Changing attitudes to leadership

Dr Martha Cleveland-Innes asks (in changeMooc) this week – ‘Who needs leadership?’

This was a thoughtful presentation. I liked the measured pace and the challenge to traditional ways of thinking about leadership.

It seems that there is no longer in this post-modern era a grand theory of leadership . Leadership theory is either so broad that it is meaningless or so granular that it is too narrow to be useful. Leadership is thought to be contextually based.  If it can be defined at all (Dr Marti Cleveland Innes suggested that it is beyond our ability to define it) then leadership depends on having ‘the right person at the right time, in the right place doing the right things’. A very tricky ‘definition’ because of that loaded word ‘right’.

It was suggested that in today’s world, leadership is no longer thought of as being in an individual, but because we live in a complex, distributed and networked world, we should all be leaders.  As Marti mentioned on her blog complexity theory is now being applied to leadership. (As an aside: ‘Everyone a leader’ is similar to the ‘Everyone a teacher’ argument – see Howard Rheingold talking about peeragogy ).

That we should all be leaders suggests that anyone can be a leader, that is anyone who has followers. A leader has to have followers. This video, also shown in Marti’s presentation, might suggest that it doesn’t take much to get some followers. It also raises the question of whether people who have a large number of blog, Twitter or network followers (or just any number of followers) are therefore automatically leaders.

There’s no doubt that if everyone in a given group or network is a leader, then everyone is also a follower and a view of leadership as invested in one charismatic person would have to change. The questions we ask about leadership would have to change.

But do we really think that there is no longer a place for the charismatic leader. World events, such as what is happening in Burma at the moment would suggest otherwise. Aung San Suu Kyi is clearly thought of as a charismatic leader – a leader of change.

Leadership and the type of leadership that we experience and want is strongly affected by context and culture. So charismatic leadership seems to be just what Burma needs at this current time, but is charismatic leadership what we need for education (my own context is education in the UK)?

Marti mentioned in her presentation that education is notoriously difficult to lead because institutions of Higher Education are notorious resisters to change. That fits my experience. Perhaps education is an example of a system that is too complex to be led by an individual, and all who work in higher education need to see themselves as leaders of change. Perhaps change in Higher Education can only come from the bottom up, through covert, subversive action.

But I know of many charismatic school head teachers who have pulled failing schools out of the mire and turned them into examples of excellence.  So what are the contextual and cultural differences between schools and Higher Education that call for different styles and a different understanding of leadership?

As always a Changemooc session leaves me with more questions than answers – always the sign of a good course:-)

Understanding Digital Citizenship

Alec Couros was the speaker in Changemooc this week.

He is clearly a popular speaker and there were a number of people attending who obviously regarded him with a great deal of affection.

Alec talked about digital citizenship in terms of Cyber-safety (keeping safe and being able to discern truth from hoaxes and myths); Memes (value laden digital viruses); Copyright/copyleft (we used to consume information, now we produce, remix, share); Network Literacy; Identity (81% of children under the age of two have some form of digital footprint and some even have a footprint before birth); and Activism. See

Alec hasn’t posted his slides yet – but there are plenty more here – but as he told us and exemplified he has developed his own style of online presentation, which I think was very effective. You certainly couldn’t get bored. He had a lot of slides, but a lot of those were simply images. Text on the slides was limited – and he talked over his slides with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm. Perhaps most impressive was the number of videos he asked us to view during his presentation, which kept it interesting and lively. I think he must spend an awful lot of time online and particularly viewing videos as he seems to be all over the web.

Whilst there was a lot in his presentation that was new to me and fascinating, there were a couple of things that left me questioning.

The first was that during the presentation, the videos that were shown and many photos, left me with the word ‘voyeurism’ floating in my head. I felt as though I was being introduced into people’s lives where I had no right to be.  It left me wondering to what extent the internet encourages us to be ‘voyeurs’.

The second was that I wonder how ethical it is to share another person’s identity online – particularly if that person is a child. I have questioned this before in a discussion with Dean Shareski

I know with absolute certainty that I would not like people to be sharing personal details about me online without my knowledge, understanding or agreement and I doubt that children are in a position to agree to this.  It’s not that I have never mentioned my children online – I have, but I do not understand why a personal communication of love between a parent and child needs to be conducted in view of the whole world. Alec showed one such example of a father sending online messages to his newborn and growing child. What I don’t like about this is that the child cannot object to this. The child doesn’t even know the effect that this might have on their identity and is in no position to control it.

So I do not think that digital citizenship means that you have to be ‘watching’ the lives of people you do not even know, or that you have to share the details of your nearest and dearest with the whole world.

