How to implement technology successfully in your organisation.

Technology adoption

I spent some time in a local school this week talking to some members of staff about implementing educational technology. It made me realise that I haven’t talked nearly enough here about how to do that successfully. It’s simultaneously straightforward and painfully difficult.

Let me explain.

Technically, pretty much anything is possible. Short of thought-transfer and teleporting to the moon we live in a world with endless possibilities on the technical front. Whatever it is you want to do is probably possible.

Sucessfully implementing technology in your organization is therefore not a technology issue. Yes, it’s important to get right. But no, if you just focus on that your technology implementation will not work.

Here’s some advice for those seeking to introduce a new technology into their organisation.

1. Solve other people’s problems

This is the number one priority. If technology isn’t solving someone’s problem somewhere, somehow, then it’s superfluous. My experience is with educational institutions where I’d very much focus on solving teachers’ problems if you want any meaningful traction.

2. Get other people to evangelise for you

If you’re known as technically competent, then any success you have with technology is not necessarily seen as replicable by others. Get influencers on board. Embrace skeptics. Again, solve their problems.

3. Embrace constraints

You will always face constraints. These could be financial. They could be political, social, emotional or hierarchical. Whatever they are, if you can’t change them easily there’s no point whinging: you need to use the difficulty.

There might be a certain technology you’re being forced to use. So use it.

There might be some awkward members of staff or departments. So convert them or avoid them to begin with.

Strategise.

4. Have a strategy

This is blindingly obvious, but if you don’t have a strategy you can’t be strategic about your deployment of technology. “We want to introduce iPads to improve engagement” is not a strategy. It’s a hope. It’s a wish.

Strategies should be user-focused and have appropriate timescales. There’s a lot of talk around technology changing so fast that most strategies are meaningless.

Bull.

When technologies evolve rapidly, then strategies are more important than ever. They’re not perfect but use research such as the yearly (free!) NMC Horizon report to see which way the wind is blowing.

5. Turn on everything / default to open

You don’t know where innovation’s going to happen. In fact, it usually happens at the edges, at the places where you least expect it. That’s certainly been my experience.

So, when you’re deciding which features of a platform to turn on, first look at your strategy. If that doesn’t tell you what to do, turn the feature on. Let the users drive the innovation.

And, finally, default to openness. It’s what makes the world go around. Don’t hide behind e-safety. Don’t hide behind ignorance. Don’t hide behind what you think other people will think. You’ll be pleasantly surprised if you let go of the reins a little. 🙂

Image CC BY Veribatim

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PRINCE2 for schools (or, why don’t schools have project managers?)

I spent last week studying for and taking my Foundation and Practitioner PRINCE2 examinations. Programme and project management is an expected part of the world I now work; in fact, funding and facilitating projects too risky for institutions to take on individually is pretty much what JISC does.

PRINCE2 logo

PRINCE 2 is a project management method standing for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. It’s generic and applicable to everything from painting and decorating your house through to the machinations of multinational corporations. Granted, at first the rather abstract concepts seem needlessly convoluted (‘dis-benefits’ anyone?) but the commonality of language and ability to tailor a workable organizational structure make sense in the end.

What I can’t understand is why most schools shun formal project management methods? More than any almost any other type of organization, schools have to deal with constant change: personnel, curricula, buildings – so many different elements! Whilst it would be overkill (and the cost prohibitive) to have everyone within an organization PRINCE2-ceritified, I would definitely recommend the following:

Senior & Middle Leadership – full PRINCE2 Practitioner status

Teachers, Learning Support Assistants and Site staff – PRINCE2 Foundation status

If tied to professional development activities, the 7 PRINCE2 principles could really make a difference to organizational efficiency:

  1. Continued business justification
  2. Learn from experience
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities
  4. Manage by stages
  5. Manage by exception
  6. Focus on products
  7. Tailor to suit the project environment

The three I’ve highlighted would in particular benefit schools and make them much less frustrating (and much more productive) places to work. To explain those three:

  • Continued business justification – at the end of each stage the Executive (usually be the Headteacher) decides if the ‘business case’ is strong enough to continue the project.
  • Defined roles and responsibilities – project roles are based upon the ability of the person’s role within the school to allocate resources and carry out the task (and not on personalities).
  • Manage by exception – once each stage plan is agreed with specified tolerances, the project manager gets on with it, only raising exceptions to the Project Board if the tolerances (time, cost, scope) are exceeded.

I’ll explain more about PRINCE2 if there’s enough interest. I may not be qualified to give the training, but I am qualified to write explanatory blog posts. 😉

Greplin: potential solver of a huge problem?

I’m not Stephen Fry. Nor Ashton Kutcher.

What I mean is that I don’t have enough followers on Twitter for each of them to realise that I can’t keep up with them all. At the time of writing this post, I’ve 3,615 Twitter followers – 3,465 more than Dunbar’s number. In other words, people expect me to be able to remember my conversations with them when I can’t even remember who they are.

This is potentially embarrassing within the increasingly business-focused world I’m operating. I need a quick way to find out if I’ve spoken/tweeted/emailed/shared a doc with someone very quickly.

