What does education mean to you? #EducationDay

Inspired by the tweets I’ve been reading today, and from Sheila MacNeill’s post of the same title, here is something that education and learning means to me. As with everything these days, we have the hashtag #EducationDay to use.

It must be said, or rather I must say it, that without the Internet then I would be as learned as I am. Before I became connected and before I used the Internet for collaboration I read books for pleasure, I never read a newspaper (sometimes watched news on TV), and I rarely read ‘business’ or non-fiction books (beyond an occasional biography). Becoming a Learning Technologist in 2007 opened my eyes to the power of the Internet for learning. Yes, I’d used and worked with the Internet in so much as being a web designer and working with geographically isolated communities of practice using the Internet to pull together for professional and special interest goals. But I’d not considered the Internet for online learning. Yes, perhaps I was behind the curve in this, but I’ve caught up … !

I have benefited from using the Internet to learn from others, to work with others, to collaborate and share with others. The Internet has enabled me to do things previously unknown to me and take my personal and professional development in areas and directions I know I would not have gone without it. Connections made with both individuals and institutions have taught me more than I can realistically comprehend or voice. Opportunities to find, share, connect, collaborate, curate, communicate, etc. through browsing and following online has brought me to you, and you to me.

For me, in short, my #EducationDay is a reflection on 25+ years of Internet use, where it has taken me and why. The link to the #EducationDay above (and here again) says “education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.” Yes. This. Oh yes, this. If only everyone had this chance. Which is one reason why I am trying to do a little to feed back to the learning community with me tweets, my blog posts or LinkedIn updates, and my interest and involvement a a trustee in Learn Appeal, the learning charity.

Image source: CadaverTeeth (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Was that meeting useful?

We all have them. Sometimes it seems our days are full of them. Mostly, they’re needed and occasionally they can even be useful. But are you getting the best out of a meeting?

The worst meeting is one where there’s no clear agenda or even purpose to it. Whether there are two or ten of you present, remote or actually in-person, whether it’s for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours, and whether it’s a meeting to discuss a project or a ‘general update’.

There are some things we all learn about meetings, usually from the ones we feel wasn’t time well spent or didn’t achieve what we hoped for. Here’s a few tips I (try) and employ when attending and/or requesting a meeting:

  • Model: If you believe others are not using their meetings to the best or most effective use of time, be a role model of how you will manage your meetings.
  • Agenda: Set an agenda. Even a short, informal meeting ought to have a purpose and goal. The goal could be an update to a project, to pass information on to senior/junior project member, to review or agree actions going forward, etc. but the key is to set the purpose. (see calendar). If you have time, set this ahead of the meeting. If not, then use the calendar (see below) invite to do this.
  • Audience: Only invite (see calendar) those who actually need to be there – no one needs any more unnecessary meetings in their already busy schedule. Also consider the audience availability (below) and avoid times you know might be contentious (too early, too late, too long, not long enough, conflicting meetings, etc).
  • Calendar: If you use an online calendar to arrange and plan your time then use this and send an update through. Most corporate and institutional systems will link the attendees email to their calendar and, if you’re in the same system, you’ll see their availability. (see availability). Use this invite to set not only the time and agenda but also the location, allowing all participants time to travel between buildings if necessary).
  • Availability: No one wants a meeting assigned to a time they’re not available or can’t get to. Consider the purpose (above), audience, location, etc.
  • Time: Allow time for others to have their input. If you need it arrange a second, follow-up appointment and specify when setting both appointments up that one is for the project feedback, the second is for discussion. By setting the time limit for the meeting, which can often be determined by how long you can book a room for, it can be used as a mechanism for keeping the meeting running to the agenda and avoid too much off-topic chat.
  • Formal/informal: Use your own initiative to know how formal or informal to keep the meeting. It might depend on the scale or scope of the project or subject if you prefer a formal meeting, or even line management and disciplinary issues. Informal meetings may not even need an agenda or calendar (see above), but it’s always good to have purpose and goal.
  • Roles: If possible and if the meeting requires it, assign roles for attendees in the agenda and calendar invite. This will ensure only those who need to be present are actually invited and present. Those you invite who don’t have a role, or indeed if you’re invited and aren’t assigned a roll, could quite easily push back and query the reason for the invite.
  • Notes: Whether you’re taking notes for yourself as an aide memoir or for wider dissemination, always take notes. You never know when you need to remind yourself about something that was said or decided. If it’s not your meeting then, hopefully, a set of notes will be circulated after the event, and if it is your meeting then consider circulating the notes and ask for inclusion if you’ve missed anything. If you need to share your notes, you might want to check in advance if your sketchnotes are OK for the audience?

