Technology: a two sided discussion

Have recently been reading The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr and it has got me thinking about technology, how we use it and its impact.

On one side we can draw the conclusion that technology is helping us and is beneficial.   It aids us in planning, augmenting out memory.   So I can use my calendar and tasks to help me organise my days, weeks, months and years and to manage the various tasks which I have to undertake.   Technology can augment our knowledge and ability to research through the use of google to search for information on demand including when on the move or even during the pub quiz night when the quiz master isn’t looking.    It can help us improve our writing through not having to be as concerned with spelling, etc as your word processor will either point out errors or even correct them for you.    These are just a small number of ways in which technology can be beneficial.

There is however a flip side.   As we rely on the spellchecker we become less able to spell new words.   We also possibly don’t check our spelling as carefully as we might have done previously as we assume the software will have done this for us.    I can definitely vouch for this as I have read things I have posted in the past only to identify spelling and other errors which I hadn’t noticed prior to posting.   I am confident part of the reason I didn’t notice is my confidence in the software as it pointed out many errors as I wrote the post, which I then corrected, so therefore I assumed it had picked up all the errors.

Moving on and taking the issue of memory and google, google might lead to us believing what we read without checking.    This however is the subject of teaching on technology use.    It also sorts the search results based on complex algorithms to try and provide us the information which we seek.   The algorithms have popularity at their core and therefore the search items tend to represent the popular and common beliefs as opposed to more fringe and lesser known beliefs.   The days of finding an unusual book in the library leading to significant learning at a tangent to a persons initial thinking are disappearing as we never move much beyond the first couple of pages of search results.     I also wonder that in this convenience of knowledge where we have a quick search and then results, there isn’t the same questioning and evaluation of the information being returned.    Its a bit like the impact convenience food had on society.   The convenience made things easier but did it make things better?   Its also a bit like the autopilot in planes, it made the job easier for the pilot however in doing so had the undesirable impact of reducing pilot flying ability.

As to my organisational skills, I am now reliant on my outlook calendar and through it I can easily manage my days however when presented with an issue such as double booking or a high priority event arising, am I as capable in managing?

Technology is helping us in many ways by augmenting what we can do or by allowing us to focus on higher order activities by automating lower order thinking activities however at what cost?    I think a bigger concern is are we conscious of the implications and costs and what about our children who may never had to manage things pre-computers, using a library or a paper diary or a dictionary.   If students no longer know how to manage their time on paper or how to find books in a library, is this loss of experience, skill, etc. a concern or is it inconsequential?    Do we spend time and make them conscious of the other side of technology use?


Mood music

radio-for-car-2167269_640Popping to Tesco this morning to get some shopping I decided to make use of the wife’s car as it is newer than mine, lighter and easier to drive.    Jumping into the car and starting the engine I was greeted by my wife’s selection of upbeat music, at notably loud volume.    I decided to be kind and not mess with her stereo, instead choosing to listed to her musical selection albeit at a lower volume less likely to be audible from space.

As I drove to Tesco I found myself cheering up as I looked out on the blue sky in between the clouds.   I even found myself rolling down the window.    Something as simple as cheery upbeat music in the car had had the effect of changing my mood.      So how could this simple change impact on well-being if it was part of your daily routine, music in the car or when doing the chores at home, music in the classroom or when marking, etc.

I have decided that before work begins once more on Monday I will create a playlist for my own car purposely selecting up beat music.

I wonder what the implications are for the use of music within the classroom in order to put students in the mood for learning.    I know I have read in various books about the impact of music on mood, emotions and learning.   I also have read various examples of how teachers are make use of this concept however like a lot of approaches which can have an impact they often disappear under the busy activities of the average school day until something brings them back to mind;  For me my drive to Tesco in my wife’s car did just that.

Desirable difficulty

I wrote the below at the end of 2016 following setting the CISA exam however never saw fit to post it.   Having came across it I thought now might be appropriate to post it as I once again prepare for a December exam, this time the CISSP exam.

