Wednesday, 24 December 2008

virtual leadership - lessons from the module

Reflecting on the assignments from this first run of the Module (ok I promise this will be the last mention of assignments), I have been caused in turn to reflecton my own leadership of this virtual team of learners.

One observation is that this of course isn't a team at all but a group as although each student aims to complete and pass their individual assignment, they do not have a common aim or common task to complete as a team.

As the "leader" I supplied the task ( the assignment) and resources to complete it in the form of learning materials, but some individual interpretation of that task was permitted.

Participation in any group activities was therefore entirely voluntary: there were neither rewards offered nor sanctions imposed for not participating.

The only performance management activity undertaken by me was to monitor who was participating in the Discussion Boards and wiki, but the criteria for assessing participation - or team efectiveness - were not transparent.

Individuals were not directly superivised unless they requested a coaching or tutorial session, though I did write to those who appeared not to be participating to check they were able to access everything OK.

I guess that on the one hand my leadership style could be described as laissez faire - I allowed them to work in whatever way they appeared to choose (but without enquiring as to what actually did suit them best...). On the other hand, I tell myself, I am simply treating them as adults who are responsible for their own learning.....

The results then are interesting:

Over half of the group achieved a very good or excellent mark for their assignment. The majority of these were also actively participatory in Discussion Board, Wiki, chat room and tutorials. One could conclude that participation, self-awareness, organisational skills and high achievement orientation went together.

Curiously though, about 1/3 of this "very good - excellent group" had had no contact with me or with one another. They displayed all the same levels of self awareness, application, and achievement orientation without ever having functioned as part of a learning "team". Clearly these were highly self motivated and required little direction to keep them on track - perhaps these are the ideal Virtual Team members?

Of the half of the group in the satisfactory or good range of results, most made little attempt to participate in group work beyond introducing themselves initially: variously they were afflicted by technical difficulties and onerous work demands. Some however missed out important sections of the brief - but by not asking for at least a personal tutorial, they did nothing to help themselves, which was a missed opportunity.

And then there were a couple who appeared not to have particpated at all in the module; did not refer to any of the learning materials or recommended reading resources and did not offer any reflection, but nonetheless submitted a half decent offering albeit working entirely to their own brief.

I can now reflect on this and think of ways in which I could improve the learning experience (and my leadership role) - say by offering marks for Discussion Board participation and wiki contribution to enhance motivation and clarifying the criteria by which performance will be assessed.

However, the really fascinating thing for me is that these results have a lot of parallels in work "teams" - especially where a "hands off " leadership style is being employed and the purpose or overall aim is neither fully articulated or regularly measured.

For a start there is the social crew (they are never alone!) who organise birthday lunches, send one another funny emails and turn up to every team meeting, but nonethless work really hard to further the group's overall aim, which is something they believe in fervently.

Those lone stars who rarely interact but whose work output is high and whose contribution is original, creative, and occasionally pays great dividends for the wider organisation.

The worker bees who attend for the contracted hours and ususally come up with the goods but give team meetings a wide berth, suspecting them to be "soft and fluffy claptrap". Most likely to be flustered by technology or overwhelmed by the amount of paper on their desks (or under it, behind it, etc)

The most worrying of course is the maverick who ignores any direction from the centre, shares nothing with colleagues (information is power afterall!) works only to further their (largely personal) ends, and keeps just enough this side of the "law" to avoid sanctions.... a very difficult one for any leader to manage.

If you recognise anyone here, please believe me, this blog is not based on any actual person, either living or dead.....

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A year in Twitters (well six months)

I decided to do a trawl back through my Twitter posts for the last 6 months (yes I am only a baby bird: started June 25th 2007). Why did I start using Twitter, what do I use it for and what benefits (and problems has it brought?) The following are just a few samples from my own Tweets.

The downside:

  1. Overload: the more people you follow the more tweets you receive and it is essential to get them into some sort of order: I use Tweetdeck which allows me to put followers into groups and track messages just meant for me. I also switch off @replies. I guess I may miss things, but I’ll just trust the Twitterverse to come up with what I need…

  2. Spammers, scammers, wannabe pornstars and other scuzzy types – but hey you can ignore them and block them

  3. It’s addictive. Switch off from time to time…..

  4. Anxiety when Tweets are not replied to – what does it mean???????

  5. It all gets a bit self regarding at times…
    @hallymk1 the debate about twitter groups rages on 2:22 PM Dec 11th from Netvibes in reply to HallyMk1

Tweeple I follow and why….