This doesn’t even cover the online meetings we have … !

What about you, how do you plan your meetings and the meetings you attend? Do you go along with the organiser or ‘do your own thing’?

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The way I learn

When thinking about what kind of course I want to create and what kind of learning experience I want my students/learners to have, I think about the resources and technology I can use. I also think about how I learn. Or rather, what learning experiences have had the impact on me that I want others to have.

This isn’t about learning styles (in the sense of the published research and/or theories). This is about me. As someone who has taken classroom and online courses, read books, watched videos, etc. I’ve learned about myself.

  • Learn by doing – show me how to do something and I’ll be able to repeat some of it. Show me what I’m doing as I do it and I’ll be able to replicate it quite accurately, quite quickly. I (hope) I also learn from my mistakes this way too.
  • Learn by watching/listening – I like listening to music and watching TV and films, and I can remember lyrics and scenes and what happens as part of the story. This doesn’t mean I can learn that way – videos and audio files as part of a course are great but I find myself distracted and/or bored quite quickly.
  • Learn by discussing – Put me in a room with other (face-to-face or online) and I can learn by being an active (or passive) participant in the conversation. I can learn from others’ background and perspectives, and from voicing my own perspectives.
  • Learn by reading – Give me a book to read (fiction) and I’ll devour it in a couple of days if I like it, and I’ll remember characters, events, plot lines, etc. Give me an article or non-fiction to read as part of a course and I’ll dip in and out as my interest waxes and wanes.

What I’m trying to say here is that the above is MY learning style. It changes. Frequently! I don’t fit into a defined learning style, nor do I want to, and how I learn changes with my mood, the availability of time, the level of interest in the subject, etc. I’m not interested in the theories, at least when it comes to MY learning, I’m interested in finding a course and delivery method that I can relate to and invest time and effort in. This is difficult as it’s not usually until you get in to a course that you find out what this is.

How about you? Do you fit any defined earning style or, like me, it changes based upon many different inputs.

Image source: Alan Levine (CCO 1.0)

Conversations

At the moment I’m celebrating some, online, 10th anniversaries – in October 2008 I started blogging, I joined LinkedIn in November 2008 and I joined Twitter in January 2009.

These are quite special, I wasn’t aware of this achievement until I started thinking about something else: conversations. 

When I started blogging and tweeting, and connecting on LinkedIn, I was all about the network and conversations. I was building an interest and understanding of my role (learning technologist), my work place, and the kind of ‘things’ I needed to understand. Now, ten years down the road, 901 blog posts and 50,000 tweets later, I realise that my use of these systems and the networks I’ve built there, are changing. 

Back in March 2017 (“Dear Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you”) I wrote about my disappointment at changes to Twitter; not necessarily about the platform but how it is being used by the user base and my network. What started out, for me and many more like me, it was all about the conversation; the links and collaborative nature of being connected to likeminded individuals on a global scale, the ability to search and question and learn from others in different organisational and societal cultures, to connect and engage with senior or specialists ‘experts’ in the field of EdTech. The conversations and engagement I used to get in the early days of Twitter and LinkedIn have, I’ll admit, help me grow personally and professionally into the senior role I have. I would not have produced, managed, edited and published four books, nor would I have gained the peer-reviewed CMALT qualification, the invitation to be a trustee for the Learn Appeal charity, or the various accolades I’ve collected over the years.

What I get in my timeline feeds now is very different. There are fewer conversations in and around the work or collaboration. What conversations there are seem to be more broadcast approach rather than sharing. Being connected through Twitter or Facebook or other networks has obviously had an affect on us, we are all more informed (?) about world politics, the environment, culture, etc. and this is what most of my timeline is about now. That’s fine, I often add to the noise too, but my primary purpose for Twitter, etc. is work. I want to learn and help others learn about online/distance learning opportunities, be they MOOCs, SPOCs, online degrees, short courses, micro-learning, etc.

