Teaching and Learning in 2017 and beyond

This is the time of year when many authors/commentators are getting into reflective mode and writing reviews of 2017, not only looking back but also looking forward. One of these is Stephen Downes, who has been prolific in the last few weeks, sharing a number of presentations and his current thinking.

Jim Groom in his blog post ‘Containing the Future of OER‘ draws our attention to Stephen’s presentation – Applications, Algorithms and Data: Open Educational Resources and the Next Generation of Virtual Learning. In this presentation Stephen discusses how The next generation of OERs will take a step beyond traditional media and classroom support and begin to take advantage of the unique properties of virtual learning’.

In writing about this presentation Jim Groom notes:

‘It’s funny how you begin to rely on certain figures in your network for so much that at some point you begin to take it for granted. Downes remains so prolific on so many topics—not to mention the single most important aggregator of the work in edtech—that you begin to just assume. This talk was a good reminder of how fresh and relevant his work remains.’

I fully endorse this statement about Stephen Downes and think this is particularly obvious in his recent publication about the future of teaching and learning. See

Downes, S. (2017). Quantum Leaps we can expect in teaching and learning in the Digital Age. A roadmap. Published by Contact North.  

https://teachonline.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/quantum_leaps_we_can_expect_in_teaching_and_learning_in_the_digital_age_-_a_roadmap.pdf

This very fluent essay is about ‘the larger changes sweeping through society’. It is full of thought-provoking insights about where we have been, where we are and where we are going with teaching and learning, particularly in relation to the influence of technology. The essay ‘ is addressed to policy makers and pundits, to technology designers and developers, and to those who by virtue of office or inclination have the voice to speak to the future, to inform the weld of what we can do and what we want to do’, but must also be of significance to educators, teachers and learners as we can see from the following quotes:

page 9.  When we teach these students, it’s hard to fight the temptation to teach them for a world that no longer exists. It’s even harder not to teach them for conditions that apply today. The world we are preparing them for, however, is literally a next-generation world. We need to use the technologies of today to teach for the world of tomorrow.

page 14.  In an education system focused on the future, therefore, the core of learning is found not in what is defined in the curriculum, but in how teachers help students discover new possibilities from familiar things, and then from new things. It is, to my mind, transformation from an idea of education defined as acquisition of skills or progression along a learning path to one characterized by exploration, discovery and finally creativity.

page 17.  … despite the conservative nature of the educational system, we have conclusively and irreversibly entered the digital society, and students have permanently changed, as has society. The static structures that used to define education have shifted; we are in an era of changing boundaries between formal, non-formal, informal and post-formal education.

page 21. We can seek in vain to return to that former understanding, or, moving forward, we can seek to identify those core values that underlie the why of pedagogy. What did it matter what a teacher did? What were the outcomes we hoped for? How does our current understanding of instructional design meet those, or fall short? What can we develop in the future to address these issues?

These four quotes resonated with me, as I continue to struggle with what it means to be a teacher and learner in this digital age. Needless to say, I recommend reading the whole document.

 

Technology, teenagers and books

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-16-23-14

Ripley St. Thomas Academy, Lancaster

It has been nearly three years since I wrote a post which considered the question of the role of books in today’s digital world – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/rhizomatic-learning-knowledge-and-books/ That post led to a surprisingly heated discussion about the value of books and a comment quoting Iain McGilchrist.

 

“Life can certainly have meaning without books, but books cannot have meaning without life. Most of us probably share a belief that life is greatly enriched by them: life goes into books and books go back into life.” (p. 195, The Master and his Emissary)

This week I have watched a BBC documentary that seems to support McGilchrist’s view. The title of the documentary was ‘The School that got Teens Reading’. It caught my attention because it was filmed at a local secondary school, Ripley St Thomas Academy in Lancaster which is purportedly the biggest state school in Lancashire and has received an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted Report. Despite this the Headteacher bemoaned the fact that too many of her teenage pupils could not be persuaded to read a novel. Her attempt to solve this problem was to call in the help of actor and comedian Javonne Prince who owned to having left school at the age of 16 without being able to read properly, but who was introduced to Shakespeare and the power of books in drama school and now believes that discovering books changed his life. The Headteacher gave him three weeks to convert 15 reluctant and resistant teenagers into passionate readers. These pupils were selected because they admitted to not having read a book for the past two years or more.

