Sunday, July 28, 2013

My son's mobile, post-computer lifestyle

Here is another post from my son, Joal.  Today he explained to me that at home he has completely stopped using his laptop computer and switched over to mobile devices.  At work Joal uses a laptop every day.  He has a docking station which has a very high monitor and an external keyboard on his large desk - for him this allows him to maintain the perfect posture when using the computer at work.  However he says he has stopped using a laptop at home because he is a tall person and found that when he is relaxing (for example in an armchair or on a settee)  it is difficult for him to use a laptop because when the screen is at the right level for viewing then the keyboard is too high, or else when the laptop is on his knee he can't see the screen so easily and so tends to bend over it.

"Because of the restrictive feeling I have when using a computer, I haven't opened my laptop at home for the past few months.  I now feel I live at home in a post-PC era and this has had quite an effect on my lifestyle.   For example, I don't watch live TV anymore, but I watch shows and programmes on a Smart TV using iPlayer.  I use my TV to display the internet or relevant players such as YouTube or 4OD, and I use my remote speakers to play content from my iPad or iPod.  All my podcasts now come through to my phone, which I listen to on my commute.  All my emails come to my phone and anything that is important and needs a reply I do from my iPad.

"The things I used to do on my computer have changed.  One big change for me is not watching American TV shows such as The Daily Show.  I used to watch it online on my laptop using Flash Player, now I just don't watch it at all, and I don't miss it.  I don't purchase any music any more either.  Instead I stream it either via YouTube or via Spotify if I'm listening to an album or playlist.

"I don't miss much because I 've created my own solutions by using my TV as a second monitor and I use an Airport Express for all my sound.  I think without these I would be quite frustrated by the lack of capacity of the iPad - for example the small screen and the poor quality sound.  That said, beaming things across to my TV feels like second nature now.

"I think one thing I'd like to see in the future is being able to send video from my iPad to the TV and still be able to use the iPad to multi-task, for example to take notes.  One thing I've noticed is that the iPad has almost completely limited multi-tasking for me - whereas while I was at university I would have the document open that I was reading, the app for taking notes open, Facebook and Messenger in the background and a TV show on which I would try to work through.  Now I look back and realize this was ridiculous.  I think I used the TV show to get me though the boring bits of the work.  It might not have been the most productive way of doing things, but it did keep me engaged longer.  Now I don't have the option of doing this and I feel it's probably a good thing as I feel I'm more productive when I'm not multi-tasking, though I feel that I commit to tasks now for a shorter period of time now (maybe because I get more done).

"The one thing that really changed my behaviour was the use of a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, which means I am now able to reply to long emails and to set up my home office how I want it.  I can have the keyboard on my lap and the screen on a table.  They keyboard and screen are now separate and both are where they feel comfortable for me.  I think there are still problems in trying not to have a laptop or computer at all.  Before I had a bluetooth keyboard I would never have even considered moving across to my iPad full time as I would have had problems replying to long emails or doing anything that required any typing.  I don't find it easy to use a virtual keyboard.  However I do think there have been good developments in terms of voice recognition.  When I use Google Chrome's voice recognition function on the iPad I find it about 95% accurate.   I don't think I've ever had a problem with it unless someone is talking in the background.

"I never used anything on my laptop that was super-intensive on CPU processing power such as video editing.  I don't use iPhoto either - now I use my phone with Instagram to take all my photos.  The laptop that I bought when I went to university is now 4 years old and I'm not intending to buy a new one anytime soon.  At university I replaced the CD drive with a 1 TB hard drive as I used to download all my films and music, but now between my phone and my iPad I have just 32 GB of storage and I simply stream everything and keep all my files in the cloud using Dropbox."

Have you given up using a desktop or laptop in favour of a mobile device?  What has your experience been?  What do you miss the most?  What do you like better?

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Learning a new language using Duolingo

I'm visiting my son in London and noticed that he has started learning Spanish using the iPad app Duolingo.  Since he had some rather interesting remarks to make about it, I thought I'd share his opinions about how he has been able to start learning a language using this free app.  A bit of background:  Joal was born in Holland, went to high school in Thailand and university in the UK.  He studied Spanish for 4 years while in secondary school.