I also acknowledge that I have been part of the above problem too, which is why I’m annoyed. Annoyed at myself for setting sucked in and annoyed that I’m getting annoyed at the changes. Change is OK, I don’t have to like it or like what it’s changing to, but I should be able to step back and reassess what it is I want from my networks. That is what i am now doing … reassessing my use of online social tools, Twitter, LinkedIn, this blog, etc. I’ve already dropped a few (and not really noticed), will I drop those too … ?


Conversations are powerful learning opportunities. So why am I annoyed that social networks have changed the conversation?
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There, semi-rant over. Thanks for reading.

Thanks for Sheila MacNeill for inspiring me to blog again. I’ll try and do it more often now; it’s good for the reflective soul searching and a good way to focus and unpick my very full and random thought process. I’ve missed it.

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Podcast: What’s in your #EdTech bag (#EdTechRations)

Nearly two years ago I was invited to appear on Vicki Davis’ Every Classroom Matters podcast to talk about self-publishing books and to give advice to teachers and educators on what to do and how to do it. Last month I was again invited by Vicki to appear on her new ’10-Minute Teacher Show’, this time to talk about our choice for technology we choose to buy for ourselves, for own use and our own bags/pockets. This follows up on my last book, the ‘Emergency Rations #EdTechRations: What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?

David Hopkins, author of Emergency Rations #EdTechRations: What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?, talks about the educational technology that educators around the world carry in their bags and pockets.

In the podcast Vicki and I briefly discuss bags, pockets, cables, charging, devices, technology, connectivity, connected lives, and many many more EdTech-relevant things.   

Listen to the podcast on the link here – What’s in Your Edtech Bag: Trends and Tools from Educators and the World – or on the embedded player below:

Improving your (Blackboard) course

Here are a few of my initial thoughts on finding myself a Blackboard user again after a four year absence. These are based on my recent experience in picking up on courses designed by others, co-designing courses with Keypath colleagues and eight years as a Bb user and those memories of how frustrated I used to get with Bb! Think of this as a check-list for your course.

  1. Descriptions – There is no reason why a folder, file or activity does not have even a short descriptor available. It takes such a short time to write one, so do it. Give the student a reason to click the title (no, ‘click here’ does NOT count!). What is the file or folder about? What do you expect them to do with the information or activity when they click the link? Put the link contents into context of the course, unit or week subject. Give them a purpose!
  2. Naming convention – Adopt a naming convention for your files and folders, and stick to it. Ideally this should be used consistently across the whole course or programme, not just your own modules. Think about the file or folder or activity in isolation … which looks better: ‘week_1.pdf‘ or ‘Accounting1.pdf‘ or ‘MD001_Week_1_Acocunting_Introduction.pdf‘. 
  3. Dates – If you’re re-using a Bb course and have rolled it over (see, I’m getting right back into the terminology here!) then please, please please check and re-check any and all dates? This is one reason why I never liked to use dates for adaptive release on content as this would make the rollover such a massive job, with a very real scope for some adaptive release settings to be missed. Get it wrong and students won’t be able to see or use your course. Also double check the grade centre for any and all dates. If in doubt, delete previous assignments and start from scratch.
  4. Links – Check all links, and not just to see if they work. Check they go to the right website or webpage and that it is still the right page/site you need (check for errors too). If you link to other Bb or institutional pages these are also available to your new students; either they need permission or you should move/copy the page to somewhere where they can access it.
  5. Formatting – Use the textbox for formatting your text, don’t rely on formatting copied across from Word. In fact, make sure you don’t by pasting any copied text into the HTML aspect of the textbox, which will not copy and formatting, then using the formatter for all formatting. Nothing annoys me more than seeing changes or inconsistencies in font, font size, indents, bullet or lists, etc. A little bit of attention at the start can improve your course no end.
  6. Contact – Are the right details available for the academic teaching and administrative teams? Have any changed? Can you put any extra content here like the time a student should expect a response (24/48 hours?), weekend or out-of-office replies, etc.?