Craig552uk: he works at DMU, his avatar is a cute kitten, he blogs about paper cutting and computer code and he’s witty: my friend WeaverMiles “introduced” me via the DMU Twitter group

AJCann: microbiologist at Leicester University, blogs about e-learning and education – occasionally grumpy and ranting, always interesting

Ken Thompson – probably the biggest single Twitter influence on the Virtual Leadership programme and my blog postings. Great website rich in resources at

Sarah Horrigan – edublogger works at Nottingham Trent University; unaffected, self effacing, sensible and good natured blogging *sighs* (with relief and delight)
C4LPT – I followed Jane Hart’s blog and 25 Tools Ning Community before I followed this Twitter microblog. Always up to the minute and full of juicy titbits.

Timbuckteeth: edublogger, wrote some interesting stuff about use of wikis which has influenced my thinking about next year’s course

Redstarvip – punchy, unpredicatable, provoking.

CajunTechie – misleadingly named techie (he lives in Oklahoma) – we met via Seesmic: unofficial social networking and techie mentor (whilst I reciprocate with tips about salsa)

HallyMk1 – all round great guy, mentor in all things e-learning, works at
DMU, edublogger of note, social networking advocate and YouTube vlogger

Sfpeaky – my boss. Nuff said.

Things I have discovered through Twitter:
Random stuff

Discovering random stuff on Twitter is one of the best things about it: not a week goes by (barely a day) when I don’t come across some really useful, bizarre, amusing or just plain random stuff

1. #mewhensmall day: 22nd Dec 2008, someone set up this hashtag and spread the word that we should change our avatars to baby pics. I loved it and joined in:

2. RT gracias a @redstarvip: UN's New Year's Resolutions 1:36 PM Dec 9th from web
3. now we know what Twitter is for 2:26 PM Dec 8th from web (study on procrastination)
4. Thanks to @redstarvip: - very funny and also slightly disturbing 1:59 PM Dec 8th from web
5. experimenting with twittercal 1:06 PM Oct 14th from Netvibes

Juicy “e-learning” learning: My Top Ten (in no particular order)

This is why I really stay with Twitter: it is full of e-learning gems form the multitude of educational bloggers who inhabit the Twitterverse. This has been so useful for me in my own blogging, development of my module on Virtual Teams and as a PGCE student:

1. RT @TheTransitioner: Great resources on Building community with Ning. A slideshare, voicethread and more.. about 16 hours ago from TweetDeck

2. RT @HallyMk1: "Social needs induce users to jump tech hurdles" [everyday in every way I find something cool on Twitter] 6:15 PM Dec 17th from TweetDeck

3. the trouble is I am always finding something new and interesting: courtesy of @c4lptnews 10:18 AM Dec 9th from web

4. @tsurutsuru thanks for the follow and this great link! retweeting here... 4:07 PM Nov 29th from web in reply to tsurutsuru (collaborative learning study)

5. @redstarvip this is what's exciting me right now 9:52 AM Nov 26th from Netvibes in reply to redstarvip (M Wesch on Youtube)

6. this is very interesting: 10:37 AM Aug 14th from Netvibes (also M Wesch)

7. @timbuckteeth and anyone else forgive my typing: that should have been for the wiki post 4:04 PM Nov 21st from Netvibes in reply to timbuckteeth (stages of wiki development for e-learning)

8. Howard Rheingold video on vlogging, seesmic video in education [from] 10:16 AM Oct 23rd from Netvibes

9. enjoying this wiki I discovered about creativity in HE.... 2:20 PM Oct 9th from Netvibes

10. RT @sfpeaky you might find this interesting from @HallyMk1Horizon Report 2008: 7:50 AM Dec 10th from TweetDeck

Other useful things to Tweet about

Work related: keeping my boss informed.
It was my boss who introduced me to Twitter as a way of keeping in touch because I work out of the office a lot. It lets him know what I am working on and we can pass each other little messages about current commitments and ideas. It’s a good social tool too: we can’t “bump into” one another if we are not in the same physical space, but we can virtually when reading one another’s posts. We have tried to interest other members of the team, but not had much success there….