Needless to say Javonne found he had a tough job on his hands and after a rocky start had to call in the help of two friends, Helen Skelton, a children’s author and TV presenter and Russell Kane, another comedian and actor. Ultimately through the use of a variety of strategies they achieved success, at least in the short-term, with 11 of the pupils. Only time will tell whether these teenagers become long-term passionate readers.

What was interesting were the initial attitudes of these teenagers, who said things like ‘I don’t do reading’, ‘Reading is boring’ and that books are not relevant to their lives. They claim not to have time to read and would prefer to be on Facebook, or watch films on Netflix, TV or YouTube. If they need to know something they Google it on their phones. They like a ‘quick fix’ to any questions they have. A shot of the pupils at the end of the school day in the school grounds showed most of them on their phones. One pupil said, ‘I don’t think I have the attention span to get into the book and understand the character’.

During the documentary reference was made to various pieces of research, clearly selected for the purposes of the documentary and unsubstantiated in any way, but nevertheless interesting and no doubt it would be possible to check on them. The following statements were made:

  • British schools’ teenagers don’t like to read. Reading novels has fallen out of fashion all over the country.
  • Year 10 (14 & 15 years old) reading rates have declined
  • The percentage of 11-17 year olds who don’t read at all has more than doubled in recent years from 13 to 27%
  • Research shows that teenagers who read for the joy of it are much more likely to get a better job as adults.
  • Research shows that teenagers who spend just an hour a day playing on their screens can drop the equivalent of two GCSEs
  • Parents play an important role. Primary school children who are read to every day are more likely to enjoy reading into adult life.
  • Most teenagers spend 4 hours a day online which is double the time of 10 years ago.
  • Reading is one of the best ways to strengthen empathy. Some American psychologists believe that reading literary fiction helps us recognise other people’s emotions and understand how they feel.

Iain McGilchrist has also talked about how children are losing the ability to empathise – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/the-divided-brain-are-we-actually-alive-iain-mcgilchrist/.

The documentary did not at any time suggest that the problem lay with technology; rather it attempted to make the case for the valuable learning that can come from reading novels. One thing that did come out of the programme is that there is little point in having the whole class read the same book, since each child/teenager has their own unique personality, skills and interests. What was not discussed was why the teenagers were asked to read a hard copy of the same book. If they had used technology (Kindle, phone etc.) they could each have read a book of their choice, but presumably this approach would not fit with the school’s assessment constraints!

Exploring the Divided Brain – Trying to be sane in an insane world

21st August 2016 pm – a 4 day course with Iain McGilchrist. Day 3 (pm)

This is the fifth in a series of posts in which I am sharing the notes I took whilst attending a 4 day course- Exploring the Divided Brain- run by Field & Field and featuring Iain McGilchrist.

Here are the links to my previous posts:

Day 1 (am). Introduction to the Divided Brain

Day 1 (pm). The Divided Brain and Embodiment

Day 2 (am). Time, Space and Reality

Day 2 (pm). The One and the Many

Day 3 (am). Where can we go for truth?

 

Trying to be sane in an insane world (What can we do about the mess we are in? Answers on the back of a postcard please.)

This question was also asked on the course last year at the same stage in the course. This is the post I wrote then – 28-03-2015: Trying to be sane in and insane world.

Iain started this year’s session by reading David Whyte’s beautiful poem – The Winter of Listening. Despite that it was a summer day, it was easy for us to see the relevance of this poem not just to the topic, ‘Trying to be sane in an insane world’, but also to previous sessions in the course.

