Category: Strategy

A Year in the life of DoDigital: Infographics

It’s coming up to the end of our first year of trading and so lots of talking, thinking and analysing of data has been going on (together with much tea drinking/cake eating).

Figures are all well and good, however I’ve found it much easier to use some very simple infographics to make some of the data easier to understand. The infographic below, for example, shows what projects we’ve worked on in our first year. You can see instantly that workshops have been our main focus, however there’s been lots of other work going on too! The infographics I’ve created have genuinely helped me with this important review and strategic planning process.

2010-11 Projects Infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re interested in finding out more about infographics, and maybe creating your own, I’d recommend you head over to the wonderful ‘Information is Beautiful‘ website for starters and/or buy the gorgeous book. If you’d like to get a bit more technical, A Practical Guide to Designing with Data has some great ideas along with mathematical explanations (thanks to Dan Humpherson for the recommendation).

This recent blog post is also a useful starting point, as is the great blog post series of Data Reveals Stories from Ewan McIntosh (thanks to Oliver Quinlan for the recommendation). This Smashing magazine post gives a range of infographic resources.

Infographics can be as simple or as complicated as you wish, from a simple word cloud, to a complex graphic. I ended up creating mine using simple drawing software, however IBM’s free set of data visualisation tools, Many Eyes, is a great place to start creating your own!

City Learning Centres: the end?

In this guest post, Terry Freedman, respected independent ICT consultant, discusses the fate of City Learning Centres.

Becta. The Harnessing Technology grant. Building Schools for the Future. The once-familiar landmarks of the English educational technology landscape are disappearing or gone. The indications are that they are being followed by City Learning Centres. These CLCs, set up around a decade ago to both provide facilities for local businesses and serve as beacons of innovation and excellence to the schools in a locality, are being closed down, threatened with closure, or reduced in staffing and funding. The question is, though: should we mourn?

While many (possibly all) CLCs have carried out excellent work, there is a case for saying that they are becoming increasingly irrelevant, if not inappropriate. Despite the recent cuts in educational budgets, the facts remain that over the last 14 years we have enjoyed an unprecedented investment in educational ICT, at the same time as advances in technology and falling prices have enabled all schools to have acquired a quantity and variety of ‘kit’ which not that long ago would have seemed as likely as finding Shangri La.

During this period there has been a change in perceptions, not unconnected with the developments described above, about the desirability or otherwise of there being a computer lab in schools. The prevailing majority view these days is that the technology needs to be where students want to use it, rendering the concept of a computer room redundant. (I’m not saying I wholeheartedly agree with this view; I am merely reporting its existence.)

All this being the case, is it not a rather archaic practice to have children visit an outside location in order to see and take part in exciting ICT work? If taking a class along a corridor to a computer room is no longer acceptable, how can taking them outside the school completely even be considered?

I have a more philosophical objection to CLCs. They were created in order that schools could see new technology, and do exciting things with it. The phrase often heard was “cutting edge”. Apart from the fact that I, personally, saw almost nothing that I would describe as truly remarkable, surely this is a clear case of the technology tail wagging the pedagogy dog? What makes something exciting is how it is used to solve a problem. Doing something like, say, making and editing digital videos is, in itself pointless. There needs to be a reason for doing so. Besides, the actual technology skills involved in such activities are largely irrelevant anyway: it’s the development of ‘soft’ skills like co-operating with other people through different roles — like scriptwriter, camera person, editor —  that matters more, surely?

You could argue that the point about playing around with new kit is that you don’t know what kind of problems you could solve with it until you’ve experimented with it. You might suggest that we may not even think of these problems until we’ve explored the technology. You’d be right. But surely the answer – or at least a better answer – would have been to have given the money to schools in the form of an innovation fund? When I headed up a large team in a Local Authority I set aside around £1000 a year for ‘innovation’. This was nearly ten years ago, so that was an even more substantial amount of money than it sounds.

