Not Just a Teacher

binge thinking on technology and education

Not Just a Teacher

I’ve Read a School Report

July 8th, 2014 · No Comments · General

I have just received a school report for one of my children. This is a mid year report. It doesn’t show me any progress, only attainment. It provides me with an effort and an achievement grade in a variety of subjects. There are no teacher comments on my child apart from the overall ‘Teacher comment’ at the end which gives a summary. This follows attainment grading in terms of Respect; Independence; Responsibility; Caring; Honesty. How does that sound? Does that comply with Australian DECD expectations of a report in a primary school? Does it compare to something similar in your school? How does it compare internationally?

But let’s throw some curve balls into the mix albeit curve balls that are real. This child has been psychologically assessed and found to have a literacy ability of equivalent to a 12 year old and a numeracy ability of a 13 year old. This is a child with an IQ way above her age (just turned 7). She is supposedly being extended to meet these needs. Yet, the report says she is achieving at only a Good standard not the highest level of Excellent. Does that mean she is not achieving at the level she is supposed to be working at for her age or the level she is  diagnosed as capable of? If it is the former then there are major issues surely with the teaching and learning happening here, especially as the effort level says Mostly and Sometimes for the two disciplines in Maths but overall she gets the highest level for following the school rules. Surely, that means she is severely under-performing and her effort level is way way way below what it could be given her mental capacity.

So let’s consider the later- she is not achievable at the level she is  diagnosed as capable of….. How does that work then? How does a parent or indeed the child know when the bar is being raised in terms of assessment and reporting and when it is not? Given that we know she is not being extended in other areas eg Science for instance, is the achievement grade for that subject for a typical 7 year old or for a child of her mental capacity and the level you would expect them to perform at? I’m confused. I hope you share my confusion.

Then we get into the issues of engagement. Do these snippets of information suggest a lack of engagement here? Or indeed, do they also suggest a lack of really addressing the needs of a child with very different needs? How can any education system really report in such a confusing manner when there are such diverse needs to address with any group of children? Please help me understand.

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A New Dimension in Blogging

May 27th, 2014 · No Comments · General

small-logo3Yesterday was the launch of a new project for me, Learn E-nabling, a collaborative website I have set up with international, cross-sector representation from people in the e-learning coordinator type roles. My reasons for devoting my time to the project and I would hope a shared view of all those involved, are set out here. I really hope we can spark some real insight into many facets of education in today’s’ schools in different parts of the world and the complexities of pedagogical and technological changes, if they are indeed happening as some would have us believe.

For me though, there is another rather exciting side to this. The concept of an individual within a team; a collaborative blog, posting his/her viewpoints and then the rest of the team commenting on that. Then that post and the comments are publicised via online mediums (Twitter, etc).  This provides not only the original authors’ views but the critique of that, the discussion, the comments. To me, this provides an opportunity to join a little discussion rather than just read a post. Almost, like a mini-forum. Now, I don’t know if this has been done before. Perhaps, it is a successful and well-used model. However, it is not something I can recall coming across.

The first post and the subsequent comments are here. I hope you can add yours to that post and the many posts that will follow

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The Parents Tech Issue and Chromebooks

May 5th, 2014 · 5 Comments · General

Admittedly, this has come a little earlier than expected but to have my daughter’s seventh birthday only a few days away and not being able to decide what technology to buy for her, raises issues I think it is important to share. The most important of these issues is the balance of cost/uses/limitations.

My daughter has no demands from her school to supply her with technology, unfortunately. To date, she has used the plethora of technology at home on a shared basis but there is clearly a demand for her to have her own device. I see a shelf-life of three years for this technology and I do not want to spend an exorbitant amount of money. My daughter wants to and likes to: play little browser games, write stories, develop picture books, draw and make presentations on her own. There are other digital things she does but she has access to an iPad in the house, a fairly high spec laptop and a Surface Pro.

