon on ‘Creating viable futures for learning’ which I’ll return to in separate posts. Social inclusion finally raised its head!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how teachers can be supported, what scaffolds can be created, to engage in quality learning design so I found Diana Laurillard’s keynote – ‘The critical role of teachers in optimising technologies for open learning’ – very interesting. Diana spoke about a (quite sophisticated) starter kit to allow teachers to share learning designs adaptable across different content areas – a creative design starter kit.

In Day 3s afternoon keynote Mohamed Ally spoke on Mobile Learning and asked are we ready for ‘education in the pocket’?. He related the story of a very rudimentary Sth African school lacking in physical learning materials but where the teacher said “we have cell phones”. He reported research indicating that while (in 2007) 94% of students were  ready for mobile learning only 60% of staff were, and last weeks Australian newspaper research outcomes indicating that Uni dropout in Australia was largely due to poor teaching, course content, life issues and paid work commitments. He is working to support the development of the Open University of Nepal where students will be given mobile devices if required. Mohamed introduced a new digital divide definition: where learners have the technology but not the learning materials and opportunities.

I have to say the panel session ‘Anticipating the future’ following was characterised with a large degree of doom and gloom:

  • lean and mean policy
  • funding games and manipulation
  • innovation ONLY if it fits within Government directions
  • staffing issues
  • a continuing emphasis on research at the detriment of teaching
  • increased casualisation of teaching staff to fill research buy out gaps
  • private provider competition (focusing on teaching not research)

Phil Ice provided the Day 4 morning keynote and spoke initially on two technologies that should change our practice: Android 2.2 allowing us to work within different form factors, and Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) that will allow interactive experiences and engagement with limited/ variable connectivity. He also spoke of the role of analytics and a tool developed to track student engagement and risk.

And finally Grainne Conole spoke on ‘Social exclusion or inclusion in a WEb2 world’: digital literacy, community, sociality, digital signatures. See also and Cloudworks

[CC FlickR image shared by robynejay]

tempered radicals: the ins and outs of group blogging

By robynjay On February 6th, 2011

Over (inside the gates) at Facebook friend and colleague Michael Coghlan is battling with how to approach an organisational group blog.

He says (and I hope he forgives me for bringing it to the outside audience but its worthy of sharing)…

I write here (ie Facebook) with gay abandon. I do correct spelling and try and make sure it reads clearly but as to the tone and the opinions being expressed I really don’t care. I shoot from the hip.
I just tried to compose a blog post for a new blog we’re starting at work and within seconds found myself struggling with questions like what the correct tone should be, what kind of impression will this create, will I be harming the reputation of my work team or the wider organisation? Is it OK if I express my own opinions, do these opinions represent those of the work team…..and a whole host of other concerns. I had been quite keen on this idea of starting an elearning blog for our organisation but I’m now not so sure. Having to worry about these kinds of questions is a real downer. It gets in the way of almost every phrase – it this too informal? Is it creating an impression that is too casual? Etc etc. One could get quite neurotic about it. I guess it’s a separate skill – being able to understand the wider context and write in accordance with that brief. But right at this minute it feels quite limiting and I’d rather just write this instead!

Having blogged for my last two organisations I understand how you are Michael is feeling.

From 2006-2007 I blogged with Alex Hayes and guest blogger, Marie Jasinski, for NSW LearnScope. Don’t try to Google it – its all there in safe keeping but as yet not moved to a another public domain.WE agreed up front what the scope would be and we knew each other and our styles and interests. When we first set the blog up it caused a bit of a stir and initially we were threatened with big brother moderation of each post before publication. Thankfully I negotiated around that. It was a good blog. Writing as a group (Marie was paid to post monthly on innovation) meant that a range of styles and topics were covered. That is the benefit I think of a group blog and you should not be afraid to write differently; each style appeals to different readers. Our only limitations were policy related. We ensured that our program and organisations and the Government were not explicitly criticised. But apart from that it was pretty much what came along and we felt strongly about. During that time I did little blogging of my own.

During 2009 and 2010 I contributed to the UNSW TELT blog. The blog was set up for the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching project; a partnership between the Learning and Teaching unit and the L&T portfolio in IT where I worked. My aim in setting it up was to provide a forum for the project team to communication about all things TELT related. Being in Higher Ed it was a good place to engage in critical debates, or so I thought. On the whole, the most I could get others to post on was meeting notes & updates. Mike Bogle was working in the L&T unit for year one and to avoid him posting twice we installed a plugin (FeedWordpress?) so that posts to his own blog tagged for TELT automatically appeared in both.

So this was a dilemma for me. I wanted to write critiques and engage in debate but I couldn’t do it alone. So I tempered what I wrote and returned to this blog. If you’re going to run a group blog, while it is OK to have unique voices, there does need to be an agreed upon scope of content that everyone contributes to to a certain degree. Had I been ‘a mouth’ while everyone else was posting minutes and notices it would have looked pretty strange.

So back to Michael’s ponderings and based on my experience with group organisational blogs (OR what I would do next time)….

