Project: The Really Useful #EdTechBook

You know how it is … you have an idea that just won’t go away. About a year ago (January 2014) I had an idea for a third book: a follow-up to my ‘what is a Learning Technologist?‘ eBook. I wanted to continue my exploration of my role and the community of learning professionals I find myself interacting with online and in person.

But, let’s face it, you’ve probably heard enough about me. So I toyed with the idea of seeing if anyone would write it with me. After a while I figured there wasn’t one person I’d want to write it with, but a whole series of active, engaging, and trusted people who have something to add and share to the conversation. Then came the difficult (and it was very difficult) choice of who, out of this much much wider range of people to approach.

So, how did I plan and execute this massive project then? Well, firstly I had no idea how big or tiring or wonderful the experience would be. I used a multitude of tools and approaches to inviting, collection, collating, writing, designing, marketing, and generally getting this project to market and completed.

  • I won’t write about the physical process of editing and publishing and the various trials and tribulations involved, as I’ve written about it before. Please head on over to my old post written after my first two book: ‘Writing an eBook: Lessons learned on how, where, and why’. I will say one thing though, it is very much more complicated when you’re producing the same content for two different platforms (electronic and paper) as the Word file do (despite what anyone may tell you) need to be completely different formatting. It’s fine, so long as you don’t need to make any more edits … if you do, you have to do it twice!

Openness
The key to the project, as I mention in the final chapter / post-script was that the finished product, the book, was formed by the process of writing itself. I knew who I wanted involved, and I knew what I ‘hoped’ the book would be about, but I did not direct any authors on content or writing style. I am so hugely impressed that there are themes that have formed that can be read through the whole book, through each chapter … all credit to the authors who managed to do this without even realising!

Google Docs
I set up a folder in  Google Docs and invited everyone to it. I created a document for each author that they could use to write their chapter (although most chose to do the writing in private and coy-and-paste- the final version here later).

Also in the Google Docs folder were a series of files that I used to plan and inform the team – all about communication and planning the project. I wanted everyone involved to have an input, if they wanted, to help steer the final product – yes, I could have used my ‘editor’ and ‘publisher’ position to do this, but that wouldn’t necessarily have produced a worthy product that my peers and colleagues would want to either read or be involved in.

Google Docs - The Really Useful #EdTechBook

It was through this process of openness that many important decisions were made, ranging from the actual name of the book (I deliberately didn’t force a name on this, but instead asked for suggestions) as well as timing for publication and pricing. The name of The Really Useful #EdtechBook was proposed at the start, more of a ‘holding’ name than anything else, but it stuck and soon became the call-to-arms of the writing styles and approaches to the individual authors.

Three factors helped me decide to include the hashtag in the title:

  1. We are all connected: in some case I’ve only connected ‘virtually’ with some of the authors, with others it was an online connection that we’ve made ‘real’ at various events. The hashtag represents this connected world we learning-technology-people reside in.
  2. A title like The Really Useful Educational Technology Book was to long and, well, naff.
  3. The title has it’s own marketing department already in build. If anyone posts or tweets and uses the full title, on any of their networks, it’s quite easy to find, read, and RT! It also demonstrates a shift in marketing and publishing, where much of it is now online where hashtags and trends and communities grow and prosper. Including the hashtag enables and embraces this shift.

Dropbox
Actually working on the editing and publishing side of the book needed us to be able to to share files. Using shared folders in Dropbox  I shared images, Word files, PDFs, ePUB, MOBI, etc. among other things. I also used this to ensure that I had access to my files on which machine I ended up working on, and to be sure I didn’t loose anything if USBs got lost or other such mishaps.

Dropbox used with The Really Useful #EdTechBook

Cover
I had an idea for the cover, based on a few styles of artwork I’d seen. Through work the name of a colleagues wife came up in conversation so we had an email exchange and the cover was sent across, pretty much as you see it now! Either Claire Riley is really good at interpreting my garbled notes or she is truly a gifted artist (definitely gifted).

Note: There’s much much more on the back cover .. which you’ll only see if you get the printed copy (hint hint)!

The Really Useful #EdTechBook

Interviews
I wanted to try and build a community around the project, as well as build a sense of anticipation and marketing for the eventual launch (January 28, 2015). I invited the authors to participate in a series of ‘interviews’, conducted for the most part through the Google Docs again. I started each interview with the same question – “How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life? ” – we we took it from there. Each interview takes very different directions to the others, based on the individual and their response to this first question.

Read the interviews here:

Book Reviews
The book was also sent to a few interested and key people for advance review (and comments). Thanks to Steve Wheeler, Maren Deepwell, Chris Rowell, Chrissi Nerantzi, Helen Blunden, and Neil Withnell.