Improve your course with images, descriptions, videos, assessments, interactions, etc. More here
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  1. Images and graphics – Use images and graphics carefully, make sure you attribute them properly, load them to the course content collection to be sure they’ll copy across in rollover. if possible always talk with your friendly ID or LT, they’ll help either find them images or design new ones for you ;-)
  2. Video – Consider video. Whether you record your own (with or without professional support) or use one of the many that are available online (YouTube, Vimeo, TEDTalks, etc.) but be sure to check the owner and copyright status of the video. If user ‘jonny5alive‘ loaded a BBC news item then odds are it wont be available online for very long. If the video is from the legitimate BBC account, then it’s a good one to use. This is not just about copyright, it’s also about making sure the video is less likely to disappear mid way through your module and you have to scramble around trying to find an alternative. If nothing else, record a short module intro AND a short intro to each week/unit. Not only will this be something you can reuse next year, it’ll also be a way for your geographically scattered students to engage with you and build a relationship. I’ve written more about videos in learning here.
  3. Activities – Whether your module space is for purely online learning & delivery, blended learning or your campus-based students, you can still make use of the Bb course area for activities or, if not the activity itself, explanatory and help guides to help students find and partake in the activity.
  4. Assignment – As with ‘dates’ above, check and re-check all aspects of the assignment submissions, especially how and when it’s available. Check with the academic and admin teams about grades, feedback, etc.

All the above are iterative stages to creating a working, competent, consistent, relevant and engaging course/module space for the students.

Image source: Domiriel (CC BY-NC-2.0)

Learning Technologists as Project Managers too

As I work my way through job boards and role profiles in my effort to avoid my recent redundancy and the impending doom of an empty bank account (yes, really) I have found a lot of roles being advertised with headline grabbing titles and/or impressive requirements. What I’ve also found is there is sometimes a narrowness in thinking, from both employer or agency, in that people can and should be pigeon-holed into a role because of the title. If your title is one thing (LT?) then that means you can’t be considered for a role as an ID. Yes, there are differences, but there are also similarities which can be greatly enhanced by crossing disciplines, and this cross over can benefit both individual and employer with fresh ideas, fresh perspective and fresh enthusiasm.

What I’ve also seen, and this is the reason for this post, is that Learning Technologists* (LT) are also very effective project managers. Here’s why. The quotes are taken from jobs being advertised today for project managers in engineering and finance companies:

“As a project manager it is your responsibility to deliver projects on time and in budget, by planning and organising resources and people.”

Obviously, yes. An LT is required to work with multiple teams from academic, administrative and IT perspectives. Often the estates teams can be involved if it means new kits needs installation, as well as legal and HR if contracts need signing. Not to mention what happens when you need to dig into the data the system collects, where it’s stored and the data protection (and GDPR) issues that follow. Sometimes the LT is at the heart of this making sure the work is done and everyone involved has the necessary information to hand in a timely manner.

The thing is, we LTs often don’t know about the budgets or wider timelines involved, other than start of term or assessment dates. But this doesn’t stop us working to deadlines and strategies that have defined and immovable timelines. Damn, we’re good!

“Select, lead and motivate your project team from both internal and external stakeholder organisations.”

Sometimes the ‘team’ may just be you and the academic colleague who wants to do something they’ve never done before. Sometimes you may be experienced at this task, or it’s new to you too. The stakeholders here may be other staff who need mentoring or training on something new, they could also be students who need guidance on new assessment criteria or group working parameters. Again, it’s up to you to manage, “lead and motivate”.


Unleash your inner project manager
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“Planning and setting goals, defining roles and producing schedules of tasks.”

The timeline could include a new cohort of students, the NSS survey, release of module/unit materials for online learning, scheduled meeting, fixed reports, annual budget review, etc. It doesn’t matter the actual purpose of the goal, role, or schedule of tasks, the LT is at the centre and working with others to ensure nothing slips and everything works.

“Report regularly to management and the client.”

