Looking back(pass)

So here we are – day 2 of 2009 (I had itended to write this yesterday but I suffered from New Years Dayitis)

2008 was a bit of a weird year for me professionally – I learned alot, met some great people and had some really great experiences but could do with 2009 being a little less stressful if I’m honest.  Leaving the JISC nest back in April after a frustrating secondment at HEFCE was a big step – and one that I think was probably a little hasty looking back(!) and not following through on the opportunity to work at Ofcom in their Media Literacy team is a real regret but I just couldn’t find a way to make that work logistically at the time.

I learnt some important lessons – not least the fact that I have no clue how to pitch for work and left to my own devices I am a lazy b’stard!  The concept of freelancing had always appealed but at least I have got that out of my system now (though I have a much clearer idea of how I’d do it if I was ever in that position again).

Working on the JISC Conference in 2008 was a real high point – I had very specific role helping out with all the ‘amplified conference’ elements at the event – including Crowdvine, a Twitter backchannel, Flickr, blogging and keeping an eye on Hectors UStream video work.  I really enjoyed it and think it added something to a well established and well run conference.

I also enjoyed overseeing the blog and podcast aspects of the HEFCE Annual Conference – this was a much smaller scale activity but much higher profile and a big step for HEFCE.  Alot of senior HEFCE staff were very supportive and I hope it continues in the future.

I guess one of the biggest things that happened this year was falling into my role at Beanbag.  Initially I signed on for a couple of months to do some blogging and just give a different perspective on things but my role has evolved into something much closer to that of a Product Manager with oversight over the direction of development of our applications and I’m still there six months later.  At times its been a steep learning curve for me but its been a real experience – especially working so closely with the developers and using the Scrum Agile methodology to run our projects.  I still find some of the more..commercial elements a struggle – all of my years working in the public sector means I don’t really have a head for business – something I am really trying to work on.

This blog has ticked along nicely as well – it kicked off in February to document my trip to FOWA in Miami (which despite my lack of love for Miami was still a brilliant trip) and since then I’ve spewed out 54 posts which is a decent return given my previously mentioned laziness 🙂  The blog has certainly helped me build a reputation in my little corner of the web – particular around some of the events 2.0 and learning 2.0 stuff – and has helped me make contacts all over the place.

Bathcamp was a big event this year as well – I met alot of great people and really enjoyed the day.  Its also partially inspired me to run my own unconference, Bettr, in January and that has been another great experience so far.

All-in-all it was a unsettled but exciting year and hopefully 2009 will be even more exciting but with a little less of the stress – I have more than enough grey hair as it is!

Big up Bettr

The lovely people at DEMOS (thanks to Mr Millers connections thereabouts) have agreed to host Bettr at their lovely offices near London Bridge on the 14th January.

To sign up for the event please go to http://bettr.eventbrite.com/ and there are also the obligatory Upcoming and Facebook listings all of which I will try and keep up to date.

I also thought we could use Google Moderator for people to suggest and vote on sessions in advance of the event – I think the individual sessions will be 30 minutes each and there will be a minimum of eight sessions – that should allow plenty of time for discussion, networking and coffee drinking – the real reasons that people attend events!

While its no Glastonbury its a big of a hot ticket.  Since I sent out the first tweet to say Bettr was a go and followed that up with a few emails and we have more than 30 people already signed up.

So far we have people have signed up from Wordia, Twidox, Notely, GroupSpaces, OU SocialLearn, SchoolTogetherNow, Talis, Futurelab and the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills as well as a few independent consultants and university staff (plus of course School of Everything and Beanbag Learning).

Its a great start and thanks to everyone who has signed up so far.


Getting by..

Thanks to a tip off from Paul Miller (on the Xiphos blog) I came across the latest missive from Michael Wesch, he of YouTube fame(!), on the Brittanica blog.  Titled ‘A Vision of Students Today (& What Teachers Must Do)‘ there is alot I agree with and support but there was a particular section that really struck a chord with me.

“..a long list of other activities students have learned that they can “get by” without doing. Studying, taking notes, reading the textbook, and coming to class topped the list. It wasn’t the list that impressed me. It was the unquestioned assumption that “getting by” is the name of the game.”

My time in education from about the age of 15 til I left university at 22 was pretty much all about ‘getting by’.  I soon discovered what was the bare minimum I needed to do to get along (and it was pretty minimal it has to be said!) and devoted the majority of my time to my social life – looking back, particularly at uni, most of the real lessons I learned were more of a personal nature (and often alcohol related!) than academic.  This was before iPods, wifi – or even much internet connectivity at all.  Finding ways to ignore lecturers even if you do turn up to class has never had much to do with technology – I often used an early morning Archaeology lecture to catch up on my Zzz’s!

The thing is even back then I was pretty passionate about learning and was always seeking new information out, reading and visiting libraries – I just found the traditional lecture format pretty uninspiring.  Like the teachers referred to in the article I love learning but for the most part had little time for school.  These days my life is all about learning – my job is focused on it but beyond that there is so much information just a few key strokes away that I find every mild moment of curiosity leads me down a path of new discoveries – yet I am still not comfortable in any kind of traditional teaching scenario (as I proved to myself in a recent 2 day course that I found frustrating beyond words despite a genuine interest in the topic).

In the 12 years since I graduated the world has moved on in leaps and bounds and like Wesch says “there is literally something in the air, and it is nothing less than the digital artifacts of over one billion people and computers networked together collectively producing over 2,000 gigabytes of new information per second.” Trying to act like this hasn’t happened simply isn’t going to succeed – but then neither is the idea that technology alone is the answer.

I firmly believe the role of the (good) teacher is still vital but that if school is going to be the place that inspires learning things need to change – and its for more clever folks than me to decide how but it seem important that this is addressed now rather than later.

Been Bettr

I realise I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog recently especially considering I recently mentioned the plan to take Bettr forward but I am on the case – honest!  I have spoken to Paul @ School of Everything and we have a plan that is starting to take shape so a few readers of this blog can expect emails next week!  Also we will launch bettr.org next week – the design will be a bit limited to start with but we’ll soon get that sorted and as well as being the place to keep up with the organisation of the event we’ll also open the blog up to guest posts and interviews with people who are coming along.

The plan at the moment is a unconference style event at an undisclosed location in London focusing on education focused start-ups on (probably) the 14th January with (hopefully) a Social Innovation Camp meet-up with an education theme on the evening.  We’ll also do what we can to tie-in and help with the plans for a BETT fringe and any events like Teachmeet that might be taking place.

Any startups who are interested in attending (and anyone else) should drop me a line (mjukes AT gmail.com) though anyone who has been in touch with me before is already on the list one way or another!  We’ll also try and get someone from an investors point of view along as well journalists who might be interested.

This all of course depends on the (web) world not having totally imploded by January which given all the bad news dominating not only the main stream media but also the Silicon Valley blogs might be a long shot!

For BETTr or Worse

Inspired in part by a combination of the success of F-ALT, my experiences at Bathcamp and general dissatisfaction with how few education based start-ups get any love at the tech events both here in the UK and the interest from Paul at School of Everything, Al at Luzia Research and Laura from the OU (with the name inspired by Bristol Open Coffees John) I have decided in collboration with Paul and others to push forward with the idea for some kind of unconference around the BETT show with a focus on education start-ups and people doing interesting stuff around the social web and education.

Josie Fraser and James Clay had a similar idea and had set up an EduBETT wiki to build a F-ALT like fringe around BETT and we are going to work together to make the most of both ideas and get as many cool folk as possible involved.