"I wanted to started learning a language a couple of years ago because I realized that since living in the UK I was losing my Dutch, and then I reflected that I'd already lost my Spanish and Thai languages completely.  I put it on my list of things to do - to relearn Spanish, or to become fluent in 3 languages again.  I started using Duolingo after looking at a TEDtalk by Luis von Ahn who created it (see below).  He also created reCAPTCHA, which digitizes books by giving you one word created by the comptuer and a second word from a book that the computer was unable to decode.  Up to this point I'd found that learning languages in the traditional way was boring and did not engage with the way people learn.

"When Luis von Ahn explained about the launch of Duolingo, he explained that it would start with Spanish and I though it was a great opportunity to re-learn my Spanish.  I started with Duolingo 2 years ago in Hong Kong using a laptop, but gave up after lesson 2 because I found the interface of dragging words across with my mouse cumbersome.  However, a couple of months ago it was launched on the iPad and my experience has been that it is so optimized for the iPad that it made so much more sense.  It's what textbooks should have been for Spanish, and it is much more interactive.  Now after 10 days I'm already on Level 6, I've learnt around 150 words and I would say I am much more familiar with my Spanish now than I ever was when I was in school, where the word I heard most was "basta" (shut up).

"Of course it's very difficult for a teacher to teach 20 different students and have them all progress at the same time.  Some of my classmates had been in the class for 4 years and others for just 3 months.  It was an impossible task for the teacher to teach some students at a basic level and at the same time engage those who already knew the stuff.  Everyone was learning at different speeds for different things - grammar, verbs, learning new words and so on.  What I found was that I'm OK at verb conjugation in Spanish and getting the sentence structure correct, but the problem for me is remembering the vocabulary.  For other people it could be the opposite.

"The way that Duolingo works motivates me because I get rewards for coming back each day and for getting though lessons without making mistakes and losing lives - the gamification also means that the lessons are never longer than 10 minutes so I can do a quick lesson in between other things.  I usually do it just before I cook dinner as that's where it fits into my schedule.  I also get an email if I haven't done it during the day so when I get home and see the email it reminds me that I need to do the lesson.   I also use Duolingo on the train and find it engaging and fun, and at the end of the day I have the reward of learning a language that I want.  That time may otherwise have been spent playing Angry Birds!  

"It's something I can see being used in classrooms more often so that the teacher doesn't have to go through grammar and vocabulary.  You can do lessons at home with the flipped classroom model and then the teacher can act as a sounding board and to reinforce a couple of rules in class.  Teachers can have students as friends (though it works via Facebook so not suitable for younger students) and so can monitor progress via a leader board."

I tried the first lesson in Spanish and got on reasonably well.  I am now wondering when the Hindi version of Duolingo will come out.  I think learning a language with a completely different script may well be a bit more challenging (I also learnt some Thai, but only to speak it and never to read or write it).  At the moment Duolingo offers lessons in Spanish, English, French, German, Portuguese and Italian.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Augmented Reality for tourists

Yesterday I flew from Scotland to England on EasyJet.  I anticipated a bad flight, with thunderstorms in both Glasgow and Stansted, so I pulled out the inflight magazine to try to distract myself.  Inside I discovered an interesting article about augmented reality and the new wearable technology - glasses that deliver information to us about the places where we are.  I was interested to read that Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, from the eTourism Lab of Bournemouth University, considers that augmented reality could be "the greatest thing to happen to tourism since the passenger jet".  He says that AR will soon become a part of our everyday lives, and that this will be led by the tourist industry.

You don't need Google Glasses to experience AR today, many smartphones have apps that can be held up to objects to let you find out more about them using graphics, audio or text.  Yelp is a good example of such an app in use today.  There's  an app called Nearest Tube which I may try out later this week when I'm in London. and the Lonely Planet has already produced AR Compass Guides for 25 cities.  I can definitely see the value of AR in museums, as visitors can learn more about the exhibits.  Others point out the downside, however.  If we are absorbed in the AR, will we still enjoy the direct experience, or will the technology become a barrier and get in the way?  I love taking audio tours of art galleries, for example, but I'm not sure I'd like to look at all the paintings through apps or AR glasses.

