Invisible Success, Visible Failure

Do we see EdTech failures more easily than the corresponding successes?

In the past I have found it easy to quote some key EdTech failures.   Examples include the general deployment of Interactive Whiteboards without any training as to their use, a similar issue where iPads were broadly deployed across a district in the US and the limited funding for laptops for teachers in UK schools without plans for an eventual refresh cycle.    These and many other examples come quite easily to mind, yet similar stories of success don’t come as easily.   This introduces the availability bias as we start to perceive the events which come more readily to mind are therefore more likely to occur:  That technology implementations therefore are more likely to fail.

Given we are often looking for proof of the impact or value in EdTech the fact that successes don’t come easily to mind is of concern.   This makes me wonder about the potential for the availability bias to impact on technology decisions and in particularly in some reluctance to embrace technology use.   If it is the failures of technology implementations which come easy to mind, is it any wonder why there is reluctance in investing in technology solutions.   Combined with the overall cost of technology, which is generally one of the three most expensive items on a school budget, it seems predictable that, without an outside stimulus, technology adoption will be slow.   

Added to the above you also have the complexity of technology use in schools, requiring skills and understanding in relation to the technology itself, but also subject content and pedagogical knowledge, combined with the interrelationship between each.   This therefore requires a team of staff to be involved, which brings with it the usual social dilemmas associated with teamwork.   In turn this may increase the likelihood of failure or may at least encourage a sub-optimum solution to be accepted as team members each have to make compromises, finally arriving at an acceptable, but less than best, solution.

And where we do see successes, most often in a conference presentation or a case study, they seldom outline the difficulties which occurred during their relevant project lifespan.   I think any significant IT project which went perfectly as planned lacks credibility in my eyes.   I put the probability of such an occurrence within a busy operating school, where the project was significant enough to take months or years of work, to be low to nil.    This might help explain why the successes don’t come mind, as they lack the believability or the detail to make them memorable, whereas the failures each have a clear cause and effect.

This leaves us with limited options for the implementation of technology projects.   As I see it the options are the small pilot project, which is grown, a significant external stimulus or some heroic leadership forcing implementation.    The pandemic has certainly been an external stimulus however isnt something we would want to repeat.   For now, we simply need to try and use this stimulus to drive forward with appropriate technology projects, while the impetus still exists, for I don’t see this will continue for more than 6 to 12 months.    Heroic leadership as a solution, isnt something I would advocate given risk of going down a rabbit hole and/or negatively impacting on organisational culture.    As such the best option appears to be to continue with pilot projects and growing those which appear to have a positive impact, but the issue here is that this approach is slow and not particularly agile.

So what is the solution?   

I don’t think I have one, other than to be aware that what we perceive is likely influenced by bias.   As such, although we can learn, more often, from the failures, and only occasionally, from the successes of others, we might simply need to get on and try things, success or fail, then iterate from there.    We need to find our one solution, that which what works for our own school, its context, staff, students, parents and wider community.


Social Media – A magnifier on society

Social Media acts as a magnifier on society.   This can both be a good thing and a bad thing.   In a good way it allows the quiet masses to have a voice and to express their opinion.   Before social media these people would not stand up or write an article in a newspaper or otherwise be able to express their views publicly.   Now they can easily like or share those posts they agree with, adding their voice to the message.   And if feeling strongly they can even add their own comments and thoughts reasonably safe in the knowledge that their voice won’t stand out.  We have seen this over the last few days as messages rejecting racism have been liked and shared in their thousands.   Social media has enabled a larger part of the population to contribute to the collective voice online.

But there is a flip side to this.  Social media provides a platform for a minority of people to share inappropriate comments with the masses, including racist views.    Prior to social media these people might have expressed the same racist views in public, but they never had much of an audience and the message never got very far.   Now, with social media, they can share their views instantly with millions of people.   They also feel safe in the knowledge that identifying them, where they have taken precautions, is not easy and therefore their comments are likely without consequence.    Social media has enabled this minority to engage a larger part of the population with their inappropriate messaging.

For me racism has no place in todays society and should be called out and challenged at every opportunity.    

I would however highlight an additional concern in relation to viewing society through social media, through the magnifier of social media, and how this can result in a distorted view on society.    Social media, to me, suggests that racism is more prevalent based on the large number of social media posts calling our racism, and by extension the suggestion of a larger number of racist tweets.   I am not sure, based on my experiences, it is more prevalent.   I suspect the availability bias is playing a part here.   I believe I heard racist comments more frequently when I was younger than I do now, so this might at least suggest we are heading in the right direction, albeit we can never stop until racism has been eliminated.

