What am I using? March 2014 Edition

From time to time, on previous blogs, I’ve taken snapshots of my tech usage.  These are interesting to reflect on in hindsight and allow me to see trends in how I work.  In the past they’ve also been useful for exposing to colleagues some new tools and features as well as acting as mini reviews of technology.  Here is my current setup:


Home – iMac (about 4 years old) mostly for FireFox, Steam and MS Office.  The big advantage is the screen and my habit of doing multiple things at once is very easy on here.

Home – ASUS Netbook (about 5 years old) I bought this originally for when away from the office to take conference notes, check email in hotels, etc.  However, this very rarely leaves the house these days.  A few months back I swapped out Windows XP (which was virtually grinding to a halt) with JoliCloud and it now makes the ‘book a quick and easy middle house between phone and iMac for email checking and browsing (although I installed FireFox rather than use the default Chrome-based browser for Joli).

Work – Lenovo Helix (new but currently downgraded from the default W8 to W7).  Current work is mainly based around the MS ecoystem of Office and SharePoint with a few web apps here and there.  I use two monitors with the laptop screen as the third, when at work, so multiple applications and copy/pasting into docs and websites is easy.  In my current job this has replaced the Netbook as my travelling companion.

Phone (mine) – HTC Windows Phone x8 (about a year old).  Really liked the phone and generally find Windows Phone more to my tastes than iOS or Android, especially the tile notifications approach.  However, the phone itself has developed various problems.  It has been back to HTC once already for battery problems and I currently have an issue where calls from the hearing piece are very quiet.

Phone (work) – iPhone 5.  I basically only use this for work calendar, email and the podcast app (synced to my home iTunes).  I would say I prefer having things on a separate device that you can ignore, at weekends and the like, rather than merging phone use to one device.

The above mix of devices and hardware does help me try different ways of doing things.  For example, I no longer use my netbook for conference notes as I do it straight to Word or OneNote on my phone.  You also end up with a variety of ways to do simple tasks, for example I’ve recently tried Snagit for Chrome (as TechSmith picked up on Twitter) which rolls screen capture and annotation into a nice tool.  This was the first time I had used the Chrome App Launcher on my Mac and it looks an interesting way of bringing in additional functionality to the OS (certainly when, by default, it is a hand braking job to do a print screen).  I’d actually presumed I would try Chrome Snagit on my ASUS but the version of Chrome used within JoliCloud is too old.  However, the experience has made me think again about Chromebooks and if a cheap one would be the natural successor to my ASUS when the time comes.  I do still have a Windows 7 (upgraded from Vista) Samsung laptop, that I have had for years, but it crashes constantly (years of overheating due to poor fan) so I do not even try and use it beyond occasional use as a DVD player.


My top sites are probably the below (nothing extraordinary here!):

  1. Facebook – mostly for social events and to back up photos
  2. LinkedIn
  3. Old Reader – I have recently signed up to the pay plan to show support for the work they have done in picking up where Google abandoned people
  4. BBC
  5. The Guardian
  6. Google Docs – I back up various personal files in Drive
  7. YouTube – I’ve become somewhat addicted to subscriptions and adding things to ‘watch later’.  However, the constant auto switching (and having to opt out) to my Google+ account from my YouTube account is increasingly annoying.

I still do not use Twitter all that much apart from event back channels via the mobile apps and TweetDeck (on the Mac).  Other sites I regularly visit tend to be related to specific uses – for example I will often visit JISCmail to read messages that I am alerted to by the daily digest emails (due to formatting not always being very clear in the emails).  Currently I am spending lots of time on Rightmove…but thats another, and more depressing, story.

What to call teachers and learning events?

Various things of late have got me thinking again about the nature of learning and the value of different terminology to guide behavior.  Some quick notes, for my reference, below.

This address by Bill Clinton highlights some useful examples of education schemes from around the globe, with the focus being on the impact of education upon poverty and opportunity.  A key thread in his argument is the need for young people to be exposed to at least one ‘great teacher’.  This grates slightly due to my dislike of the idea of ‘teaching’ in a connected environment where there are many kinds of learning event.  Does the facilitator’s title have to be driven by the nature of the learning event and, as such, ‘teacher’ may be perfectly valid in a remote African classroom?

