Where is the manual?

where is the manual?

When is the last time you opened up the manual from some device  you purchased, sat down and went through the pages to become familiar with your purchase? The chances are a long time ago. To be honest nowadays often items do not come with a manual at all.

This last week we had the pleasure of having Jason Ohler visit our school and work with our parents, students and faculty. One statement that stood out during the day was Jason‘s reference that a sign of intelligence is not how much knowledge you have, but one’s adaptability to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Our students often have a lovely capacity to sit down and just click around a device or software and through persistence, trial and error work things out gradually using the learn, unlearn and relearn strategy at an accelerated pace.

With the sheer volume of online videos, online FAQ, reference sights and web resource available at the click of a mouse it is still surprising to see how many adults need to filter their learn, unlearn and relearning through another person. Somehow for many in the education world, we are quick to engage with the idea that students should be independent learners, work things out on their own, and be able to breakdown complex tasks and create understanding from this process by troubleshooting independently. But then when it comes to us, we seem to loose the capacity to engage with these same attitudes. I witness daily adults confronted in having to work out a problem or go through steps to understand a process or procedure automatically looking to another adult for support.

There is no doubt that the culture of learning many of us have as a frame of reference is one of the sage on the stage, and the expectation and need for all our knowledge and learning to go through such a filter. Granted often it is easier to ask someone to find the answer for you then take the time to do it yourself.

Why?

I believe that many adults are not equipped with the tools or skills to be able to take advantage of  the rich mix of resources and mediums available via the internet 24/7 to  learn, unlearn and relearn.

The reality we face not only in our schools, but globally is there is a dramatic shift in what skills and jobs are pertinent for the new global economy. The tragedy is that for many who have worked and lived in a world where they were able to survive on one skill has disappeared. The throngs of unemployed around the world will not be finding the same jobs as many pundits keep reminding us. The only option, and the challenge both emotionally and logistically, is how does one engage with this bitter reality of being jobless, and find the capacity to engage with the learn, unlearn and relearn concept.

It is not really our students that need the mentoring with this, they have got it to a certain extent.  They have grown up in a world where there has been no manual for the devices and online environments they live with. If they are not sure they go to either Youtube, or click around till they bump into enough things to construct their understanding.

The concern is if we have a generation of adults currently who are adverse or not sure how to go about learning unlearning and relearning, mentoring our students and peers we are setting ourselves for some tough times. The world has moved on, and to sit and always expect your company, school or organization helpdesk to have the answers to everything is avoiding the reality that each one of us has to become our own helpdesk. This needs to be the non negotiable under current in our own professional learning communities.

John (beyonddigtal.org)

this carton shared by pgreensoup from Keith Ferrell

The success of failure

I am convinced as educational institutions we do not celebrate and nurture failure enough. Our days are so centered on highlighting success, and drilling into our students and faculty minds, that success is the measure which validates the time and effort we put into each of our days.

Life’s and the world problems are messy, inconsistent, unclear, and more importantly do not come with clear solutions. Sometimes there are no solutions! This is the reality many of us walked into once we left school.  Each of us has built capacity to learn and deal with this differently and the learning occurring in the motion of confronting the problems. Future generations of students will and are heading out of the school gates into this dynamic.

An acquaintance shared with me a perspective a few Venture Capitalist work with before investing into start ups. They look how many times a potential group/organization has failed in trying to start something, and the more failure they have experienced the more likely these Venture Capitalist will invest in them. The premise is that from each failure, there is significant learning that takes place, and as you build on this learning, and fail again, you increase your capacity to deal with the next set of problems. Through this process and engagement you as a group/organization are more likely to succeed with your idea. A key ingredient tied to this premise is the level of tenacity, passion, and belief you engage with as a group/organization in confronting multiple failures and what learning/lesson you build from this to then deal with the next challenge ahead.

A group of students pictured above working with Lego Mindstorms, faced an issue with the version they had installed on their laptops. The Lego Mindstorms software was not fully compatible with the MacOS version running on the laptop.  Lego Mindstorms had not updated some of the drivers to work with more recent version of the Mac OS they where working with. The problem they faced was some functions required you to tap, click multiple times, sometimes it worked and sometime it did not. Their solution  just tap/clicked till it worked, and before long they understood how many taps/clicks they needed for the function to work. This they integrated  into their collective problem solving and moved on. They continued to come across glitches. They adapted each time a set of strategies to work around the failure with one goal in mind to have their robots do some movements and tricks. Even though things took longer, often requiring restarting the computer, or clicking non stop, it became part of their workflow and solution to a messy problem. The passion, tenacity, and collective energy had them, even thought failing quite a lot, over come the problems and learning a little more little by litte to program the Robots to move and do tricks. Their goal and measure of success.