It was a hard few months leading up to the end of term.   Not only did I have the work associated with the end of the first term but I also had my blogging, my social media and in particular twitter contributions, my reading, family life and a few other tasks and responsibilities to deal with.   To add to this I had decided to undertake the ISACA CISA qualification and therefore throughout October, November and the start of December I was deep in study and preparation for the exam.

The exam itself happened on December 10th in London so involved a long drive down and a hotel stay prior to the exam on the Saturday morning.   I cant say the drive helped any however I have no-one to blame for this other than myself as I had previously vowed never to drive to London following a previous bad experience.

It was around 11:30am, 2 and a half hours after the exam began that I found myself walking away from London Metropolitan university with the exam completed and behind me.   It was with a little less weight on my shoulders that myself, my wife and youngest son ventured into Hamleys and a number of other shops in London prior to the drive home to Somerset.

Upon arriving home I was knackered to say the least so I decided a few beers was a very good idea and much deserved.    And so the Saturday evening passed.    Awaking on Sunday I remained tired and drained so aside from a little light shopping I took it easy.   As the week progressed I still remained tired and struggled to get into tasks.   Clearly the preparation for the exam had drained me more than I had being willing to admit, and possibly more than I was even aware.    Thankfully though I only had one more week of work to complete before my Christmas holiday began and I could recharge.

I am now glad of the time to recharge however as I reflect I ask myself would I repeat my actions or would I engage in preparation for another exam or qualification?   The answer is yes, although I will need to wait to see how I have done on the CISA exam first.    So for the next 5 weeks, until the results are available, I will maybe relax a little.    Then I will decide to make the time to engage in something else which challenges me or pushes me.   Why you may ask?   If i don’t the time will disappear absorbed into other tasks and I will look back and ask myself what I did with my time.   Instead I choose to make time, even if it means I deplete my energy levels, as I see the process of continual learning and of challenge to be important in my life, even if at times I wonder to myself, as I did entering the exam hall on the 10th:  “why the hell do I do this to myself?”

Looking back the phrase which immediately jumps to mind is “desirable difficulty”.    The challenge of preparing for the exam, the studying all while undertaking my usual job and also engaging online all made me have to expend effort, to work smarter, however it was worthwhile effort.    Had I not chosen to undertake these challenges I would be looking back having not achieved in the way I have done.    Although I would have had an easier time of it I would not be able to appreciate this as it would be normal; I wouldn’t have the effort full experience of studying and preparing for the exam to compare with having not chosen to take this route.   And so it is I have once again to decided to take the more challenging route; my next exam has now been booked and paid for.

Is this a discussion we need to have with students?    How we may perceive the easier route when we look back from the future is unlikely to match how we think of it now.    The more challenging route, the desirable difficulty, may yield the best results when we look back.

New Academic Year Resolutions

And so the new academic year, 2017/18 begins…..

Firstly let me wish everyone all very best for the academic year ahead.

Following reading a twitter post be @darynsimon I thought this made a good opportunity for me to write down some of things which I hope to achieve in the academic year which now lies ahead.

Management Information

As I have previously written, in schools we have a massive wealth of data however I don’t believe we make the most of it.    I think there are two reasons for this, one being the fact that data is often held in the rows and columns of large spreadsheets such that it isn’t easily or immediately accessible to those who wish to use the data.    The second reason is that the data is set out to show us what we hope to already see.   For example showing the statistics of boys versus girls.    But what about the correlations which might exist which are not readily visible or expected.     As such one of the things I want to work on this year is trying to make data more accessible, including making use of Microsoft PowerBI to hopefully achieve this, and also trying to make use of various statistical analysis tools to analyse the data in new ways and hopefully identify new correlations which can then be acted upon.    I still believe it is what goes on in the class which matters most however my hope is that data might give us new insights and allow us to make better decisions.

Sharing and my PLN

I want to spend this year sharing my thoughts and ideas online plus further developing my PLN.   This includes developing a series of sessions on digital literacy and on preparing students for a digital future.    I also want to revisit using video and possible video blogging, which is something I looked into a couple of years back however failed to make much progress.   I would now like to get back to this and hopefully this time get further with it.