Thinking back to the variety of event types that now exist, as discussed on a previous blog, we are seeing more and more formats emerge, often based around what a specific tool (such as Google Hangouts) can do.  One term I did not list was ‘Festival’ but the once-upon-a-time JISC Conference (which I attended a number of times) is now the JISC Digital Festival (although they do host an online conference too).  How can we best leverage subtle changes such as naming conventions, room design, catering, etc. to engage attendees of all types to develop a better formal/informal learning experience?  Can we best label ‘delegates’ and ‘teachers’ to maintain a sense of respect (where needed) but also shift the responsibility for (all) learning toward the learner and their network?  I personally do not think we should see this is as age related where we expect the young to respect their ‘teachers’ but the name for the role being less important in other age groups.

In the above I am seeing conferences and other events as learning opportunities, perhaps one trick is to have conference delegates agree to certain expectations in the same way you may have a student, in a formal education environment, sign up to a ‘charter’ or other form of learning contract?

Overall, I would like to see different names for facilitators of learning based on the nature of the event, this would help people be clear on the expectations.  For example, a webinar presenter is one thing whereas a classroom facilitator does something very different.

Can there be ‘original thought’ in the era of the knowledge-age organization?

I think I have only ever applied for one temporary ‘professional’ role.  My logic normally is that with constraints such as a mortgage I would not want to risk a period of unemployment.  However, in the case of this particular role it sounded fantastic so I thought I would apply.  I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered an interview even though I did not have one of the key ‘essential’ criteria of the person specification.  When interview day came I, for some reason, developed horrendous hiccups and generally did not do very well.

Anyway, one particularly awkward point was where I started describing past achievements and relating them to some of the prevalent best-practice theory in the discipline (eLearning).  Now I think I might have come across as suggesting that I (or rather my employer of the time and team) were ahead of the game.  At one point, I think, I even suggested it being a little ‘chicken and egg’ in that practice and theory become so intertwined that it becomes difficult to remember what came first – theory, you implementing an idea, recognized best practice, etc.  At best I think I suggested I was an original thinker and innovator, but without really backing it up as a reflective practitioner perhaps should be able to, at worst I appeared egomaniac-ish saying “I was first” to do various things.

Whilst I did not deal with it very well on that interview day, I would have now suggested that 100% ‘original thinking’ is incredibly difficult in our networked world.  In other words, we are products of our environments and if one has a particularly active personal learning ecosystem the ‘original’ source of an idea is difficult to track.  The challenge then should be to ensure you ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ rather than reinventing the wheel.  Whilst the Internet has accelerated growth and sharing of ideas contributing to a world that is rapidly changing [I wouldn’t agree with all of this video but it is at least useful for seeing the prevailing mood] it also means that you can quickly appear out-of-date or just rehashing the work of others.  This has been particularly highlighted in the last week or so…

  • This article on big data in Higher Education, for example, makes a number of valid points but few are original.  Where it mentions work being done to track student achievement by their library use, many in HE will be already familiar with examples of such work.  Indeed some institutions already track devices (certainly of guests) to their networks and LMS/VLE data (should) has been used in ways such as those mentioned in the article.  Perhaps the issue the author really alludes to is the potential value in linking data and (I would argue) warehousing data from multiple institutions to see bigger trends.  Indeed this cross-pollination would help improve the data usage, for organisational effectiveness purposes, mentioned in the article.
  • In the L&D space, this week I watched the recording of a recent LSG webinar from Jane Hart.  Now I have followed Jane online for years which makes it tricky to pick out how much she is confirming my hunches/way of doing things as opposed to leading my thinking with original ideas but this recording really hit home.  Whilst I agree that it is fair to say ‘lets not kid ourselves, people are not going to adopt all of this’ (a point approximately made in the presentation) I have to feel that in an office/knowledge/people based business there has to be much smarter coming together of learning, sharing, collaboration, knowledge/information/resource management, etc. in the kind of ways Jane mentions.  I tweeted at an event earlier in the year that Salesforce-centric employees seemed to always be the example given of where some of this works, but surely there are leaders out there who are implementing appropriate organisational development(s)?

I would argue that joined up systems and data are one thing but, realistically, you need an enterprise where learning is fully embedded culturally.  Here is where education organizations have an advantage as learning is their mission but they should also be able to use the LMS/VLE as their organizational platform, alas I would imagine too many break that shared social hub by using separate Intranets, etc.  Yes there remain specialist functions, that need certain software (arguably a Library Management System would be an example), but for being an employee of a collaborative organization that shares, reflects, learns and adapts as one I really do feel we need to move from breaking things into silos of learning, knowledge, resource, etc. management.