Embodied Learning

At what point do we forget or cease to think about intelligence as being embodied and think of it only in terms of our brains and minds. Little children naturally use their bodies for learning. Most children in nursery schools do not read and write. They learn through their bodies in the sand and water tray, on the climbing equipment, with bricks, Lego and so on. They learn by doing and acting on their environment using all their senses.

There was a fascinating programme on the Horizon Programme on BBC2 last night – The Hunt for AI, which explored the relationship between mind and body and the extent to which the body is ‘intelligent’.

The question asked by the programme was whether it is possible to build a machine (robot), which can mimic human intelligence. Is it possible to make a machine that can think?  Is it possible to capture the wonderful versatility of the human brain, human imagination and creativity?

The programme showed that there have been amazing developments in artificial intelligence and robotics since the days of Alan Turing’s work on the Enigma Machine. Most recently among these developments there has been the realization that in order to mimic the nature of human intelligence, robots or machines would need to have embodied intelligence, intelligence conditioned by the body. So artificial intelligence is now trying to replicate the human body.

Once you start thinking about the role of the body in learning – as we did in the paper we have just submitted to the Stirling Conference in June (see Abstract here – Theorising Education 2012 Abstract), then it is possible to think of many examples of embodied learning.

The example in the BBC2 programme was of the presenter trying to learn how to walk the tightrope. His instructor tells him to ‘turn his brain off and let his muscles do it’; she tells him that he is ‘thinking too much’.

As he said, learning to walk on a tightrope is similar to how a child learns to walk. It is instinctive. Ultimately everything we learn to do becomes automatic with practice.

But perhaps what was most intriguing about this example was that the presenter only learned to walk the tightrope when his instructor suggested that he sing at the same time. This very much relates to the discussion we have in our paper about multi-modal and cross-modal ways of working.

This was a fascinating programme and couldn’t have been more timely in relation to the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau on our paper – Synaesthesia and Embodied Learning.

Where do scholars reside?

Week 27 in ChangeMOOC showed us what a Scholar in Residence gets up to. Antonio Vantaggiato shared the work he started as Scholar in Residence at New York University last summer. This work focuses on exploring the myths surrounding teaching, learning and technology. These are listed in this index – and explored further in his slideshare presentation  and associated live presentation .

The work is a ‘book in progress’ on unpicking the myths. Antonio Vantaggiato is sharing his writing on his website  In his words:

The site is done with, which allows for discussion on each paragraph of the text, and this is what I hope would emerge as a product of participant’s work.

It is by no means an academic, or well-structured research work, but more of a popular discussion. I am using almost no journal or conference papers, but instead, articles from popular media. Plus, the interviews I am conducting (hope to count on you guys in the next future!) add to the ideas elaborated and to the site itself.

I plan to publish in the next weeks the latest interviews (I got Shirky already up, and this week I’ll have another interview done with Mikhail Gershovich, Luke Waltzer, Tom Harbison etc. at Baruch College, etc.)…

Perhaps even more intriguing, at this point than the discussion of the myths – is this way of working, not only because it is being done in the ‘open’, but also because of the departure from the use of journal and conference papers. So the process of writing the book is also an attempt to debunk some of the myths around what constitutes acceptable publications in the bubble of higher education. Presumably Antonio hopes to publish this book when it has been completed – or will the website be the book. I was interested that Stephen Downes regards his website as his book.

So will future scholars reside more on their websites rather than institutions of higher education?

How to avoid getting sick in India

In today’s live ChangeMooc session with Antonio Vantaggiato  (which I will come to  again in another post), I was sorry to hear that Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier all suffered from ‘Delhi Belly’ as a result of their trip to India. I wish I had shared my strategies for avoiding this earlier.

Here is what an Indian friend advised me to do when visiting India – which I have done ever since and have, as a result, avoided the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ on all occasions bar one, when I let my guard down after coming down to Srinagar from the Himalayas. It was ironic that I managed to not be sick in Nepal, despite camping and having no proper sanitation, but then getting sick (one day only) when arriving in Srinagar.

Anyhow – here are my strategies for both avoiding getting sick and for getting well quickly after getting sick.

Avoiding getting sick in India

  • Go vegetarian during your stay, i.e. don’t eat meat or fish
  • Don’t eat salad
  • Don’t have ice in your drinks
  • Only drink water from a bottle with a sealed cap. If you buy one, check that the cap is sealed (i.e. the bottle has not been refilled)
  • Only eat fruit which has been peeled
  • Use disinfectant hand wipes before putting anything near your mouth. Avoid putting your hands to your mouth
  • Only eat in reputable restaurants. Give them a good look over first (even hotel restaurants) and walk out if in doubt. More expensive – but worth it.
  • Never eat street vendors food. Could be fine – but is it worth the risk?

If you get sick

This is what I learned when living in Brazil, which I did for 7 years.