However the report is structured it doesn’t matter if this report is verbal over a coffee, written via email or other social channel used, or a formal document presented to a board or committee, the ‘client’ will have contact from the LT on the status of the work and progress. A good/great LT and project manager will also make sure delays and timeline slippage is reported well in advance and any impacts taken into account.

“… first point of contact for any issue or discrepancy arising from within the project before the problem escalates to higher authorities.”

As above, the LT is this point of contact on any work he/she undertakes. Whether the work is consider small or ‘incidental’ or a full-on VLE review with institutional impact, the LT is fully aware of the impact to themselves and those involved.

Project management is defined as “the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives” (APM) and a project manager is “typically to offer a product, change a process or to solve a problem in order to benefit the organization” (Project Insight).

Working on implementing a new VLE or LMS for your department or institution? Chances are you’ll be working with a dedicated project manager or someone who’s acting in that role. Initiating some training on new tools or design or assessment criteria or rules around lecture capture … chances are you’ll again need to plan ahead for delivery of the training, resources to support it, room bookings or webinar time/space. See … you’ll need to employ project management techniques to make sure it happens when you want it to, how you want it, and where you want it.

Sounds familiar? It sounds like work I’ve engaged in for years now. I just didn’t know I could add ‘project manager’ to my list of skills too!

* Note: When I say Learning Technologists, I also mean Educational / Instructional Designers too.

If you’re interested, I’ve found this series of 15 journals (free download) from Product Focus, really useful introduction to project and product management. You’ll have to read your own skill and projects into the words, but it’s all there if you want it.

Image source: Judith Doyle (CC BY-ND-2.0)

Reading: TEL strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation

This, from ALT Research in Learning Technology:

The publication of institutional strategies for learning, teaching and assessment in UK higher education is practically ubiquitous. Strategies for technology-enhanced learning are also widespread. This article examines 44 publically [sic] available UK university strategies for technology-enhanced learning, aiming to assess the extent to which institutional strategies engage with and accommodate innovation in technology-enhanced learning. … The article argues that sustaining innovation and efficiency innovation are more commonplace in the strategies than disruptive innovation, a position which is misaligned with the technology practices of students and lecturers.

After being called ‘disruptive’ before I was drawn to this paper as I don’t believe the disruption is in the traditional sense of someone sitting at the back of a classroom being a distraction or taking up too much time of others. No, this ‘disruption’ is more about the desire to think about the work, the technology, the learning, the students, etc. in a different way or from a different perspective. Once something is written in a policy or set of guidelines, it becomes the providence that is recommended and thus ‘normal’.

Being disruptive is, for me, just about understanding the policy or guidelines and thinking “Hmm, is this in our best interest? Is this still valid? Can we still innovate and improve our teaching, our students, our work?” This, from Flavin and Quintero‘s conclusion sums it up (emphasis my own) …

The examination of UK HEIs’ technology-enhanced learning strategies indicates a willingness to adapt on the part of universities but a disinclination to disrupt. Universities can describe themselves in their strategies as innovative yet, in practice, they are often ameliorative, more likely to pursue sustaining or efficiency than disruptive innovation.

Flavin, M. and Quintero, V. (2018). UK higher education institutions’ technology-enhanced learning strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation. Research in Learning Technology, [online] 26(0). Available at: https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/1987 [Accessed 2 May 2018].

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Change the title, change the work?

Have I had it wrong all these years … is not been about me being a Learning Technologist (LT), I’ve actually been an Instructional Designer (ID) instead? Bear with me here …

I’ve been looking at opportunities on job boards (more on this another time) and have been looking at the requirements and roles for Instructional Designers. There are more of these around that LT or senior LT roles. Based on the role profile and job description, it got me thinking; “Well, that’s what I’ve been doing isn’t it?” Here are some of the descriptors and requirements that are asked for on an ID position, and how this mirrors the work I’ve been doing as an LT

“This role will be creating high quality new learning programmes for [name here], being the designer of the blended, engaging and interactive learning programmes to address specific business needs.”

“Creative, direct and concise. Good with technology. Great communicator, especially with clients.”

“Analyse base content and current study materials to identify the best way to present the content online.”

“Consider the range of instructional media available: video (face to face, voice-over PowerPoint), interactions and questions to recommend the most suitable for each instructional need.”