What do you think?  The Horizon Report has AR earmarked for mainstream adoption in schools within a few years.  Do you think education is more likely to lead the way, or tourism?  Are we more likely to see people walking around and pointing a smartphone or a tablet at an object and using apps for AR, or do you think that Google Glasses will soon make inroads into everyday life?  One thing is for sure - it won't be long until we all find out.

Photo Credit: heloukee via Compfight cc

Adding to or avoiding the "infoglut"?

In the past 12 years or so that I've been an IT teacher I've seen a lot of multi-media products made by students that have left me definitely underwhelmed.   These projects have often been very engaging because in general students love using technology, but many of them have lacked depth, meaning or understanding.  Sometimes teachers are wow'd by the time, effort and glitz that students have added that the lack of depth can be glossed over.  In the "two stars and a wish" feedback that many teachers give, it's easy to focus on and praise the glitzy bits by talking about them as the stars, ("great use of images", "fantastic soundtrack") and give less emphasis to the wishes, for example the meaning "perhaps you could have spent more time developing the script". Yet it's the meaning that is the most important part, and focusing on it is the only way that students will make media products that are worthwhile, rather than simply adding to the "info glut".

This week I've started Bernajean Porter's new online course that looks at students as media makers. The first course asked us to consider what is rigor - when all the bells and whistles are stripped away is the student's voice and message worth listening to?  In this course we are going to look at how students can create a product that will have influence and impact.  Today what really jumped out at me was this statement by Bernajean:  "attention is the most precious non-renewable resource".  We know that in most media messages we only have a matter of seconds to grab the attention of our audience - if we are not engaged in that time we simply move on, as we try to filter out the glut of information that we don't have time to deal with.

Bernajean explained that schools are organized around a thin track of learning intelligences (mostly linguistic and logical/mathematical) and that in the past students who were stronger in other intelligences were sometimes seen as not being smart. Traditionally schools have always aimed to teach students to write effectively and persuasively, but today words are often not enough.  Students need to be able to use media to represent their ideas "beyond words".  To do this effectively they need to move beyond decoration and onto design so that students can create dynamic products that grab and hold attention.  As teachers we also need to design learning tasks that allow students to show the evidence of their learning - and we need to make sure that the time invested in making these products pays back in terms of learning.  Multi-media also opens up assignments to students who have strengths in all intelligences - this allows students to personalize their learning and to show us their way of understanding.  Bernajean reminds us that we need to actually have an experience with the multimedia products that students create. A good product, she tells us, is remembered for its soul.

Would you like to find out more about Bernajean's course Craftsmanship - Students as Media Makers?  Check out ASB's Online Academy for details.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Design Thinking part 5 - prompts and provocations

Today was the final day of the Design Thinking workshop at the Henry Ford Learning Institute.  At the end of the day today we discussed coming up with design prompts.  As we worked through this I started to think about whether we could use the same process to design provocations for students as a way of tuning in at the start of a new unit of inquiry.

Firstly we were told that it is best to design something for a user group that is unlike you - this allows you to leave your own ideas behind.  It's also necessary to come up with a prompt that has many solutions.  It's important to consider the timing of the challenge and the potential for impact in the real world.  Also the challenge needs to be suitable and human centred (since humans are mostly the users). It should be relevant, exciting and meaningful and should connect with the content or curriculum students are learning.

The first step is to come up with a good prompt.  When coming up with a good prompt we were told that we should brainstorm using the following sentence starters:

  • Redesign ....
  • Improve  ......   experience
  • Design a way to help people  ........
These could be interesting prompts to start a unit with, but it would assume some prior knowledge so in this way I could see these being more useful as formative or summative assessments.

Step 2 involves brainstorming the empathy experiences and what students could actually do.  In our session today we decided we would look at redesigning the experience of travelling in an elevator.  There would be many empathy experiences students could do.  They could immerse themselves in travelling in a lift with various obstacles - for example with hands full of shopping bags to see how easy it might be to press the buttons, in a wheelchair to see how easy it was to navigate in and out of the lift and reach the buttons, blindfolded to see if a blind person could operate the lift and find which floor he or she wanted to go to, with a baby buggy and so on.  Students could also interview people travelling in lifts about their experiences, and could interview those people who chose to use the stairs to find out why they didn't use the elevators.  We decided that if this was the prompt we could certainly design plenty of empathy experiences for students and that they would be interesting and allow students to collect data.  This step seems also to be one that would readily be able to be used as a tuning in provocation.