I also have concerns about the viral nature of social media, which can lead to massive outpourings of support or concern, etc, but for a short period of time, followed by people moving on to the next viral message.    Racism is linked to culture, and culture is changed gradually through consistent changes is behaviours, the stories that are told, etc.    Viral but short-lived messaging is likely to do little to impact culture and the prevalence of racism.  It is only prolonged and consistent changes in behaviour and messaging which will have this effect.   I personally started questioning the taking of the knee at the start of football events, as being a little bit of tokenism, however considering it again, maybe the consistent message conveyed is what we continue to need in the hope of long-term change.

Social media for me, isnt the problem here, but magnifies and possibly distorts it.   I am concerned that in seeking to address the issue at hand, currently racism in particular, we focus on social media and the social media companies.   Yes, they need to do all they can and possibly more than they are doing, but the issue is a societal one not a technology one.    Technology is just making it more visible, but maybe distorting the situation in the process.   

As such I think the key here is greater awareness as to how social media fits into situations like this.   How social media doesn’t just report and share news, but how it’s very use shapes the news and message being shared.   I hope this post maybe contributes a little to this awareness.

EdTech paradigms

uprightwithpenandkeyboardI have been using a Surface Go as my main work device now for a number of months.    It is however only recently that I have finally found myself making use of Windows 10’s tablet mode.   An EdTech paradigm I had held had changed.

Initially my view on Tablet mode was one of disapproval.   It simply didn’t feel right to me.   I couldn’t find my apps where I wanted them, I couldn’t manage what I had open very well and I couldn’t access files and folders.   I simple didn’t like tablet mode.

On reflection the reason for this was that my Surface Go was replacing my desktop PC and laptop.   As such I was initially viewing it from the perspective of a laptop/desktop experience which tablet mode simply doesn’t give you.  But, tablet mode isn’t meant to give you this experience after all it is about setting the device up to perform as a tablet computer as opposed to a desktop/laptop.  It is about being able to work on the move, without a flat surface to sit the device on and also being able to work one handed, while holding the device in the other hand.    I was approaching a new devices functionality from the paradigm of an older way of working.

It was around a month or so ago I realised the advantages of tablet mode in particular when combined with One Note.   In a conference I could flip the keyboard cover behind my device, stick the device in tablet mode then maximise OneNote to full screen.   This gave me a full screen to sketch on or write notes on using the Microsoft Surface Pen.    In meetings I could make use of teams to access resources and documents which were required while easily switching to OneNote to take notes.   And when needed, when I found a free place to work, I could flick back to normal desktop mode and view my files, outlook and other applications in the way I normally would have done on a desktop or laptop.

For me this highlights the ongoing, and one of the biggest challenges of EdTech.   When looking at new tech we largely view it from the viewpoint of existing paradigms.   As such we may not see benefits which potentially exist.   Equally, in order to undergo a paradigm shift we need to commit to seeking these new views plus we need to experiment.   Only by trying will we be able to identify what we don’t know and see new potentials.  This, however, opens us up to the potential risk of failure, which is often an uncomfortable, albeit necessary, experience.

As I have often heard in IT industry circles “fail fast” is the key;   Try new things and experiment, but do it early and with limited groups or trials, where issues or problems will not have wider implications.   Learn from the mistakes and iterate to new solutions and share these solutions.   By doing so hopefully we can all collectively move EdTech use in schools forward.

Changing the narrative, one thank you at a time.

text-2111328_640 (1)Recently saw the below tweet from Amjad Ali (@ASTsupportAAli) on twitter which I thought was a great idea.   As such I went and added it to my email footer in the hope of encouraging others to pay it forward.

“If your weeks been incredibly busy then it’s more than likely to have been super busy for a colleague or two of yours. End the week by sending them an email to say thank you. You don’t need to be their line manager. Just a friendly face. It’ll make a difference.“

This however got me thinking about the prevailing narrative around education and why it might often be seen as negative.

Lets first consider education theories and practices.  It takes a lot of effort to come up with an educational theory or practice.   This might be through action research efforts or through conventional research.   A teacher might first think up a new idea then might develop resources and content.  They then have to try out their practice with students.   This however isn’t enough as they either need to repeat this with the same students or ideally with different groups of students to check that their initial findings and beliefs hold true.   The issue is that it takes significantly less effort to prove a theory to be flawed.   This is the same for a lot of things.    Creating takes time and effort, however criticizing and identifying error and fault takes less.

