Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Too much Information and not enough Guidance: Social Media Hangovers

Paris Brown, the 17 year old Youth police and crime commissioner resigned today over her ‘social media’ outbursts.

She was hired by Kent PCC Ann Barnes who thought that the role to be played by Paris so important that she funded part of her £15,000pa salary.

Ann Barnes did not, however, consider quite how a teenager might have used Social Media and appears to have offered little in the way of Information and Guidance to the now departed Paris. Before her appointment, no checks were made on Paris’s activity on line, no judicious pruning of the typical teenage outpourings before launching her into the world. 

This was poor judgement on Ms Barnes part and has made her look foolish; worse, it has destroyed the confidence of a young and very inexperienced young girl.

Had she been hired by a college or enrolled on a course, would Paris have suffered such a fate? This is where we come in.  When I say ‘we’ I mean teachers, lecturers, student support … colleges basically.

Students are completely unaware of their ‘digital footprint’ and the long lasting impact of the email rant, the 1am Instagram shot, the slightly tipsy Facebook Status update with obligatory semi-nude photograph attached and the oh so funny Tweet mocking someone, something or the first attempt at sarcasm.

Without good IaG, and a huge increase in teaching of digital & social media, we can expect to see much more of this; not in such a high profile role but more nonetheless.

Employers, who are generally much more ‘social media’ savvy than the Police Commissioner appears to be, will very quickly check on line for a candidates presence.  It is no defence to say ‘I didn’t mean it’ or ‘I was only 14 at the time’.

Colleges should be dealing with this now, in preparation for work and life. Email addresses would be a good place to start. The number of students who enrol into college with an email containing the words ‘sex’, ‘sexy’, ‘princess’ even ‘slut’ and ‘f**k’ on a couple of occasions (and no blushing as they write them either) need help to prepare for university or work. Are UCAS or a prospective employer going to be over-joyed to receive an application from ‘princessslutty@hotmail.com’? 

Perhaps not.

The law has recently changed to enable archiving of online material. What is written on line now, no longer disappears into the ether; it is there forever and doesn’t take an enormous amount of effort to dig it up, no matter how much you shut down your FB profile and limit past posts.

FE needs to develop far more awareness of IT, technical skills and social media and instil this into our students, now.

Paris Brown may have been the first casualty of the Social Media Hangover, she won’t be the last; hopefully, with our help, she will be one of the few.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Time to put away the rags Cinderella …Happy Birthday F.E. (thanks Nick Linford)

Nick Linford and the F.E. Week Team’s spoof ‘FE Anthem and Flag’ was a perfect April fool’s Day prank. More illuminating was watching the tweets as so many people jumped onto the bandwagon, keen to be associated with the new idea and this got me thinking.

“If so many people are prepared to get behind an idea, to be associated with F.E., why ‘Cinderella’?”

Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw made reference to FE’s Cinderella complex — how, despite the essential work it does, it can sometimes seem neglected compared to other parts of the education system.

In 1971, ''The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence,'' by Colette Dowling was published. She talks of the militancy of the times and the heady rush of financial freedom, only to wake up several years later and wondered if what she now had, independence; was what she had really wanted?

From the 1944 Education Act onwards, FE Colleges were funded by local authorities through education budgets. This all changed in 1993 through ‘incorporation’ when colleges became independent organisations. We have independence; we’ve had it for 20 years, we gain funding, form partnerships, explore new territories, create wealth (financial and skills wise), develop links and .prepare people for their futures.

Rather than sitting by the ash bucket lamenting the changes we have undergone and the unknown changes to come, shouldn’t we celebrate what a fantastic opportunity F.E. has had and look forward to an even greater future? Colette Dowling may have regretted taking the initiative when it was presented but that was because her choices were wrong, ours aren’t; we have patiently built a solid foundation to grow from.

F.E. is comprehensive, diverse and ever changing. Having learned hard but valuable lessons over the past 20 years we should be more willing to celebrate ourselves and our achievements. So, although it was in jest, I applaud Nick’s effort. It reminded me that F.E. really is on the edge of adulthood.  We’ve served our Apprenticeship.

It’s time to stop being ‘Cinderella’, stop waiting for the Knight to rescue us, because we can be our own Knight.

Next year, F.E. will be 21. The significance of the 21st birthday originates from the rituals of Knighthood. At 7 a boy began to learn as a Page, what was required to become a knight. At 14 he graduated to Squire learning his craft until at 21 he would finally become a Knight.

F.E. has survived for twenty years. We’ve stood behind the bike sheds, moaning, groaning and kicking the pebbles with the other Pages and now it’s time to stop and be a Knight. Business does not stand like an abandoned gas works with an air of despondency saying ‘I could be great if you’d just treat me fairly’. Fair is the opportunity you make for yourself, you earn it.

As Roger Bannister said; ‘Every day in Africa a gazelle wakes up; it knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.  Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better be running.’

