Session 12: Creativity and Entrepreneurial Learning

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Ah, the return of Lego Serious Play! But first we had a warm-up exercise to think of as many new and innovative ways to monetise a ton of ball bearings which we had acquired at low cost, selling them to manufactures of pachinko machines or using them in fashion for example. This was designed to set the theme for the day, developing a creative and problem solving mindset.

Lego Serious Play was introduced as a way of transferring an internal mental map or concept into an external physical form that can be shared, examined and discussed to get other people’s opinions and therefore help you to reach greater clarity. Also emphasised were the importance of the act of building without giving it too much prior thought, using metaphor to tell your story, and questioning the model and story during the discussion phase rather than the person directly.

The first model we were asked to build was an individual one in three parts, the first part showing your superpower, the second showing a secondary, under-utilised superpower, and the third the barrier or barriers that stop you from using it. My model, shown in the photo above, shows my superpower of diligence and attention to detail (somehow) being used to lead my team across a sea of troubled waters to success, as represented by the shining tower and gold bar; the second part, my underused power, is technical ability which I don’t get to use as much now; and the third part, I don’t want to say too much about what it means as I had something very specific in mind, is meant to be the evil Tower of Sauron looking over everything with a broken heap that needs fixing at the base.

There followed a discussion on the difference between working in your business and working on your business, designed to show that as a leader your resources are best placed by developing and empowering your team so that you can focus on forward thinking and strategy. This was evidenced by case studies and research summaries showing that team based start-ups and organisations with team based structures tend to be more successful as they can call on a greater variety of talent and networks.

The second exercise with Lego was a team build where we had to construct a model to demonstrate how we were going to reduce the environmental impact of a large multi-national corporation. Each team then had to pitch their idea to a stand-in company board. My team’s model demonstrated a recycling bank which scanned a code on empty packaging and gave a credit back to the customer which they could choose to keep or donate to an environmental cause. At the top of the bank was a live read out of the corporation’s carbon footprint which should be showing a decrease as each item is recycled. We won.

Finally the day ended with a discussion about the factors that can enable or hinder creative thinking. Enablers include time, space, rewards, having an open mindset, a supportive organisational culture, clear goals, and a committed leadership who can motivate their staff. Factors that can hinder include the anchoring trap (over-relying on your first thoughts), giving the status quo an advantage over any options for change, the sunk cost fallacy (committing yourself to a course of action that is already under way, even if there is evidence that it isn’t working), confirmation bias (looking only for evidence that supports your conclusions or point of view), and finally the incomplete information trap – jumping to conclusions based on limited data.

Never Split the Difference

Attended a webinar given by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, delivered in partnership with Mind Gym. Based on experience, psychology and evidence of what works, Chris argues that it is a mistake to try and get people to say ‘yes’ in a negotiation, that people fear saying ‘yes’ or become defensive in fear that they will be trapped into committing to something they don’t really want – a bigger ‘yes’ somewhere down the line.

Instead, the goal should be to get people to say ‘that’s right’, having correctly summarised how they feel about the situation or facts in question. In so doing you are forming an emotional bond which demonstrates empathy and incites a small epiphany in the person you are negotiating with. This is different from a ‘you’re right’ response which is often counterfeit like ‘yes’, or which indicates that the person just wants to end the conversation or get out of the negotiation without really agreeing.

In the question and answer session that followed Chris said that the most important skill in getting a ‘that’s right’ response is summarising, combining the skills of identifying and labelling what the other person is saying, and paraphrasing the key points and facts.

When asked about what to do when someone gives a ‘no’ answer Chris said that this wasn’t necessarily bad, that it just means that you have mis-labelled something and that the person will typically follow a ‘no’ by correcting you or giving you more information.

Finally Chris gave some general negotiating advice from his experience. Always let the other person start the discussion if you can, don’t be afraid to use silence as it entices the other person into giving more information and, as most people feel out of control when not talking, tactical use of such pauses can give you an advantage, and finally if negotiating via email try to keep each email to a single point and end emails with something positive as that is what will stay with people.

A recording of the webinar and the slides are available on Mind Gym’s website here.

Appraisee Online Training Module

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Freshly rolled out, our HR’s new online appraisee training module that I created for them in Storyline. We’re developing a good relationship with HR and more work of this kind is on the cards. Storyline is also picking up throughout the university, though Faculties are tending to purchase their own copies for one or two interested people to do the development themselves. The next big one I should be working on after we get through the new semester busy period is for HIV awareness.

Interface Symposium: Arts, Participation and Higher Education

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Attended a symposium for people working in participatory arts, organised by the university with attendees from ArtWorks-U, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, ArtWorks Alliance and many independent artists. It was an enlightening day and I met lots of interesting people, with discussions around challenges facing the arts and how participatory practice can interface with university research, and presentations on current good practice and reflections on the Asunder Project.