So, I am thinking, why should I look any further than a Chromebook? Won’t this do most things for her? I know there isn’t a device out there that does everything all the time. But, it will surely be reasonably fast with 4Gb of RAM and not much to power really, she will largely use it the house with a decent wireless connection, it’s easy to manage and, to my mind, the exposure to a cloud based way of working can only benefit her. My wife brought up the issue with the occasions when she might want to take the device to places where she has to work offline. Research has shown me that the current generation of Chromebooks can be used offline easily. Is this a true picture? Does a Chromebook allow for saving locally? My wife also talked about the ability to be able to demonstrate her digital creations at school and the only options for this currently are printing and via a USB stick (quite shocking provision, I have to say). The Chromebook we are looking at has USB ports so this would not appear to be an issue but again, how well does the saving locally/downloading concept work on Chromebooks?

Any input and advice from anyone out there who has used or is using Chromebooks would be greatly appreciated. However, one thing sticks in my mind in all this…….if this causes me to ask such a plethora of questions, do we in education really appreciate the issues such decisions cause many parents?

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Tales of Shared Research

April 27th, 2014 · 1 Comment · General

This post provides my views on how 2 teachers in different countries and time zones have teamed up to research and publish academic writing. It provides an insight into what has been done, how it was done and the benefits of working this way.

I recently worked in Higher Education. In that time, I worked for and with academics. I began to understand the world of academic research, of publishing papers and journals, of collaborating in this process. I became involved in researching and writing papers, co-authoring 2 and being the lead author on 1 publication. In this process of research I felt I learned so much not only about research methods but about writing. I was challenged in many ways and I knew I benefited immensely from the experience. Hence, I wanted to bring something similar with me into the Secondary sector.

My memory is not brilliant so I can’t recall how it first came about but I think I asked @ianinsheffield if he would like to be a co-author on a paper for NAACE Advancing Education Journal to which he agreed. Why did I ask Ian? Well, I guess you could call it intuition but I think there a number of elements to look for in someone you want to write with and I saw them in Ian. I wanted someone who would challenge my assumptions but who ultimately knew most of my background, could empathise and likely would understand my angles. I liked reading his blog posts, liked his writing style and knew he was very interested in research.

So, basically, I already had the idea for the paper and needed to collect data. I put together a questionnaire via a Google form, shared it with Ian and he suggested amendments, challenged some of my questions, asked me to clarify certain areas, etc. The responses from the final questionnaire then provided data that we could both analyse individually, share our thoughts and interpretations. Again Google was used with a doc being shared in which we both wrote freely. Our shared thoughts on this doc provided a loose structure, a number of threads and angles on the area of research

After all these foundations, the actual writing begun. It was clear that Ian was happy for me to take the lead and I recall him asking what role I wanted him to play. I simply replied that I was going to just write an then if he could read and critique then that would be really helpful. He agreed and I began. I wrote at different times, as is normal in my way of working. I had long gaps where I did nothing then suddenly wrote quite a lot. Ian was shared on the doc and I expect he saw alerts in his inbox when I had done something but on most occasions, I would email him and tell him what I had done, sometimes adding reflections on what I had written or thoughts on where it was leading.

Ian commented on the doc. He scrutinized my work in more ways than I could have hoped. His suggestions reworded much of my writing and his research skills provided so many of the references that I doubt I would have ever had time to find on my own. And those really are the key benefits, in my opinion, to this way of working. Research can be time consuming. It can be another ‘thing’ educators have to do but it can be made so much easier. Collaborating in this way allows for greater insight and input, ensuring there is more than one specialist’s eyes on the writing but also reducing the workload in for example, searching for research in related fields.

This has now led Ian and I to produce a second paper that has been recently submitted to ACEC2014 in my home town of Adelaide. During this paper, we worked in similar ways except this time I began to notice a pattern that, to me, worked really well. I would often finish writing something on the shared Gdoc at night. Ian, is on the other side of the world in the UK and the time difference meant he was likely to be at work when I had finished writing. So, it seems he waited until he had free time in the evenings to look over what I had written. By this time, I had often slept, got up and was in to prepare for a days at work. I would switch on my computer and often find Ian editing the document or having just finished editing. I could then have a little general, overview chat with him about the paper and had his comments on the writing to look at then or later. In other words, the flow, the mix of synchronous and asynchronous communications, the one place for meeting and sharing and the timings worked so well for me.

Ian said he now has plans to lead on papers of his own and I can’t wait to provide a service to him and to aide the research process for the good of all.