Lions, Gazelles … who cares? We’re young, healthy and about to enter adulthood; time to pick up the lance, mount the horse and go to battle, united.

Happy Birthday F.E., here’s to the next 20 years.

Gamification: it's the new gold star

Three or four colleges ago, I was Head of Faculty for Foundation Learning including some very high cost learners over £19k. There, ‘tech’ was invaluable. Large touch screens on sliding frames for easy access, switches, sound, sensory rooms, video camera, DVD, interactive software and wireless connections to enable them to use equipment, toasters, the washing machine, see the world, review their day (via video) and reinforce a range of learning on the continuum. Learning became a ‘game’ and an integral part of their lives but that isn’t the real message in ‘gamification’.

F.E. concentrates on the acquisition of skills, passing on of knowledge and experience, to equip our learners for the job market, apprenticeships and university. We take our basic product and bolt ‘tech’ on.

Gamification isn’t a ‘bolt on’; it is the framework around which educational provision grows, like a beanstalk adjusting to the direction of sunlight and prevailing winds. Make no mistake, it is also a business looking for a market.  Gamification has been designed for those companies whose markets are shrinking/changing and need to find a new one, quickly; Education.

If we’re going to use tech, then let’s use tech that is useful. Not ‘tech’ for the sake of ticking a box.
It can be used as Starbucks do, via Foursquare to generate loyalty points and a free coffee, the coding site Stack Overflow sets its members tasks and when they complete them, they gain reward stickers. These tasks are free advertising for the host, a raised profile via messages distributed on Twitter and Facebook and a sense of ‘belonging’, a warm fuzzy for the task completer. This is more sophisticated than a Loyalty Card.

Should we be doing this; using Gamification for learner engagement, SMART target setting etc.?
Hand your homework in on time, get a bonus point, get a Distinction earn 10 bonus points, turn up for college every day (on time) 30 points, turn your points into trips, downloads, work experience; differentiated learner rewards based on solid IAG.

As a system it could work so well; motivation is such an important tool with learners and staff – could it, should it (whisper this) become part of the annual appraisal system … ‘Well George, let’s have a look at your points ranking this year, how have your learners rated you?’

Well done George, have 100 bonus points (two extra day’s holiday or one ‘get out of a meeting free’ card).

Extend it into the ‘running FE as a business’ and you can see how questions could be … how has your performance been in terms of Retention … whoops, (attend two extra meetings George).

Gamification is differentiated rewarding / tracking and could be an amazing tool to generate enthusiasm, maintain interest, develop a high profile and track the appeal of a course / lecturer / even a room in a college. Mobile tech, savvy questions, good rewards and the chance to win a prize; who could resist?

Who doesn’t remember the thrill of getting a shiny Gold star on their work and a BIG tick?

Gamification?  It’s the new Gold Star.

F.E. and Paternalism

FE always looks forward, maybe it’s time to stop and reflect? Do we need more Principals with vision like Salt, Cadbury and Lever, to enable culture changes to turn FE into ‘a model village’? A supportive and improving community like those built by the enlightened industrialists to house their workers. The workers were provided for; their education, health and welfare.

Is paternalism as important a quality as fiscal proficiency?

FE staff work hard, they constantly undergo challenges and external revolution impacts on us all: Government focus changes, followed by funding and policy changes and we’re urged to do more, with less. Internal revolution takes a little longer, and it’s not always easy.

Some fly; they adapt and evolve quickly, rising through the creative and technical challenges seemingly without effort. Others remain mired in their past … ‘it was good enough then’ is their motto.

People who find change difficult become resistant, the more they are urged to change the more they dig their heels in. It can be hugely damaging to the ego to find that your employer no longer approves of the way you do your job. Issues raised are taken personally, not professionally and the need to change, to evolve is seen as an attack, not support. They’re frightened of change, to let go of the rudder and alter course.

They want to change but it’s scary; they’ve already been labelled as ‘failing’ (and that was something they thought they were good at), what if they fail at this too?

Staff busy doing their jobs and generally doing them well, don’t tend to think about morale and culture except when they feel overwhelmed. Staffroom gossip fuels a spark into a roaring flame of resentment, giving a department a miasmic air of gloom.

Changing morale and culture is not just the responsibility of the Principal, it is up to each of us to play a part, make the effort;  to communicate, offer a simple act of kindness, share resources and ideas, ask how they are and value those we work with. Offering a helping hand when we’re all flat out isn’t easy. Not doing so is like walking past the same homeless person every day and not giving them a spare pair of gloves. It is inhuman.

We can do this too: arrange good CPD, talk to each other (up and down the pay-scale), work together, not just share a building. If we don’t, FE will become the ‘IronBridge’ of our generation, preserved for all time as a once great idea whose time has passed.

We can do it, by believing that the grumpy old bugger in the corner of the staff room who repels all offers of help and ruins your SAR data with his lack of achievement was once a great teacher who has just lost his way and if you smile often enough, one day, he’ll smile back.