  • Don’t eat anything. People will say, have a bit of soup, a cracker, etc. but don’t. The idea is to starve the ‘bug’. You will feel weak, but do not start eating again until you are absolutely sure that you have got rid of the bug.
  • Drink water, water, water (safe water as above!). The idea is to flush out the bug.
  • Do not take ‘Imodium’ or any other such remedies, as they only trap the ‘bug’ inside and it takes much longer to recover. Of course, sometimes this is impossible, e.g. if you have a plane to catch!

These strategies have worked for me over many visits to India. But I do have to be disciplined and strict with myself and follow my code to the letter, even when someone is trying to persuade me otherwise.

And I should end by saying that I absolutely love India. It is a stunning place to visit, culturally, historically and visually so rich, with wonderfully friendly and helpful people. I can really recommend it.

Is ChangeMooc some sort of test?

I think I am missing something somewhere – but where? I am missing Weeks 26, 27 and 28 of ChangeMooc.

According to the schedule this is what should have happened.

Week 26- Mar 5-Mar 11 – Grainne Conole  was supposed to speak.

Nothing happened that week. We were told that ‘the gang’ would be travelling to the EdgeX conference in India which was due to begin on March 12th – Week 27.

Now Week 27 according to the schedule was supposed to be Alejandro Piscitelli from the  University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I wonder what happened to him? I hope somebody told him that he wouldn’t be speaking in Week 27, because we – as MOOC participants – were  not told, although such is the nature of distributed information and conversation that I might have missed it. We were told though that we could listen to Grainne’s presentation to EdgeX, even though it was a week out of synch. I didn’t get to hear Grainne, but I did get to hear Stephen which was a bonus 🙂

Up to this point I felt reasonably OK about it all. Like others I have found a new speaker each week too much, so a break was a relief.

But what about this week – Week 28. The schedule tells us that the invited speaker is Rosa A. Ojeda Ayala from the University of the Sacred Heart, Puerto Rico. And there has been no word of her that I have seen- but again I stand corrected if I have missed it anywhere – but there has been no post on the ChangeMooc site that I have seen, which still shows Week 25, and no mention on Twitter that I have seen. I also wonder if she was told – or was it her decision not to present this week?

Is this the ultimate test of a connectivist course? Were we supposed to take over and organise it for ourselves? Realistically I don’t think that was possible.

Could either Stephen, George or Dave (‘the gang’ as I have called them with much respect), please explain what is going on.

Learning Analytics: Dream, Nightmare or Fairydust?

This is the title of the new Networked Learning Hotseat – where Simon Buckingham Shum is in the Hotseat. Simon is also working in the Learning Analytics and Knowledge MOOC – LAK12

This is his introduction in the Hotseat:

Pervasive digital technology is weaving a fabric around our lives which makes it increasingly hard not to leave digital traces. We are experiencing an unprecedented explosion in the quantity and quality of data available not only to us, but about us. While some people find this blanket suffocating and threatening, for others, it marks an exciting new turn in our cultural evolution. The question for us is: what are the implications for learning?

One answer is it’s time to upgrade our computing kit. The learning platform and business intelligence vendors are rolling out analytics dashboards aggregating data into summary views, and will be a source of innovation as they seek to respond to customer needs — but what will institutions be asking for? It is conceivable that government education departments might see potential for league tables based on them.

Another answer is that, at last, we will have an evidence base previous generations of educators and academics could only dream of: real-time data streaming in from our students, even more from data shared by countless others who are happy to reveal their social networks, geo-location, and recommended books. Previously siloed scholarly datasets are now released into the wild, where they can be harvested and mined in a vibrant ecosystem of connected ideas, learners and educators.

Then there are those of a more cautious nature. So what if we have shedloads of data? Now we can drown faster. Learning, enquiry, argumentation, sensemaking, scholarship, insight — these skills are of an entirely different order, the highest forms of meaning-making, uniquely human. And what have analytics to say about the less tangible 21stCentury skills that we need to nurture if the next generation is to manage the unprecedented complexity and uncertainty that they will inherit from us? Surely data analytics have nothing to say about intrinsic disposition to learn, emotional resilience in the face of adversity, the ability to moderate a discussion, resolve conflict, or ask critical questions? Finally, who is in control of analytics: are they tools to study learners, or tools to place in their hands, to create reflective, more agile individuals and collectives?

Analytics may in time come to be used to judge you — as a learner, an educator, or your institution. The challenge for us is to debate what it means for this new breed of performance indicators to have pedagogical and ethical integrity. What can and should we do, and what are the limits? Do they advance what we consider to be important in learning, teaching, and what it means to be a higher education institution in the 21stCentury?

Are you thinking Dream, Nightmare, or Fairydust?