The next issue we have is that when we remember things we tend to overweight the negatives.   This is likely a result of human survival instincts.    For our ancestors, the fact a particular fruit tasted very nice was less important to remember than the negative fact that the lions on the horizon consider us to be a key item on the lunch menu.     The result from this is that when we read reports online or watch reports on TV we will tend to remember the negative reports more than the positive reports.   This in turn builds up a negative picture in our minds even where we are exposed to equal number of positive and negative stories.

The above are just two reasons I believe that the narrative around schools and education is becoming negative.    The focus is on declining results, struggles recruiting teachers, lack of basic Maths and English skills along with other negative stories.   These stories all came readily to my mind.   I am sure I have seen lots of positive stories too however these don’t occur to me quite so easily.

This is why I really liked the tweet from Amjad.   It is time we started to change the narrative starting in our schools and among our hardworking educators.    If we each made an effort to thank someone in our school for their efforts, someone not necessarily within our line management, we might be able to start building more positivity.   We might start remembering all the excellent work done on a day to day basis.  The small achievements with individual students.    The moment of inspiration or the moment of intense engagement by a student which are often forgotten in the hard work of a term or an academic year.  We will need to work hard at this.   As I have suggested the negative memories and stories are stronger than the positive ones so we will need to share more positives than negatives even to achieve a balance.   But if we all commit to little things, often, like thanking our colleagues and also our students we might bring about a significant change.

The sooner we start the better………

And on that note, thank you for reading this and also thank you for the work you do in which ever school or educational capacity you work in.


Balance…or not?

vintage-2862708_640I have found myself discussing balance on a number of occasions.  Recently I mentioned it in reference to whether education should go through incremental improvement or a process of disruptive innovation.   In each case my reference to balance has been in highlighting some of the binary discussions which seem to arise on the Edu blog sphere and Twittersphere slightly more than they do in real life discussions.    Things are generally not binary in nature as the world is seldom that simple.    Balance therefore allows for an element of two opposing concepts or views with agreement to establish a point of agreement somewhere between the two opposite points.    Balance to me presents a continuum between two points, with the ability to select somewhere in between.    Up until recently I have been happy with this concept of balance.

The other day on the way home though I came to think about balance and I realised that my viewpoint maybe wasn’t as acceptable as I had thought it was.    The issue which came to me as I drove home was the fact that my view of balance puts two concepts at opposite ends.   For example, incremental improvement and disruptive innovation.    The two concepts are not opposites so why would they be at opposite ends of a continuum?    The reason I suspect is that in a discussion between two parties each will adopt a position, or end, and the negotiation that follows will either lead to an agreed disagreement or to a compromise or point in between.  As such from the point of view of a discussion between two people with differing viewpoints the model of a continuum and balance makes sense but maybe it doesn’t make sense as much when looking at the concepts themselves or their implementation.

In the case of incremental improvement and disruptive innovation, does more of one result in less of the other?     Maybe from the point of view of time available to undertake the process of change, it might be a case of more of one and less of the other.    Other than this could we not seek to be both incremental and disruptive?    If we were half way between incremental and disruptive what does this mean?   Does it mean spending half of our time being incremental and half of our time being disruptive and if so, how do we transition from one to the other?    Or if not related to time, what would being half way disruptive look like?     Can I be incremental but also also introduce a disruptive innovation, or could a disruptive innovation by incremental?   Are all increments necessarily equal and in which case is a disruptive innovation possible just a large incremental change?

I realise now that my use of balance hadn’t really advanced me away from the idea of binary concepts.   Having a continuum between two points isn’t that much better than having two points, especially where the concepts or points of view aren’t clearly opposites.    This all stems out of our looking for the “right” answer and as Ken Robinson said in his famous Changing Paradigms speech, “there can only be one and its at the back of the book”.   De Bono makes a similar observation in his book which is aptly titled “I’m right, you’re wrong”.    The reality is that we can actually all be right (or wrong come to think about it).    We could be iterative in our change however also be disruptively innovating as well.   There is no requirement to do one or the other, beyond the requirement which we imply in our discussions of differing viewpoints.   This extends for most binary discussions (or arguments) both online and offline.

I feel we all need to take more care in pitting viewpoints against each other.    Maybe the biggest benefit might come from accepting that differing viewpoints may all be correct, from looking for commonalities as opposed to stressing the differences.



