Action For Digital Literacy : Part One

The Observation

‘How Do We Become Digital?’ ~ Question to the panel at Learning Live 2017

‘I feel like I’ve been sent back in time 20 years, because this is the same question that’s been asked in every conference for years; how are we going to move from traditional classroom to digital learning?” ~ Julian Wragg : Pluralsight

Does this sound familiar to you? Whether you were at the event or not, we (that is myself and Martin Couzins) think Julian’s right. His comment, and versions of it, have been circulating for years. Yet we have the right strategies, we have the right people (don’t we?), and increasingly, we have the right tools. Why is change not happening?

We think that one of the reasons is deceptively simple. There’s too much focus on the big picture, the grand plan, and insufficient investment in the small daily steps which progress you to your goal. Secondary to that we also get a sense that people are reluctant to experiment. We hear a lot of talk around creativity and innovation – much less obvious is the practice required to turn talk into action.

The Conversation

Martin and I sought agreement from The LPI to surface this challenge at their recent Chief Learning Officer / Learning Provider Connect network event. We chose to do this by briefly presenting the above challenge, before inviting a conversation to identify perceived barriers. We separated these blockers into three sets; Business, Technology, Human and Behavioural. People talked and scribbled. Then Martin and I gave some instant curated feedback to the group (you can see the full set of slides and conversation notes here Action for Digital Literacy Nov 2017). Then, because we want to turn talking into doing, we invited everyone to an experiment. A two week digital sprint.

The Experiment

We are currently running a two week digital sprint on Slack. We are experimenting with two main threads. The first focuses on accountability and responsibility. People are encouraged to list daily actions, which may or may not feed into goals running across the sprint. At the end of each day, a check back on those actions is carried out to note progress and sticking points. This process carries on through the sprint, with an overarching weekly review and preview. The second thread is about tools and techniques. People are encouraged to explore tools and techniques of their choosing – with the aim of getting something done. It could be a specific digital challenge, and it doesn’t have to be. That’s up to you, the participant. Our intention is simply to create the space to play, and some very light guidance. Above all, the process is invitational and experimental. No one is holding you to account, except yourself…if you want to!

The Start

At the event approximately 30 people indicated they would take part by way of a show of hands. 9 people who were at the event subsequently accepted the invitation, and we had a further 3 enquiries via Twitter and another random enquiry as the news began to leak out. Currently, including Martin and me there are 11 people in the experiment, most of whom have progressed beyond signing up, though simply watching is fine too.

In a way – this initial narrowing of numbers supports our notion that there’s plenty of talk, much less desire to take action.

What Next?

We will run the experiment for two weeks as planned, then we’ll pause for review. I expect we’ll keep the channel open during the review but we’re not sure yet. We’ll report back and offer up suggestions around what we might do next. Other blog posts may follow along the way, and in the meantime, if you’ve any questions – please drop us a line in the comments. Thank you!

Artist’s Footnote

The accompanying artwork to this post was painted live at a recent Workplace Trends conference. It was made using acrylic paint, a palette knife and brushes, onto a 75cm x 50cm linen canvas. The image was painted spontaneously in response to a speaker talking about the tension between the fast pace of technological change, and the glacial rate at which people seem able to adapt and change, a very similar theme to the LPI discussion.


Preparation : The Colour And The Shape

This month has a lot of creativity, art, and culture in it. June kicked off with The Art of Innovation talk at the HR Inner Circle, followed by an Art of Innovation election night special at the offices of BDG. Over the next two weekends I am participating in the inaugural Carshalton Artists Open Studios (CAOS) event (my first exhibition), and sandwiched in between the CAOS, I’m in Berlin artistically interpreting a conference. The output from the Berlin event will take many forms, one of them being a 13 metre wide canvas. Go big, or go home!

Last week I got together with my fellow artists to talk about, and prepare for Berlin. Most of our work is improvisational, and that is something we choose to role model, so our preparation has been deliberately loose. We experimented with materials and a few basic ideas and colours.

The Colour

Here I have taken (an approximation of) the client’s colour palette and abstracted it. We will be using some of these colours in our work, so this piece is a way of playing with different tones, and it may serve as a guide to people in the room who wish to abstract something for themselves during the event. We shall see.

The Shape

As well as playing with colour – we discussed how we want to be together as a group. This has been a really enjoyable process of listening and distilling, and we now have a short statement which describes us at our best. It’s a useful guide for the three of us and for anyone else we interact with before, during and after the event.

When we are at our best, we are taking care of each other, and our guests. The concept of leadership in our group is a fluid, dynamic force, flowing to where and to whom it is best suited at the time. We listen and respond to prompts from the floor, hand written notes, 1:1 conversations, and to things we spot while wandering about. Our intention is to record and illustrate and abstract key points, not every single detail. Over the days, a body of work will emerge, developed improvisationally, and using a variety of mediums. The pace and rhythm of what we do will ebb and flow, and we welcome participation in our work. 

I hope this look at how we are preparing is useful for you. More to follow…

Stretch Your Canvas

This is one of many lovely art works I’ve collected over the years, made by people who I work with who tell me they cannot draw. Apologies, I don’t currently know the name of the artist, but what we have here is a visual response to the question ‘what brings you joy?’.

A lot of my work is about encouraging folk who talk about creativity and innovation, to talk a little less, and do a little more. Take some action – convert your thoughts and ideas into objects and artefacts, learning from what that feels like. Something I observe in the work, is it needs repeated practice. Doing things differently often doesn’t come easy, and when you and I cannot respond positively to the ‘so when was the last time you did something you felt uneasy about?’ question, we undermine our ability to encourage, to influence.

In the coming weeks I am particularly busy, playing in the space where people’s desire to progress meets the stalling effects of uncertainty. For me – I feel better equipped to help people move through these feelings, into participation, when I am also pushing myself. In order to refresh this desire, at the beginning of last week I decided to take part in an open mic event at The Brook, a lovely venue just down the road from me. As the big day drew nearer I realised that this was no ordinary open mic night. A band called Love Zombies were visiting the UK to record a new album at The Brook, and the venue announced the band would be taking part in the open mic evening.

I arrived and the place was packed. I nervously approached Dan, who organises/encourages/sets up/pretty much does everything to make these evenings work well, and asked for a slot. 9.15pm it is then. At 8pm I take my seat and watch the venue come alive.

Love Zombies played first, then a series of talented local musicians took to the stage, as each one concludes their short act, my time of reckoning draws nearer. Heart thumping, 9.15pm comes and goes, things are understandably overrunning a little, it’s hectic in here. I lost my bottle at around 10pm, and went to find Dan to apologise before leaving. He said sorry for the delay, I realised I was being a chump, and we opted for a 10.15pm start.

At the reallotted time I took to the stage, nervously, and played two songs. I fluffed the first (When I Grow Up – by Tim Minchin), picked myself up and finished it, and the second (Where In The Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush – by The Reverend Horton Heat) came out better, in the right order at least! I did what I set out to do. Sure, I made some mistakes along the way, and I got it done. I’m as certain as I can be that further mistakes will occur in the coming weeks too, and I’m also certain that when someone asks me ‘so when was the last time you did something you felt uneasy about?’ I can respond positively, currently, and authentically.

Whatever you’re up to this week, go well, have fun, and maybe even make a mistake or two? 😉