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New ventures August 30, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Twitter.
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flickr photo by colinjcampbell http://flickr.com/photos/cjc/3577600379 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

It was a strange feeling as I left school for the last time on Friday. Not sad at all; I’m moving on to something I’ve been keen to do for a while. Not with any sense of pleasure either though; I enjoyed my time both as ICT Development Manager and Head of eLearning at Sheffield High School, made some good friends and helped see through some substantial changes. Strange instead because the school was quiet, as it invariably is with staff and students on hols. There was no hullabaloo, no fanfare; thanks had largely been exchanged at the end of summer term (Some people had been really kind in expressing their gratitude for the help and advice I’d afforded them; very touching). So I finished my day’s work, handed in my laptop and ID card, said cheerio to a couple of people and left. Simple. Quiet. Bit like me really.

I’m minded to look back at the technology in the school when I was appointed at the start of 2005 and to consider some of the changes we embraced to exploit some of the affordances new technologies offered. But hey, if you too were in schools during that time, you’ll already be well aware. If not, by all means have a wander through the six year back catalogue of posts here which reflect on many of the issues we faced. I read a comment or quote recently which said something along the lines of ‘There’s no point looking over your shoulder at the past; you can’t go there.’ Whilst history scholars might baulk at that, I have to confess to subscribing to that view and prefer to look forward. I certainly reflect on and endeavour to learn from what has passed, but I’m energised more by a sense of agency and ability to effect what is to come.

So what is ‘to come?’ I’ve secured a studentship to undertake a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University, full-time, within which I’ll be researching teachers’ use of social media to support their professional learning. I was struck some while ago by the number of people on Twitter claiming how potent it was in addressing their professional developments needs. Could that be true? Each time I hear the sentiment repeated, I wonder how a 140 character medium can possibly do that, yet am well aware of the positive effect it has had on my learning. I intend then to tease apart the issues involved, establish significant factors and shed more light on if and how this is being achieved. There’s little question that a good many people feel that their professional learning is enhanced by Twitter and other social media; what I’m keen to find out is how.

This blog has always been a place to reflect on issues related the use of learning technologies in schools; I hope to continue to do that. I do however need a new place which focuses solely on my new area of interest, so to that end I’ve set up ‘Marginal Notes‘ where I’ll be reflecting on my research endeavours. I need to provide a little more background in order to set the context from which my research arose, but I’ve found the need to begin documenting my studies, even though officially, I’ve not yet begun. If you have any observations or comments, do please share them.

So the next three years of my life are in some ways mapped out, and yet I know I’ll be exploring (for me) completely new ground. ‘The way less trod’ has always appealed.

PurposedPSI May 2, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings.
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I’ve enjoyed reading the 500words campaign posts immensely. I even contributed to the 3×5 images. I discussed the topic over a pint whilst on holiday away with friends (some teachers, some not) and even floated the notion with a blog post in the school ICT ‘newsletter.’ And yesterday I attended the first Purposed Summit at Sheffield.

I was fortunate to enjoy some passionate speakers, stimulating discussion and innovative ideas, but … I’m still not sure I’ve quite got it. I understand the need for a discussion of the purpose of education and I celebrate raising the issue … but I don’t quite yet understand to what end? If I follow correctly, it’s to influence policy makers i.e. the government, or perhaps more correctly given the timescale of the campaign, the aspirant government. But at the risk of becoming repetitive … to what end? Is it simply to raise the level of political educational debate beyond the tired rhetoric of performance, curriculum and examinations and re-examine what education can and should be about? Or is it to go beyond the debate, suggesting possible alternate futures?

(Thanks to Kevin McLaughlin for helping me begin to come to terms with it all in this short clip which became available subsequent to me composing this post.)

I’m not a great wordsmith. I couldn’t have written a 500 word post with even a fraction the eloquence that the 60+ contributors managed. When I thought about preparing a 3×3 presentation for PurposedPSI, I really struggled to find a focus with which to answer the question – ‘What is the purpose of education.’ In the end I wondered instead about what the campaign is up against and what might act in its favour, making these notions concrete using a force-field analysis. With purposed, we seem to be at a turning point and that made me think of Janus, the Roman God of transitions or new beginnings, often symbolically represented with two heads, one looking to the past and one to the future … which seemed quite apposite! So what are the factors which will act against or provide support for, a debate on the purpose of education? Or what is the purpose of education versus what should the purpose of education be?