The third stage in evaluating whether a prompt would work would be to choose 3 or 4 of the empathy experiences that students could do and brainstorm what they would learn from these.  Would they be able to write a User-Needs-Insight statement?  Would there be multiple User-Needs-Insight statements that could be explored by different groups?

Finally we would need to brainstorm to see if there would be enough solutions that students could come up with.  Would these be interesting, varied and possible?

Reflecting on my first day's post about the rapid challenge and Angela's solution for me to get me to work on time, I am also sharing a photo of the prototype she designed for me showing the days that I would get to meet friends for a cup of tea or coffee before school and the days which I would go to work to finish a task that I'd deliberately left undone from the day before.  I think this is a great solution and definitely worth a try.  I'll keep you posted about how it works out next year.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Design Thinking part 4 - continuing the deep dive

We finished Day 1 of the Design Thinking workshop yesterday thinking about the Define stage of the framework.  This morning we were able to get back together as a team and talk about all the people we connected with at the Empathy stage and come up with one user with needs that we would attempt to design for.  We came up with the following:
Young, single, female, medical resident in general practice needs to purchase a quick, portable, high energy food/drink/meal/sustenance to get her through the rest of her long, busy day because she works long hours, has no time to make a meal and no place to eat it at her clinic and because she is currently making poor health choices that she would advise her patients against.
Reflecting on this stage I would say I found it hard not to think of a solution for her immediately, but just to focus on the definition of the person and her needs.  I also found it hard to limit myself to just one of the people I interacted with yesterday as so many of them had needs which were very diverse.  What I was doing was trying to solve the the problem before I had fully defined it.

The next stage of the process is Ideate.  In this  stage our team started to consider how we might come up with questions that would help us to design to address the needs of the user.  We called this part of the process "How Might We ..."  We looked at her specific needs (time, portability, high energy foods, place to eat, healthy choices) and brainstormed these into HMW questions.  We then wrote each of these questions onto a separate piece of paper and then each member of the team brainstormed different ways that we could design to meet these needs.  Our instructions here were to defer judgement, have one person in the team speak at a time, go for volume, try to be visual, build on the ideas of the others and encourage wild ideas.  We came up with a huge number of different ideas and then we looked at them all and each chose the 2 that were most likely to succeed, the 2 that were most likely to delight, and the 2 that would be the biggest breakthrough.    Eventually based on the voting we decided we'd try 2 prototypes.

The idea of prototyping is to turn your idea into something that will allow feedback.  We were told it was important to fail often and early in the prototype as this is the most cost effective as early in the process little time, effort and money would be wasted.  We therefore split into 2 groups - one group was designing a modular system for getting healthy food/snacks into a basket.  Food could be labelled or colour coded to fit into the different sections of the basket.  Each module would have a QR code on it that could be scanned.  The second group was designing a smartphone app that would use the information inputted from the QR code.  It was a way of gamifying eating.  The app would have 3 sections that would deal with the nutritional value of the food including the energy, a section on physical fitness and another section on the mind including music.  The app would record what was eaten, how far the person walked and could give simple reminders about taking quick breaks, stretches and so on.  As well as the 3 buttons, there would be a visual avatar showing how fit you were based on the information inputted, and a button that you could click to get advice if your avatar was seeming less fit and energetic.

Having made the prototypes we then showed them to various volunteers to try out to get feedback.  We got new information about how the products worked and how people perceived them, which we could use to change the product.  A lot of the feedback involved listening (in the same way that the Empathy stage did).  We wanted the volunteers to interact with the prototype while we observed them and answered their questions.  This let us know what the users liked, what they didn't like and that we could change and so on.  This brought us onto the Reflection stage which let us think about what we had done well and what was challenging that we could improve on.

The day ended with our own challenge - how could we take what we have learned about design thinking back to our schools.  It was good to talk about with with the rest of my colleagues at ASB.  More about what we can take back in the next blog post.