A group of International School students taking part in the European Student Film Festival Challenge came to a roadblock. Partly to the fact that these 6 individuals had never worked together, some where from different schools, different countries and cultures. The dynamics in front of them was pretty much one problem after another, coupled with the pressure of being in a timed challenge. They gradually unpacked things slowly, each step faced with a level of failure, but giving them a better understanding of the other group members potential. The setting for their collaboration was around a set of chairs with a chess set in the middle, which often saw them fiddling with, as an outlet to their nervousness and stress. The only common ingredient they all brought to the group, was each was passionate about Film. Individually they knew they each had a set of skills that could contribute towards their challenge. Surrounded by the discomfort of hesitation, false starts, juggling opinions, different individual needs, unpacking the parameters of the challenge, translating it into something concrete they all could move forward with. 24 hours later below was the result.


Czechmate used with permission from Julien M.  A collaboration and joint production by Begum E., Ema E., Jerome B., Julien M., Lenny M., and Oliver Z winner of the European Student Film Festival Film Challenge Excellence Award.

We should stop and celebrate failure within our groups/organizations more often than we do. Make it part of every learning experience. Invite ourselves to focus on the unique learning which failure can bring to our reflections, ideas, and ability to overcome the messiness of problems we face and will face. If our respective communities spent more time taking apart the failures we experience, look at each moment, see what components are in play, give us opportunities to do things differently than before. This can be the celebration of our collective learning from which we build our successes.

John
http://beyonddigital.org

I did not know Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie, or Edgar M. Villchur

Tyne Cot Cemetery (Ypres)- Ieper Belgium

I did not know Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie or Edgar M. Villchur, or the 500,000 soldiers who died in Ypres (Ieper) Belgium in the trenches of  World War 1. Last week on holiday, reflecting on their respective work and passing away, then visiting the In Flanders Fields Museum and Tyne Cot Cemetery outside Ypres (Ieper) Belgium. I felt overwhelmed by the In Flanders Fields Museum and Tyne Cot Cemetery respective testimony. The shear numbers who died and  pointlessness of trench warfare, the leadership, story and narrative that lead to these deaths and suffering was mind boggling.

This visit marked me at many levels, and reminded me, that each of us are impacted by events, histories,relationships and connections, that give us a scaffold to build our own narrative and vision. To me Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie, Edgar M. Villchur, and the soldiers of Ypres (Ieper) Belgium put a mark in very different ways on my understanding of the world and contributed towards my own narrative.

Steve Jobs’ desktops, laptops, i devices, , and iTunes has always been part of my personal and professional media life, at work, home, … a fan, and appreciative user. Dennis Ritchie who brought to the digital world, we live and work in daily: C programming language and co-developed the Unix operating system. Edgar M. Villchur’s vision plays a big role in my adult life : the Loudspeaker. He invented an acoustic suspension woofer producing the loudspeaker as many of us have in our homes, car and ears:)

Each had a unique narrative tied to their ideas and vision. Their respective narratives transformed into concrete outcomes that changed the way we function in our world. The narrative built on a passion and a clear belief in the outcome where they wanted to go. Maybe not always clearly defined to others or all planned out in their own heads but this narrative drove the conversations, work,  time, creativity, thoughts, and collaboration that made their ideas a reality.

As for many of us who have a passion for what we do, our narrative and story is constructed through events relationships, collaborations and belief based on experiences. The key to the success of Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie or Edgar M. Villchur,  narratives was they each transformed it into some thing concrete that was operationalized to significantly impact people and change the way we do things.

This transition from idea to reality is the most complicated and challenging aspect of building ones own narrative and ensuring it becomes reality. Ideas can be generated, conceptualized, discussed, debated, and dreamed up.  The delicate process of making an organizational narrative engaging to others so they adopt it as part of their own narrative is in my opinion the true art of visioning.  The key is that there needs to be a strong buy in by all players associated or connected to the narrative even if translated or interpreted through a different lens. To often I witness rich and engaging visions, but so often the operationalization piece is missing. This is due to the  narrative being lost in the translation before it becomes others own narrative in any organization. Without people in an organization internalizing the visionaries narrative within their framework of understanding little will become concrete and have an impact on others . Once you have this common narrative throughout an organization the stage is set for the intricate collaborative mechanism of choreographing and operationalizing a shift that creates change with ever lasting impact. Each of these men did!  Do you have an i in one of your devices, using Unix and listening to it through a set of speakers………..What is your narrative?

