Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nuance, Tone and Expectations

Today seems to be one of those days where communications on all fronts go awry - and in this respect I am not just talking (or writing even) about myself.

The first meeting attended this morning benefited from a surprise visit by the boss and the associated playing up (my perception) of one of my colleagues at the expense of another (actual impact). This was not missed by others in the meeting who, it would seem, drew the same conclusion. The tone of the meeting was unhappily set by that initial interaction.

The second meeting suffered from the intention of the Chair to complete discussion within a set time period. The 'floor' had an expectation of open discussion; this was not on the agenda (!) and discussion moved with ungainly haste from point to point without the necessary depth and understanding and with too much activity being targetted to individuals outside the meeting.

The third meeting was cancelled at short notice and whilst this was of some importance and highly relevant to Meeting 2 outcomes it was, nonetheless a relief.

Meeting 4 was surprising and provided unexpected support for a potentially exciting development which had previously seemed unattainable. There is a real feel of the project being taken seriously and being afforded development space, a change of tone being experienced as the depth of the project was explained.

Meeting 5 was surprising but negatively so. The tone remained up beat in the face of some severe difficulties and action was agreed to try to provide a positive resolution.

So why write about all these meetings? Each meeting was facilitated by a different colleague, each having a different set of associated expectations, some of which were met, others not (with variable emotional response). Each meeting had its own tone, this impacting on the behaviours of those in the meeting and therefore to the eventual outcome.

It made me think of a seminar by Janice Picard at the Networked Learning Conference 2006. Her paper was looking at behaviours within on-line communities, considering 'relational dynamics' and 'how these features influence group dynamics'. I think we do not necessarily spend enough time as professionals considering how our own behavours might impact on the reactions of others. A lesson to be remembered methinks.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Maps and cunning plans

Sometimes technology is just too frustrating. I was just in the middle of writing an inspired piece on the use of rich pictures to present a concept when the rotten internet connection was lost … and a s any good author ( and I am not one) knows, the moment is lost when the first draft is obliterated – and a new moment has to be created. So off I go again.

One of the guys in our learning community (I must ask them if I can use their names) found a great rich picture by Gilly Salmon and posted it to the community thus generating reflection on the professional routes taken

I can’t look at this and see any one sensible route since many and various cunning plans and a few changes of role have put me in different corners of the map with varied trajectories both planned and unplanned. I have to say that I don’t think that there is a corner of this map I haven’t visited at some point but it’s the Temple of Pedagogy (and boy did she name that appropriately) to which I return again and again. Without learning and the learner what is it all for?

Yet, even as I write that, the day has been filled with management speak and administration – I guess the important thing is keeping that purpose at heart.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Paper Therapy

Much of what i'm going to write here is about my personal life but bear with me for there is a twist in the tale ... (ha - do you remember Tales of the Unexpected? Now I'm showing my age - haha!).

Today has not felt good. From waking at 5a.m. and not really getting any proper sleep after that, my son squealing like a mini-pig due to a small (miniscule in fact) scrape on his big toe, a colleague letting me down big time, my computer playing up at work ... I go on a little but believe me the little annoyances went beyond the list .... right through to my buyer (house-wise) threatening to gazunder, it has been a bit (?) of a stressy day.

By about 4pm I was fit to throw some plates but having none easily to hand resorted to a mini-whinge at my poor long suffering admin support/PA/factotum. She grinned at me and asked whether I had ever seen her tearing up post-its at her desk - which I have. She said to write the name of the offender/ offensive item on a piece of paper and then tear it apart with venom. Not one to leave matters to chance, I ceased the nearest piece of paper, scrawled my buyer's name across the whole A4 sheet and then went into action with gusto. Oh boy does it work! I felt the stress reduce whilst tearing at his name with rather uncharacteristic levels of aggression ... woooo. The fight or flight syndrome was conquered. Ok so it was temporary, but it did make a difference.

I'm not a one for role snobbery and Flo (not her real name) is as valued a colleague (and friend too) as any of the others on the SMT. She has a fantastic capacity for empathy and calm and a whole raft of these tricks up her sleeve.

