Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Twelve tech triumphs of 2009....




tools, conferences, connections.... what have been my virtual highlights of 2009? I have decided to make awards in my own very special categories. Many of these are Twitter related as it remains up there as my number one social networking and informal learning tool. End of.

So here's an award for each of the 12 days of Christmas

1. Best online conference: Digifolios - a Ning based community looking at digital identity and the development of e-portfolios

2. Best real life conference: ALT-C 2009 Manchester especially @jamesclay

3. Best Tweet-up opportunity: again - ALT-C 2009 Manchester - met LOADS of Twitter friends in real life for the first time (@sarahhorrigan, @adamread to name but two)

4. Best International Tweet-up (on home ground): @torresk (BCN) Flores restaurant, Leicester - a friendship that continues through Blip FM, Ning, blogs, facebook and of course tweets: can't have too much of a good thing!

5. Best International Tweet-up in a foreign language : @felipemorales (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) Cafe Mozart on the Paseo Canteras. Actually this was far more than a tweet up. In response to a DM asking for help on finding salsa venues in the City, Felipe (who I had never really "spoken to" before - only followed on Twitter) went out of his way to provide the information I needed . Both he and his family turned out to be funny, charming and generous people who I hope will continue to be friends! I also hope to return the favour some day!


6. The Tweet-up that didn't quite happen : @psweetman and I were metres away from each other at Holyrood in Sept - @Markhawker was trying to direct us towards each other but I didn't get the message until too late. Doh!

7. And the Tweet-up I had looked forward to longest: @cristinacost - Exchange Theatre, ALT-C 2009 Fringe meeting

8. Last of the Tweet-up related awards - to all the lovely Leicester people I finally got to meet for real in 2009: @ajcann, @lizzielib, @3quarks, @jobadge, @craig52uk and @caffeinebomb. (In 2010 WLTM @ffolliet and @mitchley....)

8. Most hyped damp squib of the year - Googlewave. I think it has amazing potential but I have yet to unlock it and am frustrated by the lack of interaction. Or is every one else having fun at the party and I am still in the kitchen, or in a different house maybe?

9. Most really useful asynchronous collaboration tool - I have been seduced away from Wetpaint into the arms of Googledocs this year and have managed to persuade our office staff to use it too. Recently I used Google spreadsheet to create an online survey and collaborated with a colleague on a presentation. I am also looking carefully at Huddle - especially as an application in Ning: potential for a great community collaboration tool here.

10. Best synchronous collaboration, learning and communication tool - has to be Skype: the latest version has screen sharing. It has become the tool of preference for me and my daughter to chat and share work/photos etc whilst she is away at University, and has thus made the pain of separation bearable! I have also used it for my own learning (Spanish conversation practice), for discussions with work colleagues when one or more of us is out of the office and of course for tutorials with my students.

11. Flip camera+ Camstudio + Moviemaker and Youtube ; Jing or Screenr - altogether a great set of free tools (except the Flipcamera which set me back a modest £60) for making short videos or screencasts - for friends and family, for learning, for recreation. I have filmed salsa classes, created holiday movies, made short welcome videos for distance learning students and provided instructional screencasts on using web 2.0 tools.


12. Best present I ever bought myself: my i-phone! Apps too numerous to mention but three I use constantly are: Collins Spanish dictionary - worth every penny, Tweetie is of course essential for a Twitter addict and Evernote provides me with my virtual memory!

Phew - that's it, my review of 2009. Can't wait to see what 2010 has to offer.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Why people don't use Web 2.0 - Tristram Hooley

it's often the case that students and fellow academics get scared off the idea of using Web 2.0 tools in their teaching and learning.  This post made sense to me and caused me to wonder how we could be presenting these tools differently to get people more engaged?

http://adventuresincareerdevelopment.posterous.com/why-people-dont-use-web-20-thoughts-prompted

Monday, 14 December 2009

Wetpaint to damp squib

a typical page with ads top, bottom and side


I started out this year as something of an evangelist when it comes to Wetpaint wikis. I have used them in my teaching in various ways and even adapted one as a website/induction module for new distance learning students. I have recommended them to academic colleagues and supported others in setting up a wiki for research and collaboration.

I have to say though that I am bitterly disappointed by Wetpaint's decision to end the removal of ads (for free) on educational sites.

I can understand that this may not have been a particularly attractive busness model and I realise that we shouldn't perhaps expect much for free nowadays, but it isn't just that ads are back - its the nature of them. The billboard style, flashing/animated banners advertising vampire films across the top, snap link ads at the bottom, google ads up the side.... I mean, come on guys! This is way over the top.

On a related note, though, I wonder whether I will continue to have a use for wikis.

I am currently preferring Googledocs for document sharing and Huddle looks potentially even more powerful and attractive with its links to discussions and clear version control/approval mechanisms. The fact that Huddle now comes embedded in Ning has made that platform a better option for communities, collaboration & learning groups (yes, I know - it also has ads: but they are fairly discreet compared to Wetpaint).

I have hopes for Googlewave as a collaborative tool too, though currently it is hard to find committed wavers willing to join in the experiment: I wonder what this will look like in twelve months time?

If I have learned one thing in 2009, it is that web 2.0 media come and go, they transmute and they transform the world around them. And for 2010 - well I think I know better than to attempt any predictions....I am pretty sure I will be using some new tools and letting go of others.

The five worst tech products of 2009 : Number One GoogleWave

Despite the rather negative tone of this article, it does paradoxically give a thumbs up to GoogleWave as a tool of preference for dispersed teams....

http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/hiner/?p=343

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BBC Radio 4 You and Yours 8th December 2009

Teleworking, virtual teams, home working contracts. portfolio jobs - all being discussed today on BBC Radio 4's lunchtime consumer programme, You and Yours.

Some of the interesting view points being expressed:

is working from home making some people a slave to the technology that connects them to work?

What is the future for Trade Unions?

Teleworking is environmentally friendly.........one woman reduced her annual mileage from 25,000 to just 5,000

Successful home working arrangements depend on clear measurements of productivity (outputs) rather than hours of attendance, and requires enlightened employers!

Homeworkers suffer the "petty jealousy" of office-bound colleagues;

This sort of flexible arrangement cannot apply to farm workers, facory operatives, hotel receptionists etc who need to be in the workplace - so are they being disadvantaged?

There is a noble history of people working from their garden sheds - including Dylan Thomas!

Teleworking only applies to highly skilled knowledge workers.....?

Flexibility can also mean a blurring of boundaries - extending work beyond 5pm and beyond conventional retirement age


I am encouraged that this subject is being debated on a popular programme.

I have recently come across one Human Resources department for whom the concept of home working challenges current organisational policies - resulting in long drawn out "discussions" and delays in staff being paid.