Winterof listening

The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.

Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

Iain told us that he is a ‘hopeful pessimist’ and it was worth holding on to this as it turned out to be a ‘dark’ session, one that could easily leave you depressed.

For Iain, we have built a sick society, a WEIRD world (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic), where we are living a lie, where competition is more important than co-operation, and where we are seeing less and less of the world and are becoming more like machines. We are obsessed with making better machines rather than better people. We are not happier than when we were materially less well off. There are many kinds of truth and many points of view and there is strength in pluralism, but we are controlled and manipulated by the uniformity promoted by business, advertising and the like. Technology is not neutral. It is highly invasive and there is already evidence that shows that the impact of technology on children is a loss of intimacy and imagination. Teachers have noticed that children can no longer sustain attention, they lack empathy and have difficulties reading the human face, all consequences of left hemisphere dominance.

Iain has anecdotal evidence and has referenced research findings to support this pessimistic view of our Western society. Thinking further about this part of his session I have some sympathy with his view of technology, but technology is a broad brush term and maybe we need to be more specific. I would also like to see a bit more evidence for the observation about happiness and I would be interested to read the research on children being less imaginative and empathic these days.

Iain believes that invisible dogmas are even more dangerous than visible dogmas. Having and controlling has got us in this mess and now life is full of paradoxes. For example

  • In wanting a paperless technological environment we use more and more paper
  • In trying to improve education through dictating the curriculum we discourage free thinking
  • The overuse of antibiotics results in bacteria that we can’t control
  • In trying to protect our children we make them risk averse
  • In striving for equality we create inequality

As an aside, my current reading is Jeremy Knox’s book – Posthumanism and the Massive Open Online Course, in which he seems to agree with this last point. Knox believes that massive online courses are promoting a new form of colonialism and new forms of exclusion. I both agree and disagree. I think its people who exclude, not courses or technology, but that’s not to deny that exclusion can happen.

Iain gave us many more examples of these paradoxes.

Through his research and his book The Master and his Emissary, Iain suggests that we are approaching another dark age, when the balance between left hemisphere and right hemisphere is lost and the left hemisphere dominates. This has happened before (as written about in the second part of his book), but he thinks this time, because of our technological advances, we have too much power over nature.

So what should we do? Iain’s view is that we need a call to arms to effect cultural change; change from both the bottom up and the top down, change of the hearts and minds of people. But the left hemisphere has a stranglehold on the means of communication of the right hemisphere (p.374, The Master and his Emissary). It is hard to articulate the right hemisphere’s point of view.

Iain thinks we need to be more modest in our material demands (see William Ophuls’ books in the reference list); we need to know each other better, to be the change we want to see in others, and instead of fighting the existing paradigm, create a new one which renders the old one obsolete. Most of all we need to start with the education of our children. The future lies in our children. At this point Iain (by his own admission) went off on a passionate rant about what schools should be doing. Here are some of the things he said:

  • Introduce mindfulness as a spiritual exercise into the curriculum. Children should practise mindfulness every day.
  • Use cognitive behavioural therapy in schools to help children detect biases in their thinking. There should be at least one session a year.
  • Teach children to think critically, learning to see both sides of every question
  • Teach conflict resolution
  • Re-introduce learning by heart (e.g. poetry) and the mastering of skills
  • Promote embodied learning
  • Schools should be challenging but give children the freedom to think
  • Remove from the curriculum topics/subjects that the children can easily learn out of the classroom

Personal reflection

If we agree that the left hemisphere has become dominant, and Iain presents plenty of evidence to support this view, then I appreciate the difficulty of making the case for the right hemisphere’s view of the world through the left hemisphere. Iain quotes a lovely passage from I. Berlin on p.374 of the Master and his Emissary that seems to perfectly sum up the difficulty.

