I’m writing a book. There, I said it. When you come from Jarrow, and dropped out of school at 16, it feels a bit pretentious to say it. But, if I don’t say it, little and often, I’ll abandon the whole idea in a fit of working-class self-admonshment.
And there’s no way to do the next bit without name-dropping, so apologies for what is about to follow:
You see, I was talked into it. The last time I was coming back from Australia, I bumped into Sir Ken Robinson on the transfer bus at Heathrow. No, honestly, I did. Fortunately, it wasn’t the first time I’d met him, or else it might have been a bit embarrassing. In fact, I owe Ken a lot over the years. He’s been a kind of unofficial mentor to me ever since I became Director of Learning at Paul McCatrney’s Performing Arts Institute (OK, that one was completely gratuitous…..) It’s a long journey from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5, so he had plenty of time to counsel me when I told him I wanted to now see if I had a book in me “I think you’ve got more than one”, says he. “But you need to minimise distractions”. So, coming back to Australia to try to write it seemed like a good idea at the time (never mind that I currently write this from Byron Bay – world capital of doing anything but work). A few weeks ago Ken emailed me with more advice: “Don’t leave it too late before you start actually writing”. So, I started. And then I realised I had over 400 references on Evernote that needed sorting, so I stopped again. Today, I finally got them sorted into something that resembles a plan.
That’s the thing about starting your first book – it’s like parenting. It doesn’t matter how much you prepare, you still feel clueless when it actually happens. And there’s no rule book – it’s different for everyone. But I don’t have a 3 week-old infant looking at me expectantly – I’ve got the poster-boy of the entire global teaching fraternity to let down, so I can’t stop now.
It’s been a learning curve. And one thing I’ve realised is that I need to practice what I preach. For someone who talks and writes about the power of open, collaborative learning systems, the traditional model of writing or presenting (one-to-many – if you’re lucky) is too much of a distortion of what I advocate.
So, I’m about to try to crowsource some learning. I’ll be launching a blog soon, specifically for the book, as it emerges – serialised, and in beta version. I’ll be asking you, and the people who follow me on Twitter, to respond, challenge, or outright refute my arguments. And I promise to credit everyone who comments (apart from spammers, naturally).
But I (or rather we) will be crowdsourcing in the flesh, too. The ‘we’ is myself, Professor Susan Groundwater-Smith, Lynda Kelly (from the Australian Museum) and Annie le Cavalier, and Donnie Maclurcan from Vibewire.net and Project Australia, respectively. I’ve been really lucky to find a group of people similarly intrigued by the apparent ‘knowing-doing’ gap in learning right now (collectively, we know what needs to change in learning, but doing it is another matter).
So, the event we’re organising, ‘The Open Learning Revolution(s)’, will hopefully make a start on understanding the learning challenges we face in the immediate future, not just in schools and workplaces, but wherever learning happens. It’ll also be a fundraiser for Vibewire.net and Project Australia – two great not-for-proft enterprises. The idea is that I’ll do a series of short provocations, follwed by group discussions in the room, with others joining in on Twitter. By the end of the evening, we would hope to be able to harvest what Clay Shirky calls the ‘cognitive surplus’ of a bunch of people who are engaged in learning either in schools/colleges, places of work, or in a myriad of social spaces. It’s already liberating to know that I don’t have be the expert – the accummulated wisdom in the room will be far more enlightening than anything I’ll have to offer. And the diversity of people that we’re hoping to attract – teachers, academics, social entrepreneurs, company learning officers, young video artists, tweeters and bloggers – should ensure there is real wisdom in the crowd. Once we’ve captured what emerges I’ll feed everything back into the blog for further debate, and then there’ll hopefully be a series of follow-up events.
The kinds of questions we’ll be asking ourselves: how do education systems respond to the revolutions which are taking place in the developing world’s knowledge economies, and politically in the wake of events in 2011? Why are schools and workplaces struggling to deliver learning the way it happens socially – informally, through social media, collaboratively? Is ‘engagement’ a significant factor in innovative learning environments? If so, why are students and employees complaining of record levels of disengagement? What are the blockages to making learning more engaging and more innovative, and what can we learn from the way people organise their own learning in their social spaces?
Provoke, respond, review. Repeat as necessary, till it has a ring of authenticity.
Will it work? I’ve no idea. But if one of the Google mantras is ‘fail fast and iterate’, then it’s worth a shot.
If you’re in the Sydney area on March 21st, and would like to take part, please let me know.