The very notion that a member of staff was not turning up daily to a specified place of work to do their job was simply unthinkable to the HR professionals involved - and as the organisation in question is envisaging a future where delivering their services via technology is the norm, this mismatch between business strategy and employment policy needs to be addressed urgently!

Gina Trapani on “Making Sense of Google Wave” | Craig Deakin

http://craigdeakin.com/gina-trapani-making-sense-google-wave

continuing the exploration of Googlewave........


Friday, 4 December 2009

Google Wave


Recently been exploring Google Wave - a new platform that combines instant messaging with Discussion Board/email and has something of the wiki about it as multiple editors are also allowed.

Access is by invitation only - and I have a few spare invites if anyone wants one - so I was not an early adopter but there is still an air of "what do we do now?" about many "Waves" as the message threads are named.

I have made a concerted effort this week to invite a number of work colleagues to get on board as I can see potential here for collaboration on projects. It also occurs to me that it presents a great opportunity for people to keep in touch when working in virtual teams.

Here is a link to the Introductory Video which goes some way to explaining what it is/does. And here is a blog post about a really exciting use of a Wave involving a thousand or more young people across the globe.

Currently I am involved in one discussion about the use of Twitter in education but most of the Waves that come my way seem to be of the "what do we USE this for???" variety. Pretty much like Twitter in the beginning I guess.

It definitely needs people to be involved and active - and there needs to be a specific purpose to the Wave before people will get involved and start to use it......so I am still exploring and will no doubt write more about my adventures on the Wave as they unfold.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

No one in charge?

image: flickr salimfadhley

Been catching up on some of my favourite blogs this morning and the following caught my attention:

Graeme Martin's HR and People Management Blog

I include here three very short and somewhat out of context quotes (I hope Graeme will forgive me: but do please look at the rest of the post to review his evidence and well argued case)
  • celebrity leadership and traditional leader development are typically planned and individualistic while (Distributed Leadership) is typically emergent and collective (I have paraphrased here)
  • 'no-one in charge' can lead to highly positive outcomes......
  • "The 'romance with leaders' is definitely on the wain"

One of my interests in looking at leadership of virtual or dispersed teams probably springs from my own disillusionment with leadership as much as it does from my personal predeliction for working from home.

My own sense of the reality of making things happen is that very often the impetus emerges from within a network of interested and proactive people and very infrequently at the behest or dictat of a nominated leader.

This is certainly true of all of the really exciting projects I am currently involved in - they seem to mainly involve small networks of people who do not naturally fit within any organisational matrix - indeed seem to exist in spite of it! - but who are working with passion (for their "subject" or service, for an inspiring end goal ) and well beyond their usual "terms and conditions of service".

Even when I have been placed in the position of formally leading a project, I have found that the outcomes are significantly improved when each team member has been able to contribute their own thoughts - and even better, when they have individually or in small groups, been charged with taking on some of the responsibility for designing those outcomes and working to achieve the desired results. Such teams are energised, they feel an ownership for and pride in the final product and the sense of having achieved it by themselves.

Unfortunately it is still the traditional view that certain tasks - setting targets, deciding on strategic direction, monitoring performance - are the sole province of a designated "celebrity" leader, ignoring the expertise of equally or more experienced colleagues in the name of "strong leadership". At best this approach produces bored, underutilised people who doggedly follow the rules and produce whatever mediocre results are deemed sufficient to tick the boxes. At worst it leads to passive aggressive behaviour: deliberate sabotaging of goals, disaffected staff who leave to find new jobs, take long term sick leave or simply refuse to contribute to "team meetings".

There are analogies here with teaching. Certainly in the areas in which I "teach", I am not the expert dispensing wisdom from on high, but the facilitator of students accessing their own and others' expertise, helping them to making sense of it and to turn this knowledge into something useful, something they might themselves start to feel passionate about.

This last few weeks, as always when I work with groups of clinical managers in the NHS, I have felt genuinely humbled by their creativity, dedication and genuine desire to make a change for the better. Despite the complaints of target driven bureaucracy and poor leadership I also see evidence of distributed leadership at work in the inspiring and creative projects these managers produce - and beyond that to see the genuine difference this work makes in the lives of others - their colleagues, team members, students, volunteers, patients.

My romance with leaders has clearly been on the wain for years and I see nothing around me to make me want to start believing in them again. Here's to the Distribution of Leadership....and to no one in charge!!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

How I got that Prezi .....


I promised @nlafferty that I would blog a little about the Prezi process and share some tips for speeding it up a little: I spent MUCH longer creating the prezi than a powerpoint, but mainly because I had to go through a big learning curve too.


Tip #1: create a story board too and rough out a design: I actually decided on the circular frames and created something on paper which allowed me to decide where I wanted to group certain ideas first.


Tip #2: think visuals first. I think Prezi is so preeminently a visual thing, the last thing you want or need is a lot of words or God forbid! bullet points... Also there is no "layering" or "ordering" on Prezi, so what goes down first is on the bottom. Put in visuals then add text on top.


Tip #3: I actually created visuals on Powerpoint first - eg found Flickr images or Clipart photos with lots of white space around them; saved the slides as separate JPEGs then uploaded to Prezi, so the image appears to emerge from the white background with no frame. Where the image was on a background, I used Powerpoint formatting to put it in a frame, added a shadow or reflection and then cropped it tightly so that it would appear to be a photo pinned to the Prezi canvas.


Note: the visuals - sourcing, converting, formatting and editing - was the most labour intensive part of the exercise. I have kept a folder of all the images used so I can re-cycle when necessary!


Tip #4 I tried to avoid motion sickness (!!) by not having too many extreme zooms, changes of direction or big panning effects. Grouping things fairly close together and making gentle moves at slight angles for the most part, big effects once in a while to jazz things up or change topic.


Tip#5 Learn from others: look at the show-cased prezis and work out how they did them; watch some of the tutorial videos. I was inspired by @adamread 's lovely prezi on designing posters.


Tip #6 Take your time! I found myself stealing an hour here and there, whilst watching TV or sitting in a hotel room during a few days working in Scotland recently, to actually work on the Prezi. It became frankly a bit addictive. I also found it a very rewarding and creative experience - I absolutely loved working with the visuals and finessing the layout.
Tip #7 STOP when it' s done: This is not a good medium for anyone of a slightly Obssessive Compulsive tendency (like me) - a point comes where you have to say, hey this is good enough!


If any one would has their own favourite tips to share, please add them in the comments below.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Prezi and the PLE

I have been experimenting with a presentation format called "Prezi" to support a talk I'll be giving at the Public Sector Skills conference next month.........(click the grey arrow below the screen to get started)

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Freedom to Learn

I was chatting to my daughter late last night on Skype: she is in her first year at University and everything is new, exciting and confusing.

