Productivity: The Notification Culture

The (very) long summer holidays have allowed me to reflect on what has been a very busy and productive year. However, when I think about productivity I feel that my actually productivity has taken a stumble over the past couple of years. While I appear to have had a high output in terms of work completed this year including developing projects at school, completing the first year of my MA and writing my first published article, I do not feel like I have had total control over my time. Here’s why…

HTC Hero

Yes it’s the homescreen on my beloved HTC Hero Android smartphone. How can a device that allows me to instantly access emails, Twitter feeds, Facebook messages, RSS feeds, my task list and calendar hinder productivity you may ask? Well, there you have your answer. All of the aforementioned channels are now constantly connected to me. That’s fine BUT they also choose to notify me when I receive an email, when an article is ready to view and when I should be completing a task. In short, they are in control of my life. All of the applications notify me by beeping and leaving a quaint icon in my notification bar. I therefore know how many unread emails I have, now many deadlines are approaching and how many apps need updating. Great? Initially yes, but in the long run they take my mind off the task in hand and add to a increasing unconscious pressure to clear the notification bar. This isn’t just confined to my phone – Google Chrome on my MacBook Pro instantly notifies me too. It’s getting to the point where each of my devices are competing with each other to be the first to notify me when I have email. This sort of thing really disrupts my flow (especially when writing). I realised how this was hindering my productivity after reading Mark Allen’s recent blog post where he talked about taking control of such technology and not letting them control us.

I’ve really been inspired by Doug Belshaw’s blog posts recently and the general work ethic he discusses in this ongoing #uppingyourgame publication. His work has also spurred to read more about gaining back my productivity ethic in the midst of the notification culture. As well as reading Doug’s blog I’ve been looking at advice in Upgrade your Life by Lifehacker as well as Getting Things Done by David Allen.

So what have I done? Firstly I implemented Henry Theile’s Inb0x Zer0 approach, which involved me archiving my GoogleMail inbox (where I found MySpace notifications from an account I had with them from 2004). I now have an empty inbox… it feels good. I’ve also disabled email notifications on my HTC Hero as well as uninstalling the GMail plug-in for Google Chrome. I will be checking emails on my terms in the future and limiting this to limited periods throughout my working day. I’ve also reorganised my approach to storing research as well as the way I plan at school (now mainly through Google Docs). It’s going to be tricky to undo some of the ‘habits’ I’ve got into over the past couple of years, but I’m sure I can do it and be happier and more productive in the process.

Social Media and other Web 2.0 jazz…

I’m currently in the process of researching various types of Social Media and Networks for my MA research. I hope to build on some of the work I have written up recently in relation to New Literacy Studies and @ClassroomTweets.

It’s apparent from my classroom experience and reading that the simplicity of creating and updating content with Web 2.0 systems empowers readers to write – @ClassroomTweets has really made me realise this. But what the literature also tells us is that audience is key and that Web 2.0 allows users to create imagined audiences as well as real networks through social networking systems (SNS). Web 2.0 clearly allows users to create the web and collaborate. However, large proportions of schools (including my own) now use virtual learning environments (VLEs), where communication tools such as discussion forums, blogs and wikis usually serve single class instances – not a larger network. Furthermore, although content creators within a VLE can easily link to the outside Web, the reverse is not true, because inbound links are often blocked (Alexander, 2008). This really asks the question – how do you maintain conversations on either side of a password barrier?

I don’t have the answers, but I hope my current research helps to inform the debate. I’m currently in the process of looking at social networking systems such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and the potential education and privacy issues that arise from them. Over the coming weeks I plan on writing a series of blog posts that explore different social media as well as reporting my overall findings at the end of the project. For now I’m going to leave you with the excellent ‘A Vision of Students Today’ video which really highlights the need to rethink education in the light of the impact of Web 2.0:

No fate but what we make…

In recent months there has been a lot of concern and ambiguity over the current educational context, particularly in England. The introduction of free schools, academies and abolishment of BECTA have caused debate within the educational sector. We no longer have a new primary curriculum and the Primary National Strategies are practically no longer acknowledged. We are currently in a state of flux in education, of which I have had moments of concern and apprehension.