Commerce
The links below are where you can currently purchase the eBook or paper copy from:

The individual chapters have come about from a simple, and short invitation to the book. The request/instruction … write about your experiences in, and with, technology for learning:

  • Wayne Barry: “…and what do you do?”: Can we explain the unexplainable?
  • Zak Mensah: “Why do we do what we do?”
  • Peter Reed: “The structure and roles of Learning Technologists within Higher Education Institutions”
  • Rachel Challen: “Learning Technologists as agents of change? Blending policy and creativity”
  • Julie Wedgwood: “Developing the skills and knowledge of a Learning Technologist”
  • Dr David Walker and Sheila MacNeill: “Learning Technologist as Digital Pedagogue”
  • Lesley Price: “Times they are a changing …or not?”
  • Sue Beckingham: “The Blended Professional: Jack of all Trades and Master of Some?”
  • Julian Stodd: “How gadgets help us learn”
  • Terese Bird: “Students Leading the Way in Mobile Learning Innovation”
  • Inge de Waard: “Tech Dandy, or the Art of Leisure Learning”
  • Sharon Flynn: “Learning Technologists: changing the culture or preaching to the converted?”
  • Mike McSharry: “This is your five-minute warning!”

Marketing
So, how can you see more of the world that surrounds the book? Try these links below:


The Really Useful #EdTechBook

I’m sure there is so much I’ve left out of the whole process, but it’s the stuff I’ve been doing daily for 8+ months that it’s all part and parcel of my daily routine.

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the book. I finished the book with a short ‘post-script’ chapter …

“Without this book perhaps some of these stories may never have seen the light of day? I am certain there are many more stories out there that not only highlight what we’re missing or doing wrong or don’t understand properly, just as there are numerous examples of what we are doing right, where we have made a difference in just one child or one class or one school.

“Please share your stories. With me. With each other. With anyone who’ll listen.

“Use the #EdTechBook hashtag on social networks, with your Personal Learning Network (PLN), on your blog, or even on someone else’s blog. This book isn’t the start of anything new … but it could be a further catalyst to improve the use of technology for learning (all aspects of learning, in all possible locations), to highlight ‘bad’ practices and to investigate new ones.”

Please also leave a comment or review on the page where you bought or downloaded this book from. This is one small step that will bring the #EdTechBook community to the attention of your PLN and your peers. The next is, as I’ve already said, to share your story. Do it!”

Interview with Rachel Challen, #EdTechBook chapter author

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs part of a new series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this fourth post I talk to Rachel Challen, eLearning Manager at Loughborough College.

DH – Hi Rachel. When did you first realise that technology could have a positive effect on learning and teaching?

RC – I returned to education many years after I had first left, to do my PGCE at Wolverhampton University and did a module that was based on online resources. At that time we were only encouraged to develop PowerPoint presentations, but even so the opportunity with even the basic interactivity to engage students, blew my socks off. When I was at school, chalkboards were for dragging your fingernails down and board rubbers were for crowd control! 

I was extraordinarily lucky that my personal tutor on the PGCE was the wonderful Julie Hughes, renowned for her ePortfolio pedagogy practice and research, who gave me so much inspiration for thinking about things differently, putting the student first and just not to be scared about trying something out. I also have to admit that I used the OHT layering technique (that is technology right?!), but for me, technology isn’t just about technology, its about using the right tool for student impact, engagement and achievement.

DH – I can still remember my geography teacher at school, his drawings on the chalk board of glaciers and volcanoes were second to none, but don’t ever let him catch you talking or that board rubber would be heading straight at you … he didn’t even need to turn around, his aim was awesome!!

So, trying to ignore supersonic chalk board rubbers, what has been the ‘right’ tool in your arsenal of software/hardware box-of-tricks that has made the biggest impact for student engagement or achievement?

RC – Well, it won’t come as a surprise to my immediate team, :) but I’m not in the least bit technical: I definitely know how to use tools to their best advantage but I don’t have a clue how to make or mend them! I’m a Learning Technologist yes, but as we know that term covers a multitude of skills and knowledge, so my first thought when looking at something shiny is always ‘what value am I or the learners going to get from this’. I want something that will break down the barrier of collaboration, something that will help develop self actualisation through reflection and skills building, something that will invite students in and let them ‘be’ and something that will give students confidence in their digital skills for the workplace when they leave us. I think the right tool actually isn’t the technology itself, but the confidence as a tutor to have a go. Whether its using a webquest for flipped learning, a portfolio for reflection or a forum to create peer support, the pedagogy has to come first. I think a powerful example for impact, was a forum for PGCE teachers who when out on placement, met infrequently. They used an ePortfolio for communication and because of the ease of contact between peers and tutor, one student was able to get in touch quickly (almost instantly), resolve a serious issue that could have escalated and felt so supported that they remained on the course. One student saved…and thats amazing. But if I had to pick one specific approach, I would pick mobile technology. The affordances that this brings for interaction, collaboration, confidence building, flexibility in the classroom and instant access to knowledge should absolutely make it a teacher’s best friend!