Getting back to the image at the top of this post - which by coincidence I saw tweeted out on Twitter today.  Success is not a straight line thing, or even a circular process.  What we discovered are that there are a lot of kinks along the path and that sometimes you have to go backwards in order to move forwards. I'm excited to think more about how design thinking can be applied in education - to design new schools, learning spaces, courses and so on and to use with our existing curriculum as a way of teaching creativity and innovation.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Design Thinking part 3 - a deep dive into the healthy eating challenge

Having practiced the design thinking process with one of the other participants, we then set off to various locations around Detroit to try to answer an important design challenge:  how to help people to eat healthily when they choose to eat out.  We were given a food court and given instructions to go out and develop empathy.  This involved the following steps:
  • Immerse - we had to eat out at a place in the food court.  We had to totally immerse ourselves in the experience as well as trying to eat healthily and to find out what "stress points" we would run into.  We had a budget of $8 per person.
  • Observe - we had to observe what other people were eating and what they were doing.  In particular we wanted to look at the choices they were making and how this might reflect their values of what healthy eating involved.
  • Engage - we had to try to engage the shoppers and food servers in conversation to discover their perspectives about eating out.  We needed to find out what they thought was a good and a bad experience and how important it was for them to make healthy choices.
Before setting off I already knew there were 3 things I needed to know - why people decided to eat out rather than eat at home or bring a home lunch with them to work, why people chose that particular place to eat out, and what food they chose once there.  Once we arrived at the food court we wandered around and simply observed what the choices were.  There was a deli on the ground floor that seemed popular with 9 different varieties of soup and a pick your own salad bar.  On questioning the customers there we discovered that many shopped there because it was convenient - for example they worked in the building, or perhaps worked in a job that made it difficult to bring a home lunch to work (for example we chatted with a couple of lorry drivers who moved on to a different city every day of the week).  Another plus point for this place was that people could choose to make their own salads at the salad bar.  They had total control over the ingredients and how large a portion they wanted to eat as the food was charged by weight.   Also, there was no waiting for service - you simply served yourself and went to the cash desk to weigh your choice.  The customers who opted for the salad bar did mention that they thought that salads were a healthy option.

Another thing we observed was that junk food costs less than healthy food.  We saw mothers with children who opted for chili burgers for their children at another fast food outlet, and one of these mothers commented that she was motivated to come to this shopping centre because of the food.  Upstairs in the food court we noticed a Chinese take away, a Thai restaurant, a pizza and salad take away, and a place selling sandwiches and soups.  Many of these had "special daily menus" which were cheaper than the regular food.  For those on a strict budget these might be good options.

My colleague and I decided to try out portion size at one of these "special daily menu" places.  We were given free soup, free water and were able to split a lunch meal between the two of us.  The total price was $5.95 which was considerably less than our $8 each budget.  We had plenty of money left over to go back to the deli and buy fruit and even a salad - and after this still had money over.  (This was a big contrast to other groups who went to restaurants with $10 and found nothing at all on the menu that this would cover).  The Thai restaurant we went to allowed me to look into the kitchen to observe everything was freshly cooked for a minimum time, thus preserving the vitamins in the food.  We decided that this was a healthy and cheap option, and also felt it was environmentally friendly as we sat down to eat in the restaurant and so didn't use any packaging or plastic cutlery or drinking packages.  Everything we used was washable.

We had a great time interviewing people to find out their points of view.  For example we found a young man with chicken and chips who told us he didn't care if his lunch was healthy or not. We found others who thought they knew what healthy was, but when they told us their reasons for their choices it turned out that they had little understanding of planning a healthy meal.  We also discovered a couple of doctors, one of whom had brought a home lunch because he said he "didn't want to eat greasy", and yet his home lunch contained some items that were not particularly healthy.  His colleague was tucking into soup, cookies and drinking Red Bull.  When I questioned her about this choice she said that she actually tells people not to drink this as it is too full of sugar and caffeine, but that as a busy doctor this was the very reason she chose to do this as she needed to get through the afternoon clinic.  The doctors both mentioned that they chose to eat in the food hall because there was nowhere for them to eat at the clinic.