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.

Whats in language?

During the last week the issue of how simple changes in the words we use can have a large impact on perceived meaning has arisen on repeated occasions.


The first instance of this was in reading Drive by Daniel Pink in which he mentioned the long established practice of issuing students home work.    Daniels book discusses the impact of motivation on the things we do and on the point of home work he raises the issue that generally the term work doesn’t inspire a large amount of intrinsic motivation.    The task is “work” and therefore is perceived to involve no pleasure or enjoyment.   As such the term home work turns students off the activity even before we have begun.   He suggests that we might rename it as home learning as our urge to explore and to learn brings with it intrinsic motivation which is not associated with work tasks.   A simple change.

Later in the week in a meeting discussing appraisal or performance management depending on which term you prefer, the issue of the use of the terms, reviewer and reviewee was raised.   A focus on looking forward and improvement was indicated within the policy and by the appropriate senior managers however the terms reviewer and reviewee seemed to indicate a post event reflection as opposed to looking forwards.   One suggestion as to a possible change in relation to the language was to use facilitator, rather than reviewer; so the facilitator of performance management or appraisal.

As an EdTech advocate I am often aware of the use of “enhance” as a term using in relation to technology use in the classroom.    Again this week I saw the term used.    To me the term implies a bolt on, a bit like tomato sauce enhancing chips; it isn’t required by the chips but adds to it.   At its basic level, and as indicated in the first level of the SAMR model, EdTech is a bolt on however its potential doesn’t lie here.    Its potential lies in its potential to redefine how we learn as well as what we learn.   Again another example of a simple change in language betraying a massive difference in meaning.

Recent news has had a lot of discussion on the SATs or Standard Assessment Tests, with the term tests or testing being used almost on every occasion.   This has led to lots of discussion with regards the pressure being put on students as a result of such testing.    Those teachers who are trying to make the best of this prescribed activity however refer to the SATs as an assessment.   They refer to them as just another tool they use in the day to day act of teaching and learning, and of assessing students to check that they are understanding, making progress and are engaged, etc.

How often do we stop and consider the words we use regularly?   As I type this I notice my use of “We” as opposed to “I”.    What difference does this slight change in language convey and what difference in perception of me does it encourage?

Maybe we need to find the time to stop and look at the big picture but in doing so look at the little things like the language we use as it rhough language which we communicate and are understood and it is through language that a significant part of how others perception of us is developed.



Some thoughts on thinking

We often look at concepts and ideas as either being positive or negative in nature.    The fact is however that things are not that simple or that black and white.   The complexity of ideas was drawn into focus as I read the term “desirable difficulty” in the book, “How we learn”, which I am currently reading.   How could something “difficult”, a negative term, be considered “desirable”?

During the course of my day I was working on an analysis of different tablet computers options for use in my school.    As part of the process I was listing the benefits and the drawbacks of different devices such as the iPad, MS Surface, etc.    One point I listed was that of the standardization of the iPad which I considered a positive.    At the same time the customization and user personalization of the MS surface was a positive.   As I looked again I identified the strength of the iPad as a weakness of the MS surface and the strength of the MS Surface as a weakness of the iPad.   The strength of standardization within the iPad was actually also a weakness in the lack of customization or personalization it allowed for in the same device.    An the strength in the MS Surface turned out equally to be its weakness.   In both cases each feature was both a strength and a weakness.    To make use of the strength in an iPad I had to acknowledge and tolerate the weakness.   The same being true for the MS Surface.

Another term I have heard recently, which I myself am fond of, is the term “disruptive innovation”.   Again we have a positive in “innovation” but a negative in “disruption”.     Yet when we talk of disruptive innovation we are referring to an overall positive.

“A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995”.

As we initially explore the new innovation it causes disruption which is likely to be viewed as a negative feature of the innovation.  I would suggestion that during this phase the change is not likely to be seen as an innovation and more as just a change and possibly an unwanted change.   Someime after the initial change when people reflect they will see the benefits, at which point the change will come to be considered as an innovation and the disruption as a necessary step in the progression towards an end.

Any idea cannot be seen as purely positive or negative.   It is better viewed as having some positive features and some negative features, with individuals seeking to identify both.   Also the resulting perceptions regarding positive and negative features cannot necessarily be viewed as static as changes in perception may occur over time.    The idea “is” positive, would therefore be better phrased as the “idea currently is perceived to be more positive than negative”.

