10 Red Flags: Things to know before you go…

red flags

Warning: Consider the following 10 flags before climbing up the ed tech ladder

Some advice from below to my ed techie friends above. Career climbing involves risky routes. Without clear boundaries, an unending 24/7 passage awaits the enthusiastic networked sherpa. The online world, with all its advantages, has little respect for the traditional pathways that once characterized the standard 9-5 job.

Watch where you place your feet. Before moving anywhere, inspect the stability of the ground. In this any-time any-place world, make sure that you know the up and coming terrain. Slipping unexpectedly where the tread is uneven or unsure can be sore. Be aware. Read the warning signs. Notice the red flags before you press on upwards and apply for a new position.

The flags relate particularly to eLearning positions in an academic environment. But they might apply elsewhere. Before you fill in that application form, ask yourself these 5 questions.

  • Flag 1: Why is the position vacant?
    How long was the previous incumbent in the advertised position? Are other potential colleagues in acting positions? How long has senior management been there? Have there been unexpected departures or a high staff turnover?
  • Flag 2: Are you going to be working for a boss?
    Bureaucrat, boss or leader? Does the head of the academic unit have any credibility among his/her academic peers? What does his/her academic profile look like? Have you spotted his/her digital footprints? Don’t be confused by his/her electronic puffery. Expect at least a national leader with peer recognition and academic substance.
  • Flag 3: Does the institution understand their users?
    What’s it like from the bottom up? Pretend to be a student who has lost a password. Phone the helpdesk with a query. See how they respond. Find out what the LMS is called. Then search for mentions on Twitter. Look for support materials authored by the unit. Are there genuine attempts to communicate urgent information to all students, academics, support etc?
  • Flag 4: Does the unit make regular attempts to communicate with their stakeholders
    How transparent is the unit/department? Website? Social Media Account? What’s the balance between marketing and communication content? Any recent collaborations within the institution or beyond? Do they disclose any details or are they just releasing press statements?
  • Flag 5: Do the people that work there make attempts to reflect and research their practice?
    Can you find blog posts, academic policies, peer reviewed journal articles or conference paper pertaining to the unit’s focus? Check out the advert again. What’s the job focus? Combine the focus with the institution’s name on Google scholar. Any papers? Any substance? If they are thinking and researching their work, then they’ll be sharing it with others and glad to share with you.

My listicle consists of 10 red flags. The first five (see above) are for ed techies to consider before they take the job. And the second five (to be added later) are intended for shortlisted ed techies, considering whether they should move on up and accept the job offer.

Next five flags will follow

Generating ambient intimacy

Maybe it sounds a bit too touchy feely, but I’ve been thinking more and more that there’s a need for a place in an educational setting where there are opportunities for students and faculty to create a feeling of connectedness, a spot for sharing and belonging.

The hyper public world has created such places. Intimate strangers from diverse backgrounds and locations are frequently (and cosily) talking to each other on a variety of platforms about their life experiences without the normal time and space constraints that come with direct engagement or interaction.

In University courses, many VLE’s offer tools (blogs, chat, forums etc) , that could create feelings of connection and interaction between students. From what I’ve seen, such engagement is rare. Distributed and personal relationships seem to develop, not because of the tools but because people have elected to “expose more surface area” and add their everyday facts, places, comments, feelings, significant others, etc to their own micro-blogs, social networking sites, media sharing sites. Connections have happened because people have wanted to develop “an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity”. A sense of awareness of the presence of an interaction partner is what creates “ambient intimacy”  – Leisa Reichelt

Students could start to feel connected when the medium that they are using allows its users interpersonal interactions. Conversely, class members feel isolated and group dynamics suffer when social connections are not encouraged. Social (co)-presence is explored more formally by Short, Williams and Christie in their book, The Social Psychology of Telecommunications. Although I have not got access to their book, Steve Wheeler and Ruth Rettie’s research have helped me understand that social presence essentilly the ability to project yourself via another medium” (Justin M. Bonzo describes Ruth’s work better than I can). Essentially social presence is a process by which person comes to know and think about other persons, their characteristics, qualities and inner states. Increased social presence leads to a better person perception. Within education, this capacity to be “real” has become a significant factor for creating a sense of community within a course.

Getting back to the point. My original intention behind this post is to get my collegues to start to think about their social presence. While I’m not sure how you start making people aware of the possible presence of an interaction partner, I thought that this exercise for social workers by Barry Cooper & Maggie Pickering from the PPBL PIVOT Project from the Open University had possibilities and I have adapted it so that they may start thinking about developing their professional identity. If you are interested, please take a look at The Commemorative Trophy for Amazing Knowledge Work. As always, comments would be appreciated.

Potholes ahead – caution advised

Computer literacy training, employing experts and certification are three potholes on the info-bahn that might damage your  institutions attempts to effectively use ICT.