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Education & the Celebrity Keynotes

February 7th, 2014 · 1 Comment · General

For a long time now, I have questioned the worth of a celebrity keynote. I have been to education conferences in many places intended for audiences from different sectors, groups, etc and have begun to think about the value of a well-known, respected voice in a particular field or fields of education is to the experience of the attendees. In more crude terms, I am asking the question:

Has this person been booked to speak at this event because without their name on the bill people would not come (big name demand) or is their attendance a vital component of the experience, something that without them being there, the conference would be worse, not as informative, educational or focused?

In a recent post on the importance of the ‘local connects’ I argued for connected educators not to ignore their local networks. I would also add to this that there are ‘celebrities’ in your locale, in your school and/or schools around you. These will be celebrities in that they put into practice quality education techniques day in day out, that so-called celebrity keynotes get paid considerable sums to talk about.  Teachmeets clearly show this to be the case as do the blogs and other resources that I come across every day. Furthermore, years of experience in many fields of education continually offers me opportunities to stumble across, often during conversations, these amazing people doing amazing things in their classroom.

So, if there are local celebrities, why pay for the celebrity keynote? Surely, it must be down to the big name demand mentioned above. Well, perhaps not. There may be more to it than that. It could be that the celebrity keynote is a really good speaker, an entertainer, a good orator. Maybe it could be down to their presentation being based on research and/or experience that is far wider and/or in-depth than the local alternative. Or it could be a combination of these. However, the important point must be to consider whether they have added value to the conference and if that value is significant enough to have merited their appearance.  To my mind, that, and the crude question written earlier, can only be answered if we consider the long term effects of attending the conference.

I am proposing the following:

  • Educational institutes have to take a proper, long hard look at why they allow or send staff to conferences. What are the long term benefits of that attendance for the institution they return to or the communities they work within? In other words, there have to be transparent, clear, lasting, maybe even measurable outcomes from attendance or at least evidence that shows some ideas have been considered for implementation. This isn’t exactly a new idea to most people but should this then apply to the keynote and indeed should the keynote be hired on the basis that he/she is providing these?
  • Keynotes should be offering not just a speech and not just ideas that can be followed up but actually provides opportunities, communication channels (Twitter chats, webinars, hangouts) before and/or after the event where their audience can dig deeper into the concepts presented, gain the information and confidence they require to implement ideas into their institutes
  • Keynotes should not be done in isolation i.e. they should be followed up by workshops on the day of the conference where practical implementation and examples are provided to assist interpretation of ideas presented

To my mind, when these proposals become the norm then my crude question will no longer be worth asking.

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A Week Disconnected

January 25th, 2014 · No Comments · General

by mcfcrandall (Flickr)

by mcfcrandall

As is an annual ritual for me, I recently disconnected. I have done this for up to 6 weeks in the past and usually when going on holiday somewhere that I want to totally switch off my brain, my fingers and my devices from communicating and information. However, this time I only had a week.

What do I mean by disconnect?

To me, this is simply a matter of turning off all devices and not using any means to connect with anyone electronically. In other words, not only do I not answer any tweets, emails, posts, etc but I dont even turn on any of the hardware of software that these run on to see if there are any. I go to this extreme because I know how long I can spend just reading, accessing juicy bits of commentary or looking closely at something that someone has pointed me at.

Why do I disconnect?

Firstly, I feel that this allows me to re-assess habits I may have got into, directions and paths I may be following and overall, how I am functioning digitally. Yet, at the same time, it also allows me the chance to focus more on the aspects of life that at times using technology can get in the way of (this can be anything from watching the sunset instead of photographing it and sharing it on social media, to read a biography on Johnny Cash I was bought for Xmas).

This year’s surprise

Unfortunately, this year I felt that I suffered in some respects because of my approach to disconnecting. I was able to achieve the things I talked about above including breaking out of some habits I really didn’t need and reading the lyrics to Fulsom Prison Blues that mostly come from Crescent City Blues written much earlier. I digitally refreshed myself in many, much needed ways yet the surprise came in the way I felt I suffered due to lack of mobile access. Not having a phone in my pocket meant I was not able to connect to information that I needed or be contactable when required at certain times. I realised how much my life has moved on to rely on technology to find out simple bits of information (the weather, what’s on at the cinema, the tides to go snorkelling, indeed the time of that day’s sunset). And the expectancies from those around you that you can be contacted (even if only to find out where you are and if you have both of the children with you when in a shopping centre). These may seem like trivial things and, in a way, I don’t disagree but that in itself was something of a surprise.

