Sociotechnical systems

Education and schools are now sociotechnical systems and we need to pay attention to what that means. Ian Sommerville’s video explains it clearly and well so that you can understand the implications and the concept. It is now a discipline of study which has actually been around since the 60s but the implications of it and the necessity of it are  becoming clear.

“Sociotechnical systems are systems which include technical systems but also operational processes and people who use and interact with the technical system. “  Anywhere where people and technology are working together as part of a network with the intention of achieving organisational goals. If you look at the sociotechnical systems stack, you not only have a clear idea of how people and technology can work together, you also become more aware of how and where you should be focussing your attention for trouble shooting or improvement:

2.Operating system
3.Communications and data management
4.Application system
5.Business processes
6. Organisation
7. Society

Teachers have been busy in the last few years working in the area of application system to find the right tool, apps, software, devices and approaches to ensure students are meeting curriculum and examination board outcomes and requirements but also to establish what can and cannot be done with different aspects of technology in a classroom. They are now , probably, in a good position to give reliable and valid feedback which would grow that area. They are also in a position to align what they are doing with technology to school site plans and national curricula so that we can better define what can be achieved, what is being achieved, and more importantly address the pitfalls and sticking points. One of the more obvious ones , at the moment, is how to address electronic work which does not appear to be that of the student whether that is in a class situation or an exam one. We need to look at that and use our experience to remedy it. Before we were all trying to get it all up and running.

There is a similar growth which could take place in the communications and data management area. It is happening but we need to be looking at it clearly so that national bodies, school bodies and everyone connected to the education sociotechnical system can communicate better and more effectively in house, locally, nationally and internationally. The system stack is a convenient way to look at the sociotechnical system in schools to make sound judgements as to what can be improved, enhanced, addressed. It means you have a way of looking at the good processes occurring and then the ones which might be diverting the system from working optimally. Before we  continue  to extend and build our education sociotechnical systems we need to build in  review and reflection points of our systems. That kind of self-awareness will only grow our capacity to manage our sociotechnical system competently.

You can just sit there


Image: WeCoffee

You do not have to be doing all the time. You don’t have to always be trying new technology, software, ideas. Sometimes you just have to sit with what you have. Your brain and mind learn from repetition and practice and an opportunity to engage with educational theory. You have to allow time for the new things you have been learning to percolate into your system and practice so they take hold as real change and knowledge. It’s the action of repetition which then leads to refinement because you are thinking about what you are doing and then have the time and space to improve and enhance. In many respects it is the theory of games. You go over and over certain aspects of the game until you have mastered the skills and ideas. Then you level up and take on new knowledge and ideas and work on those. It is no different with classroom technology. There has to be time where you just do what you do with technology so you can see how to get the best out of it and then know what you are looking for next or can embrace the next stage in implementing a different approach , idea or device with technology. ReSit therepetition and practice then  talking about it , sharing, lead to growth.


The Seinfeld Guide to Bloom’s Taxonomy

I use Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy all the time. It is stuck on my filing cabinet in my classroom.  I have been a bit of a fan of Bloom’s Taxonomy ever since I heard about it. With technology there are so many ways to represent Bloom’s Taxonomy. A version for every learning style and approach. Zaidlearn has a great collection of the digital versions of Bloom’s Technology. I am also a bit of a fan of Seinfeld  so this version of the taxonomy appeals to me. There was a Seinfeld episode where George does the opposite to free himself as a person and it is one which has stuck in my mind .It has given me a great way of changing myself when I am stuck and can’t think of anything else.

Dysfunctions of a professional learning community

collaborationImage: Science in Action

This post is a response to a challenge put on the Teaching and Learning in South Australia Facebook page. The page looks at aspects of the South Australian Teaching for Effective Learning framework. We were asked to read Steven Weber’s Five dysfunctions of a professional learning community and reflect on it. I have done a lot of reflecting around the TfEL and have reflected before about my PLN. That presentation needs to be updated since my network has changed and expanded. So what do I think about the dysfunctions of personal learning communities? I have used Steven Weber’s headings.