Once we returned to the HFLI we started to group our observations.  We wrote down all our thoughts about what we had observed using a Space Saturation protocol and through this 4 main considerations were observed from our mall diners:
  • Price - some had mentioned that this was the main consideration when buying lunch
  • Choice of items and portion sizes - some loved the fact that they could make their own meals however they wanted
  • Health - some people mentioned that they were concerned about what they ate and its effect on their health, others had little knowledge of what was healthy or didn't care
  • Convenience - many of those eating in the food court were local workers who found it easier to buy a lunch close to their place of work than to make one in the morning before leaving for work.
After Empathy, the second stage in the design thinking cycle is Define.  This was as far as we got on day 1.  Define is to consider the unique point of view - it is a reframing of the problem grounded in user needs and insights and so gives us a clear picture from a mass of unrelated and often chaotic data.  Our task was to come up with a specific question that we could focus on.  To do this we needed to come up with several User-Needs-Insight statements about the people we had observed and interviewed and their needs.  Such a statement might be:
Lorry driver (user) wants to find a place where he can choose his own foods (needs).  His aim is to eat fresh food (insight).
So far this afternoon we  made a "deep dive" into the first 2 parts of the design thinking cycle.  Tomorrow we will continue with our design challenge and start to think about how to ideate, prototype, feedback and reflect on the design process.

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Design Thinking part 2 - redesigning morning

Our first task this morning was to re-design the morning experience for a partner.    My partner was Angela and when I first started to gain empathy for her situation through a short interview, my initial reaction was that her morning already seemed perfect.  She got up early, worked out, showed and dressed, fed and played with her dogs, had breakfast and eventually made a 10 minute drive to school.  She had almost 2 hours of "me time" in the morning before starting a busy day.  How could I possibly suggest a redesign of something that was obviously working so well?

There were 2 things that I heard however that made me think that it might be possible to suggest some changes.  Angela herself said the she would love to work out with others, and also mentioned that one morning that she had really enjoyed was going to a friend's gym with her.  She also mentioned that she didn't want to exercise alone early in the morning outside the home when it was still dark because of safety issues.  Could I find a way to improve Angela's already organized and energetic morning so that she could workout with others before school?

The next stage was ideate - generating lots of alternatives and getting Angela to give me feedback on these.  For example I suggested if she wanted to workout with someone she might be able to employ a personal trainer - this would be someone who would know her fitness goals and would be able to keep her on track.  I wondered if she was able to join a gym that opened very early, but discovered that there wasn't one close to where she lived.  I questioned whether she could exercise outside with a friend in the morning as this would be a safer option, but it would of course involve finding someone in the area who wanted to exercise so early.  I also wondered if it would be possible for Angela to drive to school and then exercise there along with colleagues.  The problem this ran into was that there are no showers at her school, and exercise usually leaves you hot and sweaty - not the best way to start the school day. However Angela did seem to be enthusiastic about working out with colleagues so we discussed different exercise options that could be done before school, such as yoga and tai chi for example, that could work on suppleness and strength, leaving the more energetic exercise such as running to after school, after which Angela could drive home and shower.  Angela seemed pleased with this suggestion and the idea that it could be possible to do different activities before and after school.  She said it was an Aha moment that you could split the exercise session into different times with different purposes.

Angela also worked hard at finding a solution to my problem - one of not getting to school on time.  Although I have a morning routine fairly well established - and it is also fairly quick - I often find myself procrastinating and hanging around at home to answer emails and so on and then rushing out the door and cycling quickly up the road to get to school.  We talked about how in previous schools when I travelled with someone this wasn't a problem because I always felt I had to leave to pick someone else up and therefore had to be on time.  Since I don't have students first thing, there wasn't the urgency to get to school now.  Also Angela was able to spot that the reason I wasn't ever so worried about arriving late was because I always worked late.  Each evening before leaving school I made sure that everything was finished - there was nothing outstanding that would get me to work in the morning.  She suggested two things for me, both of which I will try out next school year:  firstly that 3 days a week I should try to meet someone for tea/breakfast at school before school starts which gives me a time to be there and someone to be accountable to if late.  Secondly she suggested that 2 days a week I try to leave some things unfinished so that I have to get in early and finish them off the following mornings.  I'm not sure how I will feel about this but I will certainly give it a try.