I wish to convey something immaterial and I have to use material means for it. I have to convey something which is inexpressible and I have to use expression. I have to convey, perhaps, something unconscious and I have to use conscious means. I know in advance that I shall not succeed, and therefore all I can do is to get nearer and nearer in some asymptotic approach; I do my best ….

I am in broad agreement with Iain’s arguments, but I wonder whether in having to fight the case for the right hemisphere, we sometimes give the left hemisphere an unfairly rough deal. Iain was at pains to point out that we definitely need the left hemisphere’s view of the world. We would not, as a civilization, have achieved much of what we have achieved without the left hemisphere. But it seemed on the course that a lot of our society’s problems were being placed squarely at the door of technological advance. On the one hand the problem is obvious; it can seem as though life isn’t real if we don’t record it (see my post on The One and the Many); we take photos of our meals in restaurants, we tweet the minutiae of our lives and so on. On the other hand advances in technology have made an enormous difference for the better to so many people’s lives. For example, children on the autism spectrum with right hemisphere damage can communicate through robots, and people across the world can gather in global networks and communities of practice to effect change through the affordances that technology can offer for networked cooperation and collaboration. So it is not all bad.

Like some of the other course participants, I don’t think we can go backwards. I agree that we may need to be more modest in our demands, but I don’t think it will work to ask people to go backwards. We need to feel that we are growing and progressing. As one participant said, we cannot un-know what we already know. So I do agree that perhaps the only way forward will be to render the existing paradigm obsolete and offer something with more hope, something that makes sense and that we will not be able to refuse.

In listening to Iain over this four day course and in writing these posts, it might seem that it was four days of doom and gloom. It was easy ‘hear’ and understand this message, and I know I wasn’t the only person to find this session depressing, but I didn’t find the course as a whole depressing. ‘Challenging’ and ‘stimulating’ are the words that come to mind.

 

Authors/people referred to during the session

Nicholas Carr (2011).  The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read, remember

Sue Gerhardt (2004). Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain.

Susan Greenfield (2015). Mind Change. How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains

See also this Guardian article

Nancy Kline (2002). Time to think. Listening to ignite the human mind.

Knox, J. (2016). Posthumanism and the MOOC: Contaminating the Subject of Global Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Susan Maushart (2010) The Winter of our Disconnect: How one family pulled the plug and lived to tell/text/tweet the tale 

William Ophuls (2012). Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Heidi Ravven (2013). The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will. The New Press

Sherry Turkle (2015) Reclaiming Conversation. The power of talk in a digital age.

LJMU FabLab: A place to play, to create, to learn

Another highlight of the Liverpool John Moores’ Teaching and Learning Conference 2015  was a session in the FabLab (right opposite the Catholic Cathedral). I have already written about the highlight of Professor Ronald Barnett’s keynote (see Student learning in a turbulent age).

Liverpool Catholic CathedralLiverpool Catholic Cathedral

 Accredited by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, FabLab Liverpool  is a physical space located in the School of Art and Design which provides access to the tools and knowledge to educate, innovate and invent using technology and digital fabrication to allow anyone to make almost anything. (Source of text – conference Abstract booklet)

The FabLab

In the session we were introduced to 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D scanners, all of which were new to me. We saw a key chain made in a laser cutter for Frances Bell and demonstrations of 3D scanning and 3D printingKey fob

3D scanning 3D printing

The FabLab session was billed as ‘A place to play, to create, to learn’ and there was certainly a buzz in the room. The aim was ‘to demonstrate how a creative environment and access to innovative technologies can assist pedagogic development with transferable, creative skills’. It was a fun session.

Right at the end of the session, I had a brief discussion with one of the presenters about the applications of these technologies. We already know that 3D printing has been used successfully for facial reconstruction after severe injury such as in the case of a motor-bike accident. And there are clear applications of laser printing, 3D scanning and printing for many design projects. I did wonder though what the implications might be for the fine artist.

An article by Randy Rieland on the Smithsonian website reminds us that ‘technology has been providing artists with new ways to express themselves for a very long time’.