Not least her first experiences of lectures: 400 coughing and sneezing 18 year olds in a lecture theatre, rapid fire powerpoint, notice of regular tests, a 50 page book to read by next week - all around her people taking down notes. There was even a prize given away for the student who could remember and quote back at the lecturer an obscure author she had mentioned at the start....

As an added incentive to attend the lecture, students were informed that they could not have access to the lecture notes or slides until later that day, and only then if they answered some questions to check they had been paying attention and taking notes.

My daughter has done well to get to where she is, being midly dyslexic, with specific difficulties in reading and comprehending that were confirmed in a test the University carried out last week. Taking notes whilst listening is not something she can manage easily - in fact it would help her understanding of what is being said if she could have copies of the slides in front of her to make notes on as she goes along.

Being new to Blackboard it wasn't easily apparent to her where she could access the tests she had to take in order to access the slides .... on top of all the confusion and disorientation she was already feeling in a new environment, her own learning difficulties were adding to the problem. She was sad and disappointed. I just feel angry.

On the positive side, she has got support from the University for her dyslexia, she is in a small seminar/workshop group where she can talk about the course in a slower and more considered way, there are some good learning materials available on Blackboard and in her text books, and there is a drop- in session available to those who want further explanation of some of the points covered in the lecture - so in her own time and in her own way, hopefully, she can begin to learn what she needs.

My point is - what is the point of lectures? I don't think it is only students with some form of learning difficulty who need support, small group work, handouts before the session, clear signposting on how to use the VLE.

When I first saw Mike Wesch's "Vision of Student's Today" I thought it was reflecting an archaic, peculiarly American phenomenon - I have obviously been teaching at PG level for too long....I'm with Wes Streeting on this!! Let's abolish lectures and encourage personalised learning.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Education & technology - some useful links

The intersection between work and learning

Theme D Teaching & Learning Strategies

Social Media Classroom

YouTube - A Vision of Students Today

eLearn: Best Practices - Online Course Design from a Communities-of-Practice Perspective

The Instructional Use of Learning Objects -- Online Version


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Informal Learning - some useful links

ICTlogy » Working Session on Open Social Learning (III). Dolors Reig: Open Social Learning in Spain. Clarifying Concepts

Mobilising Remote Student Engagement

Deseret News Universities will be 'irrelevant' by 2020, Y. professor says


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Personal Learning Environments : some useful links

Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media: Guest Post by Gaurav Mishra: The 4Cs Social Media FrameworkThe Need for the 4Cs Social Media Framework Over the last year, I have had to explain how social media works to diplomats, defense officials, and academics and students focused on fields as diverse as international affairs, management and sociology....

Educational Leadership:Teaching for the 21st Century:21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

The Personal Learning Network Petri Dish « Mollybob Goes To School

Learning 2.0: Learning Today and Tomorrow

New structures of learning: The systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism, and networked learning

Science of the Invisible: PLEs at HEA

Creating a PLE - SlideShare

http://www.slideshare.net/GrahamAttwell/personal-learning-environments-46423

Informal Learning :: Ageless Learner

UoL PLE Project Home - UoL PLE Project

Personal Learning Environments - The future of education?

creatingaPLN » home

The Psychology and Skills of Personal Learning Environments

Digital Dialogues: The learning versus technology disconnect

Informal Learning 2.0 — Internet Time Blog

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/29/online

Self Organisation and Virtual Learning

Why Some Elearning Isn't Working E-Learning Lounge

Edge: THE IMPENDING DEMISE OF THE UNIVERSITY By Don Tapscott

From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments Academic Commons

Our post-digital priorities: overcoming the neglect of the tutor DMU Learning Exchanges

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Dropping out



Its a depressing fact but the drop out rate on e-learning programmes is disturbingly high. (see for example: http://jolt.merlot.org/Vol2_No2_TylerSmith.htm )


On this programme as a whole (not the virtual leader module specifically) it is even higher than expected.

Students suffer various unexpected crises during the year ranging from pregnancy to death of a family member, with everything in between - marriage, divorce, nervous breakdown, personal illness and redundancy.

By far the biggest pressure - the one students most often cite - appears to be work, and having worked in and around the NHS for 25 years, I know the demands placed on managers at all levels. Throw into the mix the flu pandemic, the recession and the obligatory reorganisation of services and the turbulence is clearly too much for most people.

However, in England, a sister programme for NHS managers - similar content, same academic level, same demographic, similar numbers - suffers nothing like the same rates of attrition. And this despite the fact that students get less face to face workshops and contact with tutors. It is in fact a "supported distance learning programme" whereas the Scottish NHS programme is described as "blended learning" - that is, it mixes on-line and face to face support with self study.

I think there are a few variables at play:

in the English course, students have all the materials they need presented in hard copy.

in the Scottish programme, students have to research materials on line from references provided, using a free, university provided electronic library resource.


In England students have two workshops per module but beyond that are left to get on and study by themselves

In Scotland they have two workshops but are then expected to contribute to an online discussion board and complete week by week activities on line.


In England students generally pay a contribution for the programme.

In Scotland it is free of charge and there is no penalty for withdrawal.


In England tutors are generally drawn from the same organisation - the Trust's training lead or another senior manager who is enthusaistic about management and leadership development.

In Scotland, the tutors are employed by the awarding university.


Some of these factors would suggest - intuitively - that the Scottish students get a far better deal: more support, no financial cost, less "supervision" from their employers, access to wider resources and up to date technology.

However, I think the act of paying for something secures greater commitment, not less, and the involvement of trainers from the same organisation may tend to make students more reluctant to give up.

It is perhaps too easy for students to email their resignation to a distant university administrator than it is to go and tell their line manager or the hospital's training lead.

One student recently emailed me that he had simply "lost enthusiam for the course". Would he have said that (even if it were true) if he was explaining to his line manager why the Board's investment of nearly £2000 in his development (never mind "cost" of study leave) was being wasted? Would he have thought twice if that money had been his own, and not the NHS?

As I say, I think there are many factors at play and simply forcing students to stay the course by imposing a financial penalty is not the only answer. Certainly many of the students withdrawing report a lack of support at work and protected study time as factors in their decisions.

Like all complex problems, this is going to require more than one solution.
Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Project Management Video

 

A video interview with Ken Thompson - author of Bioteams. Do Virtual Teams and Bio Teams (self managed teams) still need a project manager?
As you approach the assignment for this module, you might want to watch this interview and discuss with your colleagues.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

We love the NHS and Social Media

A year ago when I started this blog, I struggled to find examples of the NHS' use of social media and it was perhaps for this reason that some students on the module struggled themselves with knowing how to apply various tools to solve their own communication conundrums.