All the above have come from current ID roles being advertised. All this is precisely what most LTs I know are doing, and what I’ve done many times before too, yet you can be compartmentalised into a role by title, not by merit?

Let’s contrast this with similar descriptors from LT roles currently being advertised …

“Design and Development of e-learning content.”

“Undertake a range of activities to advocate for digital learning and its associated technologies.”

“The LT is expected to work proactively to identify potential resources for the [name here] and to plan and manage the development of varied e-learning material, including video, webinars, self-paced interactive resources, and [VLE here] activities.”

“Provide leadership and support for the development of innovative and effective teaching and learning practices using information technology.”


Learning Technologist or Instructional Designer ... or both? #edtech
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Do you see the similarities here? The only difference is that the ID role requirements are for commercial/corporate employers, and the LT ones for universities. Same role, often similar responsibilities and management duties (team and self), but different ‘sectors’. Of course, there are many differences in the roles that mean there are clear distinctions that warrant the different titles, and that’s fine – LTs may be more limited in scope in what and how they deal with, LTs may look after a tool (VLE, lecture capture, etc.) rather than a department or programme or academic group, etc..

But, for myself and those LTs I know and have worked with, we are much much more than this. We engage, advise, collaborate, curate, anticipate, lead, mentor, showcase, develop, design, implement, consult, etc. All these things are appropriate terms for both LT and ID roles. Yes? Perhaps it’s more to do with context … in my more recent roles and work I am so much more than an LT … I am now manager of an entire organisation’s learning platform, how it works, why it works and who it works for (internal and external). I ‘manage’ all aspects of the relationships between organisational parties with interest in the training as well as all external stakeholders, whether they are course participants or suppliers or accrediting bodies or potential clients.

According to the definitions in the ID role profiles above I have a more ID background and approach than LT, and have been since my 1st day in an LT-titled role, since I learned about my craft and stopped blindly following convention of the (enforced) VLE module structure and thought about making the learning more engaging and inclusive. It’s not about using the tools provided, it’s not even about finding new tools, it’s about using appropriate tools at an appropriate time for an appropriate motive to further the learning opportunities.


ID or LT? It's about using appropriate tools at an appropriate time for an appropriate motive to further the learning opportunities #edtech
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So, are you an Instructional Designer or a Learning Technologist. Does the title/name given to your role even matter? Perhaps the difference here is time … what was once two distinct roles have now merged in outlook and intention and can be seen as the same, depending on which title the organisation prefers?

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Get to know a ‘digital champion’

Earlier this week I read and shared a post on the Inside Higher Ed website: Online Learning Shouldn’t Be ‘Less Than’ and tweeted this:

The post was about the perception, for some, that online teaching was easier and somehow lesser, therefore easier, option than classroom-based teaching. Online is different, yes. Online requires a different set of skills to make it as engaging for the students, yes. Online can be more rewarding for both teacher and student, yes, for some. Online should replace classroom teaching, no.

Later I saw the same post was also shared by someone in my LinkedIn network with the associated text:

Teachers – buy your digital champions a coffee and see how they can help you with online/blended delivery. I bet their eyes will widen with excitement! (I know mine would)

This isn’t wrong, so I’m not criticising anyone here, but I disagree in that we should not limit ourselves to those already known to us as ‘digital champions’. The sentiment is spot on, I would rather have a far wider reaching approach, taking all contacts in to account, especially looking beyond My reply was:

Better still, take some time and talk to someone you don’t know very well and find out something new about them. You may just find that they are also a ‘digital champion’ in an area you didn’t even know about. Your network will surprise you, in a good way!

Let’s face it, everyone is unknown until we find out about them. Think back to all those who are currently in your network, either in your office, department, institution, Twitter, etc. I bet you didn’t know anything about them or how important they would be to your own development until you talked to them? Yes, we have to remember to keep our networks carefully maintained and continue to grow them, you never know when you find your next EdTech leader to follow and work with! You never know when they will find you and think the same about you!

PS. I prefer tea, don’t drink coffee, and a cake is a deal-breaker for me. You know, just in case we meet and you want a chat! [smile]

Image source: Danielle Chang (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)