We used this money to try out new-fangled devices like visualisers (document cameras), tablet computers, mobile devices, student response systems and other exciting stuff. Sometimes, of course, we acquired evaluation versions, which saved us money, but the money was there if we needed it. The innovation fund idea was definitely a good one, because it enabled us to experiment and then – and this is the critical bit I think – advise colleagues on (a) whether the kit was worth investing in and (b), if so, what they could do with it. We were able to demonstrate the equipment and even use it for real purposes, such as when we wheeled out the student response system for senior management meetings.

Having an innovation fund, together with an enlightened approach by my bosses which meant that failure, ie buying something which turned out to be useless, was very much an option, proved pivotal to our success as a team. We were able to discuss what kit to buy, and then try it out and discuss it when convenient to ourselves. Had we have been obliged to book a slot in a room belonging to an external organisation in order to try out equipment which we had no or little say in purchasing, I daresay we wouldn’t have done so. Apart from anything else, there simply would not have been the time.

There are problems with giving people the brief of doing something ‘cutting edge’ without also imposing on them the obligation to answer that most dreaded of questions: ‘so what?’. I saw some pretty mundane stuff at one particular CLC, but because the person in charge did not feel an obligation to assess its impact on learning and achievement it went largely unchallenged.

Also, some pretty silly buildings were constructed, the kind designed by architects out to win design awards rather than provide a working educational environment. And the waste! When you give people the task of spending a sack-full of money on software, spend it they will – regardless of whether something even better could have been acquired through Open Source means.

Equality of access is another issue. Where CLCs were built next to or as part of an existing school, as often as not that school would either be given, or would assume, greater rights of access than other schools. That meant they could take up valuable time and resources  using the CLC as, in effect, an extra classroom, while a school down the road would have been delighted to have had more opportunities to do real cutting edge stuff.

So what is the future of CLCs, and what might we hope for? There’s no doubt that many CLCs have excellent staff who have developed brilliant practices, expertise and resources over the years.  It would be unfortunate to lose all this if losing it is unnecessary. A great idea would be to implement the solution adopted by one Local Authority I am familiar with, that of creating a virtual CLC. This dispenses with the need for a dedicated building. Instead, the CLC staff are based in different schools on a rotational basis. They work with pupils and teachers in the schools, taking the relevant kit with them. That requires a discussion about aims and problems to be solved, and assessment, and involves no loss of teaching time taken up travelling to and from an external centre. There are no extra facilities or building costs, only the staffing costs (which, admittedly, are often substantial).

Clearly, such a solution is not without its challenges, not the least of which is moving equipment around and setting up shop in a new environment every year. But it has the merits of not only addressing many of the drawbacks of CLCs as we have come to know them, but of retaining the staff and, crucially, keeping alive the main underlying reason for having CLCs in the first place, that of encouraging innovation.

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant. He publishes the ICT in Education website and blog, and Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT.

Classroom to Boardroom: Lessons So Far

DoDigital Business CardsIt’s been over one full ‘term’ since I have been working for myself, both as a freelance trainer, and primarily on on my social enterprise project DoDigital, which aims to promote creative use of technology in education, and to a lesser extent, business.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a few months and a few people have asked me for advice if they were to do something similar, so I thought I would share some of what I have learnt so far!

Freedom is a wonderful thing…once you get used to it!

At first rather predictably perhaps although I loved not having my time ruled by bells and relentless structure, I found the ‘do what-ever you want, whenever you want to’ structure I had a little overwhelming. As usual, a step-by-step approach helped, as did the advice in Peter Jones’ book about writing a 100 day action plan – it’s easy to do once you get going!

The real deal is very different from the theory!

I taught Business Studies for over 4 years; however, actually running a business is very, very different! I may have known business theories inside out, but I found that once I had actually become one of those entrepreneurs that I used to talk about in classrooms, much of the theory was almost irrelevant.

That’s why I found this article by Richard Branson so interesting and hope that he will have some influence over government educational policy! Indeed, the government has announced today that it will be re-introducing the ‘enterprise allowance’ grant to encourage people to start small businesses. Too late for me, but great for those who want to start a business as it will provide some income in those months before the business takes off (that kept me awake !).