Perhaps it is my own environment and ‘professional genetics’ of training and beliefs that sends me down the above road but surely the above should be the case and I am not diving into ‘original thinking’.  However, when you see so many project management, L&D, learning technology and other advertised posts which are clearly based around old models it does make me wonder.

LIKE event – Content strategies

I have often seen adverts for potentially useful LIKE (London Information & Knowledge Exchange) events without being able to go.  However, last week, I made it to one – the main presentation from the BrilliantNoise digital agency:

The evening mixed presentation about the 6Ps (using the above slides) with participant groups (organised via seating by what food people had ordered in advance – which worked as quite an effective way to get people to mix) thinking about the 6Ps in relation to their work in a way similar to what BrilliantNoise would do with clients in a 2-day workshop.  This was tailored somewhat to the audience, with the presenter not going into specific areas in too much detail, especially items such as taxonomies where she recognized the audience probably held expert level understanding already.  The appendix in the slides is the handout we worked through.

I felt I somewhat took over my group’s conversations and we tended to start our discussions with considering content in terms of my department’s work.  However, we did get a mix of views and others in the group elaborated on their experiences (mostly in law and accountancy firms) in regards to handling training materials and other content via intranets, content management systems, etc.

I found the 6P model a sensible one, recognizing many of its considerations from how I have worked in the past.  Indeed I may articulate these more explicitly when considering ‘Content Strategy’ type work in the future.

The notes I made, to add detail to the above slides, included:

  1. Purpose: Why the content exists, this can match your overall business goal.  [This depends on the purpose of your team and how niche it is in the organization?]
  2. Principles: examples include gov.uk’s “10 Needs” [I think this was talking about these from gov.uk].  Mentioned work with Nokia on their social media strategy, key outcome principle was “consider social opportunity in everything we do”.  Argued these should be high level with support of detailed style guides, etc.  Issue identified in the room was compliance and that getting people to follow principles and processes often proves impossible.  You should also consider how you work in existing company principles, values and other issues.
  3. Platforms: included a mention for wikis, Yammer and Diigo (the latter apparently used by a lot of their clients).  There was discussion in the room around corporate buy in to Microsoft products versus the productivity people have found via use of Web2 tech.  However, whilst the criticism of Office, SharePoint and CMS systems was predictable it was good to hear the point that ‘amplifying’ content is more than just Facebook and Twitter.  It was also acknowledged that content work is too often led by platforms with the tools leading the strategy [same could be said for Learning Management Systems, Authoring Tools, etc].
  4. Processes: these need to be clear, including who needs to be involved at the different stages.  It was argued that this is key for ROI and that you should not view in-house authoring/content as ‘free’.  The group activity again highlighted that, like with principles, whilst things can be clearly set out there remains the tendency for other priorities to overcome work, such as client work meaning people are not available [i.e. “everyone is too busy syndrome”].
  5. People: who is going to be involved, for example, who will be the editors, etc.  Suggestion was that there is no set way of doing things as team roles in relation to content really vary by how the individual business works.  Chief Content Officers are emerging as another c-level acronym, for example, at The Telegraph group.  The logic behind such roles being to encourage people to look beyond traditional editorial duties now that we are working in digital domains.  Challenges were identified in the room, including the silos created by different departments and how to tackle ‘enthusiasm’ where you need to find balance between a free for all of creation by proactive staff against too rigid a structure of control.  Finally, on this point, there was some discussion as to what ‘decency’ means internally with one person in the room telling a story about internal plagiarism of research and how you might need to ensure that recognition of original authorship/research is included in your content policies.
  6. Performance: is not just about page views, ‘likes’ and shares [mention for Forrester’s Engagement Framework (slide 31)].  Research has shown social media sharers often do not read the whole article or even spend much time on the page.  Instead you should try and seek feedback and intervention is key, if something is not being used then you need to think “why?”.  There was a nod here to making people more digitally literate and if content is not being used if there is a need for the author to attend some kind of training.  Benchmarks are difficult, you really need to base them on your hopes and expectations as well as what people have done in the past.

All in all it was an interesting evening [even though I had to leave soon after the main talk finished] and the 6P model is certainly something I will try to keep in mind going forward for making the key considerations, in many areas beyond content too, more explicit.