In contrast Iain McGilchrist warns us against art that is too abstract, cerebral and generalized. In his book The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, he writes (p.96)

‘… works of art – music, poems, paintings, great buildings – can be understood only if we appreciate that they are more like people than texts, concepts or things’.

For McGilchrist, art is more than the creation of ‘something’. He writes p.308 …

‘Art …in its nature constantly impels us to reach out and onward to something beyond itself and beyond ourselves.’

… which echoes Ron Barnett’s words when he suggested that we see learning as ‘becoming more than you are, becoming other than you were’.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Liverpool John Moores’ FabLab in action, but on reflection I have wondered what the implications of these advancing technologies will be for art and artists. What will we lose and what will we gain in terms of the art that will be created in the future, our understanding and appreciation of it, and its place in our world?

ALTC14 – Two keynotes: the power of stories

Today has been the last day of the ALT Conference for 2014.

As an online participant, I was able to listen to two really great keynotes, given by two women who are always worth listening to.

  1. Keynote Speech from Catherine Cronin – Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education
 NB: Audio does not start on this video until 4.26.

Inspired by a Seamus Heaney poem, Catherine will explore “navigating the marvellous”, the challenge of being open in higher education. To be in higher education is to learn in two worlds: the open world of informal learning and the predominantly closed world of the institution. As higher education moves slowly, warily, and unevenly towards openness, students deal daily with the dissonance between these two worlds; developing different skills, practices and identities in different learning spaces. Both students and educators make choices about the extent to which they learn, teach, share and interact in bounded and open spaces. If, as Joi Ito has said, openness is a “survival trait” for the future, how do we facilitate this process of opening? The task is one not just of changing practices but also of changing culture; we can learn much from other movements for justice, equality and social change.

  1. Keynote Speech from Audrey Watters – Ed-Tech, Frankinstein’s Monster, and Teaching Machines (See also http://hackeducation.com/2014/09/03/monsters-altc2014/)

What does it mean to create intelligent machines? What does it mean to create intelligent teaching machines? What does this mean in turn when we talk about using these technologies to create intelligent humans? A romp through literature and the cultural history of ed-tech to talk about teaching machines and monsters.

Both talks were powerful and I wonder if that was because they both took a ‘story-telling’ approach.

Catherine talked about levels of openness, quoting Jim Groom as saying that ‘Openness is an ethos, not a license’. We cannot know who will benefit from the resources we share, but we have to take the risk. I don’t think we should underestimate this risk for our students and have discussed the pedagogy of risk elsewhere on this blog. I don’t think Catherine underestimates the risk.

The title of Catherine’s talk Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education was inspired by Seamus Heaney’s poem – Lightenings

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

She used this poem to explain that things that are so normal to us may be marvelous and strange to others – so strange that they cannot breathe – and that the dichotomy of formal and informal learning can make students feel ‘other’ and unable to breathe. She believes that as educators we need to try to understand the spaces that students occupy – physical, bounded online (e.g. VLEs) and open online spaces – and what is possible in these spaces to ensure that students can ‘breathe’ in them all. She then shared many stories with us of the ways in which she and her students are working to come to grips with the process of openness in education.

Audrey also took a storytelling approach. She described herself as a folklorist who is interested in hidden and lost stories – stories from history, literature and science, which she weaves together to illustrate her point – in this case that monsters have been created in the name of Ed-Tech. She drew on the poetry of Walt Whitman and Lord Byron, the history of the Luddites, the science of B.F. Skinner’s teaching machines, the work of Ayn Rand and Mary Shelley’s story Frankenstein, to make a compelling case for the dangers we face from technological monsters which she believes we have created through a lack of care and thought. Near the end of her talk Audrey left us with a quote from Hannah Arendt:

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.

She noted that in an age when many jobs will be replaced by automation, we must love and care for our machines lest they become monsters.

