Career Planning 101: My Daughter Won’t Be Your Corporate Drone


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I can’t vouch for the complete accuracy of this transcript. But it went something like this.

Teacher: “So what are you going to do for a career dear?”

Daughter (14): “Oh, I don’t know… Nothing. Everything.”

Teacher: “That’s not an answer. What do you mean?”

Daughter (14): “Sit on a beach somewhere. Work as a freelancer. Blog in my underwear.”

Teacher: “Oh dear… That’s not a proper job. How will you earn money?”

Daughter (14): “Not sure. I’d like to be earning a small passive income somehow. Perhaps from my blog and online shop.”

Teacher: “Yes… but what are you going to do?”

Daughter (14): “Whatever I want.”

Teacher: “Yes, but what about a job? A career?”

Daughter (14): [Sighs] “Actually Miss, I’m thinking about going to university. I’d like to be a lawyer or an accountant or a doctor.”

Teacher: “Oh, that’s nice! Good for you!”

What do entrepreneurs do that you could do if you work in education? Part 3: Tools


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Tools for your (mostly) digital toolbox

The other day I outlined some of the ideas, approaches, and tools that I’ve started using in my work in education that have made my life easier and more manageable.

Mostly, I’ve borrowed these concepts and tools from the world of start ups, entrepreneurship, and design.

Then I suggested a short self assessment activity that you could do if you were interested in pursuing this direction yourself. The purpose here is just self awareness.

If you’re perfectly happy doing what you’ve always done, then please carry on. In fact, click away now and look at some more cat videos.

However, if you think that there might be better ways of working and you’re curious about what some of the tools might be to help you with this, then please read on.

Project and task management

Basecamp

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  • What is it? Basecamp is a web-based project management tool.
  • How do I use it? You create projects that are based around groups of tasks that you can assign to different people and dates. You can also use it to store emails, attachments, and documents. It’s simple to use and extremely powerful.
  • Anything free or cheaper? I haven’t tried it but it looks like you can get basecamp free as a teacher if you have a look here. There are many other different kinds of project management applications available.

Moleskin Notebook

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  • What is it? It’s an overpriced, but very durable hard cover notebook with an elastic band around it to hold it together.
  • How do I use it? Because I do so much work online, this is my attempt to make sure I keep using paper. I use my notebook for managing smaller day to day to-do lists and tasks as well as for ideas and taking notes.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Of course. Any notebook will work, or make your own out of scrap paper.

Cloud-based productivity tools

Google Apps for Work

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  • What is it? Custom email, cloud-based file storage, shared calenders, word processing, spreadsheets and more online from my phone, laptop, and iPad. Basically, this is Gmail, Drive, gDocs, and gSheets.
  • How do I use it? 4 dedicated ALEC email addresses used by my team, Drive for shared documents, gDocs and gSheets for collaborating and writing.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Your basic gmail account is free and includes most of this, but you have to pay if you want to deploy across and organisation.

Evernote

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  • What is it? Online storage and notes.
  • How do I use it? I use Evernote like a virtual filing cabinet, particularly for things that I’ve finished with that I don’t want to delete, but I don’t need paper copies lying around for. It’s also a great task manager and place for compiling research or notes for projects. I also use it for clipping documents from websites that I want to save for reading later. Evernote is massively powerful and I like it, but I have run into issues trying to use it which I’ve written about here and elsewhere.
  • Anything free or cheaper? It’s already free, unless you go premium for more storage.

Dropbox

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  • What is it? Online file storage.
  • How do I use it? I use Dropbox as an alternative to Google Drive and for file sharing with others that I’m collaborating with. It’s also my archive for lots of old course materials and hard drives dating back about 10 years.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Basic account is free but you’ll need to pay if you want increased storage. I pay US$100 per year for a TB of online storage.

Other digital creative tools

USB Microphone

Yeti mic

  • What is it? It’s a microphone that is designed to connect directly to my computer via a USB cable. I like the Yeti Blue USB mic shown here which I’ve reviewed before. But I’ve also been coveting this one for a while now as well.
  • How do I use it? I use the mic for recording audio for podcast style recordings and for laying audio tracks over slideshows that I can then upload to YouTube.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Chances are that the computer you are using already has a mic built in. Also, so does your phone. The quality on these may vary as well. Have a look online – there are plenty of USB mics cheaper than the Yeti.

Audio editing software

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  • What is it? Here I’m referring to software applications that allow you to record, mix, and master digital audio.
  • How do I use it? I use this kind of software to create podcast style audio tracks like these for the training I do and for this blog.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Yes. I also use and really like a free piece of software called Audacity. It doesn’t look quite as racy as Gargeband, but It’s very powerful and as good as anything you can buy. You can download it here for free.