DH – I know from my own experience that access and affordability of smart phone and tablet technology has changed how I work, and more importantly how I approach it. From sitting on the sofa in the evening and getting notifications of emails, meetings, mentions, etc. to tweeting, blogging, and collaborative efforts like #BYOD4L and this #EdTechBook project. But at times it’s also been problematic as it’s tough to form an effective strategy to manage not only your own expectations and FOMO (‘fear of missing out), but the expectations of others. Have you found this?

Interview with Rachel Challen, #EdTechBook chapter author

RC – Absolutely, we now live in a 24/7 communication society and thats my expectation as well, I’m no different – so it’s vital that expectations are clear. At any one time, I’m no more than arms reach away from a phone, tablet, laptop etc (in fact, i think they may actually be my arms!). If out of hours replies aren’t achievable, then as LTs we should be providing accessible help resources to help those tutors who start work after tea and putting the children to bed. Technology means we can work anywhere and anytime we wish but of course this can be totally overwhelming too. For me its definitely FOMO! I had a planned day away from twitter last week, but when I came back there were over 10,000 tweets. So I reevaluated my twitter COP, because I enjoy keeping up and seeing what people are researching, talking about and sharing thoughts between us but less is sometimes more! I can manage quite comfortably in a fast moving environment but I started one MOOC and in the first week, I got so many emails, tweets, G+’s, that it was unmanageable, off putting and I unenrolled. That was a lesson for me in online communication as a student – make the design, expectations but more importantly, boundaries clear…and then try and follow my own advice :o).

DH – Whilst an understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ can help direct development and progress, it can also be a distraction that, for some, could be overwhelming. I know your chapter will deal with more aspects of this ‘magic’ balance LTs have to manage between policy, management, and creativity, but do you feel the role of an LT needs to concern themselves with policy and management decisions?

RC – In my experience, not only should they be concerned with them, they should try and be part of the decision making process and have some influence on the direction. Working creatively is obviously key and coming up with solutions and ideas but we can’t work in silos otherwise nothing we do will ever be embedded and become cross institutional practice. Why develop a fabulous pilot which can’t go into full implementation because we haven’t understood the underlying strategies or concerns. As LTs, we have the absolute privilege of working with all departments (curriculum and support) and the ability to cross pollinate is key to bringing projects to the table which bring value and impact to all.

DH – Totally agree with you, but how realistic is it for that approach to work? Does it depend on team size, location (department, faculty or institution), and individuals at the different levels of management or is it the culture, where research is sometimes considered more important than teaching?

RC – Ooo, tricky question! I’ve worked in different sized teams in different sized institutions in different sectors and cross pollination, although really hard work, has worked successfully in all of those, but there has always been a good degree of centralisation or at least a hub and spoke model so maybe that is the key. Maybe it is indicative of our different experiences as LTs but my role now is in the FE sector, which is a fast moving and reactive environment and the balance of importance is definitely biased towards teaching with a heavy reliance on action research. So I can only answer from my experience but what I do believe that is that as LTs, regardless of where we are placed, the focus of our role or the sector we are in, we have to make it realistic; we should be knocking on doors, breaking down barriers, supporting communities of practice and just making things happen :o)

DH – I’ve often considered this, and tried many times to break down these barriers, but have always come up against a multitude of reasons (and plenty of excuses) that prevent progress. I thoroughly agree about knocking on doors, supporting progress and breaking down barriers, but do you think that can always be effective?

RC – I’m sure all LTs have, at some stage, heard those perceived barriers you mention ‘no time, too busy, my students don’t like technology etc’, and they nearly always mask the real problem of low confidence and maybe low digital literacy. This is our challenge as Learning Technologists and also the discussion within my chapter – how do we manage all expectations, supporting strategic direction, upskilling staff, keeping the teaching and learning at the core of everything we do and getting full staff buy in. Learning Technologists as magicians? Quite possibly!

DH – I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ll agree with you, that we do indeed need a certain amount of ‘magic’ in some circumstances! Thanks Rachel. 

More news about The Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here, Google +, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, and on other social media platforms using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in.

Image source: Magdalena Roeseler (CC BY NC 2.0)