@sfpeaky RT @markhawker: "Our NHS, Our Future" online follow-up from Lord Darzi's Next Stage Review(s) 10:25 AM Dec 16th from TweetDeck in reply to sfpeaky

@sfpeaky Here's a thought- a step on from Ning community maybe? 4:31 PM Oct 31st from Netvibes in reply to sfpeaky

@sfpeaky,@tesstrace reviewing Bb for FLM next year with Euan, completing on line induction, writing oD leads newsletter, sorting out cohorts 2:20 PM Aug 7th from Netvibes in reply to sfpeaky

Blatant self promotion:

I admit to using Twitter to get interest in my blog, to get feedback, to promote the module I am teaching. To feed my need for recognition- Discovery is the new cocaine:

just posted: virtual team module reflections 10:10 AM Dec 19th from TweetDeck

e-learning programme for leadership: celebrating the first year in operation! 1:12 PM Oct 17th from TwitKit

posting wiki assessment criteria and self and peer assessment guidance: students response to new form of assessment is very enthusiatic! 12:25 PM Oct 19th from Netvibes

pleased I finished the article what I wrote (sic) about web 2.0 in leadership development. 12:47 PM Oct 10th from Netvibes

making a Jing screencast about my students' first wiki!! my entry on the Top Ten tools for e-learning. 10:12 AM Sep 5th from Netvibes

@sfpeaky yes and added myself to elearning professionals Twitter directory: time to get serioso..... 6:14 PM Oct 20th from web in reply to sfpeaky

Passing on the stuff I have learned/found elsewhere:
@stujohnson those twitter tips I promised: and 3:19 PM Nov 27th from Netvibes in reply to stujohnson BT adoption of social media. 2:02 PM Sep 27th from Netvibes

posted by one of my students: 10:08 AM Sep 10th from Netvibes

this is am-aaaa-zing!!!!! 5:04 PM Sep

Chatting to friends
About the weather, news, traffic alerts, my social life, listening to music ( , sharing photos ( , making jokes, posting videos…….

My first post:

discovering twitter, writing a newsletter for MHSC providers, proofing an e-earning programme that goes live in 2 months! HAVING LUNCH : 0 12:51 PM Jun 25th from web
My last post:

Thanks to everyone for the follows, and for letting me follow you …..
and here’s to a Happy New Year!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Trust and communication

image by Nick in exsilio

Marking assignments could be a chore but I feel as if I am witnessing the results of some very interesting action research projects and listening in on some very thoughtful and at times profound reflections on what it is to be part of a dispersed or virtual team.

First conclusion I come to is that working remotely is nothing new in the NHS and certainly not in Scotland. In particular Community Health practioners of all disciplines have long been used to working away from base and their managers have had to be creative about managing such teams even before the advent of mobile phones.

Secondly, for such teams, mobile technology doesn't get much better than a mobile phone (Blackberry if you are lucky) and access to collaborative spaces like blogs and wikis is a pipe dream when you are constantly out on the road. Text messaging is essential for quick updates and social networking. (See also Ken Thompson on Bio Teaming: )

Thirdly, building Trust is the foundation stone for all virtual teams. Without Trust communication breaks down, messages get misinterpreted and more mistrust abounds... a vicious cycle.With trust, teams become more creative and more productive, and the leader trusts them more, and the team trusts in the leader more: a virtuous cycle. And what builds trust? Communication.......

Fourth - communication requires structure: netiquette is helpful and aids clarity, regular messages from the leader to all the team maintain a sense of belonging and being kept in the loop, having a place to find and deposit information for and by the team is helpful (a shared drive, a wiki, an intranet space - some sort of virtual noticeboard)

Fifth - training is needed to ensure everyone communicates in the best way for the team. Students came up with some intriguing ideas - putting a Christmas e-card on a shared drive to see who could access it; organising a Chritmas social event via the team wiki; getting the team to design and manage the induction of a new team member so s/he could get quickly immersed in the team norms.

I have also paused to reflect on my own experiencing of managing a virtual learning group - specifically one set within the Scottish NHS.

Technology is difficult and unstable: not everyone is able to access the Wimba classroom we set up so remote sessions of the normal classroom style were not a great success. Not everyone has webcam, headset and mic.

However chat on Blackboard worked well: it could equally be Skype or MSN chat. OK it was like herding cats at times, but the students enjoyed the "meeting" space and it added a much needed social dimension to the module. We covered topics related to the assignment and students shared ideas with one another about team building, developing trust and improving communications.