Whilst listening to both speakers, I was struck by the power of a story and was reminded of the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who in this Ted talk  explains, from personal experience, the danger of the single story and says:

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 16.33.13This is not a video, but an image. I have provided a link to the video above

Both Catherine and Audrey seemed to be aware of alternative perspectives; Catherine that her students have ‘other’ perspectives and different stories, and Audrey that stories are multi-faceted and that we can confuse the characters within stories.

As listeners to stories (and keynotes :-)), we have a responsibility to be aware of alternative perspectives and to engage critically with the stories, particularly since they can be so powerful in getting across a point.

Why create your own space, domain, host? 

The pre-course orientation week for a new open course – Connected Courses. Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed, has started this week with the questions:

Why open learning? Why create your own space, domain, host? Why use your own tools? Why be a node on the web? Why is this important? What does connected learning mean?

One of the attractions of this course for me, apart from all the well recognised names that are running it, is the question ‘Why create your own space, domain, host?

I have been aware of the Reclaim Your Domain  discussions for quite a while, and have had a ‘should I/shouldn’t I?’ discussion with myself for about the same amount of time, always coming down on the ‘I shouldn’t’ side.

So it was good to discuss this further in the Twitter stream alongside the Google Hangout, last night. Here is the Google Hangout recording

and for the Twitter stream use the hash tag #ccourses. From the discussion it was clear that the support will be there if I decide to go down this route – which is great – but I have yet to be 100% convinced that it is worth the time and effort.

Although I am often technologically challenged, I am not completely clueless. I do have experience of creating a website, which I did a few years ago to accompany a 6 month stay on the island of Florianopolis in southern Brazil. I used 1&1 internet to host that website and Dreamweaver for writing the website. I took the website down a couple of years ago, as I didn’t want to continue paying for it, but the associated blog (hosted on Blogger), which I embedded into the website still exists – Retorno a Florianopolis

I have also recently created a GoDaddy account to host some development work we are doing in relation to our research into Emergent Learning and drawing footprints of emergence.  That GoDaddy site is not ready yet to be ‘open’.

From this limited experience I know that hosting your own website is a lot of work for someone like me (work that doesn’t fire up my interest) and so I was interested to read Rebecca Hogue’s post about her experience and the difficulties she encountered.

I have also listened, this morning, to Audrey Watters’ great keynote to the ALT Conference  where she made a very strong case for not allowing technology to become a monster, i.e. we should fully engage with the technologies we use and take responsibility, rather than allow technologies to take control of us. She has also written very persuasively about this in her blog post Reclaim your domain

But, for now, I remain unconvinced about the value of moving this blog (which I started in 2008) into a different space. What would I gain? It currently does everything I need it to do. I know it like the back of my hand – so I don’t have to think about the technology and can focus on the content. The blog itself is free, but I pay an annual fee to be able to embed videos and to stop adverts appearing on this blog.

On the other hand, I know how annoyed I was recently when Flickr (where I host my photos) decided to change the way it displays photos without so much as a ‘by your leave’ or giving Flickr users any choice, but I didn’t end up moving my photos. I remember that at the time, Alan Levine, who is one of the Connected Courses convenors, was not very sympathetic, thinking that if I took more control and got my own domain I wouldn’t get into this situation.

So, I’m still undecided about whether to move this blog and not ready to jump just yet. I think I would like to be clearer about what I stand to lose. I think I know what I stand to gain, but of course I appreciate that I can’t know what I don’t know, so I’m keeping an open mind and hoping to gain greater insight in this course.

Jane Hart’s Top Ten Tools for 2014

Jane Hart has once again asked for people to vote on the top ten tools that they use when working online. She has been doing this annually since 2007. This is a helpful prompt for reflection on whether my use of technology has changed over the past year and if so why, and if not why. I am not very adventurous in adopting new tools. Technology doesn’t interest me enough to want to experiment with tools I am unlikely to find useful in my every day work. I can remember clearly being shown Second Life a few years ago and knowing that I would never want to spend time trying to learn how to use it, and now it isn’t mentioned very often, or not in my circles, so I don’t regret not engaging with it. I am not afraid of technology, even of Second Life, although I was in the very early days, when I remember that I even resisted having a computer at home. All that struggling to use BBC computers in primary school classrooms, way back in the 80s, really put me off to begin with. At that time I would never have thought I would end up working as an education consultant mostly online.