What am I trying to say. Well I guess its one of those sanctimonious sounding observations about human variety, skills sets and practices which work together to bring forward the functioning (or even blossoming) community. Flo is at the heart of a wider community and her participation, whilst being the only 'non-academic' is central to the effective functioning of the whole. She has a promotion opportunity next week .............

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Professionalism, Practice and development

On Friday I paid a theoretically confidential visit to the location of a potential development project with two of my team. I say theoretically confidential as we had to sign in at the venue (unexpected) and our presence was followed by a veritable buzz. When we had concluded the scoping exercise we retired to a local gallery and coffee shop to mull over the outcome.

My role has to be taking the 'corporate stance' and thus bringing to the fore all the issues which would be raised by the rest of the Senior Management Team and eventually the Corporation Board - and yet in taking this professional stance I was in danger of destablising the desire of my colleagues to take their programme development further and further into the industry and embracing the community within this development (an activity underpinned by the HE Strategy). With this is mind I needed to turn from a line manager to a coach and mentor, working the issues through with the team in order that they could understand my support for the concept and yet appreciate the need for an approach that dealt effecively with the varied constraints and obstacles (political and actual). I don't see a tension between the roles and yet the tone of the conversation needed to be different.

One of my team had worked with me on a similar but much smaller development poject, experiencing the joys of formal proposals and myriad iterations of legalese and had moved forward in his ability to appreciate the need for a raised awareness of politics (small p) and positioning of the argument; we were therefore, the three of us, at three different stages of relative expertise....

I doubt that this would make sense to the casual reader and indeed it isnt meant to ... being a reflective journal ... but it does make some sense to me. I can't give more details due to the sensitive nature of the activity and yet the elements that made this significant stand free of the activity itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Professional Practice and the Research Project

Today has been highly interactive and indeed, until I walked into the hall and fell over my moving boxes, I have found myself working effectively.

The high point of the day was during a very dull (sorry personal view) electronic records management exhibition when I had the opportunity to talk at length to my line manager about the strengths and areas for development of our network infrastructure and the expenditure on 'e-learning'. As a direct result of this conversation I am searching for benchmarking figures for IT spend in Mixed Economy Colleges; JISC are helping me and I have found an older document on the BECTA site. This will I suspect link into my next research activity since finance is, I suspect, likely to be one of the barriers to implementation of Harnessing Technology.

Whilst searching for said benchmarks, I also found the newly published Harnessing Technology 2008-2014 which will be a really useful addition to my literature review. Wow - my own professional activity has been unseparable from my research theme today. Excellent!

Just to round the day off, one of my interviewees called me late this afternoon - and unexpectedly; this provided me with my third interview and has given me some food for thought. Its too soon to start looking at outcomes but there are certainly some interesting common factors starting to emerge.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

ZPD and all that

Discussion in our wiki has moved to include Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal development and this has been a theme which has run through today for me both in a professional and personal context.

My son is not a great one for social interaction with peers (and to a lesser extent) or teachers though this has improved over the past few years - and it is clear that his academic progress has suffered a little from this lack of willingness to communicate. He chats away at home with both myself and my partner and with his considerably older sisters. It worries me that he desires limited peer interaction and we are looking at strategies to encourage social activity with other children outside the school environment. He goes to Kids Club after school and now prefers this to the notion of being with a childminder or babysitter so there is progress; he was playing with children a year or so youger than him the other day and this seems to be an emerging pattern.

Social interaction also impacts, I believe, on the effectiveness of professional practice. On Monday I was office bound much of the day and finished my work stint feeling stale and lacking in my usual positivity. Today had involved considerable interaction and, despite having had a couple of less than constructive ( and fairly contentious) discussions and having sat through 5 hours of meetings, I am more alert and able to think in a more reflective and yet energetic fashion. Use of the ZPD has provided stimulation needed to take development forward - even if this is very much at the boudaries of my learning capability.

I think I will kee an eye on my behaviours in both types of context and consider this further.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Teamwork - the theme of the last two days

The last two days have been all about teamwork but in two different contexts - and ironically that has been the subject of one of my postings to the Module 2 wiki ... but more of that later perhaps. Yesterday I met with a group of curriculum staff to discuss a potential JISC bid. We all had different roles across the college and differing levels of expertise but were drawn together by an enthusiasm for the development of a VLE accessible easily through the use of mobile technology and with a strong pedagogical background. The majority of participants will go on to work with me on the project (bid or no bid), experts and novices, each with their own perspectives and community artefacts and this may have the tiniest germ of a Community of Practice ...who knows?