In my mind, disconnecting equals simplification in so many ways, but I found that removing myself from mobile communication and not being able access to basic information hindered my enjoyment of the week. There are of course, other ways to get the information I needed such as buying a newspaper but I didn’t really plan to start new habits temporarily. Likewise, I and everybody else were able to function before the existence of mobile phones but we have changed in so many ways that the alternatives, the ease of which we can communicate and channels to find out everyday information have lessened to the degree where we have to make a genuine effort to change the way we live to be happy fully disconnected.

Conclusion

If anything, this has shown me two things: Number one is that I am even more determined to drive education to integrate technology, promote education practices where there is an understanding of how connected most of the students are that we teach and that they have a reliance on technology for both information and communication. Number two is that from now on I will not fully disconnect. I will have basic communication and information channels open and discipline myself to use them without venturing into the fully connected world I live in.

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11 Questions

January 22nd, 2014 · No Comments · General

Having seen a few versions of the 11 questions idea floating about, I have had the pleasure of a brief insight into people beyond their tweets and their bio, so when Mr Woodman (www.andrewwoodman.com), put me on the spot I thought why not. Here are the questions he set me and my attempt at honest answers. I hope you find them as interesting a read as I have with others:

11 Answers to 11 Questions

1. What moment in your life has shaped you as an educator more than any other?

This is a tough question, arguably the toughest I could be asked as there have been many defining moments in my development as an educator thus far and to pick one seems at the expense of so many more. Yet, in true desert island disc style, I will make a choice:

Standing at the side of the stage in a London hotel where later in the day we were to be live in front of royalty, politicians and educational leaders reflecting on the work we had done, I saw the beauty and power of what Digital Leaders can produce. I was there with young people who felt empowered, passionate, responsible, young people who showed maturity beyond their years, who stepped up to the plate, who showed the true essence of what authentic education experiences can bring to young peoples’ lives. And I was able to briefly step back, admire what I was seeing and how far we had come as a group of Digital Leaders. This was such a special moment because I realised a burning passion I have had since I was a youth worker, to empower young people. This was a way to realise that passion as a teacher.

2. What are you most looking forward to in 2014 and why?

As I start a new position back in secondary school, I am really looking forward to making an impact in my new school to affect pedagogy and tech integration to improve the education of students in the school. On a wider level, I am really looking forward to connecting, being involved with and promoting the high quality work going on with some real high quality educators I know in SA and in the rest of Australia. I want Digital Leaders to come out into the open in Australia and tell everyone what they have been doing, connect and share through www.ozdls.com. I am hoping to see an extensive, thriving Digital Leaders community show itself in 2014. Lastly, I am looking forward to making a larger dent in the PhD I started.

3. Is the idea of a four day working week for all educators and students a pipe-dream or a real possibility? Why?

It is not a pipe dream but we have consider some fundamental issues around the working day for both teachers and students. We have to look at such areas as the idea of what ‘lessons’ or ‘learning sessions’, should they be uniform in length?Are they in effect a way to divide up learning efficiently or indeed are they the best way to efficiently use time in schools? We also to have consider what we are offering in terms of education. Is sitting in largely separate and specialist, independent ‘subject’ disciplines a good way for effective teaching and learning to happen. Only if we first address these fundamentals principles can we consider a system which will ultimately mean more cramming of teaching and learning into a shorter or more condensed block of time which, in turn, puts pressure on concentration, focus, etc.

4. What are some of your favourite pastimes?

I like to think that I have a quite diverse range of pastimes and have always been aware of a tendency to addictive behaviours which I see as being stuck in a rut.

To me, watching TV night after night is the epitome of this and while I enjoy the odd night or two of vegging out this way, I try to avoid doing it too much. So, what do I do instead? I range from playing games (phone games such as Words to Fifa footy on a console), to reading (all sorts of fiction, biographies), to catching up with social media connections, reading blog posts and commentary on educational developments.

On the weekend and days off, I like to spend time on the beach, walking with my bare feet in the sea, swimming in the sea, eating and a wee drop of good plonk but I will regularly take the family on adventures, to different places such as a national park. I love to surprise people close to me and I crave adventure.