Tablet and stylus

tablet and stylus

  • What is it? It’s a drawing tablet and pen made by a company called Wacom. It’s expensive, but it’s fantastic to draw with.
  • How do I use it? I use it to draw illustrations for slides, blog posts, and other print or digital content.
  • Anything free or cheaper? If you already have an iPad or other tablet there are all sorts of cheap or free drawing apps you can download and use with just your finger or a cheap stylus. If you want to buy a stylus you can get one for around $20 from an office supply or computer shop.

Drawing software

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  • What is it? A software application that you use with the tablet and stylus. I’ve just made the shift to Adobe Illustrator which is now a subscription-based service as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.
  • How do I use it? I use it for creating and editing vector-based graphics and illustrations. It has been, and still is, a steep learning curve.
  • Anything free or cheaper? I started with a free drawing and digital mark up app that I still use called Skitch that you can download on your computer, ipad or phone and that integrates with Evernote. From there I went to a free, open source Illustrator equivalent called Inkscape which I used for a long time.

Video and image capture

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  • What is it? Currently, I just use my iPhone for any and all images. I’ve used a much older Sony HandyCam for video work, but my iPhone can do this pretty well also, I’m at the stage where I need to probably upgrade. Currently, I’d like to get something like the camera below which would do high quality video capture as well as take excellent photographs. I’m also considering getting a dedicated video shotgun microphone to use this with. This is a significant investment and I’ve been putting it off.
  • How do I use it? I use the camera on my iPhone all the time. I don’t like using the Sony HandyCam as it doesn’t play nicely with the video editing software.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Most people have a built in video camera on their smartphone. These can be cheap and cheerful, but it’s a simple way to get started creating multimedia content. Using a good mic is probably more important. People will suffer through poor video content as long as they can hear what’s going on.

Image editing software

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  • What is it? Software and apps for editing your photographs and digital images. I use an app on my iPhone called Camera+ and I also occasionally use iPhone which comes preinstalled on my Mac.
  • How do I use it? I use Camera plus for cropping and editing photos. It also comes with some nice filters which I also use. For example, the sepia tinged photo of my desktop with the Yeti microphone further up the screen was shot on my iPhone and edited in Camera+
  • Anything free or cheaper? iPhoto is free as long as you have a Mac. There are plenty of cheap photo editing apps for your smartphone.

Video editing software

FCP

  • What is it? This is a specific software application that I use to record, edit, mix and master my video files. I purchased Apple’s Final Cut Pro last year. It’s easier to use than the audio software and I like it a lot.
  • How do I use it? I use this for editing and mastering video footage which I can then upload to YouTube. The quality depends on the quality of the video footage captured. I’ve been a bit disappointed with what I got from the Sony HandyCam, but you can have a look at some video footage that I edited with this software here. Like with any of these applications, I’m not an expert and I tend to work out how to do things “just in time”.
  • Anything free or cheaper? If you already have a device that can record video, you probably already have some built in video editing capability. There are plenty of apps you can download that will help with this for a reasonably low cost.

What do entrepreneurs do that you could do if you work in education? Part 1: Ideas, concepts, tools


Build dynamic content

Literacy and numeracy is a tough business to work in due to the increasing demands of… well, everything.

I have a conference workshop coming up soon and I’m going to argue that one of the things that has worked well for me (in terms of daily survival) is training myself to think and act more like an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs have to live with risk and uncertainty. They also have to make decisions based on incomplete information. And then there’s the fact that sometimes you just never get a return on your investment of time, energy, and other resources.

Just like a lot of us in education…

But also, entrepreneurs approach the world through quite a different lens to educators and bureaucrats.

This change in how I think has helped me with my teaching, my approach to course development, and with my business overall.

Keep in mind, I’m not against student centred approaches and all of that goes with that. I’m firmly on the side of student centred approaches and these are central to what we teach and how we work with our students.

What I’m on about here is taking stock of what I do and looking for what is going to help me stay alive and hopefully thrive in my work. So let’s get us-centred for just a minute.

Given that some days it feels like a knife fight, you might wonder why you (or I) keep on working in education. The answer has something to do with making the world a better place and changing people’s lives.

But that aside, here are some of the things that I think entrepreneurs do that I’ve tried that make my work in education better for me. I’m not saying that they’ll work for you. But they’ve worked for me.

Each of these sounds kind of simple, but it’s taken me years to understand what they mean for me. Feel free to adopt, adapt or ignore.