However, the main reason for my attendance was that I was facilitating one of the afternoon sessions: ‘New approaches to teaching resources’, a live demonstration of some of the content which is being developed in collaboration between the department and WaLTS for the ArtWorks MOOC. The MOOC platform will not be ready for some time yet, so what was demonstrated was a sample unit which I build out on SunSpace. This included a number of videos produced ourselves, some video and written case studies for discussion, a main presentation which I converted to Storyline, a couple of Google forms to get gather participant’s experience and reflections on the mini MOOC and a short sample assignment asking people to give their definition of participatory arts.

After some issues getting people logged on with the guest accounts, it went pretty smoothly. I deliberately kept the structure simple and the use of tools to a minimum to eliminate the need to give any kind of training on how to use SunSpace, and feedback was generally positive and useful.

What’s Wrong With Badges?

Having been issued with a couple of badges for completing the Learn Moodle MOOC, I was a bit confused when I logged into my Mozilla Backpack and found it a little light. I searched through my blog and sure enough I found my badge collection for the ocTEL course in 2014 was missing.

Took a little sleuthing to work out what’s going wrong. My Mozilla Backpack / Persona account was created with my old Northumbria email address, and later I added the Sunderland address. Some of my badges are associated with one email address, the rest with the other.

After working this out it did come back to me that when I moved to Sunderland I tried to change the email address associated with my account and when I did all my badges disappeared. They are permanently associated with my Northumbria account, and I don’t seem to have any way to change this. I got lucky back then in that my Northumbria account hadn’t been deleted yet and I was able to get access back for a day to retrieve my Persona account. If anything happens to my Persona account now and I need to reset the password, I don’t think I can. Nor do I seem to be able to move the badges associated with my Northumbria email address to my Sunderland one. And if when I log in to Persona I select the Northumbria email address I can’t even see the badges associated with the Sunderland one, or vice versa. What a complete and utter mess. The point of the Backpack was to have all of your badges in one place, and it fails. The only single authoritative list of all my badges anywhere online is this blog which is manually maintained. The point of Persona is… well… frankly I don’t know. I think Mozilla were trying to replace the username / password paradigm but it seems to have gained zero traction outside of Mozilla’s ecosystem and I wouldn’t trust it for a second given the dire state of my account. Or accounts, as it may be.

UPDATE: After writing this I actually did some research and discovered that Mozilla are shutting down Persona as it has failed in their objectives. No idea what’s going to happen to my Backpack or how I will log in after November. Maybe a change to some other authentication method will let me sort this all out.

Learn Moodle MOOC 2016

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So I completed the Learn Moodle MOOC, got my badges and certificate, and learned a lot more about Moodle from an instructors point of view, having previously only used it as a student. It’s big. It’s monolithic. Reminded me very much of Blackboard in that it tries to do everything, be all things to all people, and in so doing it is perhaps over complicated and not as easy to use as I would have liked. I fear the staff development that may be required if we chose Moodle as our next VLE. On the other hand, it’s used by over 50% of HEIs in the UK so there’s a very good chance that many of our staff will have used it before, and the rest have probably used Blackboard so should find it easy enough to transition.

I liked the default text box editor initially, Atto, I loved it for the ‘Accessibility Checker’ feature, but as I used it more I found that it had similar problems to other VTBE’s – doing weird random things like inserting line breaks or additional space when they’re nothing there, in either visual or HTML edit modes. I also ran into a lot of niggly browser issues using a fairly default instance of Safari. The Learn Moodle mobile app was a little dated, but functioned very well, except for Big Blue Button integration which was lacking and which many of us on the course gripped about.

Other things I liked: the prompt / ability to assign a license when you upload a file; checkboxes to show metadata like size and filetype; the repositories look like they could do the job of replacing EQUELLA for us; ability to add files to a repository by emailing them to yourself; progress tick boxes for students; the ability to allow people to rate content items; the Glossary tool with highlighting function; and the very comprehensive reporting tools will be well received.

All in all, a good course, well worth doing, and there is no question that Moodle is a vast improvement over LearningStudio and would be welcomed by our academic community if it’s chosen in our VLE review.

The next presentation of Learn Moodle will begin on the 2nd of January 2017 if you missed out this time: https://learn.moodle.net

VEO Demonstration and Training

Over the past couple of years our Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing has been very busy redeveloping their buildings and kitting them out with all the latest and greatest facilities and technologies, things like an almost exact replica of a hospital ward, complete with Sim People, and high definition cameras and screens in every room. Remember the Immersive Interactive room I wrote about? They’re getting one of those put in as we speak.

Something else they’ve purchased is VEO, a video annotation tool that lets you tag videos either live, using their iPad app, or in a browser for videos recorded on other devices and uploaded to their system. There are two scenarios the Faculty has in mind for this tool, having students use it themselves for their own learning by, for example, analysing each other’s performance at a given task, looking for strengths and areas that need improving, and to assist academics doing OSCEs (objective structured clinical examinations), or even replace the paper forms altogether, if it works well.