John@beyonddigital.org

Where is the “off” switch?

Can we really disconnect from devices, email, social networks, the internet and digital life in general? Being caught up in a cycling trip for me is the easiest way to disconnect from all the rings, tasks, needs, wants, musts and maybe’s we get caught up in our digital life. An element of isolation and the tempo provide a good way to unwind and coach myself to be okay with the disconnection. The daily cycling, in an isolated environment, provides often limited cell reception, rare internet and few digital devices. This experience on the bicycle gives me the opportunity to create head space and day dreaming hours to clear out the mind and fall into a different time span and a grounded feeling. You generate in your head space for nothing.

Yes it is okay, and it feels good. Today it is getting harder and harder to disconnect…or find space for nothing. As we integrate our digital devices and social medias into every aspect of our work and home life we have developed a dependence, which is becoming invisible to our lives.  As new generations adopt this digital world as part of their social fabric, and consciousness, a collective dependency on seamless connectivity is embedded to our day. This level of subconscious dependency creates a new social bargain for the way we connect, disconnect and live our lives online and offline.

For my generation and others prior to the explosion of the internet, we experienced an environment of  limited connectedness, tied to a land line, payphone, letters, fax, face to face, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and then email. Our privacy was shaped within a connection of a friend or two, or small circle of friends/acquaintances. The norms based on word of mouth, hearsay, rumors, reputations forged live in front of  friends/acquaintances or through mediums limited to a small groups of folks for viewing or to interact with. Often it became an issue of our word vs their word. There was no digital footprint and it was harder accessing a paper trail.  This experience has equipped my generation and others with a counter-balance and point of reference of another option to our current non stop connectivity and diminishing privacy.

Today with non stop connectivity and diminishing privacy there is a different reference point for a new generation. A world of online social circles with friends and acquaintances in the hundreds, images, videos, wall updates, tweets, online hangouts all available 24/7 to potential huge audience not only our perceived friends/acquaintances but search engines, companies, governments, and a digital footprint not in our control.

The perception and understanding of privacy and non stop connectivity has changed. For many of today’s online users, there is no point of reference or experience of not having a digital footprint, not being connected 24/7 or understanding privacy in the context of the pre-internet world. A social media openness is the norm of privacy today for a whole set of children and young adults.

This shift can be uncomfortable for some, but is here. This has happened in the background of our awareness to certain degree.  My generations concept of privacy, balance and connectivity is framed with a memory and life experiences without these. Today children and young adults are framing their understanding and experiences based on a new social bargain where connectivity is a non negotiable ingredient to socialization both professional and personal. Connectivity is a must: cell phones to keep Mom and Dad in touch with your whereabouts, educations demands for mobile technology as a mandatory learning platform, commerce, entertainment, goverment and information delivered only online.

As with any changes in life you gain things and you loose things  Privacy and connectivity have changed and will continue to evolve in ways which will be be viewed by some as a paradigm shift, others the norm and for others a necessary evolution of our digital life.

Today the off switch is no more available! Even while we sleep or disconnect for a moment, emails, images, wall postings, and our digital footprints are active, being viewed, shared, forwarded, cataloged, and leaving a permanent digital trail. As individuals and a society we will need to carve and find the spaces to disconnect on our own. This ability to disconnect, find balance, and space for nothing will need to become a learned skill and behavior. For many of our students, with no point of reference to a unconnected world, their is no previous learning or points of reference to build upon.

As a society what does it mean when our digital footprints are available to anyone online, anytime, with any type of devices 24/7? This conversation needs to becoming part of our educators fabric and curriculum in schools. Even if a new generation has not experienced a disconnected world, it is part of our collective historical heritage the many moments when philosophers, artists, musicians, and thinkers  sat with space for nothing so they could create marvels. It is fine by me that there is no more an off switch, but it is not okay to let our students and young adults not have a skill set to be able to disconnect and create a space for nothing. A balance in life is a key, everyone should be exposed to this learning and have the opportunity to be mentored on how to develop this capacity: space for nothing.

John@beyonddigital.org

organizational shrapnel

This post is dedicated to Joshua R. and Andrew H., thank you for your conversations and mentorings…

…as with any end to a international school year there comes moments of reflection and looking back that generate ideas and new perspectives. This year has been a challenging one on many levels due to a host of odd circumstances and situations in my department and school that effected us all in the IT Department, and required the team to face up to serious challenges. We all pulled together, and hats of to the team for their outstanding capacity to deal with everything that came to us. This has had me thinking about something I like to call “organizational shrapnel” things that fly in your face unannounced from corners you would not expect things to come from. Sometimes I even refer to these as “drive by shootings” were suddenly you are confronted with a situation unexpected and most often you are not prepared to deal with, but react and deal with in the best of your own ability.