Ideas

  • The customer: This is not as simple as it sounds in education. I know who my customers are.
  • Business model design: I know what’s under the hood. I know how revenue is generated. I’m very clear on how my business model works and how the components fit together. And by implication I know how the components can be taken apart, remixed, and put back together again.

Approaches

  • Design thinking: I have my own version of this but when it comes to developing courses and materials, maintaining them over time, and updating them – I have very explicit processes including brainstorming, prototyping, and iteration. This allows me to create content that is dynamic and evolving.
  • Systems thinking: Over time I’ve designed a very effective system for managing the professional development and training that we deliver. In a nutshell, there’s a list of over a hundred things that have to happen from student enquiry, through the training process, up to when we digitally archive a student’s file after graduating… and these have to happen for every single person regardless of when they start. I have another system for understanding our quality assurance processes and others for teaching and explaining key concepts and various aspects of our training.

Tools and apps

  • Project and task management: I use a cloud-based project management software application to run all aspects of student and learning management. It’s highly customised and means we can work from anywhere with a small team. The software runs the system. And it’s scalable and I could duplicate it for other courses if I needed to.
  • Cloud based productivity tools: I use Google Apps now for all email, word processing, and most spreadsheets. These tools work across all devices and platforms and I’m not chained to any one computer, device, or physical location.
  • Other digital creative tools: This is a relatively new area for me. Here the tools move away from productivity and into graphic design and audio visual recording. I have a drawing tablet and stylus that I use for illustrations, a microphone for recording audio, a camera for video, and a range of different software applications for editing, mixing, and mastering various kinds of digital media.

I’d be interested to know what works for you. Let me know in the comments.

How do you survive as a teacher or tutor in a rapidly changing education landscape?


Happy place

So… what to do about it? If you’re like me you probably think a lot about what you need to do to survive and hopefully thrive in a rapidly changing educational landscape.

Or if you don’t think about it you should…

You can hide for a while from the massive changes ahead for work, education, and play, but it’s better to do it on your own terms.

The answer, or at least, the answer for me, is this:

  • think more like an entrepreneur in the weird world of education.

This means that you’re on the path to becoming an edupreneur. Yes, it’s a word.

Having your own education business is not a prerequisite to thinking like an entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter where you fit in the organisation, you can start thinking more like an entrepreneur.

How do you do this? It’s about changing your mindset for starters. And the simplest way to do that is to start using the some of the tools that entrepreneurs use to manage and do their work.

What kinds of tools am I talking about? You want use tools that enable you do these things:

  1. Use cloud-based technologies: Often we do need physical time in physical locations with physical learners. But what about your other work including admin tasks? Are you set up to do this from anywhere? Can you cut the chain to your desk? Can you cut the chain to your laptop? What tools do you need to do this?
  2. Seek customer feedback: This sounds basic. But what feedback do you get from your learners and others in your sphere of influence. How do you know that what you’re delivering is any good? Does your evaluation process give you any useful information?
  3. Iterate your education product: The best products, including education products have been through, and continue to go through countless iterations – that is, cycles of change and tweaking and improvement. This is where high quality feedback from your learners and others is critical if you want to rise above the plateau of mediocracy that plagues much of education. These innovation cycles can be small, but they are necessary if you want to create
  4. Develop and publish audio content: Can you create rich audio content for your learners? How do you feel about listening to the sound of your own voice? As a 21st century educator you need to feel comfortable with the sound of your own voice. Do you know how to record digital audio content? Have you ever listened to a podcast? Could you podcast chunks of your content? What tools do you need to do this?
  5. Develop and publish video content: Can you create rich video content for your learners that they can access anywhere anytime? Do you know how to record digital video content, edit it, and upload it to Youtube and other platforms? What tools do you need for this?
  6. Communicate without relying on Email: Email is horribly broken for most people who work in any kind of bureaucracy. What alternatives do you have to email for communications? Can you message your learners or your team? How do you broadcast key messages from your organisation? What about key messages from you personally? What’s the best platform? How can you engage your learners in a conversation outside of face-to-face interactions and email? Again, what tools do you need here?

Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 for each of the above… Any thoughts?

4 Things I Can Do to Become Antifragile in Education


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Nassem Taleb is an expert on risk and probability and he recommends in his latest book that we become less fragile, more robust, and actually antifragile.

This is more than just Sissy Resilience… and this means that when the stuff hits the fan you actually bounce back stronger than before, and actually made stronger by the disorder around you.

Education is fragile. And working in education opens you, your career, your mortgage up to all kinds of fragility by implication. This is bad.

Education, of course, is good. But if we want to survive as educators in this increasingly fragile landscape we need to embrace the fact that it’s fraught with risks and randomness of all kinds.