The question is how the above might impact on education.    How often do you give thought to the views, beliefs and ideas you hold to be true?


Obstacles and Learned Behaviour

I was in the process of planning a training session within which I planned to use Stephen coveys circles of concern and influence.   I was considering Coveys comments regarding the fact that as we work more in our circle of influence we grow the circle.    This growth is the result of others seeing our ability to bring about change and to have an impact.   We also build up trust in ourselves that we can succeed and have an impact.   So the impact is two fold changing the perception of other towards us and also changing our own self perception. I found myself considering if this self fulfilling prophecy might be applicable beyond Coveys circles and into the domain of overcoming obstacles.    Where we freeze or shy away from obstacles we may be seen by others as ineffectual.    We ourselves will also start to believe that we are incapable of overcoming the prevalent obstacles in our lives.  It is a negative self fulfilling prophecy.   It may also be considered as learned behaviour as each experience of being unable to overcome an obstacle reinforces the belief that we can’t overcome obstacles. Looking at the other side of things, if we see an obstacle as an opportunity and proceed to overcome it then we show others that we can succeed.  We also build our self confidence in our ability to overcome obstacles.   When the next obstacle makes it appearance we will be more likely to challenge it and to view it as an opportunity.   Again we have a self fulfilling prophecy and learned behaviour however here we have significantly better chances of a positive outcome. Now both the positive and the negative examples above show evidence of learned behaviour.    Such behaviour is often enacted with little conscious thought.  The challenge therefore is for us as individuals to remain aware of what we are doing and why and to rethinking those situations where the behaviour is negative in nature and to encourage those behaviours which are positive. AlarmClock_small It’s now been a few days since I started seeing the obstacle of being tired and having to get out of bed as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.   Each day I get up and out of bed rather than hitting snooze, the easier it is to repeat the task the following day.  Yesterday the extra time and motivation I gained from succeeding in getting up despite being tired resulted in very significant improvements in productivity.   So next time you hit snooze and roll over in bed give some thoughts to this fact as I promise the impact on your day is bigger than just the loss of 10 or 15 minutes from the available time in the day. As Ryan Holiday puts it in the title to his book, “The Obstacle is the way”.

Obstacles and Opportunities

obstacle_is_the_wayAm currently listening to “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday on the drive to work.   Now in this hectic world where we are all looking to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of our waking hours I recommend the use of audio books on the drive to and from work, however that’s not the subject of this post.

In “The Obstacle is the Way” the reaction of people to “obstacles” is discussed including how generally people are often found complaining about obstacles or difficulties which they encounter in their life, be it a difficult colleague, students or a disagreeable boss.   Ryan Holiday suggests that such obstacles need not actually be obstacles and that instead they may represent unrealised opportunities or the way ahead.    Marcus Aurelius, for example said:

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.“

This approach to obstacles means that little time is wasted on complaining, an act which may provide some self satisfaction however is unlikely to do anything in terms of progressing a resolution to the prevailing obstacle.    Consider the teacher complaining about a lack of resources which are available to them.    The act of complaint is unlikely to help address the issue of the lack of resources however it will take up valuable time.   Instead we might change our perspective and consider the lack of resources as an opportunity to develop new bespoke resources which specifically meet the needs of teaching and learning in the coming weeks.     We might consider it an opportunity to work with the students in creating resources together.   Maybe we might consider the situation as a challenge to our ability to improvise and exercise creativity in our teaching.    These three perspectives provide the teacher an opportunity to at least attempt to tackle the identified obstacle and in doing so he/she might realise new solutions and success which otherwise they may not have.

I myself have found things difficult in recent months mainly due to perceived issues with my workload.    The fact I haven’t posted much since January goes to prove that I have been finding it difficult to manage my time or to find time to actually post anything.    Having listened to the book however I have decided to change my perspective with regards the lack of perceived time.   Instead I will consider this as an opportunity to try out techniques from Coveys, First things first which is a book I am currently reading.   This will include focussing on doing what is important as opposed to trying to do a high quantity of tasks.   Part of this will require me to spend some time on identifying that which is truly important to me both in terms of work, family and also personally.   I will also try to be more efficient in my use of time, no longer hitting the snooze button as opposed to getting out of bed when the alarm rings in the morning.   I have decided to commit to this act of getting up, in order to be able to better trust myself, that I will make best use of the available time to maximise my impact.

It is my intention to take each obstacle that stands in my path, and try and change my perception to turn it into an opportunity.

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