My instinct tells me, however, that the use of Web 2.0, social networking sites is increasing - and used with increasing sophistication. There are admittedly still huge swathes of the population living in blissful ignorance of such phenomena: I have girlfriends who run screaming from the room when I twitter on about Twitter; my own brothers who have heavy weight jobs in IT shake their head in disapproval when I mention Facebook, and trying to get my academic colleagues using Blogger or Ning is a bit like trying to introduce a Sky+ box into a community of Amish. (Admittedly, I don't actually own a Sky+ box myself, and my knowledge of the Amish is restricted to repeated viewings of Witness - and only then because I like Harrison Ford...)



Anyway - to get to the point, I have recently picked up a number of interesting developments where the NHS meets social networking.

For instance: there are now a large number of Trusts and national health bodies using Twitter:

http://twitter.com/NHSmarketing

http://twitter.com/nhsemployers

http://twitter.com/NHSNottsCounty

http://twitter.com/NHSChoices

http://twitter.com/NHSLeicester

to name just a few.

I even came across some great FaceBook pages devoted to the NHS:















......and this Wiki caught my eye too....
http://wikiph.org/index.php?title=Wiki_Public_Health

so maybe you could now think about how you could get your message across to colleagues or users of your service using social media?

You might also want to explore other media that the NHS is using - such as YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIeAzjuAWUE

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. - Telemedicine and e-Health - 15(6):507


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

 

The uses - and potential uses of Twitter in the Health Sector - some interesting reading and fuel to the debate on uses of technology in Virtual Team Management/ Telehealth

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Leading and Managing at Distance: Case Studies in the use of Web 2.0 tools



image: flickr Nimages DR

Caroline: dispersed team of healthcare trainers


The team of trainers, nominally co-located, would for large parts of each month be working as a dispersed team. All worked on a part time sessional basis on different projects and days of the week had consequent difficulties in communication, coordination and in finding time for the team to reflect on performance, consider improvements, undertake their own professional development and discuss new policies and training in the latest techniques.


The LAMD module gave Caroline the opportunity to undertake an analysis of these difficulties, discussing these in various forums with fellow students, and to experience for herself the uses of blogs, wikis and other relevant tools for collaboration and communication.


She chose to focus in her final project on the development of a wiki and a group web page for her team which could be used as a noticeboard, document repository and discussion forum to enable everyone to keep in touch and up to date with changes in regulations and practice.


From this she went on to develop another wiki to aid communication and collaboration in planning a CPD conference with another dispersed team.


Caroline Taylor is Lead Dental Care Professional Tutor - North East Scotland. She can be contacted at caroline.taylor@nes.scot.nhs.uk for further information.


Alison: how my leadership style has changed..


"... I have learned many things both about technology and its application to team work. I was aware of some means of online communication but had not related it to my working practice nor experienced its use. That has changed and I have now set up and administered a wiki which I would not have had the confidence or knowledge to do before. I have used blogs and accessed online learning. I did find the use of the wiki and online discussions very helpful to gain differing views and opinions.

I have also learned about my own abilities and am aware some of the pitfalls of leading and managing at a distance. I believed I had good communication skills but have become aware that these need to be better when the opportunity of face to face communication is not available. I have learned to listen to my team more and use every opportunity to give positive feedback rather than focussing on the negative. I will also be encouraging more reflective practice....

So what will I do now?


......... I could have used a better method for introducing the wiki to the team which may have been more successful. Instead of using email I plan to relaunch it with improved explanations of the benefits it could bring at the next team meeting . In this way I hope to better motivate the team to embrace new technology and to look for other means of improving the service to patients. It will also encourage the team members to think as a team and communicate with each other more consistently.

My Myers Briggs personality is ISFJ which means I like structure, hierarchy and organisation all features that are difficult with a dispersed team . I will need to work on being less controlling and more trusting of my team members’ abilities to allow them to develop their own skills. "

Alison Pendlowski is Deputy Head of Speech & Language Therapy at Perth Royal Infirmary

Monday, 10 August 2009

The how, what, why and where of blogging

image: Flickr ehoyer


This is a guide I have developed for students who are having to write a blog for the first time as part of their studies.

Whatever the format and purpose of your blog, this guide is intended to give you some ideas about how to get started, what sort of things to blog about and how to do it safely and easily.


First you might want to look at this short video





And here’s a blog entry about the usefulness of blogging.
Here’s another blog exploring the value of the blog in learning…..

If you are setting up your own, web-based blog, a good place to start is Blogger.com where you will find simple and clear instructions on how to begin and how to customise and develop your own blog.

Getting started

A great way to start with blogs is to read other people’s first, so you get an idea of what you want to write about and the style you might want to adopt. Here are some others to look at- as you see the topics and intended audience can be very varied:

http://www.stephenfry.com/blog/
http://wsysinspireindia.wordpress.com/about/
http://daydreamlily.blogspot.com/
http://thesecretlifeofamanicdepressive.wordpress.com/
http://clayoven.wordpress.com/

See if you can find others – search via Google blog search or “blogs of note” on Blogger.com

Key tips for blogging


*Start with a short introduction about yourself and your blog and invite people to make comments, giving you feedback.

*Most people feel very self conscious when they first start to blog and think they have nothing to say that anyone else will be interested in reading. Gradually your confidence will increase – but only if you practise. As with most things, little and often is the key.

*Blogs don’t all need to be in words! You can easily upload pictures and even videos to illustrate what you want to say, as you will have noticed in some of the blogs listed above.

*One important tip is not to write your blog first in a different programme (say, a Word document) and then attempt to cut and paste it into the blog. Although technically this is possible, you will probably encounter problems with the formatting and the finished product won’t look the way you intended.

*Don’t forget that you can edit and re-edit your blog as often as you like (in Blackboard, just click on “edit” at the top of the entry. With Blogger you can save entries as drafts until you are quite sure you want to publish them – but even then you can go back and change them at any time!

*Make sure you stay within copyright law if you are using videos, pictures or quotes: everything needs to be fully acknowledged and referenced just as in a conventional assignment; you may also need others’ permission to use their images or illustrations.

*Take care of your digital identity! A simple guide and workbook on the protection of your privacy and development of a positive online identity can be found in this free download

*Blogs can be used for collaboration and as forums for discussion: a post by one user can have a number of comments added which takes the form of a conversation between the author and their audience.

*Blogs can have multiple authors and so many people can contribute to the development of a body of knowledge. This is an example of a multi author blog.
*Use tags: in order to find linked postings for specific subjects, “tags” or labels are used – short descriptions which identify the key topics. Make sure you tag your own postings, and click on topics in the list of tags in the side panel of this blog, to find posts that might be of interest to you.

Feedback on this guide is welcomed. There is a space at the bottom for you to leave comments. Why not leave one now? Do you agree with the points made? What is your view? I’d be really pleased to get some feedback from you.
Thanks for reading!