Dysfunction #1: Lack of Norms

If you consider the meaning of community , then I prefer the ecological one:

A group of interdependent plants or animals growing or living together in natural conditions or occupying a specified habitat

and the mass noun one:

The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common

Teachers working together in a community to improve the learning outcomes for students can be strong independent units and can develop a natural way of sharing their ideas and experiences or they can be put into a group situation where they are expected to work in a specific area of pedagogy.

This is where the norms are important. It is important to be open about how that community will operate if the group doesn’t naturally function co operatively. Some groups are better than others. Most groups do not go through norms clarification. In that sense there is an assumption people will know how to relate and exchange ideas. This is not always the case and formal attention to norms invariably smooths that over. In my experience online communities can come together more productively than real life ones since electronic media force you to focus on content and communication rather than all the other peripheral issues of real life groups where you do have to go through what the communication processes are , what the attendance expectations are, what the outcomes are to be and then what the level of input is for each member of the group. Online that is clear and it is a choice of whether you are present or not and how much you contribute is up to you. You are not distracted by personalities, habits and comportment of others. Online communities gather with a prepublished agenda and the focus is 100% on that agenda.

Dysfunction #2: Lack of Team Goals

Goal achievement is more readily accessed in real life teams. The action plans, the ideas generation and the implementation are all concrete things for people to discuss ,develop and do. Online teams are looking more generally at issues, ideas, approaches and can clarify methodology and theory well. Real life teams can achieve solid practical outcomes with clarity because they have more time if the expectations are clear. Online teams can clarify all the reasons for doing these things and ensure that individuals who participate in the discussion come out of it knowing more than when they went in. Virtual teams support the individual who then will become a more confident and more able real life team member.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Trust

from Steven Weber’s article:

According to Lencioni (2007), a lack of trust “occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses, or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.”

I only agree with the second part of this but trust is a very big issue in teams and not one which is easily overcome if the trust is not there. Online you can become a target or someone can attack your ideas and some would just wilt and pull out of the discussion. That achieves little. In a real life team it largely comes down to how open and straight forward the team members are and whether there are common goals and ideas and whether there is a hidden agenda or power hierarchy. No one has to be in an online team but an online team is good back up if your real life team doesn’t suit you well. Teachers are probably in more than one learning community and that is a good idea. The last thing you need is a teacher who is not able to grow through collaboration or discussion of ideas with other teachers. I don’t believe trust is built by sharing mistakes, vulnerability and weaknesses. I think that is coming at it from a negative point of view. A professional learning community is looking at pedagogy, theory, curriculum expectations, professional standards. For me, then, this means we are looking at having a comfortable level to discuss those ideas so we strengthen ourselves , our knowledge and our experience through airing ideas and thoughts in a professional setting. The group leaders are the ones who will be alert to learning gaps and how to broaden the experience for all participants. Leadership is a skill and members of a team have to feel comfortable in a group and  be able to express their ideas and thoughts.

Dysfunction #4: Lack of Communication

True. Communication is everything. These days you can communicate in multiple modes and that is a real advantage. Getting information and ideas out is easy so there is no excuse for lack of communication. It is also important to make it clear to a group how you are communicating. Online communities are more efficient and effective at communicating and Twitter is the number one in my book. It is important to have a place for ideas and feedback and that is more easily managed online. This way a community is dynamic and connects more naturally from meeting to meeting since discussions and input are valued and can grow on.

Dysfunction #5: Lack of Essential Learning Outcomes

From Steven Weber’s article:

From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus.

It is very important to have time to look at departmental documents, examination board criteria and performance management criteria et al. If we are to truly develop as a profession we need to dedicate quality time to look at professional documents , guidelines like the TfEL and share our ideas with other professionals. Online communities can become quite international in their input and that is even better because you are not locked up in regional thought bubbles. You can look at what you do in your region and compare it with how others approach things in their region. A professional learning community will do that – focus on something and then broaden the discussion so that the classroom implications, the teacher practice expectations and the attainment possibilities are all clear to the individual teacher. It then needs to be linked to curriculum outcomes and expectations and the sorts of assignments which would fit the bill and then how you would reasonably assess those assignments.