These days, these are the tools I use and what I use them for.

Personal, private communication

Email: I still use this a lot and for many things it is still my preferred mode of communication, although I recognize that this has become easier since I have been independent and no longer receive hundreds of institutional emails, which have been copied to everyone, like I used to in the old days. Email does not work though for discussion about research, because it’s difficult to keep track of the ongoing conversation and edits.

Pbworks Wiki: I use this a lot for collaborative research. I find it a fantastic tool for this. Not only can we keep all the resources and data in one place, but we can also discuss papers and ideas. I also use it for shared reading, e.g. to discuss a book. I spend a lot of time in my wikis and see that I now have 34 wikis in my list (not all currently active), most of them set up by me.

Skype: This is a great tool for personal communication and team meetings. And it’s free! I use Skype quite a lot. I prefer it for meetings. I have never liked the phone, so I don’t particularly want to Skype for ‘chat’.

iPhone: I am not of fan of phones and only use them when no other form of communication will do the trick. In the past few weeks I have spent what I consider to be an unreasonable number of hours changing my phone provider. I hate how difficult they make this.

Personal Resource Curation

Mendeley: This is where I collect all the research papers that I am interested in, read them and make notes on them. I really like that it is so easy to cite references from Mendeley. There are public groups in Mendeley and although I am a member of some, I do not really engage with them.

Evernote: I use this for making a note of interesting websites and online sources. It is easy to use and organise and complements the PDF/Word documents that I collect in Mendeley.

Feedly: This is where I gather RSS feeds to all the blogs I am interested in, but I am a slow reader (not good at skimming), so I don’t get to read as many as I would like to keep up with. I am more likely to read blog posts if they come into my email.

Flickr: This is semi public/private. I store nearly all my photos on Flickr, but I only allow some contacts to see photos of my family. I don’t like seeing photos of myself online, so I can empathise with others who might feel the same and don’t assume that everyone is happy to have their photo posted online. I tend to take photos as memories of places I have visited and found visually stimulating.

Kindle: I have just bought a Kindle PaperWhite. I love it. I already have a collection of books that I want to read – all in the palm of my hand – and it is sympathetic to my ever failing eyesight!

Public communication

WordPress: My blog is very important to me. It is a place where I publicly reflect on what I am thinking about in relation to my work. It helps me to do this reflection. I don’t very often use my blog for reflecting on more personal issues.

Facebook: I don’t really like Facebook very much, and as such don’t post there very often, but a lot of people that I like use it, so I tend to look at it most days to see what they are up to. I am a member of a few Facebook groups.

Twitter/Tweetdeck: I am also not a huge fan of Twitter, although I can see its advantages for sharing ideas. I find I have to trawl through a lot of ‘dross’ to find the gems. I like Tweetdeck for conferences. I find I can follow a conference very well online, at a distance, by creating a conference column in Tweetdeck.

Google+: I have an account, and I share my blog posts there, but it has never really resonated with me and I don’t really use it for anything else or follow it.

LinkedIn: I also share my blog posts on LinkedIn. My profile is actually a bit of a mess and I should do something about it, but I’m not sure what the benefits of LinkedIn are.

Blackboard Collaborate: This is not free for large numbers but it’s great for webinars, although Adobe Connect is also not bad these days. I have tried Big Blue Button in the past – but not recently. I could definitely find use for a reliable free tool that could host large numbers of participants for a webinar.

Presentations

Powerpoint: I’m not really a fan of this from the receiver point of view, but I haven’t yet really worked out why. I think it’s because presentations are necessarily more didactic than would be my choice. I still use it, but try to have as little text on slides as possible, although I know that this doesn’t help people who are listening to recordings.