And we need to do things to mitigate the risks to ourselves and our businesses where we can.

One of the lessons from Taleb’s Antifragile for me seems to be that rather than avoiding things like risk, uncertainty and variability we should be embracing them. And in fact, seeking them out.

With that in mind, here’s my take on 4 things I can do in education and in my work that hopefully increase my ability to be really resilient by intentionally playing around with risk, randomness, uncertainty, and variability.

I’m not saying that they’ll work for you… but if they work for me I’ll let you know.

1. Disrupt my education business model

BMG-Book-Cover

The idea here is that either I can wait for someone to disrupt my work or I can disrupt it myself and maintain some slight control (even if it’s illusory) over the disruptive factors.

Our education business models are pretty much a last century paradigm. Mostly the old-school business model goes something like this:

  • Someone pays a fee + I deliver training. I might possibly award some kind of credential if the stakes are a bit higher.

Leaving aside the problems with our current models of education, let’s focus on messing with the business model.

My real business model is the unique package of things that allows me to sell education and training and generate revenue. This would still hold true even if I worked for a non-profit or charitable organisation.

But consider the new business models though… They’re online. They require people to transact online. That either means a shopping cart or a subscription-based approach.

Bothered by that…? Me too. But disturbing thoughts like these have been nagging at me for awhile. It’s time to do something about it.

If you’re curious about business models Alex Osterwalder’s book really helped clear things up for me in term of what a business model is and gives some great examples. There’s also an iPad app you can play around with.

2. Open source my expertise and knowledge

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Am I the only one who has noticed that the world I live in is radically different to the one I grew up in, even the world I started working in…?

Everything is being disrupted and education isn’t any exception. Aside from firing middle management and cutting dead wood, I think we’re going to see changes everywhere in education resulting in education products for learners that are cheaper, faster, smarter, and more convenient.

What’s more, as we move forward, education will most likely become open sourced, and possibly crowd sourced. This will come at a cost, of course. Some of us won’t survive.

But one of the things that has changed for certain in my mind is that there is no longer a competitive advantage in sitting on any kind of “secret sauce”. The new secret sauce is open source.

And that has implications for my job. And my expertise. What I know and can do is not just information, but a big chunk of it probably is. And that information really wants to make itself freely available to others. This is just the nature of the web.

And the thing is, if I don’t open source what I know, then someone else will do it for me. Either they know they same stuff and they’ll open source that, or they’ll just upload what they’ve learned off me.

So I need to do it first. That’s why I’ve open sourced what I know about our approach to embedding literacy and numeracy via Pathways Awarua and through making our course content freely available to everyone.

Doing nothing is not an option. In fact, doing nothing while everyone and everything around you moves forward is pretty much the same as going backwards.

3. Design the way I want to work

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I think that another part of the solution is to design the way that I want to work. For me this means:

  • treating everything as a project
  • working on these projects with a small agile team
  • being mobile and “always on” (except when I switch everything off)
  • working from home (or anywhere)
  • having a team that is geographically dispersed,
  • and mostly ignoring conventional establishment wisdom relating to what I do.

To expand on these, everything in education can be a project. This includes training, resource development, writing and publishing, and running conferences. If I make everything a project then I can project manage. I use Basecamp for this.

“Always on” means that I can work on my projects anywhere. Most of my work is written on laptops and devices in various cities and towns in New Zealand. I now use cloud-based applications almost exclusively for this including Google Docs, WordPress and Evernote. I also use Dropbox and Google Drive to manage it all.

4. Look for new ways to do the same stuff

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Another part of the solution for me is to do education and training in new ways that meet the needs and demands of 21st century work and life. This is where expertise needs to collide with new opportunities and disruptive technologies.

And this is hard because it means I have to learn new stuff. And sometimes things don’t work out.

I’m not quite sure where to go with this in all honesty, but something that I’ve done intentionally is to mess around with different online platforms used for authoring education and training materials. I’ve tried a bunch of them, but the one that stuck was the Bracken platform that we used to write up our course and assessment modules.

Authoring software is kind of tricky… and it’s time consuming to learn how to use… but something that is a whole lot simpler and still incredibly disruptive is video and audio. The incredible success of Kahn Academy continues to testify to the disruptive power of video.

I’m hoping to make this year the year I really get serious about capturing much more of our training, resources, knowledge, and expertise via niche audio and video content.

What have I missed? What do you have planned for 2015 that is going to make you stronger, more resilient, resistant to risk, and ultimately more antifragile?