Meetings can waste your very valuable time!

We all know this, but in my new role I initially thought I needed lots of help and guidance (I did need quite a bit!). Subsequently, I filled my first month or so with a lot of meetings with business advisors who were sometimes helpful, often not, speaking to lots of people about my business plan and reading lots (although I had spent virtually the previous 8 months reading about starting up a business). I found some advice inaccurate and conflicting, particularly around setting up a social enterprise – this is a real shame, as it’s quite straight-forward really!

Find great resources & stick with them!

Business Link will put you in touch with a local provider of business support (it took me a couple of follow-up calls to get one). Their website and helpline can help with answering the masses of little questions that come up when trying to set up a company, although I did find the masses of information on the website a little over-whelming at times! The government are making changes to Business Link, but they have promised to keep the free advice provision and update the website.

HMRC courses are also excellent, and provide free, highly useful and accurate information about the financial aspects of starting a business (a top tip from Duncan Bannatyne’s book!) and The British Library is a fabulous source of support for Entrepreneurs. Having read masses of books / blogs on the subject, there is a list of those I found most useful at the end of this post.

I was also very fortunate to receive great advice and support from some very kind people; Andrea Carr of Rising Stars, Juliet Robertson of CreativeSTAR, Debbie Inglis of Square2 and John Howarth of New Liberty, all of whom have their own businesses in the educator sector and understood where I was coming from!

So, if you do want to set up your company, do take up some of the free advice you’re offered, however, ask people who have recently, been through the process and can relate to your idea (I’m happy to help if I can!).

So many twitter folks have been a great source of support and encouragement, particularly @nellmog (graphic design superstar), @Janwebb21, @infernaldepart @mwclarkson @largerama @dajbelshaw @drdennis @tombarrett @kvnmcl @Ideas_Factory @icttoolbox @yorkie71 and all the other tweeps who have wished me well along the way!

Just Do It!

The final, and most important thing I have learnt is, rather obviously, that you really have to just get on with it! As Alan Sugar discusses in this post, it’s all down to you! Here are some quotes which epitomise the first few months in business for me (all courtesy of @greatestquotes).

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.” – Henry Ford

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

“Take a deep breath, count to ten, and tackle each task one step at a time.” – Linda Shalaway

Resources:

Steve Parks: Start Your Business Week by Week – great, practical guide, written in an engaging way.

Dragons’ Den: Start Your Own Business – easy to digest and some great advice, providing the ‘brand’ doesn’t annoy you.

Duncan Bannytyne: Wake up and Change your life – very practical and easy to read / use

Peter Jones: Tycoon – some useful advice together with some superfluous waffle IMO

UK Business Forums – a wealth of information and advice ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’

Freelance Advisor – lots of great information about ‘going freelance’

Enterprise Nation – great small business support website

Not Going Back – A Different Direction

It’s that time of year again: most of my friends are back at school (as teachers!) and much of the chat on Twitter is about meeting new classes.

However, this year I won’t be going back to school and for the first time ever on Thursday, my son went to school and I didn’t.

I am no longer officially a teacher, although I think I will always be a teacher.

I am still incredibly passionate about education and I loved working with teenagers, especially those that have to deal with more than most. I almost cannot comprehend that, for the moment, I will not be doing that job.

I am already doing some ICT consultancy and training for a number of companies, and am currently working on launching my own venture which will aim to help educators use engaging and innovative technology in their classrooms and organisations.

Running my own business has been something I have wanted to do for years, especially during my time as a Business & Economics teacher. Getting to this point has been a very steep learning curve and I have been devouring more books and online resources in the past 6 months than I have since my teaching degree.

As with teaching, I suspect that it won’t be until I am actually doing it that I really learn what it’s all about. It’s extremely exciting, although rather daunting after the safe confines of the teaching profession. Many of my former colleagues and friends think I am nuts and I am very grateful to the smaller number who share my ‘carpe diem’ attitude and have been so supportive. I look forward to sharing more details about the company soon.