Thursday, 6 August 2009

Top Ten tools

for (on line) learning:


http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/recommended/janechallinor.html




itunes - educational podcasts: I found a series of Spanish podcasts that have transformed my learning of the language, convincing me there has to be more value in this medium than I currently exploit more with my own students

Twitter - the place for links, updates, chat, sharing, collecting opinions, professional and social networking

Ning - I have been part of two really valuable Ning communities for learning this year: I really like its flexibility, the attractive designs available. I intend to use it with my own students in the coming year.

Skype - invaluable for tutorials with my students and yet again for my own Spanish language studies: I meet with a teacher on line every fortnight to practice conversation

elluminate Vroom - free on line classroom (for up to three people)

Wimba create - bit of a fan currently - using to develop on line learning materials for Blackboard-hosted courses.

Camstudio - screencapture software (free download) which can be edited in movie maker with separate audio if needed.

Slideshare - upload powerpoint presentations and documents to share easily with others. Source of great learning resources too

Googledocs - brilliant tool for collaboration and sharing

Blogger - still there as my blog tool of choice


and number 11 would be diigo.com - social bookmarking site: save web links, network, create discussion groups, annotate pages and store notes.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Personal Learning Environment



Today I am about to start decorating my study. I made a joke on my Facebook profile that this is my Personal Learning Environment. In the old days, that's what it would have been.
I remember having something called a carrel in the 6th form centre at school where I kept text books, files, and stationery, and which I decorated with photos of pop stars and little artistic additions of my own. My teenage bedroom was similarly a repository of art materials, writing paper, books, magazines and music. When not at home, I haunted the local library and at University I spent many happy hours in the stacks, researching and writing.
I used to dream of a house with a private study lined with books - to me the ultimate in "on tap" knowledge and my ideal of a perfect environment in which to relax, learn, withdraw from the demands of the world. These were my ideas of what a personal learning environment looked like.

Today my study is a former dining room with some course materials in hard copy and a handful of text books but the key equipment is my PC, printer/scanner, my laptop, my iphone, the wireless broadband hub, the webcam and the phone. My physical personal learning environment is a room housing the equipment that allows me to keep in touch with the world.

Learning is not something that happens in the privacy of my study but is collaborative. It is not something handed down by an expert which I sit back absorbing passively, it is a collaborative event, and an active one.

This isn't new - seminars and tutorials were always the places where I learned the most becasue I could hear and dispute others views and have my own questioned in turn.

What is new is the fact that many of these conversations now take place on line. That most of what I read is stored electronically rather than in paper copies in my cupboards, and that the trails of my researches are noted in digital bookmarking sites rather than index cards.

To keep track of all of these digital resources requires a system - a place where all the various internet sites I use daily are easily accessed. I happen to use Netvibes: to collect "feeds" from my favourite blogs and news services, keep up with my friends' updates on Facebook and join in Twitter conversations. To remember links to important sites, and what tasks I have to complete, to access music and video sites and provide bite sized chunks of a Spanish language course I am following.
When I think of the term PLE, I sometimes think of Netvibes as the most obvious visual representation of my learning resources network, which is the reason why I am using a screenshot of my personal page to illustrate this post. But the real PLE is the whole network of colleagues - and the resources they access and contribute to in their turn (see for example this Twitter conversation about Personal Learning Environments)- with whom I communicate on a daily basis. With current internet tools, we have the capability to enter into collaborative learning that takes place on a world wide platform and yet is both immediate and highly personal.






Friday, 19 June 2009

Why blogging makes sense

A colleague asked me the other day if I would put together a short piece for students about the purpose and value of blogging. I am thinking about this....

Her reason for asking is that blogging is increasingly being used as an assessment tool for certain learning programmes and in one way I guess I should applaud this as an alternative to marking long reports and essays!!

On another level I find it rather sad that we are in danger of turning something that should be learner driven - and for the purpose of enabling learning - into something that is a performance: no doubt with assessment criteria to judge it by..... *sigh*

So why blog? I can only really talk from my own experience here: I have been blogging for a couple of years - at first I created what amounted to an on line journal that only I could read. Then I created this blog so that I could share what I thought were interesting ideas and links with my students, unrestricted by the VLE and the delays and expense involved in getting web developers to amend learning materials.

Later, other colleagues started to read and comment on my blog when I ventured to share the url on my Twitter profile and with various learning communities I have joined. I welcome the comments and feedback I sometimes get, but I still essentially do this for myself and my students.

I find blogging a way of collecting together some of my random reading and learning from the week(s) past and shaping it into something approximating my current understanding. The point is it is a work in progress; reflection-in-action (Schon); an expression of what I am currently learning and how I am making sense of it.

Here's an analogy (I use analogies a lot in my learning and teaching!): alongside my day job, for some reason now obscure even to myself, I am learning Spanish. I read novels in Spanish, dictionary in hand. I read grammar texts and exercise books. I listen to podcasts and BBC audio programmes. There is plenty of content available. However, the real learning comes from conversation (and correspondence) with other people: preferably native Spanish speaking ones, but other learners too, as I practise the formulations learned on paper and test how they stack up in real life. Can I be understood in writing and speaking the language? My Spanish teacher engages me in conversation: as she says, this is the natural way children learn to speak - by listening and copying, practising and hearing forms repeated back to them.


For me blogging is like practising a new language. I read or hear something in the news or via Twitter, or some new experience at work causes me to stop and think about what I am doing. Feedback from others is useful, but maybe the difference between this and learning Spanish is that here I am mainly trying to arrive at some sort of understanding of myself.

Blogging gives me a pause for some sense-making out of a busy week torn between absorbing and producing.

I guess the point about using blogs in education is not that they are an alternative to assessment, but that they can be a) a dialogue with oneself about ongoing learning and b) potentially - a way of developing a conversation with a guide or mentor about that learning. If tutors are prepared to enter into that dialogue, reflect back what they are hearing, ask stimulating questions, and model good sense-making behaviours themselves, then the learner can grow through their blogging and learn more still.

As the quote above says: its not educational content that is the scarce resource, its the educators who make time to have these sense-making conversations.

Finally - another snippet from my random absorption of content: a report I overheard on the radio that said teachers who themselves write regularly are better at teaching children to be good writers. So yes, lets persuade learners to blog but lets persuade the educators to do so too!!

source: The Open Ed Tech Summit Report 2008. Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Trust in teams pt 2



As if in answer to my own questions, I came across this interesting Trust building Model in the Handbook of High Performance Virtual Teams, Nemiro et al 2008, Jossey Bass, San Francisco

The three axes for building trust, virtually and in face to face teams are simple:

Competence - believe the team can do the job, involve them in decisions and make sure they have the right skills

Contractual - maintain boundaries, keep agreements, delegate appropriately

Communication - share information, tell the truth, give and receive constructive feedback, admit mistakes, maintain confidentiality

This has helped me to pinpoint where things have been going wrong in a virtual project team I have been working with over the last few weeks:

Specifically, I have had little involvement in key decisions about the project, constructive feedback has been poorly recieved and met with defensiveness rather than an admission that mistakes have been made. Furthermore, deadlines agreed have not been met and promises not kept: my trust in the team is pretty low as a result .....!!!