Enter Greplin. When I read about it on TechCrunch yesterday, it was a bit of a eureka moment:

It’s a personal search engine for all that data you keep locked away in the cloud. If you’ve used desktop search like spotlight, you’ll get Greplin right away. It’s like spotlight for your cloud data.

After you use it for the first time you’ll understand that you’ll never not use it again. And there are nice touches like showing real time results as you type. And Greplin only uses OAuth and other APIs for authorization, so they never see your third party site credentials.

I’ve signed up and added the services (GMail, Twitter, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Google Calendar, Google Docs) that I want Greplin to index. If it’s as good as it look in the video below, I may just drop the $45/year required to ‘go Pro’ and unlock indexing of Evernote and email attachments…

In terms of user outcomes, this is awesome. It provides ‘just-in-time’ data to allow you to make decisions, have meaningful conversations, and (perhaps most importantly) prevent social awkwardness. 😀

Weeknote #13

This week I have been mostly…

In the office

I had a rare week where I spent each day in the office. But then it’s August – not exactly busy time on the education and/or conference front…

Helping with #edjournal

I was pleased to be able to connect James Michie and Nick Dennis, who each independently came up with the idea for a learning-focused educational journal. They’ve run with the idea and #edjournal: where’s the learning? looks like it’s soon going to be a reality. I’m delighted! 😀

Setting up a touchscreen kitchen PC

This has been too long in coming, but finally we’ve got a solution for family organization and cohesion. I’ve sold some stuff on eBay and have bought an MSI Wind Top AE1900 touchscreen PC. It fits rather wonderfully in the kitchen. We’re using it for calendars (Cozi.com), news (newsmap.jp), music (Spotify) and  TV/radio (BBC iPlayer). It’s on been in there three days but now I can’t imagine life without it!

Watching the Wrestler

My Dad and I attempted to go and see The A-Team movie on Wednesday. Not a good time to go as Orange Wednesdays meant we couldn’t even get near the box office! We came back to my house and watched The Wrestler in our cinema room. What a powerful and well-written/directed/produced film! Moving.

Being lax on the exercise front

I only ran twice this week and did my weights once. Must. Do. Better. It really does affect my productivity! 😮

How to use Netvibes as a project management hub.

This guide is most easily done through screenshots. Apologies for the blurring out of information, but it’s necessary I’m afraid…

I’ve got lots of different projects on the go at the moment in my new role. I had to find a way to keep track of them fairly sharpish if I wasn’t going to fall behind. Thankfully, I’ve found a system that works really well for me. Here’s how to set up a system similar… 🙂

The first thing is to head over to Netvibes and sign up for a free account (if you haven’t done so already). When you’ve done that, start customising your ‘Home’ (dashboard) page:

I’ve used an iFrame to bring in the excellent TeuxDeux webapp here as well as a bookmark, webnote and holiday widgets. More on that later. Go ahead and set up your project tabs by clicking on the little ‘+’ icon to the right of Home. Add a little icon to make them stand out from one another:

For the project pages, I’ve chosen the following standard layout. It means I can see pretty much at-a-glance what needs doing (the to-do list) as well as notes to myself. The iFrames can go down at the bottom for things that I need to access often:

I use the following widgets in my project pages:

Adding these widgets in the relevant places and configuring them ends up with something similar to the screenshot below. Now rinse and repeat for the rest of your projects in other tabs and you’re sorted! 😀

How do YOU keep track of your projects? Do you use Netvibes differently? Explain in the comment section below!

How to ‘chapter’ your life to make it more productive.

I was again asked this week how I do it. How on earth do you fit in studying, a young family, blogging each day, and everything else you do? Of course, I pointed them towards #uppingyourgame: an educator’s guide to productivity, but it also got me thinking again about those things I do by habit, by intuition.

One of these is ‘chaptering’. In fact, I’m doing it right now. It can be done on a micro or a macro level and is a very simple concept. For example, I’ve just finished reading a chapter of a book I’m reviewing for an academic journal. Now I’m doing the first draft of this blog post. Then I’ll go back to the book.

Most people, I suppose, if given the same ‘to-do’ list that I wrote into my Moleskine notebook would chunk tasks. That is to say do all of the book-reading, then do all of the blogging, then all of the washing-up, and so on.

The difference between chunking and chaptering is that the former is time-agnostic, whereas the latter divides time into roughly equal sections. By this I mean that I’m likely to spend 15-20 minutes on each activity when chaptering, whereas the ‘chunker’ would spend as long as it takes to get the task done.

Inevitably, then, chaptering involves breaking down large tasks into smaller ones. Whilst I won’t set arbitrary time limits on activities, it does mean that I have a change of scenery and activity at least once every 30 minutes. I’ve found that associating certain geographic areas with certain activities works well. So, for example, whilst I’ll still be using my Macbook Pro, I may deal with my emails in my study whilst writing blog posts might be done on the dining room table.

I find this chaptering method not only keeps me focused, but means I can ‘parallel-task’. It works best when the activities are qualitatively different. Whilst I’m washing-up, for instance, I can still be thinking about the article I’ve just read.

On a macro level, chaptering can be applied not only to your working week (spending time on different projects and tasks on different days) but on different months (e.g. having a slightly different focus each month), and even on years and decades.

So I encourage you to have a go at chaptering. It works well for me. I’m confident it can work for you, too! 😀