 

5 Questions That Will Make You Uncomfortable If You Work In Education


It’s an uncomfortable business

uncomfortable

Working in education is a tricky and often uncomfortable business. Especially if you want to get paid… And if you work in education sometimes even just using words like money and customers make you feel uncomfortable. You’d better click away now if you’re offended already.

The “Customer” is not a straightforward matter

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Still, it gets worse, one part of the problem is trying to figure out who your actual customers are. And this might sound kind of strange, but it’s not a straightforward matter. And your main customer might not be who you think it is.

If you’re like me, you have different kinds of customers. All at the same time. These different kinds of customers often have different (and possibly contradictory) needs and expectations.

Paying versus value creation

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So how do you figure out who these customers are? Well, you can start by asking these two questions:

1. Who’s paying?

2. Who are you creating the most value for?

You might not need to, but sometimes you may need to decide if your main customer is EITHER the person or organisation that you are creating the most value for, OR the one who is paying you the most. This can be important depending on what key deliverables are for your work.

The tension

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There is not always a tension between who’s paying versus who you’re creating the most value for. But sometimes there is. People have different needs and wants. So, how will you deal with this? There’s only one answer:

  • Embrace the tension

The Money

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One way to start thinking about this tension is to follow the money. Ask yourself the question again: Who’s paying?

If your education programme or training is mostly (or completed) funded or subsidised by a government department or similar agency then you better start thinking of them and treating them like a valued customer. Their investment is paying for or subsiding your delivery, outcomes, and probably ensuring that you can pay the rent.

There’s nothing like the promise of continued employment to incentivise your work…

Value

value

However, there’s still the issue of value creation. One way of defining a customer is to determine who you are creating the most value for. Which of these groups are you creating the most value for?

  • The funding agency or other investors?
  • Your learners, i.e. the ones in front of you in the training environment?
  • Your learners’ employers?
  • Your learners’ learners, staff, or clients (if you’re working with tutors and trainers like we do)?

It’s complex

complex

So… are your learners the ones allowing you to pay your bills and meet payroll? For us, it’s more like our learners (and their learners) are the combined end-users of the training that we deliver. They don’t pay, but we do create value for them.

Our customers then are actually a combination of our learners’ employers and a government funding agency (these two groups pay for the training together) as well as the learners themselves (who are non paying customers).

So… understanding who your customers are and getting paid in the education business is a bit more complex than just shipping widgets.

It’s seldom a simple business transaction. The main thing to realise is that organisations and government departments that fund education and training are like venture capital investors. And learners can be customers too, even if they are non-paying customers.

Questions

reductionism

Finally, after you’ve figured out whatever complicated and often contradictory mixture of customers you’re attempting to create value for, you also need to ask these questions for each customer group:

3. What do they really want?

4. Are you really delivering the right results?

5. What’s the return on investment for each?

6. Who’s getting the best return on investment?

So, tar and feather me with the brush of economic reductionism… These last questions make me uncomfortable. But they’re great questions to keep asking.

12 Things You Can Do Right Now To Read Better, Improve Learning, and Understand More


You might think that becoming a better reader is a big secret, but it’s totally not. Here are 12 things you can do right now to read better and improve what you remember and understand:

1. Look for connections: Ask yourself what you already know about the topic that you have to read. Draw a mind map or make a list of your answer.connect

2. Predict the content: Try and make an intelligent guess about what you have to read. Use anything you can to help make your prediction.

predict

3. Identify the main ideas: If you can, get a pen and underline or highlight what you think are the main ideas. Then rank these for importance.

idea

4. Work out the structure: Think about what kind of thing you are reading? Is it a letter? A persuasive argument? An editorial? Facts from a workbook? Cause and effect? Problem and solution?

structure

5. Look at the first sentence: The first sentence in any paragraph is called the topic sentence. If it’s well written, it will tell you what the entire paragraph is about. Just read these.

Topic Sentence

6. Use typography: Typography just means things like bold, underline, and italics. Use these as clues and try and figure out what they are there for. Extend this to headings and subheadings as well.

typog

7. Read between the lines: Try and work out what the writer is not saying. Form an opinion or make a guess.

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9. Look at the pictures. This one is pretty obvious, but use the pictures to help you think of questions (see next).

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8. Visualise: Make a picture in your mind about what you are reading. If you can, draw it.

Beauty

10. Ask questions and look for answers: ask yourself questions about everything as you read, e.g. the meanings of words, the structure, what’s coming next, how it’s relevant to you.

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11. Get help when you stop understanding: This means talking to someone else or doing some research. You might talk to a friend, a teacher, or pose a question on an online discussion forum.

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12. Be aware of which of these strategies you are using when you’re using them: The best readers know they are doing these things when they are doing them.

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