Change in educationSo we have a system with an inordinate preoccupation with examination results – what prominent item do we see in school newsletters, on school websites, on noticeboards, discussed in assemblies, displayed in classrooms and on corridors. What do the majority of parents first look at when considering a secondary school … if they have a choice! This is continued with accountability by and competition in league tables – schools are compared with schools, subjects with other subjects and teachers with teachers. Is there any wonder it’s at the forefront of anyone’s mind? To what end? Are students now leaving school better equipped to deal with the world they emerge into? The National Curriculum – yes students should have a core entitlement … but did they nor have that before its introduction? OK it was the exam boards who largely determined what students studied rather than the government, but surely there was greater individual choice in what subjects to pursue? With an increase in the number of single parent families and an increase in the number of families with two parents who both work, school’s role as a child-minder has become even more significant – wonder how many parents would benefit from a reduction in the length of school holidays? All but the smallest, isolated rural schools are organised to suit the needs of groups, whether it’s the whole population, year groups, subject cohorts, classes or forms … but aren’t organised around the needs of individuals.

Looking to the future are possibilities; opportunities which offer potential. Education needn’t be just about what’s inside the school security fence, five days a week between 8.30 and 4.30. Is it right for all individuals until 16 or 18 or 21? Why shouldn’t it be flexible and accessible for students when they want (need?) it during the day and throughout their lives? Can’t we begin to exploit our connectedness and access to resources to better adapt provision to learner needs?

You doubtless disagree with the length of the arrows indicating the notional importance of each factor related to others. I’m certain you’ll also have factors I didn’t think of or feel the ones I’ve included are irrelevant. But what about the overall picture? As it stands, this analysis suggests that moving forward is going to tough; the sum of the factors acting to the left outweighing those acting to the right. So which can we influence by reducing or increasing their effect? What do you think?

PLE . . . the best of things, the worst of things? May 20, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, TELIC.
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One of the final tasks of this module of study on my Master’s course is, as you might expect, the reflective element. IC2 requires us to take on the role of change agent, charging us to plan, deliver and evaluate a project for a notional ‘client.’ I chose to undertake a pilot study in preparation for a year-long project we’re undertaking next academic year.
Multiple roles

More than once during this project I’ve felt some measure of discomfort, struggling to retain a degree of perspective and feeling I’ve lost the handle on what I’ve been trying to achieve. Now that I look back on my role, I can begin to appreciate why that might have been, for I’ve been wrestling with multiple personalities;

  1. Change agent – the person tasked with moving ‘us’ forward as a result of adopting this innovation
  2. Client – I’m the one who conceived and commisioned the project.
  3. Project Manager – the person who marshals the resources (human & technical) to realise the project
  4. Researcher – someone who determines the success (or otherwise) of the project and suggests routes forward.

From Denise Cross on Flickr

Whilst it wouldn’t be fair to say that these roles conflict with one another, each demands you view the project from a slightly different perspective; that you slip on a different pair of specs. And anyone who wears specs knows that requires a shift in focus . . . which can be quite disconcerting! I’ve often found myself working in an area of the project whilst wearing the wrong specs., for instance trying to view elements of change whilst wearing the project manager’s specs – it doesn’t work and I find my thinking going round in circles. But why so many roles? Why client and project manager?

In school I’m involved with the ‘nitty-gritty’ like getting classroom projectors working and providing, supporting and guiding colleagues with ICT CPD. I also lead the ICT Support Team, manage the ICT budget and ensure our estate is fit for purpose. I advise the SMT on ICT strategy and have the role of school ICT Leader, helping find and map out possible future directions. It’s not that that’s too much for a single individual; swapping a hard drive one minute and writing a development plan the next provides an excellent overview. No, my worry is that in looking for opportunities to explore innovative uses of ICT, I’m on my own; there’s no-one to bounce ideas off or set me a target. I blame my PLE for causing me to feel like this. Many of the people within my PLE are incredibly innovative in how they use ICT in their classrooms and with their pupils. They work at the bleeding edge. They’re inspirational. They provide a constant stream of stimulation from which I draw ideas . . . like @tombarrett‘s Tweet which lit the spark for this project.

Unfortunately there is a small part of me which hopes for a similar experience back in school as that which I get from my PLE . . . and it’s disappointing when that doesn’t come to fruition. There are (to my knowledge) no other colleagues who use Twitter as a learning tool, who blog as part of their professional development, who use social networking tools of any aspect of their work . . . despite my best efforts of encouragement. But then should I be surprised? I’ve come to the conclusion that people in my PLE are quite unusual; they aren’t found everwhere and in fact are spread few and far between. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m unusual too; I think differently from other people in school. Is there something particular about edtech enthusiasts that sets them apart?

Anyway to return to the point, multiple roles. In this unusual position, I find I’m the one who taps into channels which provide inspiration for new ideas, but then I also have to explore the possibilities and potential pitfalls, devise a plan, form the necessary coalitions (is that word still allowed in this post-election environment?), execute the tasks and evaluate the outcomes. This isn’t a whinge at all; I love doing it . . . but is it best for our organisation in the long run?