  • Meet and agree upon the purpose of the blog – construct if necessary a list based on this of the types of posts that might appear. It might be good to find out who is interested in what and if you want to write about issues/critiques either make sure there’s more than one person or designate a person for this role.
  • Agree upon the style – if people cannot write comfortably they won’t write at all – formal writing in a blog just looks weird
  • Agree upon boundaries – align to policy requirements, and discuss things like swearing etc – it’s probably what is acceptable in workplace conversations and meetings assuming senior management can hear
  • Discuss the issue of readability – spelling, grammar and length.
  • Agree to act as joint moderators around readability – if there’s a spelling error or a sentence is unclear duck in and fix it
  • Set some targets on how often people will post if relevant – approx a post a week for example. It doesn’t need to be adhered to but can keep people on track. Will you allow keen posters to write daily? While this keeps the blog active it can also start to appear as though the blog belongs to that one person
  • Agree on process if policy/scope boundaries are crossed – my suggestion would be personal contact with the author where concerns are raised – “do you think the last paragraph in X blog should be changed to …” etc
  • Agree to support each other and the blog by posting responses and comments to encourage interactivity – its OK to use personal blogs to do this of course or the comments function
  • Decide who might ALREADY be posting about relevant issues – don’t ask these people to repost but use a feed to duplicate the posts if the guidelines above are met
  • Ensure everyone is cluey about attributions and the use of images etc – varied styles are ok so long as basic requirements are met
  • Set a timeframe for reviewing how things are going

Despite the considerations that ARE needed group blogging can be a great experience and a good way to get people started down a blogging track with a bit of support.

[CC FlickR image shared by hive]

on babies & bathwater

By robynjay On November 23rd, 2010

With the conclusion of yet another Framework iteration looming and what could be the possible demise of the Framework as a whole, I’ve been thinking about what worked and didn’t work with the old LearnScope projects.

While team-centred action learning projects were well loved, it was because they:

  • Provided time to explore, reflect, practice, play
  • Allowed members to focus on particular interests and needs
  • Allowed freedom and space for diversion
  • Had practical, concrete outcomes
  • Fed/grew into future projects

It was NOT that the projects were scoped and facilitated by the teams themselves.

It strikes me that the old LearnScope model could be reframed at a local level at least, drawing on the strengths of the previous model but  tightening the design and extending the timeframe.

What if a TAFE Institute or cluster of small providers (as an example only) scoped and facilitated a series of action learning staff capability projects drawing membership from across all sections based on interest (and commitment)?

The scope of the projects, designed and facilitated by workforce development expertise, could reflect strategic directions, input from staff, national agendas (in a practical sense) and international trends.

The projects would be carefully designed around action learning principles allowing space for individuals to diversify and time for learning, trial and design. The diverse teams would offer rich cross-fertilisation of ideas and enable new connections and cross-industry collaboration. The team members would act as champions to demo their learning and ideas back in their sections. The extended time frame, if well designed,  would allow plenty of time for workshops, meetings, individual projects etc and the outcome would be concrete resources and case studies presented at a staff forum.

Just an idea. I’ll think on it more.

CC FlickR image by its*me*red

dream job

By robynjay On November 17th, 2010

Jeff Utecht has an interesting post – Online Community Manager: A New Position in Education – that resonates. It overlaps a little with my now redundant position but better represents what SHOULD have been put in place.

Here are the core roles, adapted a little to represent any educational setting…

1. Community Advocate
As a community advocate, the community managers’ primary role is to represent the school/college/university/project community. This includes listening, which results in monitoring, and being active in understanding what community members are saying on both internal and external websites. Secondly, they engage community members by responding to their requests and needs or just conversations, both in private and in public.

2) Evangelist
In this evangelistic role (it goes both ways) the community manager will promote events, student accomplishments and updates to community members by using traditional marketing tactics and conversational discussions. As proven as a trusted member of the community (tenet 1) the individual has a higher degree of trust and will offer help and support.

3) Savvy Communicator and  Shapes Editor
This tenet, which is both editorial planning and mediation serves the individual well. The community manager should first be very familiar with the tools of communication, from forums, to blogs, to podcasts, to twitter, and then understand the language and jargon that is used in the community. This individual is also responsible for mediating disputes within the community, and will lean on advocates, and embrace detractors –and sometimes removing them completely. Importantly, the role is responsible for the editorial strategy and planning within the community, and will work with many internal stakeholders to identify content, plan, publish, and follow up.

4) Gatherer of Community Input for Future Product and Services
Perhaps the most strategic of all tenets, community managers are responsible for gathering the requirements of the community in a responsible way and presenting it to the leadership team. This may involve formal recommendations from surveys to focus groups, to facilitating the relationships between stakeholders (in an e-learning setting this includes between IT and educators/ students). The opportunity to build stronger relationships through this real-time live focus group are ripe, in many cases, education communities have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.

Jeff outlines a set of responsibilities (school focused) and indicates his willingness to apply for any position that’s established.

Me too – it’s very nice!