VEO is a fairly new tool, a spin-off from a development at Newcastle University, but it is now being used by a number of universities. Being local we benefited from having one of the people who developed the tool on site with us to explain the background, why it was developed, how it can be used and how we can administer it and help academics to make full use of it. It has a lot of potential, and also with it being a local start-up we have a great opportunity to work closely with VEO and contribute to their product development.

Rogō eAssessment Tool Demonstration

A webinar demonstration of The University of Nottingham’s eAssessment solution, Rogō, created in-house and published under the GPL open source license. Rogō was developed in response to their dissatisfaction with commercial quiz tools and has evolved into a mature and comprehensive solution with support for over a dozen question types and different kinds of presentation, including self-assessment, summative and survey.

We were all pretty impressed with Rogō and, pending the outcome of our VLE review, it is something that we will look at again if we find ourselves in need of a separate quiz tool.

Being open source software, anyone who is interested can download Rogō from Nottingham’s dedicated website and install it onto their own LAMP server.

Session 11: Leading High Performance Teams

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This session began with a reflective exercise on how you have changed since the start of the course and what you have learned which we then shared in small groups. For me, I’ve learned to be comfortable with the idea that leading is a skill that has to be learned and practiced just like any other, and therefore that it is something which can be developed and improved upon. More practically I’ve learned the value in finding solutions collaboratively, as a team, leading them to solutions rather than providing them.

For example, a little while ago I asked the team if they could clear out the backlog of emails in the team mail account, twice, and it didn’t happen. On the third occasion, using things I had learned on the coaching sessions of this course, I asked them how we could clear out the backlog, from which we agreed an approach, a time to do it was set aside, and this time it was done. On another occasion I used the presence of a work experience student to prompt one of my team into completing some administration tasks on one of our systems. I had in mind that that they would teach the work experience student to do the task, but actually, in thinking about how to do it, they ended up doing it themselves. Some long outstanding tasks were completed in a very short time and our work experience student was freed up for other tasks, a win for all. In our group discussion on this exercise I was pleasantly surprised to have fed back to me that my team has notably improved since I joined, that the office is a more pleasant and positive environment, and that the team are more visible and approachable.

The second part of the morning was built around Patrick Lencioni’s concept of the five dysfunctions of a team. This was introduced via a group exercise in which we were asked to work in pairs and come up with the five most important ingredients for success. My partner and I answered:

  1. A shared goal or objective to work towards;
  2. Impact – a clearly defined point to the objective that will deliver improvements;
  3. A contribution from everyone on the team;
  4. Best use of the strengths of everyone on the team;
  5. Time and commitment to meet the objective.

Wrapped around this we also mentioned the need for trust and respect, but Rob wouldn’t allow that! There is a correct answer to this exercise according to Lencioni, a reversal of his five dysfunctions:

  1. Trust;
  2. Willingness to embrace conflict;
  3. Accountability;
  4. Commitment;
  5. A focus on results.

The need for a leader to be trusted by their team and to be seen to be following through on what they have said they will do, is, I think, the most important thing that I’m going to take away from this exercise. I have a couple of difficult outstanding jobs to benefit the team that have been mentally parked for a while, I now realise that these need to be picked up and resolved soon.

In the afternoon we were tasked with three more reflective exercises relating to self-development. The first was about concentration, asking when we feel ‘most present’ and ‘most distracted’ at work. For me, I am most present when creating something, a presentation or a web page for example, that uses my technical and creative skills but pushes me a little further than I’ve gone before, so slightly outside of my comfort zone. When I’m most distracted it’s due to competing demands on my attention, having to juggle tasks or being distracted by phones, notifications or office bustle.

The second exercise was about reflecting on where you were in life ten years ago, how you have developed since, and where you are going to be in ten years’ time. That was an enlightening one that made me think. Ten years ago I was a very different person, still trying to find a sense of self, lacking confidence and self-esteem, and still in the very early days of a nascent IT career. Ten years from now seems a very long way away, but well before then I’m going to need to decide on my next career move, whether I go into senior management or cross the academic divide. A doctorate is a distinct possibility having done so well with my master’s dissertation. Alternatively, I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano but never had time, and to master a martial art. Both of which are objectives in progress.

The final exercise was designed to tie in self-reflection on personal development with that of team development by asking us to think about when we have felt most a part of a team, and most separate from a team. For me, the former was when I was in LTech at Northumbria University. There I felt particularly embedded within the team. We all had a common goal and knew what our purpose was, and we were led by a strong, very intelligent and knowledgeable leader who trusted us to get our work done. I can now see that he was using a devolved, coaching style with us. I won’t name the team where I didn’t fit. It was a team I didn’t chose to join, but was forced into by command from management who didn’t understand my skills and experience. Very much a square peg / round hole situation. I didn’t stay. Although I got on well with my other team members, I had no faith in the management of the department. Like research has shown, it was my managers and the poisonous organisational culture that I left, not the job.