What have I missed off?…I love to listen to music (anything from 90′s indie bands to Johnny Cash to old skool hip-hop to early 90′s house music); I like eating (Or should I say I really like eating :) ); I have always been into sport, like to play squash and football badly and will always love Leeds Utd even if most of the time, that hurts.

5. What are two things on your bucket list?

Two things…….!!…. for an adventurer, there are two thousand!!

Take my kids travelling round India when they are old enough and drive around in a classic VW Beetle everyday.

6. What is your favourite film and why?

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (original). Gene Wilder is epic as Willy Wonka and I would say it is one of the only times that a film and book stand side-by-side as brilliant pieces of work. Oh and it features lots of chocolate. That’s got to be good hasn’t it?

7. Favourite place and why?

That’s impossible to answer. It’s about time and place, purpose and company, never about just place.

Amazing places to me have been a quiet spot in Angkor Wat sat on the temple stones watching sunset or sunrise with my wife, stood on the balcony of my house watching the sunset over the sea or the fork lightning crashing around, sat around anywhere but with friends and loved ones just chewing the fat and laughing til the wee hours.

However, there is one place that always has a massive place in my heart (apart from Elland Road), stood on top of Cow and Calf just outside Ilkley when the cold wind is blowing.

8. Do you view Australia as the best country in the world? Why or why not?

I have traveled to many countries and have been asked which is my favourite many times. I refuse to commit to that. Again, its about time and place, purpose and company. For me, Australia offers much of what I want out of like as I bring up a young family and try to balance work and play for all of us. Where I live just outside Adelaide is beautiful and offers me a great lifestyle which I never dreamed I could have. Whether that is the same for someone else is not for me to say. Australia as a country has some really great things to be proud of but also has issues like anywhere else. It all depends on what you see as important in your life.

9. If you could pass on one piece of wisdom to every learner in the world, what would it be?

Find the things that interest you, that you feel a passion to do to death and when you do, dive deep into them, uncover what they are really about and why they excite you. Do not be afraid of the avenues they send you down including the dead ends. Unpack everything you find. Ask why and why again.

10. If you could pass on one piece of wisdom to every educator in the world, what would it be?

You’re in the business of teaching AND learning. Don’t ever forget the learning part of the business you’re in.

11. If you could pass on one piece of wisdom to everyone in the world, what would it be?

Try and open as many doors as possible in your life. Some you will find already wide open, others you will have to turn the handle and some you will have kick-in.

 

So, in the spirit of this, now that I have given my all to the questions set, here are my 11 questions I would like to ask:

  1. Why are you a teacher?
  2. How do you/would you answer people when they ask to prove that much of education needs to change?
  3. If you had the power to make one rule in your school that every teacher would follow, what would you your rule be and why?
  4. What is the important thing you do as a teacher with your students and why is it important?
  5. If you could set up a dream team of people in charge of education in your state, country, district, etc, who would they be?
  6. What do you think the value of ‘celebrity’ keynote speakers at educational conference is?
  7. What do you think should we taught to young people to make them digitally literate?
  8. What do you think would happen if students in your school were given power over technology integration in your school for the next five years with only advice from adults and a budget to work with?
  9. Do you think young people have changed since you were a child?
  10. How best can we address the disconnect between different levels of education (primary to secondary, secondary to university)
  11. What is the most influential book/article/post you have ever read on education?

And I will be asking the following peeps to answer these:

@IaninSheffield

@SteveBrophy3

@LiamDunphy

@AlUpton

@DanHaesler

@CaroJohnstone

@jlamshed

@BloodOnTheMoon_

@teknoteacher

@bobthiele13

@EthanJRedmond

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What is stopping the Education Revolution?

August 30th, 2013 · No Comments · General

There are lots of amazing people out there doing the most amazing things to bring about the education revolution every day. I am not going to name names simply because I will offend those I miss out. But there are lots of educators trying to push education beyond the archaic models of desks in rows, lecture theatres, computer suites,  worksheets, recall assessment, stand-alone subjects, using technology to mimic what was done with a paper and pen, etc etc etc………. And I am a firm believer that the guerrilla movement must never stop trying to bring about change.

Yet, let’s face it, despite there being lots of educators pushing the boundaries and trying to make fundamental changes to the way education is provided at all levels, for the most part we are a minority and the impact we have had so far is minimal. So, I am asking the question that many are shying away from (and attempting to provide an answer)  - What is stopping the Education Revolution?