CC FlickR image by baratunde


By robynjay On November 6th, 2010

I ran a digital storytelling workshop this week for the first time in several years.

I have to say I spent time pondering whether a) the emergence of easy to capture and distribute video had superseded the digital story medium (largely still images + voice over) and b) the extent to which the digital story methodology had reached mainstream in a learning facilitator’s toolkit.

I remember clearly my first exposure to the concept. I was sitting at an ACAL conference keynote by Glynda Hull with adult literacy/ESL colleagues late 2001. For 10 years I’d been experimenting with the means to engage learners the education system had failed and to give them a voice in a world of written text. It was one of those aha moments. Exploration of the concept was pivotal in my 2003 FLL research and travels (including visits to Daniel Meadows and the Capture Wales project). Despite early frustrations with the lack of easy to use non-MAC software, we’ve seen technology increasingly become more accessible and supportive of multimodal user-generated content. In this weeks workshop, being in a Windows environment, we were using Photo Story 3 (with recommendations to progress to Premiere Elements). I continue to find PS3 very clunky and limiting but it remains a good entry point for non-techies.

The 15 participants yesterday came from all areas of VET- hospitality, business studies, adult basic ed, English language, child studies etc. The broad mix enabled some fruitful brainstorming around potential uses.

DST in VET mindmap

In addition to my planned agenda (largely hands on in PS3) a few things arose and were covered. I’ll build these into future sessions:

  • how to identify image size
  • how to resize images in Photoshop
  • how to create plain coloured title slides/images
  • how to find creative commons images in Flickr using FlickR CC
  • how to document image attributions

It was a great session. The digital storytelling methodology has not lost its appeal;it still has a place in an engaging learning design.

Thanks to SWSI and the group for making it possible. My slides used are available in slideshare.

follow the leaders

By robynjay On January 22nd, 2010

Don’t be a martyr Mike!

Early-adopters, ground-breakers, risk-takers – call them what you will, bu most workplace leaders and innovators I know cannot remember the last time they themselves had any substantial professional development opportunities.

Their ongoing issue is that they are constantly developing the skills and knowledge of others. Typically local events and conferences, and workplace learning strategies are designed for the bulk of employees interests and needs. It is the so called ‘early-adopters’ who run the sessions and inspire the attendees. They also mentor and provide constant informal support within their units and Faculties.

But read my lips!!! – leaders and innovators require exposure to new skills, ideas and technologies too, and they shouldn’t be left to outlay personal funds and time to meet this need.
Unless this happens people like Mike burn out and find a space where motivational interaction and learning occurs. The success of in-house support etc depends on keeping leaders and skilled employees happy and motivated. They need to be actively encouraged to engage online and they need to be supported to identify and attend at least one inspirational event each year. The trickle-down benefits of flying a person to an international event are significant.
Yes we are FAR better off now with online connections and events, but there’s nothing quite like actually physically mixing with and conversing with like minded innovators.
Mike captures the loss beautifully when he says “It’s the feeling that I’m missing out on the excitement, the creative energy, the showmanship, the passion and the fun – missing out on the incredible aire of enthusiastic jubilation that makes for an incredible collaborative learning environment.”

cc licensed flickr photo shared by deserttrumpet

untapped & unrecognised

By robynjay On January 4th, 2010

With Australia’s finances in meltdown we’re hearing a lot less of the ‘skills shortage’ that ruled the lives of voc. ed providers for years. It doesn’t take much to change the Govt’s tune.What happened to those poor people enticed into retraining only to find themselves yet again unemployed? But this week AIG’s Heather Ridout was once again predicting a shortage of skills in coming years.

What really bothers me is that the missing skills are probably out there already if only our recruitment and workforce development practices & philosophy took a different tack.

The problem is that we take such a deficit, siloed approach.

A position is created. It’s carefully but rigidly sculptured with nooks and crannies that no real person can ever completely fill. They take on ‘the best person for the job’ and then ‘performance manage’ their faults/gaps/weaknesses. At the same time the individual’s true talents, passions and potential are at best ignored and untapped, usually unrecognised. Typically they fall outside the job ‘role’ and, heaven forbid, within another’s.

The result is an unhappy and unproductive workplace filled with individuals who are frustrated, unsatisfied and shoved into moulds they will never fit.

It’s time we stopped thinking about roles and started thinking about talent pools. We can not only manage that pool but adapt the scope of operation over time to maximise the productivity and creativity it’s fluidity enables. I think of it a little like an amoeba. Instead of recruiting for a ‘role’ or ‘position’ we should be identifying the full range of skills of the team, extending skills to meet potential and enable new interests,  and seeking new people with skills that will complement what already exists. Projects would draw on skills as needed and even be designed around areas of skill and energy.

Of course there are challenges; you can’t rework one aspect of work without flow on effects. I can imagine unions smoking at the ears. But with looming shortages and pressures to move away from the remnants of an industrialised past we need to stop and rethink. Goodness, it may even impact on our education system!

[CC FlickR image: dux_carvajal – on vacation 🙂]