From a different perspective the current situation could be seen as a stage of excitement and innovation. While there are many inspiring teachers across the globe really pushing the boundaries on how they organise learning in (and out) of their classrooms it is now easier than ever for every teacher to do so. We are no longer tied to the national strategies and are being told to follow the guidance in the National Curriculum. While the statutory curriculum does have many flaws, the objectives can be interpreted in a very liberal way and allow for the development of many cross-curricular and projects that promote creative learning, collaboration and innovation. Set units of work are no more and the freedom to develop open-ended cross-curricular learning opportunities are now easier (and justifiable) as ever. That is, if we choose to. Over recent years I have felt that I have had to justify such projects and their educational worth – although this is always evident throughout the projects. Hopefully, this will no longer be the case.

Of course, researchers such as Crawford (2004) have highlighed that some teachers can become highly reliant on packaged curricular and that the technical control encoded within such curricula can de-skill teachers and result in changes in the way they interpret, plan and ‘deliver’ lessons. I hope that as educators, we embrace the current educational context with a renewed focus on classroom innovation. After all, it’s the choices that we make in the classroom which affects the futures of the children that we teach. There are no longer suggested pre-defined ways that requires us to teach in a certain way or indeed interpret curricula. We cannot change the past, but we can make a difference for the future with the decisions and choices that we make today. Hence, there is no fate, but what we make.

Using Twitter in the Primary Classroom

My article about the use of Twitter in Orange Class (@ClassroomTweets) was recently published in English 4-11. I have changed some of the ways in which we use Twitter even within the short time between writing and publication of the article. I plan on writing another more up-to-date reflection on how we have been using Twitter soon but in the meantime hopefully this will provide you with the context in which our work is based. As this is the first article I have ever had published I would value any comments or feedback as to what you think about it.

Using Twitter in the Primary Classroom – M WALLER

Android and Me

After a year of using my HTC Hero, this post reflects on my use of Android and recommends apps that have become central to my life.

Up until last year I was not a huge user of mobile phones. I actually dislike speaking on the phone and send very few text messages. My main communications go through either social media or email. I used these sporadically on my ‘buggy’ Nokia N82 with varying success for 18 months. When it came to time to upgrade in July 2009 I explored other options instead of going for the next Nokia (Symbian OS) handset. The iPhone seemed very expensive and quite limited in terms of customisation (and I certainly like to make a phone fit with ‘me’) so looked at other options. After reading a few forums the term Android started to pop up. Still in it’s infancy (Android 1.5), it looked like it had promise, and included a limited selection of apps at the time such as third-party apps for Twitter and Facebook. I also liked the fact that the apps and social networks were not discrete and merged with each other as well as the OS being open source. I decided to take the plunge, ordered a HTC Hero, and never looked back. (more…)

Google Teacher Academy UK – A New Literacies Perspective

When I first started my career in education I considered myself a technologist. I was interested in anything digital and used technology in my everyday life. I also loved teaching ICT. However as my time in the classroom and my increasing research work moved on I became more focused on the literacy-based view of technology and in particular the work of New Literacies Studies (Street, 1997; Pahl and Rowsell, 2005), Multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) and Critical Literacy (Comber, 2001). I have always had an intense interest in educational technology but in recent years I have been primarily viewing it through the lense of a range of communitive systems in which we engage and create meaning in the world – in short technology is part and parcel of being literate.

Photograph by Lisa Thumann

It was with mixed feelings that I applied for Google Teacher Academy UK. I knew it was primarily focused on ‘edtech’ and would have a large proportion of delegates who were technologists. As part of the ‘New Literacies Gang’ I felt I might have been out of place. However, I was keen to learn more and see what Google had to say. I produced a one minute application video (below) and was thrilled to be accepted as one of 50 delegates from across the globe. (more…)