I think the answer comes from 3 areas and can be represented like this:

edrevolutionsqueeze

 

Senior Leaders in schools, Assessment requirements and Teacher Training are all preventing the Education Revolution. Admittedly, not all Senior Leaders are included in this. There are some shining lights who break the mould with creative learning spaces, empowerment of students, etc. Likewise there are some courses where assessment requirements that do not hinder the education revolution as they allow the assessment to be integrated as part of the work, reflection/self/peer assessment to be a significant aspect. And there are pockets of teacher training that equips the new generation of teachers with the right mentality and approach to join the guerrilla movement.

On the whole though, leaders in schools are rarely willing to address the complex and long term issues around making wholesale changes within their institutions that will bring about the education revolution to their students. Perhaps in some ways the confines of assessment requirements prevents them from doing so as does a lack of trained teachers who can work with C21 pedagogies.

Two main arguments I hear to my views are that it is curriculum and not assessment that is the issue, the other being that Governments need to make the changes. On the first point, I would say that assessment ultimately drives curriculum. Students and teachers to some extent look to how certain grades can be achieved. Poor assessment methods that focus on mental recall, facts and figures, separate tests after learning has happened do little to promote forward thinking approaches to teaching and learning. Secondly, arguing that it is at a higher level than this, where Governments are actually the ones preventing the Education Revolution is comparable to waiting for them to act on climate change. Political parties will not win votes by proposing radical changes that cost a lot of money in the short term for long term gains when they are likely to be replaced in a few years. Hence, the guerrilla movement has to continue but the key is to step into these 3 key areas in order to make a significant impact on the lack of Education Revolution that has happened so far.

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The conference experience

July 19th, 2013 · 1 Comment · General

This week I attended the CEGSA State Conference and had the privilege of being one of the keynote speakers and leading a workshop.

I don’t know about anybody else but I find conferences tiring, actually I find them exhausting if they are good. I reckon this is because I have to listen and think really hard for prolonged periods of time, reflect and consider my stance, my opinions, what has been said and challenge my own ideas.  In other words, I find them mentally exhausting perhaps even a little emotionally draining. Then when I work at the conference, particularly presenting a keynote, I get physically tired as well . I think this must be the tension, the adrenalin that makes this so.

So, why do it? Why go to conferences and why present at them?

This is a question I have asked myself a number of times. You see a lot of the times, I ask myself how much do conferences provide for educators and indeed for me? How much do they actually affect practice? In essence, what difference do they make in the long term to teachers who will back in the classroom soon after teaching a class of……….? And, I think these questions are healthy. I think they are vital both to organisers, presenters, attendees and to schools who allow/pay/support their staff to attend. If these questions are not constantly asked of everything that goes on at conferences then it will simply be about the quality of the coffee and the lunch. (Btw - If anyone thinks the desire to present is for egotistical or monetary reasons then I am sorry, you are a bit wide of the mark)

Now, in terms of the CEGSA State Conference and the same can be said of the IWB K-12 MasterClass I recently attended, I have to say that my Australian experience so far has been so very positive. Those in attendance and presenting have provided me not only with deep thinking, challenges to my views, (particularly in workshop environments) but direct feedback. I love this. In respect of the keynotes I have done, attendees have sought me out and wanted to get involved, ask me questions and tell me their views. I also love this.

On top of all this, I have got to spend time with educators I have known for ages on Twitter. Cement friendships face to face. (I wouldnt want to name anyone for fear of missing someone out here!) I have gained new contacts, people to add to my network such as Erin Gallagher @ezka29. This networking is important to me.

But above all else, I honestly believe that through being involved in these conferences, I have had the chance to really spark Digital Leaders and www.ozdls.com in Australia. Watch this space…..

And thanks to everyone I have come into contact with during my conference stints. Keep communicating with me.

 

 

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Publishing Research & What Journal Editors Want

July 18th, 2013 · No Comments · General

Having attended a very thorough workshop on this area and failing in previous efforts to understand the ins and outs of this, I thought this was well worth sharing:

Mindmap of the key points

18-07-2013 10-06-13 PM

Storify of tweets and images of notes from the day

 

[View the story "Publishing Research & What Journal Editors Want" on Storify]

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