As I now enter my second year as a Microsoft Innovative Educator I want to experiment a little more with a variety of edTech solutions during the year ahead.   I would like to try and be a little more creative with my use of technology.  Part of this will include looking to make greater use of the Office 365 suite in both working with colleagues and also in working with students.     Yammer is one resource in particular I intend to experiment with.     I also want to have a look at how Flow might be used to streamline my day and, as mentioned above, looking at how PowerBI might be used to better manage school data.

Reading / CPD

Over the calendar year so far I have started reading a lot more than previously and this is something I want to continue to do throughout the academic year.   I feel such reading is both relaxing but also a valuable professional development and personal growth opportunity.   In addition to this I am also challenging myself to prepare for a formal IT accreditation with plans to undertake the CISSP exam in December of this year.    This will represent a significant challenge in preparing for what is quite a significant exam however I consider the challenge to represent desirable difficulty.   In my view only by pushing ourselves can we truly hope to grow.

I look forward to the year ahead and to seeing what 2017/18 will bring.   I also look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas with other educators both in person and online during the year ahead.

TV box sets and feelings of guilt

Over the last week or so I have taken some time off and not been as active on social media, my blog, and otherwise online as I had been previously throughout the year.    This is not due to spending time planning for the year ahead, to reading books or to anything else that might be considered productive.   In-fact I have spent at least a few days of the week or so off just engaged in watching TV box sets.   The problem with this is that at various points in this period of “vegging out” I have found myself feeling guilty as to my inactivity.

Over the last year to date I have read a variety books about how to be effective, productive or how to get the best from myself or from the teams which I work with.   This includes reading Andrew Cope’s Being Brilliant, Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit among others.   Each of the books talks about how we tackle obstacles, build positive habits and generally work smarter.   They are all about making the most of the limited resources in relation to time and also our limited cognitive resources.   None of these books talk about vegging out in front of Game of Thrones for two or three days.   It may be that this reading plays some part in my feelings of guilt.   Clearly I am not making the best of my cognitive abilities or the time I have available to me if all I am doing is watching John Snow mount his defence of Winterfell.  As a result I feel guilty for wasting my valuable resources.   Clearly I should be doing something with my time.

My current reading of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death however has got me thinking that maybe I need to reconsider the factors which lead me to feelings of guilt.    Becker talks about a paradox of individuality versus our finite lifespan, and of thought versus body.    Clearly most of my activities focus on thought, in planning, in writing and sharing thoughts, in working out how to make most of my time and resources and of putting into practice the outcomes of my thinking.    I have built a habit of these efforts; how can I make best use of my time?   How can I prioritize tasks?   How can I ensure I get all tasks that need doing done?  This habit then leads to the feeling of guilt when I try and break with the habit and sit and watch TV for hours on end.   But what about what Becker refers to as body or what about a break from thought?

As I am not really a fitness focused person I think a break from thought as opposed to action focused on body or fitness aligns more with my priorities.    Considering thought or our cognitive ability as being of limited resource might it not be necessary to provide this resource some respite occasionally?    Might a person not feel re-energized following a period of rest from thought?  Could it be that a limited period of vegging out might have a positive outcome?

As I return to the online sphere after a short break my guilt is the issue which worries me as opposed to the time spent sat watching the TV.   The guilt indicates that internally I feel I shouldn’t be spending any significant time sat glued to the screen.    Yet I enjoyed some time catching up on some TV.   I felt relaxed.    I felt at rest.     Is a period of TV watching or similar vegging out just another luxury which in moderation has its place?      At this point I would suggest it is and therefore hopefully when I next decide to sit down for a period of serial TV watching I may be able to do so and enjoy it more, devoid of feelings of guilt.

Do you have any time set aside for vegging out during the summer holiday period?  Is it your guilty pleasure or just a big no no and a waste of time?




School Data: The tip of an iceberg

Schools gather a wealth of data in their everyday operation, everything from attendance information, academic achievement, library book loans, free school meals and a wide range of other data.    We use this data regularly however I think we are missing out on many opportunities which this wealth of data might provide.