Angela and I are so different in our approaches to mornings that at first it would seem that we would have little empathy for each other but this process has shown me how important it is to really listen and hear what the other person is saying.  Our differences have been good as we have been able to offer fresh perspectives and ideas.  Maybe we will both have better morning experiences as a result.

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Design Thinking part 1 - the process

For the next few days I will be participating in a Design Thinking for Educators workshop at the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Detroit.  Today started with an introduction to the process and with a rapid cycle challenge.  First let me talk about the process.  The image with this post comes from the Henry Ford Learning Institute website (link above) and goes through the process starting with empathy.   It's important to start with this because it allows you to put aside your own wants and needs that will bring you to what could be the ideal solution for you, but not necessarily for the wants and needs of another person. Walking in someone else's shoes is important so that you design a solution for them.  This stage is the intellectual identification of the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of others - it deals with you listening to both their explicit needs and trying to hear the implicit ones too.

The next step in the process is to define or reframe the problem and to make sure you are clear about who the person is who needs the solution.  You need to listen in a focused way so that you can choose your goals.  Whereas empathy allows for a lot of diverse opinions, define narrows the focus and form a clear picture from what could be a lot of chaotic data.  At this point you may end up throwing ideas out.  Defining the problem involves making a problem statement, also called a User-Needs-Insight statement.

The third step of the process involves ideating - brainstorming the many different options available and writing down all ideas no matter how crazy they might seem.  It still includes listening to the ideas of others and possibly deciding on the best combination of ideas.  It's important to bring together a lot of ideas and diverse perspectives.

Prototyping comes next - often this might involve making a model, trying out an idea or bring an idea to reality.  This allows you to see in a practical way what does and doesn't work.  It's a place where you have have failure with low risks, and will allow you to move forward.

The last 3 parts of the process have mostly been about your own ideas, but feedback brings us back to the "client" again and this feedback will allow you to know what will or won't work for him or her.  You can then change or refine the design to make it better and more personal.  At this stage it is important to allow honest feedback.

Reflection is the final stage of the process.  Looking back allows you to move forward as you will only improve if you can reflect on what didn't work - knowing this allows you to work out how to overcome any new challenges.

This is a fascinating workshop and I will be writing many more posts about what we have been doing at the HFLI this week as my knowledge about design thinking deepens.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

ISTE - where our bodies meet our brains

This is my final post following my experience at ISTE in San Antonio and it is based on my thoughts following Adam Bellow's keynote on the final day.  Adam called his keynote "An invitation to change the world".

  • We make a difference though our actions and our inactions.  I found this an important statement - we have a choice as educators.  If we know something is not working we can either put up with it and change ourselves to fit in with it (inaction), or we can try to change it.  If we don't succeed in changing it then we have another option, to look for a different school that is a better fit for our talents and visions.  One year ago I was finally able to make the change from inaction and putting up with a frustrating situation to action as I moved to a new school.  Now I feel I'm making a difference again.
  • ISTE is where our bodies meet our brains.  I know that for me meeting people face to face that I've connected with online was a valuable experience.  It was interesting too that some people said to me "Wow, you have cut your hair".  This was based on their only knowledge of me being my Twitter picture from 2 years ago which I haven't changed since moving to India.  I guess it could be time for a change!
  • We have become a 24/7 global network.  Every day I learn something new and most of that is through Twitter.  Through the things we have shared as educators we have led the way and made ripples that are causing waves across the educational community.  By being the craftspeople that make it matter, we have shown that technology is not just the icing on the cake (Adam's analogy was that this is the difference between teaching students how to cook, instead of just teaching them how to eat).
  • There is a conflict between the maker movement and the movement towards standardizing education.  We will never get anyone who can think differently, creatively and innovatively if we teach everyone to think the same.  Innovation happens at the intersection of fear and bravery.  Creativity needs to be unleashed - we need to remove the bar and take away the limits so that students can do something that is important to them.  This means we need to give less instructions and more freedom.
  • Education is not a business.  Yet many schools are run as businesses and the people making decisions about what happens in the classroom are those who never enter the classroom.  I recently went to a memorial service - the "founding father" of my old school passed away last month.  Although this man never hired me and I never worked for him, he was extremely kind and supportive of me in my last year at the school and it was good to go and celebrate his life.  Over and over again I heard about the things that he did that were so important for the students and teachers.  It actually was his business, but it was run as a school.  The comment I heard over and over again at the memorial service was that now it is a school being run as a business.  One of the most touching parts of this celebration was a poem, written by the former primary principal.  When she started reading it, I thought it was entitled Ode to Martin.  In fact it was entitled Owed to Martin.  Heads were nodding all around the room as she explained what we all owed to him.
  • Know where to ask for help.  This was a big one for me.  Adam explained that the best place to go for help was your PLN as there are over 200,000 active educators on Twitter.  If you can't talk to your principal and share your ideas, he said, there are plenty of other principals on Twitter that you can talk to and who will support you.  I agree.  It was the network of friends I'd made on Twitter that gave me the advice I needed to change from inactive to active.  It was good to meet so many of them at ISTE and to be able to thank them face to face.
Photo Credit: Billiard Balls by Zacklur, 2009  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Liquid Networks