Is this model useful in pinpointing where trust has been betrayed and what new behaviours might rebuild relationships?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Trust in teams


Conventional wisdom would tell us that trust exists in teams where there have been work and social relationships built up over many years. That it would be difficult to experience trust in a temporary group of people, self selected as members, never meeting face to face and with geographical and cultural differences dividing them.


In a recent survey I carried out in two teams, one co-located and in existence over many years (with normal staff turnover) and the other an "e-community" that came together for the purpose of learning for about 3 months, just the opposite proved to be true.


The co-located team reported negative feelings about working together - such as lack of groundrules, fear of being ridiculed, misunderstanding of one anothers' intentions and rivalry.


The e-community in contrast felt an intuitive understanding of one another, were willing to offer and accept support and felt that relationships were characterised by caring and sharing.


All in all the co-located group gave almost as many negative repsonses (97) as positive (116) in response to 25 questions; the E-community gave a significantly different 189 positive responses to just 13 negative ones.


An interesting study* of why people share information in on-line communities of practice demonstrates that a desire to enhance one's public profile or reputation may hold the key, but not especially any need to have the sharing reciprocated. But this doesn't really explain why we may feel more trusting of, more connected to relative strangers than we do to the people with whom we share an office.


Obviously, in the history of any long term relationship there are difficulties, knock backs, betrayals and disappointments along with the friendships and sharing. A short lived, on line group, just like a weekend conference or a holiday romance, may allow us to get to know one another intensely but superficially, without the burden of a long term "commitment". We show one another our best sides, just as we can carefully choose the picture that goes on our profile page and what we write about our lives.


Familiarity, we know, breeds contempt.


So is there a solution for co-located teams that have intransigent "personality clashes" or other dysfunctions to deal with?


And what are the prospects for long term virtual teams - will the same problems begin to arise over time, and can they be avoided?


One significant factor in my experience is the role of leadership: in the E-community there was excellent facilitation from a team of volunteers who encouraged me to join in, to find like minded people to talk to, and who modelled respect and helpfulness. I had a lot of support and guidance when I needed it, and a lot of freedom to explore and to make mistakes. The deadlines for completion of tasks were also clear and immutable. However, everyone took responsibility for themselves, for completing the task and for building trusting relationships with others.


A team leader can model respect and maintain boundaries that stamps on petty bickering and promotes greater democracy - for example, another "conventional" team I am a part time member of has monthly "socials" and a rotates chairing of the team meetings which are short, focussed and frequent.


So if you are leading a team, ask yourself - are you helping trust to develop? Are you supporting the team to learn, connect and take risks? And are you also maintaining clear boundaries about acceptable behaviour, deadlines and quality of work?


What other factors are there which help teams to develop trust and to maintain it over time? And maybe an important question to ask is, what are the trust killers? By exploring those factors which destroy trust in a team, perhaps we can develop a working model of how to promote it instead.



*McLure Wasko,M; Faraj,S Why should I share? Examining social Capital and knowledge contribution in electronic networks of practice MIS Quarterly Vol. 29 No. 1/March 2005

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Collaborative Learning

image: flickr Andross


Rewriting the introduction to the Virtual Teams Module this week and, more particularly, redesigning the process.


I want this to be an interactive and collaborative module which simulates virtual team working, so I am asking students to work together in small teams, on a project of their choosing and to present their final work electronically (as we never meet face to face on this module!)

In the midst of my ruminations on this I was given an idea for a blog post by my Twitter compaƱero @ffolliet :

"The sadness about education is that clever people can't always share their wisdom".

I think what he meant was that some very knowledgeable teachers are not very good at expressing and sharing what they know - and that is certainly true.

There is a famous cycle of learning that shows the learner moving through unconscious incompetence ("I don't know what I don't know" - the pre-learner) through conscious incompetence ("aaagh! I am terrible at this!" - the beginning learner) onto conscious competence ("hey! I am getting the hang of /pretty good at this!" - the apprentice) and finally to unconscious competence ( "I can do this in my sleep" - the Expert).

Teachers, it is alleged, are worse than useless if they are at the Expert stage because they have forgotten the struggles of learning, do not necessarily know how to help someone get to their elevated levels and can't understand why someone else is struggling to grasp the point. (see my earlier post on The Curse of Knowledge).

I think though when I first read this Tweet I immediately leaped to another interpretation: how difficult we make it in education for very clever, knowledgeable and experienced students to share their knowledge.

In Distance Learning with mature, work based students I think it only fair to assume that students will have valuable skills, knowledge and experience to share and to build upon - so why should I think I am the only person worth listening to? - or assume that the set texts and articles I am recommending are the only knowledge worth sharing?

In Action Learning (and similarly in Person Centred approaches to teaching and coaching) we start from the premise that the "client" knows where it hurts and how to fix it - they just need help in articulating & acting on that knowledge.

So - just as @ffolliet's comment on Twitter stimulated me to write this blog and share something that deep inside I have known for a long time, just maybe forgotten - with a well timed question or prompt we can all bring out the cleverness inside each other. Student-directed groups, action learning sets, wikis for collaborative writing are all spaces where we can do this.

This isn't signalling mass unemployment for academics - just that the role has to change from being the clever person in the room who has all the answers to being the one who knows how to encourage everyone to ask clever questions of one another.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Peer assessment

image: flickr chrissuderman


Not been on the blog for a while - holiday in Spain took precedence, I am afraid!

So today just a few thoughts about peer assessment as I am contemplating the topic for an assignment I am writing. This has led me to some interesting reading: predominantly Rethinking Assessment in Higher Education by Boud and Falchikov (2007: Routledge)

The main arguments against peer assessment seem to be concern for the reliability of the marking process and consequent need for training of the students. I would add that it is also deeply unpopular amongst students who generally would much rather hand over total responsibility for the process to tutors - so as not to be put in the position of sitting in judgement on their friends and colleagues ( or even on themselves: self assessment is no less unpopular in my experience).

In favour is the real world analogy - in their working lives students (and particularly work based/distance learning/ mature students) are already involved in the business of peer and colleague assessment in the course of their work - checking reports, carrying out staff appraisals, NVQ assessing, supervising another's practice.

Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that learning with & from peers is the most natural way we pick up new ideas and information (that's certainly why I blog, Twitter, diigo and wiki every day!), which is certainly an argument for collaborative learning if not peer assessment. And it furthers life long learning: if we can turn to friends and colleagues for coaching and feedback as we approach new challenges in our work or even in our hobbies, we continue the process of reflection and informal learning almost without being aware of it.