Meanwhile, all the best to those of you starting a new term. I absolutely know the energy and dedication it takes to do the job that is never finished.

CC image This Way Please by Cedro

Google Teacher Academy UK – 2 Weeks On & Beyond

Can it really be over 2 weeks since the Google Teacher Academy in London? Yes, it is and it’s probably taken this long for the dust to settle and for my brain to digest what was a very intense and totally immense day. I have never known CPD like it and it was a real honour to be there, particularly delivering my session as a lead learner  on Google Docs.

I must admit presenting to some of the UK’s most innovative teachers was almost as scary as my old Year 11 class on a Friday afternoon (but with fewer piercings), however my fellow delegates were very gentle with me and we even managed to come up with our own Doodle for Google logo (however, I don’t think it will be featuring on the homepage anytime soon!).

I ended up racing through much of the content, so do feel free to have a look at the presentation and the associated resources on the GTA resource site (I have been looking at lots of the other resources over the past week and finding lots of v. cool stuff!). There are some great classroom examples generously given by fellow teachers. The great thing is that all the resources are available to anyone – a great learning reference!

The relentless pace of the day meant there was so much to take in (including the v. cool Google offices). Every session had directly applicable value and it is those with the most classroom application that have been popping back into my head over the past couple of weeks. So here’s a quick run-down of my highlights:

Tom Barratt’s literacy maps are simply amazing for any pupils, but especially reluctant writers – I know my son would love to take part in a map story! Creating .kmz files in Google Earth of our favourite places in the world (Formby beach for me!) in Doug Belshaw’s session was also, not only fun, but immediately and obviously applicable to numerous creative activities within the classroom.

Lisa Thurman’s ‘Search’ demonstration of the fantastic wonderwheel, google squared and customised searces have been talked about at length in various blog posts – very simple and incredibly effective tools which we simply did not know about before! I have had several meetings this week and have been showing anyone who will listen the Wonder Wheel – particularly helpful for students who are visual learners or those with dyslexia.

For my own studies, Mark Wagner’s session on Killer Reseach Tools was another eye-opener – having my own personal, searchable online reference library will be a real plus for my continued MA studies and this could be a fantastic facility for teachers to share recommended reading with students.

I have also set up my Google Calendar to send me SMS alerts, thanks, not only to Danny Silva’s ideas on the day, but to Jesstern Ray’s super simple guide in his blog . Indeed it is this continued input from both people who attended on the day and those who followed online which, I think, will be the legacy of GTAUK and there has already been much collaboration and ideas-spreading.

It may be that many of us who attended are unable to implement the full Google Apps suite in our schools, for a variety of reasons. However, we do all, of course, have the ability to influence classroom practice and spread the word about some of the excellent, and let’s not forget, free, tools available to teachers. In times of budget constaints and ICT bashing (see last week’s TES / any comment from Mr Gove), it is this combination of innovation and minimal cost that should be of great attraction to so many schools. Indeed, in the TES this week, a Headteacher writes; “many staff only know about Microsoft Products, so we need to learn about [free] alternatives”. Google’s tools are amongst the thankfully increasing number of tools available to schools that are free, innovative and very easy to use once you know how.

It’s reaching out beyond the twitterati and getting the message to the masses that will take some creativity and determination to do. So getting out there and sharing our knowledge is important. I know some of the tools will be being showcased at TeachMeets (including TMX!) over the next few months and I hope all of us will be sharing as much knowledge as we can with as many teachers, and students, as we can.

There may, at the moment, be few schools in the UK which are in the awe-inspiring position described by Kern Kelley in his presentation in which Google Apps and technology is so well integrated into his school –  giving students their own domain name as a leaving present which they can use to showcase their own portfolio of work is one such example and truly a 21stC idea reflective of the open and innovative culture. However, there are many of us, including those of us who went to GTAUK, who share that vision for education and students in the UK  – we just need to convince others to come along for the (free) ride!