One of my favourite events at ISTE 2013 was the keynote by Steven Johnson entitled Connected Learning, Connected World.   Basically this was a discussion of where good ideas come from, and the type of environments that lead to creative thinking.   

Good ideas don't come as eureka moments very often. Historically the breakthrough ideas are mostly preceded by a long period of incubation and mulling over a problem that is intriguing - this is what Steven called "the slow hunch".   He talked about the institutions that give time for these ideas to develop - and these are the very organizations that are known for innovation.  A good example he shared with us was the development of the world wide web by Tim Berners-Lee following his employment by CERN in 1982.  The www was started as a hobby to keep track of the people and projects there, but it took until the late 1980s for the initial hunch to be remixed with other platforms and to build on the developing internet.  There was something in the research environment at CERN that allowed the idea to mature and be kept alive until the world was ready for it.   The moral of this is to keep ideas alive and wait for the time to be ready. 

But what is it that keeps ideas alive?  This is something that Steven Johnson described as "liquid networks" which refers to the fluidity of thought somewhere between the nebulous idea and the solid fact.  In liquid networks hunches can connect and reconnect with hunches in other minds.  Perhaps the first liquid network was found in the coffee houses of London, Paris and Vienna during the Enlightenment where many institutions and ideas had their birth.  Coffee houses were revolutionary ideas in themselves.  Before this people drank alcohol, which was a healthy choice when compared with drinking water in those days, but alcohol is a depressant and coffee is a stimulant and when people started to meet together and drink coffee ideas started to flow.  Drinking in a coffee house also enabled connections with people who were different, and this led to innovation.  Over and over again history shows us that diversity promotes innovation:  when we surround ourselves with people who think differently, we can become more creative ourselves.  Research into the social networks of creative people shows a very distinct pattern - loose, weak ties with a diverse range of professionals leads to more creative thinking, as moving outside your comfort zone expands possibilities so you can take the building blocks of ideas and remix them in different ways.  For example, looking at things in a different way led to Gutenberg using the idea of the screw wine press and turning it into the printing press, or Apple sending employees to train at the Ritz Carlton and discovering that people loved the concierge service and then transforming this idea into the Genius Bar in their stores.

So how does this apply to education?  Well first of all I think all of us in the keynote were able to see that Twitter can be like a liquid network - but many of us simply connect with other educators, so maybe we are lacking the diversity of expertise that we need to be really innovative and creative.  As people move beyond school they get increasingly specialized -  but in schools there are people with expertise in many different disciplines.  How can we reach out to others and build conceptual bridges to connect across disciplines and help us solve complicated problems?  We definitely have the opportunities - we have the tools, the networks and the technologies to help us make the links.  We can connect with people around the world and learn from them.  If there is nobody in your own school who can move your thinking forward, then you can connect with others who can and who are only too willing to help and share ideas.  Twitter is the virtual coffee house of the 21st century.

Photo Credit: roberthuffstutter via Compfight cc