So how do we make it work?

Some ideas from Nancy Falchikov include


  1. sharing the assessment criteria or

  2. even better, designing such criteria with the students

  3. training or scaffolding so that assessment skills are developed over time and not sprung as a surprise (and a big scary task) right at the end of the course

In another place in the book, there is a chapter on assessment and emotion. It is important not to forget how emotionally fraught assessment (judgement) is. Awaiting the marks on an assignment is deeply stressful for some: we feel we are being judged for who we are, not what we wrote/created. Getting those marks from a tutor allows us a measure of distance: we can be angry at them or the system if we are disappointed. Being judged by our peers may actually be more terrifying!!


In my own experience I have had mixed feelings about peer assessment. It was a system used widely in training for counsellors and because we worked in "triads" with peer observers of counselling practice at every workshop for three years, we all became relatively skilled at and relaxed with the practice. The final assessment with peer assessment on the practice portfolio was consequently less daunting.


However, at its worst, peer assessment puts the peer in the authority position and encourages them to take on the prevalent culture of whatever educational institution they have experienced: if their own experience of assessment is largely critical or punitive, peers will mirror this. Tutors therefore have to train students not only in the mechanics of assessment, but need also to model how it is applied - with fairness, humility, self awareness and respect for the student being assessed.


Hmmmm - training the institution's markers sounds like the FIRST step!!


Friday, 20 March 2009

the moon and the finger pointing

image: flickr iron fillings
there's an old Buddhist aphorism about confusing the moon with the finger that points at it.....it's meant to warn against deifying the Buddha instead of grasping the heart of the message he brings.

Currently the most significant and devastating illustration of the error is in the stories emerging from Mid Staffs NHS Trust:

Hospital chiefs blamed poor record keeping and employed more coders to correct a seeming anomaly in their mortality figures. In the meantime, patients were ill cared for and received inadequate or incorrect treatment. The true message was lost as people focused on the medium delivering it.
Its easy to blame government's "target" cultures for such failures: everyone is so busy filling in forms they don't have time for real human contact. That's pretty much what Haringey said in answer to the death of Baby P.

And I think there is a truth here. What "target cultures" do is not just take up valuable person to person contact time in producing figures and reports, they start to convince us that those figures and reports are the real business and that the humans behind them are incidental. Because in fact what is happening is that the measure of progress towards a target is mistaken for the target itself. In this case, the figures were the pointing finger, whilst the real target is afterall the safe and humane care of a real live person.

On a different but related topic, last night my daughter (doing her A2s this year) was complaining about the amount of work she had to produce for her Business course. I was fairly dismissive in a kind of "when I was your age, missy" kind of a way until she revealed that she was compiling a report on Motivation that was expected to reach around 30,000 words. Yes. that's right - I didn't slip an extra nought in there. THIRTY THOUSAND words for an A level course work piece.

I read through parts of it and it was really quite good. I pointed out a couple of minor confusions about Herzberg, but she assured me she wouldn't be marked down for such errors, it was writing lots of stuff that would get her an A.

I accept she may have misunderstood instructions from her teachers in this assertion, but actually I think this does reflect some key messages she is getting from school: its not what or how deeply she learns that seems to matter, but whether she produces the volume of words deemed appropriate.
Target culture could even be said to be apparent in the area of social networking: rapid amassing of followers seems to be the goal of many on Twitter and Facebook, and a good deal of traffic is self-referential and solipsistic. But surely the aim of social networking is, well, you know, social networking? Conversation, meeting people, virtually or in real-life or both?

Focusing on figures, volume, reports, public inquiries, grades - those things we can measure and produce as evidence - makes us feel secure. It makes us feel we are achieving something. Because how do we measure learning? How do we measure caring? How do we measure humanity or our relationship to one another? That stuff is hard....
The moon is a long long way off: the pointing finger - well, now: I can quantify that!




Saturday, 7 March 2009

The Curse of Knowledge


Werewolves, educators, leaders - we have a lot in common when you think about it : lonely, misunderstood, living under a secret curse, liable to turn into a raging monster under the light of the full moon - ok well maybe not the last bit - but are we (not the werewolf) Cursed by Knowledge? *

Yesterday I was creating a short video tutorial for new students on an e-learning programme and, wanting to show them how to download an electronic journal article, I selected - entirely at random - one from the Harvard Business Review in 2006 entitled The Curse of Knowledge.

It describes an experiment where one group of students had to tap out a tune with their fingers whilst the other half of the group had to guess the tunes. (You might like to try this at home.....!)



Heath D & Heath C -The Curse of Knowledge (2006)Harvard Business Review Vol 84 Dec


Does this resonate with any students, educators or leaders out there? The article goes on to recommend that leaders use concrete language and stories to illustrate points and make knowledge transmissable to others. Good advice. But I think what really struck me (as an educator) was how easily we forget what it is like to learn something once we have become masters of our art. I teach salsa classes and some times I am flabbergasted by how hard people find it to grasp the basic rhythms. In my day job I try to encourage students (and sometimes colleagues) to use blogs and wikis and social networking tools and can't understand why they find it difficult: my curse is that I sometimes forget what it is like to be back at that apalling place of not knowing, feeling stupid, clumsy, and frightened of making mistakes (as long as I remain within MY comfort zones, that is!)..............

So lets all make a resolution to go out and learn something new, difficult and challenging at least once a year - and enjoy watching the teacher turn into a werewolf when we don't get it!!

*(and yes that was a pathetic link to allow me to use this great movie poster)





Friday, 27 February 2009

.........and then three come along at once!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotbenjamin/

1. listening to Radio 4 on Weds afternoon (Thinking Allowed, Laurie Taylor) about ill health and redundancy. It made me realise how the fear of redundancy is so debilitating too. This is something that afflicts the flexible worker as much as anyone else. Ironically I spent 10 years working freelance in various aspects of teaching and consultancy and rejoined the salaried masses because I thought I would be more secure (lol*).... in the last 8 years I have been made redundant twice and on fixed term contracts for over 5 years.


Then this morning I was chatting to a colleague who, like me, has been facing the end of a "fixed term" contract for several gloomy and unsettling months. (Joyfully my colleague has just been offered a new post with the same employer! Yay!!) But this is about the third or fourth person I have spoken to recently facing such uncertainty and one has to question how this affects productivity and creativity.

For some it's a question of going into lockdown, hiding under the duvet or infecting everyone around with a slightly depressed and anxious air (me). For others it's about going into overdrive to impress your current or potential new employers that you are a good team player, reliable and productive (er, this is me too) .... either way, I don't think its a situation that is good for the soul. So I'll end this section with an uplifting Tweet from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Oh yes, he's on Twitter too, you unbelievers!)

"Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck"


2. the power of the wiki is incredible: I am working on three simultaneously - using one as a personal learning portfolio to present my teaching log for a PGCE in Higher Education, a second as a staff development and networking site for academics new to e-learning and the third as an induction programme for new students on an e-learning programme. Interestingly, I am not deliberately using them to try to develop collaborative working or encourage any contribution from other members (other than discussion threads and member profiles) - simply as informal websites I can edit, add content too, and present in an attractive and interesting way (I am using Wetpaint.com by the way - not least because they will get rid of ads for free if its a site for educational purposes).

However, I was really struck by this use of a wiki in Australia to deal with the ongoing crisis caused by the recent fires. (Interesting aside too that the wiki's fame was spread further by use of Twitter...and, yes, I am virtually proselytizing now!)




3. Somebody (@Onenterframe) sent out a random tweet this week asking for one word that summed up the reason for your success in life. I couldn't do it in one word, but it is about passion for learning (as someone else - @dreig - noted to me in another Tweet today!)

So my personal learning this week - a tad on the geeky side - has been about creating video tutorials for e-learning students. I have discovered two exciting things recently: I can create a powerpoint preso, save all the slides as JPG files then drop them into Movie Maker so I can add audio, upload to YouTube. Yes I KNOW I could use Articulate, but at the moment I can't seem to make it work for me, I find the audio recording tedious and difficult to edit, and then I have to host it somewhere......

Second new thingummybob - Camstudio. I like Jing a lot for capturing what I am doing on screen, with a voice over, so I can show students how to do it (how to use a blog or a wiki, how to get to their student emails for the first time...). Its quick and free and looks great when its done. But I can't edit it in Movie Maker and I only get 5 mins recording time etc. So Yesterday I switched to Camstudio (also free) which creates avi files of indefinite length that are editable in MovieMaker, uploadable to Youtube and so can be cut, interspersed with slides, have music added... you name it.
I am of course hoping for an Oscar next year or at least some sort of geekgirl award.....
*(I only ever use "lol" for sardonic impact)

Saturday, 21 February 2009

10 c's of teleworking

Flickr image:neoporcupine

I don't get why some people don't get working from home. I have had various comments about the lack of socialisation, the fear of being ill-disciplined in their work habits and .....well, that's it mainly.

So why do I love working from home? And how do I overcome the discipline/socialisation thing? Here are the advantages for me:

1. Commute: 30 seconds from breakfast table to pc compared with 1hour minimum drive. No brainer.

2. Carbon footprint - see 1 above. Plus, as I work in a sunny, well insulated room in my house, with large south facing windows, I almost always don't have electric light or heating on. (OK - I gave in during the last couple of weeks of unusually harsh British Winter). My office at work is North facing and single glazed: dark and cold even in summer (its one advantage, I grant you).

3. Comfort. I have THE BEST office chair money can buy. I know the one in my "official" office is supposed to meet basic health and safety requirements but it sucks. Same goes for the cathode ray tube monitor I am supplied with, the migraine inducing overhead fluorescent lighting, the desk that's too high and the foot rest that's too low. At home I have a height adjustable desk, that really excellent chair, a footrest suitable for somebody shorter than 6', bags of natural daylight from my French windows, a flat screen monitor, wrist rests for the keyboard and my mouse hand. All of these were supplied many years ago by the company I worked for on an official "home working" contract. They took their responsibilities seriously, paid for the right equipment and let me buy it back when I left.


4. Company: yes, I do have company at home in the shape of my two lovely cats. They are never grumpy, depressed, jealous, competitive, bitchy, sarcastic or petty. (Except of course with one another, but that's cats for you!) They shower me with love, they are quiet, appreciative and hang on my every word & gesture with blatant adoration.


5. Community - ok, ok: even I know I need a little constructive criticism from time to time. My community consists of my online network. Twitter, Yammer, Skype, blogs, even the odd telephone call or email keep me in touch with a huge community of co-workers in my wider institution, my profession, right across the UK and beyond, who influence my work, provide feedback, ask intelligent questions, work in collaboration on projects, want advice, and yes, provide humour, support, sympathy and human warmth. Non social networkers don't get how it is possible to have real relationships mediated by technology. But it is. And if you doubt it - ask your kids if you can wrestle them away from their mobile phones, MSN or MyBeeboBook for two minutes.....


6. Concentration and creativity - these two go hand in hand for me: in order to research, write, plan, develop and design (even to mark assignments) I need space in my head and on my desk. In the office if I am not directly interrupted, I am constantly aware of people around me and in the corridor. My difficulty isn't in applying enough self discipline to focus on work when I am alone, it's applying too much. I have to remember to get up, stretch, turn away from the screen, have a short walk .....

image: author's own

7. Which brings me to countryside: I chose my house because of its location. A short walk to the rear of my house brings me to a classic English countryside of rolling hills, trees, and water populated by fluffy sheep, friendly cows and cute little squirrels. The birdsong provided by the thrushes and blackbirds is almost deafening....bluetits and robins flit through the branches.... the river is crowded with swans, geese and ducks, along with the odd heron....yes I know the City has Caffe Nero and John Lewis, but really, there is no competition.

8. Computer applications. Work systems are locked down and I don't have admin privileges on my own pc. I can't install anything. No Skype, no Jing, no Tweetdeck, no E-lluminate or Wimba Classroom. No webcam. No headset. Moving from home to office also affects continuity of work (I run around with multiple memory sticks containing whatever project I am currently working on as my work pc never has what I need). And the server is sooooo SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW even searching on the internet is painful. All of this of course restricts my productivity. I reserve office time for face to face meetings: I don't expect to be able to produce anything there.

9. Children (maybe that should be kids to keep the alliteration going): I have two. I like to see them occasionally. Its great to be here when they get out of school so we can chat over the day's tribulations and challenges (theirs and mine!) They are actually teenagers now and won't be around much longer, one way or the other, so this is important time we spend together.


10. last but not least Coffee: I don't really miss Caffe Nero or those other places: I make the best coffee, because its the coffee I like, and I can even do frothy milk now and call it cappuccino.....

If there is a disadvantage it is the occasional suspicious glances of those office-tied individuals who think I put WFH in my diary as a euphemism for watching daytime tv, shopping or private consultancy......

I am lucky in being supported by a boss who judges me on outcomes and not attendance, but to make it a successful and accepted alternative, homeworking does really need proper institutional support.

Teleworking isn't science fiction: it's happening now in millions of homes around the world. One day, as the recession deepens and global warming reality bites, home working will be the norm, and the suspicious glances will be directed at those demented individuals in cars passing each other on congested motorways as they travel in opposite directions to work. "Do you really NEED to do that?" we'll be asking...... "can't you work from home?"