Organizational Shrapnel is a state which generates a lot of inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns in accomplishing tasks in an organization. It is the event, moment, action or process where people look around with some confusion and try to point fingers and there is no clear evidence or concrete event that you can associate to the inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns.

Why should this be an issue? I believe that organizational shrapnel and the level of it in an organization can make or break a good team, group or organization. I believe that when groups/organization engage in a task or project, for the objective to be met you need to be able to trust and know that the different players are all going to accomplish their respective tasks, and that the framework of resources supports accomplishing the task, project or action.

This process of teams collaborating and accomplishing a task together in any institution is complicated and quite complex, we all experience this and it is no surprise to most of us. I feel if organizations, and teams can better understand the causes of organizational shrapnel and address the road blocks this tends to set  the stage for a more effective and smooth collaboration of a groups within any organization.

So what are examples of organizational shrapnel? These are broad in scope, and come in all shapes and shades.

  • A team works together and defines group agreements, but a member continually does not abide by these.
  • A decision is made and agreed upon, but there is no clear implementation plan, or process for feedback and evaluation.
  • A process or procedure is implemented within the organization, some stakeholder decide to follow it, others decide to not use it and use an alternative in isolation of the rest of the organization.
  • A collaborative group works together, but all the actions and follow through are continually done by a few, and others play lip service to the work but are not participating actively and tend to block movement in the meeting setting
  • An event, or task is organized and one of the stakeholders makes an error but does not report it, or share this out so others can support in correcting this.
  • Not following through on things
  • Looking at a situation within one perspective, and expecting others to follow through

…and many more, generally the pattern is that organizational shrapnel are small things which fall through, not completed tasks/steps, ignored agreements, tasks done inadequately, or where there is a lack motivation, drive by the players involved in completing the collaboration or task.

The frustration if organizational shrapnel becomes a habit and people accommodate to it, it can quickly become part of the organization’s culture and norms. The reality is all organization have a level of this, and the challenge is what environments and understandings can be shared to decrease it’s presence in any group or organization.

Organization, groups and teams who have a high capacity to understand and concretely deal with their organizational shrapnel create an environment where there is a greater motivation by the stakeholders of the organization which results in a sharp increase in creative flow generating innovation in moving forward.

John@beyonddigital.org

the conversation we are not having maybe…

at the airport in Frankfurt on my way to Rome for a days work with Marymount International School and their faculty on 1 to 1 Laptops. Time to reflect in the waiting lounge about the ECIS IT Conference in Frankfurt last week, a wonderful reminder that it is not about IT but learning. The conference days a good blend of keynotes: Jamie McKenzie, David Warlick and Scott Klosoky, workshops, and informal sidebar conversations. The event and conversations have spiked some good reflections for me. It has been very hectic and intense year, and the last week were at times my tech support team was down to one person from the original 5 due to illness, injury and recuperation from hospital. It is maybe when you are down to one technician that suddenly you are reminded again how critical the systems, and services we set up, monitor, maintain and develop as an IT Department have become to the day functioning of an international school. Information Technology and its associated services that support the day to day functioning of most international schools, have now become mandatory.  Then this sudden shift to an unwritten expectation of 24/7 services and connectivity. Many International Schools have so many of their day to day tasks/work flows tied to IT systems that the non stop functioning becomes a non-negotiable. This topic came back in many of the conversations I had with fellow IT Directors from the ECIS region attending the conference. One thing which is becoming quite clear to me as I have these conversations IT Directors and IT Staff are being stretched more and more as new systems become a non negotiable critical part of the school day. With this a growing cultural expectation of the users and school of  access: anywhere, anytime. There is a developing cost to this for IT Directors and their teams. One is that you start juggling more and more tasks, your team which in many schools tend to be quite small, has to be able to deal with a wider variety of complex issues and integrated systems. A common case especially here in European International Schools, as systems get added, new programs or hardware, no extra people are brought in. So the task lists gets longer, the job description for many of the Technical Support team changes by the minute and somehow extra resources in humans and money tend to be elusive. This too often not by fault but by necessity were International Schools work with small budgets and have often little flexibility to add people. There is a danger that can develop that you start having over stretched IT Departments providing 24/7 services but no organizational structure to support this growth, and then all your eggs are in one basket, hoping the IT Department small as it maybe can sustain and support the pressures and demands long term. Is there a breaking point? Is it sustainable?