Prezi: I have used this twice. For me it needs to be used judiciously for specific purposes.

Word: I use Word every day. I am now questioning whether Word is always used for presentation. I think it is – even if that presentation is only to myself. I am working in Word now, to write this post.

Camtasia: I use this for recording online presentations. I also use it for research purposes and when I am working on projects which require interviewing people.

Research

Survey Monkey: I have used this quite a lot. Going back to check, I see that to date I have created 23 surveys in Survey Monkey. I used to have a paid account (unlimited questions), but now I use the free account (up to 10 questions). I find it a really useful tool to get started on gathering empirical data. Email and Skype can be used for follow up.

Sharing

Dropbox: Apart from the tools I have mentioned above, I use Dropbox – for sharing large files, such as videos.

Excel: This remains a very good tool for gathering large amounts of data for analysis. For example, I used it extensively in a project where I was working with 21 Universities and synthesizing their work on a variety of funded projects.

Searching for information

Browser: I use Google Chrome. Before moving to Chrome, I used Internet Explorer and Firefox. I have had fewer problems with Chrome. But sometimes Chrome fails me and then I use Safari.

I also search for information through Google Search, Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Scholar and Google Translate.

I know I should use a variety of search engines. Perhaps this is what I need to work on for next year.

TOP TEN TOOLS

So which are my top ten tools? I know I use other tools as well as the ones I have mentioned here, such as Diigo, ScoopIt, JustGiving, Moodle and so on. This makes me wonder why I have focused on the tools above. On her site Jane Hart tells us ‘how’ to vote – but as far as I can see she doesn’t stipulate what ‘Top Ten’ means. Does it mean the number of times, or how often you use a tool? Does it mean how useful you find the tool? Does it mean how easy you find it to use the tool? Does it mean that it is free? And so on.

I’m going to select 10 based on the frequency with which I use them, either every day or at a minimum every week – and as such there are some important ones (to me) missing from this list. Here is my Top Ten, created according to this criterion.

  1. Google Chrome (that’s where I start each day)
  2. Email – Yahoo (that’s my next stop at the beginning of each day. I reply to emails as necessary and save them to my folders)
  3. WordPress (I check comments and stats every day and might write a post, if I have something to say)
  4. Facebook (I check what my friends/connections are doing, but find myself constantly asking why I am doing this. It feels a bit like voyeurism, since I rarely post in Facebook myself)
  5. Tweetdeck (I scan the different columns for new posts which contain information which is relevant to my work. Occasionally I find something. I am very grateful to those who retweet my tweets)
  6. Word (then I get down to it and start writing. Usually the writing gets copied into another site, e.g. PbWorks, or WordPress, or an email etc.)
  7. Flickr (I usually have a backlog of photos that I want to edit and upload. I like to see what other Flickr contacts and users have posted. I am always so impressed by the openness and creativity of others)
  8. Kindle (This is very recent. I read something every day on my Kindle PaperWhite. I can upload PDFs and comment on them and also upload a whole wishlist of books I hope to read. I read every night before sleeping. It used to be tangible hard copy books, but I find the Kindle easier. Will I be missing the hard copy books by this time next year?)
  9. PbWorks (I don’t think a week goes by without adding to or commenting on text which has been uploaded to one of the wikis that I collaborate in. This is where I experience the most in depth discussions in my working life).
  10. Evernote (This helps me to remember and store those weblinks that I often come across serendipitously and which I don’t have time to read in the moment).

I realize that this post is a bit like our work on Footprints of Emergence in which we (Roy Williams and I) create a visualization of an emergent learning experience in an open learning environment (See this open wiki for details).

In drawing these footprints we realize that the reflective process is dynamic and can change from instance to instance, so maybe if I were to list my top ten tools tomorrow they would be different. But this is my list for today and now.