Goveia and Soule’s article argues that if we are to foster ongoing and sustainable use of learning technologies in schools, there are three common “potholes” that we need to watch out for, as these indentions could keep teachers at an operational level in their journey along the info-bahn.

  • Pothole 1 – We need training in information and communications technology.
    Our focus needs to be on the learning process, and how the technology can enhance this. Educators need to understand what kind of learning they want and/or how they could use the technology to foster this learning.
  • Pothole 2 – We need an expert
    Good and experienced educators can usually recognise tools that will enhance their professional and classroom practice. Real world examples and expert modelling of the process of  technology use is probably more more valuable than lecturing about how they could use technology. If an expert is required, then the “expert” should demonstrate appropriate uses of technology and encourage educators to experiment and design teaching and learning activities for themselves.
  • Pothole 3 – We need a certificate
    Learning new technologies and applying them is a  lifelong endeavor. Certification verifies that a particular skill or skill set was obtained at a particular time. It does not illustrate how the skill was used to promote learning. If you want to identify competency, then it is more significant to take a look at an educator’s portfolio demonstrating their experiences in using technology than examining a collection certificates.

Training will not launch educators onto the road towards computer competency. An expert might know about the finer points of computing, and might inspire staff to use ICT, but a guru’s knowledge is best accessed when needed.  Experience is best demonstrated, and certification does not indicate ongoing competency.

Granted, the three aforementioned “potholes” could would look good on your ICT professional development programme, but in the long term, they will not  encourage a DIY approach amongst teachers and let them take ownership of their own ICT development. If we are going to encourage teachers to adopt, appropriate and innovate with ICT, we need to think about ways that teachers can take themselves beyond entry-level ICT use, and sustain their own educational ICT development.

Further Reading

Information and Confusion

I love the rough and ready index cards that Jessica Hagy uses with her “Venn Dadagrams” at Indexed. Her Needles and Haystacks graph (slide 3)perfectly captures the befuddled brain after a long morning of course introductions.

To finish off their befuddlement, I hauled out the data projector and subjected the class to their first (but certainly not last)  “death by powerpoint”. My collection of icons and “pictures” illustrated what they could expect this year, and (I hope) allowed them to take in a bit of visual data. While the slideshow was not as articulate as Jessica’s visual vocabulary, it must have stuck, because Carmia took up my slide 25 challenge, and tracked me down on Twitter an hour later. I’m impressed. I wonder if anyone else can find me?

Re-arranging the deckchairs

distractionsMy “multi-tasking”, “threaded”, “distributed”, “distracted” world tends to make concentrated work and thought rare. This year, I’d like to see if I can look up, look inside, take time to breathe, talk to myself, be still and mindful before I jump straight into the vast connected chamber that I work in.

Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience describes this Zone as a place where focus is complete and involvement (and success) in the activity at hand keeps you concentrated.

So I’m trying something new. I’ve re-arranged the garden furniture outside my office door. Before I sit down at the computer, check  my email / Twitter stream or feeds, I haul out my analogue blog (my journal), disconnect from the world and attempt to connect my centre, with another reality (call it God if you like) before I jump into the set of distractions that constitute my work.

Yes, it could be that I’m merely re-arranging the deck chairs. I hope that I’m redrawing boundaries to protect and preserve the mental and emotional space required be connected to me, and then to enter that totally immersed, passionate and timeless space where I can creatively engage with the tasks at hand. We’ll see how it goes


Spend the weekend at Solitude on a photography retreat. Thomas Merton, Richard Rhor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Eckhart Tolle and photography were brought together by Bear and Sharon for a Mindfulness weekend.

Four Mindfulness photographs taken of my shadow

The two facilitator worked amazingly well to introduce themes that had both a place in photography and spirituality. Sojme of the thoughts that resonated with me were”

“When you loose touch with your inner stillness, you loose touch with yourself. When you loose touch with yourself, you are lost in the world”
Eckhart Tolle

“Most of us have spent our lives caught up in plans, expectations, ambitions for the future, in regrets … about the past. When we come into the present, we begin to feel the life around us again, buut we also encounter whatever we have been avoiding.”
Jack Kornfield

I spent my time trying to capture Cara on camera. She’s the best “living in the moment” practitioner that I know. You can see a few of her images on Flickr.

Morning Cow Family
Tasting Looking

Finding my voice


What should I do with my life?

What should I do with my life?

I was up at 1 am this morning reading Po Bronson’s Book –  What should I do with my life – with questions about the future running around my brain and robbing me of sleep.

Po has a well known quote “There is nothing more genuine than breaking away from the chorus to learn the sound of your own voice. Nothing seemed more brave to me than facing up to one’s own identity, and filtering out the chatter that tells us to be someone we’re not.

The idea of learning to recognize your own voice and identity in a noisy and loud world is a compelling idea. This blog is my small attempt to find and share my voice, thoughts and digital identity amidst the chatter.