I have no clear answer but what I am realizing and in conversations with others, IT Directors are starting to feel the stretch and strain. This comes in a mix of pressures that I personally feel has a cost to the health and well being of the person. As new systems get added, expectations become greater, connectivity and seamless availability of services 24/7 all add up to an intense mix of tasks and workload to sustain. This then becomes the responsibility of the IT Teams and the task of IT Director’s leadership to manage and facilitate these pressures. The IT Director who has to provide guidance, rally the tech. support folks (often under paid and under valued), creatively deliver solutions with tight budgets, and juggle the emotions, personalities and tensions often associated with the change process of integrating or introducing of new systems. procedures or hardware to different stakeholders.

The solution? Each international school has such unique dynamics that I do not think there is one simple solution and answer. The start is maybe having honest and candid conversations with the schools leadership teams and clearly articulating the expectations of services and up keep of systems that support the school day. Thinking strategically what support systems can be developed to ensure if new systems, hardware and 24/7 connectivity and delivery of services are expected how this plays out with your current set up and staffing. Looking for creative solutions to shift services to the cloud, or put more responsibility on the users to independently manage the devices and services they use to support their work day. This of course then becomes an important conversations regarding what professional development support will be provided, expectations of skills and managing a significant cultural expectation of who is responsible for what.

At some point the IT Team and IT Director need to also unplug and regroup, which for many of us is a challenge and near to impossible. Even when we are off campus or away the systems have to be managed, maintained and serviced, and we need to be connected to the various stakeholder groups we support, there is this growing expectation.

…as with any challenge engaging in a conversation, defining the expectations explicitly to all, and being willing to think beyond our own walls and perspectives can be the first step. This then tied to a long term strategic understanding that however essential and critical our schools services are, connected to this is a group of people trying to juggle a more and more complex set of dynamics and expectations.  We need to engage in an awareness that over stretching folks can have a negative impact on sustaining your own systems and anywhere anytime connectivity. I believe there is a potential for a better balance for all.

Let us have this conversation…………..

unlearning learning

Years ago I had the opportunity to work with Jamie McKenzie and we were chatting about change, and how in institutions change agents within the organization often have the most challenging time. He said “There are no prophets in your own backyard.” to this day, as I myself have been involved in facilitating and leading change in schools and organizations, this phrase has stuck to my mind, and often I have found solace with these words. A couple weeks ago our school hosted John Davitt, writer, teacher, software developer and mentor. He spent a few days working with my IT Team, our faculty, students, parents and administrators.  John at many levels surprised our community, even though a software designer, information technology advocate, and gadget user, his focus, interactions, conversations, and emphasis over the three days was always on learning. For many who expected someone so closely involved with information technology and software development to be very IT focused.  His pace, lens, perspectives and conversations he facilitated continually revolved on what environments do organizations need to leverage with adults and students that makes learning both engaging and meaningful. With any change this process is critical, and to focus on the tool or mediums is an error. John provided us with the opportunity to re-frame our own evolving understanding of integrating information technology in schools. We  had been trying as an IT Team to engage our faculty to this understanding but we are not sure folks are always hearing us. It is only about learning! John from the outside of our backyard provided the push and shift for others to understand this.  Engaging with this understanding is what will provide the meaningful change for any organization. The tools and mediums will come and go, but learning is timeless and in whatever context or environment you live in, without this key “verb=learning” nothing changes or evolves.

I think we as schools and organizations are at different levels coming to terms with these dynamics and structures that facilitate engaging and meaningful learning. I am not convinced we have yet come to terms with, as schools and organizations,  the unlearning required  before we can relearn or learn new concepts and essential understandings that our digital world and economy are now requiring us to engage with.

I know for myself I am much better at learning something new, than trying to unlearn something, and then have to from scratch re-learn or learn. Today with the volatility of our world and the realities that surround us all, many of the learning we have adopted and been carefully groomed with will not sustain us long term. For a significant change to occur and allow us to re-frame our understandings of learning, we will be more successful if we equip our schools and organizations with environments which support unlearning in a compassionate and meaningful way.

Okay I am not saying everything I have learned is useless, no!  I believe when trying to re-learn or learn, to often my previous learning pigeon holes me into a mindset that prevents me from engaging with fresh, uncluttered perspectives and an open mind to all learning possibilities.

The days ahead of us, will be different, very different, whatever we may hope and believe. For schools and organizations to ensure that we are equipped to engage with these challenges, we need to develop a clear set of structures and pedagogy that provide us with meaningful and engaging environments to unlearn….. because through this process all of us will be better learners.

John@beyonddigital.org