The key for me lies in statistical analysis of the data looking for correlations.     Is there a link between the amount of reading a student does as measured by the number of library loans and their academic performance for example?     Are there any indicators which might help is in identifying students who are more likely to under perform?

The issue here is how the data is stored.   A large amount of the data is stored in tables within our school management system however no easy way exists in order to pull different data together in order to search for correlations.    I can pull out data showing which students have done well, which subjects students perform well in, etc. however I can’t easily cross link this with other information such as the distance the student travels to school or their month of birth.    Some of the data may exist in separate systems such as a separate library management system, print management system and catering system.    This makes it even more difficult to pull data together.

A further issue is that the data in its raw format may not make it easy for correlations to be identified.    Their postcode for example is not that useful in identifying correlations however if we convert this to a distance from the school we have a better chance of identifying a correlation.

In schools we continue to be sat on an iceberg worth of data although all we can perceive is that which lies above the water.   We perceive a limited set of possibilities in terms of what we can do with the data.    Analysing it in terms of pupil performance against baselines with filtering possible my gender, SEN status and a few other flags however given the wealth of data we have this is just the start of what is possible.    We just need to be able to look below the water as the potential to use the data better and more frequently is there, and in doing so we may be able to identify better approaches and more effective early interventions to assure the students in our care achieve the best possible outcomes.

Reflections following a funeral

Attending a family funeral can cause a sudden moment of reflection.   What would people say about me at my funeral is the question raised in a number of self-help or self-improvement texts, and I found myself giving just that question some thought.

I was sat at the wake where I heard myself described as the “intelligent” one in the family, a title I personally don’t believe I deserve.     Thinking about it can I understand the narrative which relatives had developed, in that intelligence is measured by qualifications so more qualifications means more intelligence.   This simple narrative excludes the effort expended as well as the decision making processes including personal sacrifice in getting the qualifications I have.   It excludes the multitude of wrong turns and failed endeavors which have occurred along the way.    It also excludes a fair share of luck which has put me in the right place at the right time.     This being said I must acknowledge that at my future funeral I won’t be around to argue and therefore it is this perception, the perception of others as to me, which will be presented as fact.     But do I really want to be known for being the one with the most qualifications?   Does this make for a successful life?

So what are the stories of my life which people will draw on in describing me following my parting?    My career history might be something which comes to mind, in my adventure to work in the Middle East.   Most of my family have spent their life within a relatively small geographic area however I have spent years in each of the north west of England, the south west and also in the Middle East.   As such I may be seen as someone who explored opportunities wherever they arose.

I suspect my qualifications, as mentioned earlier, will come up albeit this isn’t something I believe is particularly important.

My work ethic may be something that comes up, as I am forever working on something be it writing in this blog, preparing for an exam, working on things for my day job or on something else.    Some of these tasks are personal and some are work related, some are about personal growth and development, however I suspect the perception will classify them all simply as “work”.

I would hope that a focus on my family would be raised in trying to ensure the best for both my kids and also for my wife.     Part of work ethic relates to trying to ensure I can best provide for them however it is interesting in that the work ethic may reduce the actual amount of time spent with them.   This is something I want to address in the year through a family holiday, something we haven’t actually done in many years now.

As I reflect I can’t help but consider that it is stories and narratives which will be recounted when I am gone.    These stories may not necessarily sum up that which I do on a day to day or week to week basis but are the things which come easily to mind, the events which are memorable.    So it may not be the items which I list above which are raised, but instead stories of when I went for a family car and returned with a two seater instead or of when I turned up at the airport to fly out having picked up my son’s passport rather than my own and the ensuing stress.

So I find myself wondering, is the funeral activity a worthwhile activity?     Am not sure it is.   Maybe a better question to consider is what are the stories of my life, have I enough of them to fill my funeral with funny anecdotes and stories, and how do I go about creating new stories in the time I have left.   I intend to focus more in creating new stories in the days ahead.