Saturday, 30 June 2012

Digital reflection - an aid to developing meta-cognition

Blogging literacies

This blog from Steve Wheeler makes some interesting observations about blogging literacies.  He makes the point that blogging isn't just an extension of more traditional literacies.  An extract from his blog states: of the new digital literacies bloggers need is the ability to encapsulate ideas succinctly and in a form that is accessible and engaging. Another literacy is the ability to be able to devise posts that draw an audience and provoke responses. One of the most powerful aspects of blogging is its social dimension which include open discussion. Still another is the skill of managing those responses and replying in a way that promotes further discussion and sustains the discourse. Knowledge about tagging, RSS feeds, trackback and other blogging features will enhance the presence of the blogger online.
Digital reflection

Earlier this year I met the people running a Leeds University funded project on digital reflection. They are using camera, video and audio as a form of reflection to provide a mirror image to reflect upon - a kind of distancing mechanism putting the maker into the shoes of the viewer.

Meta learning skills

In my blog post on how managers learn I commented on meta-learning skills that helps an individual develop meta-cognition, i.e. knowing what you know and knowing what you do not know.  Meta cognition includes things like creativity, mental agility and balanced learning habits and skills.
Implications for management learning practice

My position is that we have to reverse how we approach management learning to really help learners look at their workplace practices ahead of, if not in place of, traditional methods that favour abstracted theory.  Everyday workplace practice contains a great deal of context-specific information about how things get done and I believe it should be placed at the centre of knowledge production and learning.  

The tools to do this are emerging all the time - Swivl is a video tool using an iPhone on a rotating tripod.  And MIT Media Labs have developed sociometric badges.  So alongside the development of blogging literacies are the skills to use video and audio to observe and record the workplace action.    

My interest is in helping managers to:

  • Look closely at the situation specific facts as the basis for action and performance improvement
  • Create context-specific knowledge about how things get done: in this place, at this time, by these people, in these specific circumstances 
  • Boost self confidence by helping to affirm what it is they already know or are doing
  • Provide a platform from which they can then develop and follow their learning interests. 

Saturday, 2 June 2012

30 years of MAMLL - creating a learning hetrotopia

I have spent the past couple of days at University of Lancaster Management School taking part in the 30th anniversary celebrations for the MA in Management Learning and Leadership, or MAMLL, of which I am an alumni (MAMLL 25, 2006-2008).

In one sense events like this are a great means of sharing ideas, meeting people and making connections.  In another sense they are also deeply frustrating: the choices you are forced to make because of parallel sessions, time is a constant enemy truncating interesting topics so as to keep everything on track, the inefficiency of plenary discussion giving priority to the voice of the few over the unsaid thoughts of the many, the ephemeral nature of synchronous conversation.  Don't misunderstand me; it was good; very good in fact.  I really enjoyed reconnecting with the school and engaging with the diversity of topics.  The quality of the sessions was excellent we do love the traditional seminar and being spectators.  It feels familiar and, anyway, how else would you do it?  

For me the biggest gap was the absence of a functioning 3G or wifi link in which to create a backchannel for discussion during the sessions and throughout the event.  With everything reliant on synchronous activity, there were lots of details that were inevitably lost.  I hope that this blog will fill some of the gaps, especially for those that couldn't make it this time.

I've not mentioned all the sessions that I attended.  I've commented here on the things that I noticed; the things that I liked, and those that frustrated me. These are my interpretations on what I experienced.  Others will have seen different things, felt differently, liked some sessions more than me, less than me and so on.     

MAMLL - pushing the boundaries of management learning for 30 years

The principles behind the design of MAMLL have, since its inception, been about creating a space in which participants can develop a critical understanding of their own and others' theories and practices.  It has always pushed the boundaries.  Its assessment process, which is managed by the participants themselves, still feels radical 30 years on.  Prof. Mark Easterby-Smith, one of the founding academics, commented in the opening session on the resistance he experienced when taking the assessment proposal to the university senate in 1982; it got through because the then Director of Education said 'we've got to be experimental'.  

Well done to all who conceived and pushed this process along.  MAMLL may be a bit wacky for some but for those that have taken part, it has created a memorable and sustained learning experience.  The word that kept recurring during the two days was 'confidence'; confidence in one's practice, confidence to explore ideas critcially.        

Learning heterotopia: spaces for layers of meaning & learning to emerge. 

Paintings, music, drama and dance featured in several of the sessions.  I noticed how these media can help to create shifts in perspective that might otherwise not have happened if the presenters had relied on PowerPoint. Prof Vivien Hodgson talked about creating learning hetrotopia: spaces for layers of meaning and learning to emerge. I liked this notion: open, emergent, full of surprises, changing perspectives.

Use of auto ethnography to explore the final months of a family business

This session was about the demise of a family business.  The presentation was a short dramatic piece performed by the couple who had run the business.  No bullet points of 'where did we go wrong?'; just simple narrative dialogue with a few props.  The result was visceral and memorable.