To inject a bit more of a personal element into the process I set up a video introduction (early in this blog) and used Jing from time to time to teach about the technological aspects of the course. These were well received. I think on reflection that podcasting would really add something here. Regular updates on key topics could be posted so that students could access them in their own time - again mostly out of work time so that NHS firewalls don't block media.

I have also since discovered - and gained access to - a community space within the NHS Scotland e-library where a discussion board and document sharing space could be set up specifically for this programme. This could provide the answer to the firewall problem and would leave students with a legacy - a space where graduates could continue to meet after the end of the programme and which they could colonise for their own work teams' use, instead of having to try and set up their own wiki with all the attendant access issues. I think there is an important learning here about using the avialable technology and what is already familiar!

My own e-learning coach asked me to think about what more I could do in terms of "teaching" on this module.....

I am not keen to lecture - with Wimba or podcast - and the evidence suggests that the learning materials on Blackboard are well accessed and provide a sound basis from which students can tackle the assignment.

Providing a space where they can discuss their responses to that material seems to me to be the key - but instead of the activities we currently have, I think the discussion boards would be better used in

  • getting students to read articles and present their responses,

  • setting up small groups to work together on short focused tasks

  • presenting short case studies or issues for discussion in the style of an action learning set

I also think a social networking element is needed: one comment that struck me is that virtual teams lack a space where they can bump into one another for a quick chat. Something like Twitter might be the answer here, if, once again, people can be persuaded to try it or can find their way around the technological problems of accessing it.

ah well - back to the marking now!

Friday, 12 December 2008

NHS messaging system

One of the things (maybe the only really important thing) that students on the Leading and Managing at A Distance Module (part of the Frontline Leadership and Management Programme for NHS Scotland) have consistently complained about is the lack of IT support. It is fitting then, on the final day of the current run of this programme that a new email system for the NHS is being announced.

The important words are right at the end - better support for mobile messaging! Hallelujah!

Monday, 8 December 2008


One of the reasons some people give for not wanting to work from home is that they fear they will find too many distractions there. There now appears to be a mathematical formula by which you can judge the likelihood of you completing a task - or maybe for working out what it takes to keep your team focused on the job in hand.....

Sunday, 7 December 2008

A new look

as we near the end of the module, I am going to be doing some tidying up: a new layout, for one, as I felt the old style template was a bit cramped.

I will also be removing all module members from the authors list: you can still read and comment, but I am preparing for the blog's new role beyond FLM.

At De Montfort we are putting together a number of "bite sized" modules for work based learning in SMEs (that's small/medium enterprises) and there's been quite a bit of interest in this module for preparing managers and team leaders for "remote" working: not surprisingly in an age when people are more and more concerned at both the econmics and the environmental damage of ceaseless travel - to, from and around work.

I shall continue to post items of interest and would appreciate your feedback, comments and contributions.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

All in the mind

I was listening to a fascinating edition of Radio Four's All in the Mind driving home yesterday: there were two topics that caught my "ear"

The first was about the use of Blogs by people with mental health issues, and how these were being used for support, developing self awareness and informing the public at large about the reality of mental illness - dispelling stereotypes and fears.

The second was about techniques to persuade people to do what you want them to do. There were some useful "tips" here which have given me food for thought about this module next year - indeed about the programme as a whole. Getting students to engage with the on line Discussion Board is a constant struggle for tutors, and much thought has been given to the use of incentives like awarding marks, assessing postings etc. One of the thoughts I had from listening to this short article was that it needs to be sold much more as "the place to be", to generate a sense that everyone is using it so I will miss out if I don't.....

The second point though was about email and how it is a really terrible medium for persuasion because it is so cold and impersonal. The speakers main tip here was to make the email as personal as possible: using names, informal signatures or logos/colour etc.

Combining the two issues: it is noticeable how much better used the wiki forum was than Blackboard, initially, on this module. My guess is that although it was unfamiliar and difficult to access at times, it did have a much more informal look about it and there was a more personal touch in things like the profile pages which helped us get to know one another a little.

I know that some students have gone on to develop informal group sites or wikis for their teams as means of keeping in touch in a less formal way than email and work-based intranets allow. It will be interesting to see how these are taken up over time....