Today we had the First Year Boards of Examiners. Participants included the Academic Partnerships team from the University, the HE Operations and Academic Standards teams and a series of different curriculum teams from the College. The activity demonstrated from start to finish a collaborative effort with recognition of the range of skill sets (from teaching and assessment to grid production to organisation of the pre-boards and analysis of results). The activity demonstrated engagement and shared meaning .. the co-operative effort of all concerned being fundamental to the activity in hand. At the end of the day's meetings the Quality Manager expressed her thanks to the HE Ops and Academic Standards teams and as she said this found herself expanding the recognition to include all the contributors. A good bit of teamwork.

In the wiki I reflected on the team teaching activity of my colleagues in a previous role. Its easy to underestimate the impact of a team and the way in which such a team can develop into a community with each member providing food for thought, support and energy for the others - regardless of context - but the climate has to be right for such cultural development, the principles being established and the ethos felt by all.

An interesting day .........

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Apprenticeship ... another length of string

I've spent some time reading a paper by Lave(1999) entitled Teaching as Learning in Practice and so am considering my practice in the context of learning through apprenticeship. That's certainly the mode I'm in when considering my interaction with my learning community. The community is in some senses a Community of Practice in that we all have a common goal (though with a variation in theme) and are involved with artefacts, protocols and a developing history; we have numerous opportunities to bring boundary objects into the CoP to enhance the developing core identitiy and that of each participant. But back to apprenticeship and to Lave and Wenger's (1999) original writings on Legitimate Peripheral Participation .... we are all apprentices, novices and masters to different degrees within differently situated roles/circumstances. I feel very much the apprentice within the context of my researcher role but am seen (I think) as more expert - everthing is relative - in the context of managing HE in FE. I guess my participation in both would be legitimate (with regard to various meanings of the word) but curiously the role in which I have least expertise (researcher) and therefore a higher degree of apprenticeship will help to validate the movement towards mastery of my more 'expert' role (manager). Hmmm does that make sense? If I'm playing by Gale's rules I should write first and then read afterwards without changing what I write - erk - this could be interesting!

I had an interesting experience earlier today which left me disgruntled at the time but which provides food for thought. Can you have a CoP where the goal is so broad that participants in working towards that goal can interact on different planes and yet be part of that CoP? Hmmm. The situation has been resolved satisfactorily for all concerned but through acknowledgement of diversity of roles within the Community. Thus there are shared macro goals but differing micro goals. CoP or not?

Next activity ........more to do .......

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The start of a string ........

This marks the start of what should be a whole string of daily outpourings on professional practice or should I say my professional practice as influenced by, contextualised by the readings and activities we are undertaking as a learning group. 'We' means my fellow e-researchers - all having different backgrounds and cultural influences and all with a different set of professional practices upon which to reflect. Our tutor says we can keep this to ourselves (nobody need ever see it) but I figure I will learn so much more by writing in the relative shade of the public domain. Does anyone visit my blog here anymore anyway? Its not exactly cutting edge and yet at one point I did start to feel part of a network of practice ... not a community of practice .. no shared goals. Hmm.

I guess if I am going to write every day for 5 to 10 minutes on professional practice I ought to have a think about what exactly consititutes my professional practice. Immediately it comes back to identity which is an irony because I've justed added a comment to our community wiki signposting the group to the Knowledgelab interview with Wenger. And I guess that's part of my professional practice too.

My working role sees me as a Senior Manager in HE in FE which has me simultaneously as strategist, educationalist, communicator, partnership worker and team worker. But are my teams CoPs? We do have a loose bound CoP developing I think - in the area of HE operations - where practitioners are coming together and developing artefacts and protocols together in support of a common goal and without being required so to do ..... or at least that's my perspective.

Oops wondered off the topic - that's what happens when you are asked to type for ages without editing. Haha!

I'm also a learner (is that professional practice) and a researcher (very novice - ooo er) and a social constructivist I think.

Enough. My fingers ache. More tomorrow.