Use of You Tube videos to enhance feedback in a learning set

Working with a MAMLL learning set going through the self-assessment for one of the assignments, the set leader was noticing that, whilst the set members were seemingly getting along well with each other, there was also a sense of them leaving things unsaid and missing some important details in their feedback; a bit like 'dancing in the dark'.  This was raised with the group and a feedback process was proprosed using the music videos to reflect how they were feeling. These included Kate Bush's Running up that hill, Abba's Winner Takes in All and Annie Lennox' - Why?  Critically, the music choices were made on-the-spot rather than after a longer period of reflection to help reveal the layers of process being experienced in that moment.

This was not presented as a 'how to' panacea for improving feedback; but a learning hetrotopia, created in that moment, with that group, providing the space for some something new to emerge.

Role of social media in leadership development

I found this session the most frustrating: too little time, too narrow a range in the issues discussed.  Most noticable was the resistance to social media.  The resistance came from seeing social media as being a generational thing - something that younger people do; or 'just because social media is being used by many people it doesn't mean that everybody has to follow the crowd'; or the risks of comments made online, in haste, being available for all to see; or 'I'm already unable to keep up with the emails in my inbox, how can I deal with another flood of information?

Fair points?  Well they reflect what many people feel about social media so in that sense, they do represent one view.

In my experience, social media has a great deal to offer leadership development.  It's true that organisations are still working out exactly how far they want to open up their networks to allow employees access to the web.  But practices are changing.  The presenter referred to the research done last year by the Towards Maturity think tank about trends in e-learning.  Link here to download their reseach report

The Yammer-hosted Social Collaboration Community run by Jane Hart at c4lpt was also mentioned.  In my experience, it's an excellent forum for collaboration on all issues related to the use of social media in learning.  If you want to know more follow this link to Jane's site.  

Digital reflection: using digital stories to reflect upon and present your learning

The perfect counterpoint to the resistance seen in the previous session came with this brilliant piece on digital reflection. I loved the way in which this approach is using the creative arts as an alternative to traditional written assessments and using digital technologies to enable collaboration.  To quote from the Digitalis website

'Digital technologies can provide a platform to engage in shared reflective practice, and also to share reflective outputs in a way that is both engaging and interactive.  The viewer can provide feedback, which then feeds back into the learner’s reflective process.'  
'Hear, hear'.  Take a look at Digitalis for the full details of the work being done.   
Concluding comments

Thanks to the organising team for orchestrating a very successful event and to the presenters, mostly MAMLL alumni, who put themselves out there and shared their practices.

Very best wishes to all those currently wading through MAMLL's, at times, arcane processes on their journey to academic nirvana.  And to the next 30 years...  

Collaboration zeitgeist

Collaboration feels like one of those zeitgeist topics.  I have been sense-making on this topic for a few months now.  Here are a few of the things that have been interesting me.

Two comments to start with. 

First, collaboration isn't something that can be converted or reified as if it is something concrete.  It is a complex responsive process in which participants actively engage with each other through conversation.  The conversation can be face-to-face or in print or online; it can therefore be synchronous or a-synchronous.  The conversations are emergent and self-organising and, to be successful, power needs to be shared.  

Second, collaboration has a sense of the 'new black' about it; it's not a new idea because, as humans, we have always collaborated by learning from each other.  However, the web is the engine of change; it is connecting people and amplyfying ideas at massive scale. 

The collaboration pyramid

I like Oscar Berg's collaboration pyramid because of the way it draws attention to the hidden value creating layers in organisations.  Therefore, rather than treating collaboration as something else to be done, perhaps the first step is just to recognise what's already happening.

Nodes and Networks

Harold Jarche blogs regularly on networked working and I'd recommend this piece 'It's all about networks'.  Things that stand out for me are that collaborative working will require a break from traditional organisational thinking; from having a position in a hierarchy to a node in a network.  The collaborative enterprise will require porous communities of people operating in looser hierarchies and stronger networks.  For example, the multinational food company Danone has created a 'Neworking Attitude' programme to shift a culture of localised, hierarchical decision making to one of cross-function/country collaboration.

Collaborating with customers

Extending the nodes and networks idea can also include collaboration with customers. Managers at the toymaker Lego saw that not everything needed to be developed internally and it draws on the interests of its loyal fan base to develop ideas for products.  

Chief Collaboration Officer?

Should there be a formal organisational response to collaboration?  There have been a number of articles and blogs about this over the past few months about the role of a Chief Collaboration Officer.

Can one person or function be responsible for collaboration?  If there is a case for creating such a role it is because organisations are seeing the opportunities that  greater connectedness, enabled by the web,is unleashing and that this then requires attention on a collaboration strategy and investment in relevant systems and tools.  And is this a new role or an extension of say the CEO, CIO or CLO?

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