Category Archives: Teaching

Aberdeen CityLab!

In the spring Jo Holtan and I got talking about http://citystudiovancouver.com over lunch at the beach in Aberdeen.  Matt Lowell had told her about this idea as part of their CycleHack adventure since he’d moved to Vancouver. We thought this would be a good thing to do for our respective institutions: University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh. Some discussion got going in Edinburgh, and I ran with the idea in Aberdeen.

For my part I sounded other people out about the idea to see what they thought of this notion. The idea in a nutshell is this: students work with a team from the local city council to develop sustainable projects, which can be either continued by the city, or which are developed with support and help from a city partner, who then takes over the project. The goal is to have students develop their entrepreneurial and soft-skills in multidisciplinary teams over the academic term.

Everyone I spoke to at the university liked the idea. The next step was to sound out people I knew at the council to see what they thought about it. They also liked it, so I moved onto the next phase of gathering the academics together to see what we could do next. Everyone met each other and we found that we had someone from each college. Wow. That was impressive, and we decided to move forward and to quietly pilot this in the next academic year, and that I should continue discussions with Aberdeen City Council to see what we’d need to do to put it into place.

Over the summer I met with various ACC people and it was run up the  rungs to see who could approve this. it got to the Transformation team and stopped. They said “yes, let’s do this.” We met them at the right time as they were looking to bring in university students to help with innovation in the council. Their legal team also saw no problems with the idea either.

Discussions with potential students also went well and thought this would be a good optional course. They could get experience while also developing further skills in team work in a live client situation. Their main concerns were about teamwork, assessments and similar issues.

Marischal College

Our plan to bring this in under the radar haven proven elusive as we couldn’t find a way to do that using any of the current courses on offer a the university. This means we need to start this year with a voluntary scheme, which takes some of the pressure off to have everything ‘just right’, which is part of the reason we wanted to pilot the idea in the first place: so we could learn by doing to uncover the hidden issues of delivering the course.

Further discussions with others experienced in working with councils and governments told me this was also a good idea, which should be pursued too. They also said that we should not look for big, bold ideas either. Within councils things move slowly, so any change for the good, no matter how small is seen as a success. “Judge things by their standards, not by what you would hope to achieve” they said. From within the council they are starting from a different point, than you. I must remember this.

To that end we’ll hopefully be launching this new idea as ‘CityLab!’ in September with a group of volunteer students. To guide the students through the creative process we’ll introduce them to service design and human centered design approaches. And, ‘hey presto’ we’re back in the territory of Snook and Sarah Drummond’sdo tank‘ of delivering ideas back upstream to government. 🙂

I’m really excited about this and look forward to see where it goes. There is so much potential here.

CoCreACT! Facilitator Training in Hamburg

Since leaving Hamburg the last time in 2012 after my StrategicPlay training as a Lego Serious Play facilitator I have been meeting Katrin Elster each year at Play4Agile and always been impressed by her sessions, and the ideas we’ve talked about at meals and in the bar. For a while she’s talked about a ‘new’ training workshop, and I’ve always asked ‘when?’. Finally… finally, this year she agreed to set a date for me and a colleague, who I brought with to #p4a15 to come to this new ‘CoCreACT’ training workshop. Woohoo! This was exciting stuff. Katrin was going to be leading a small group of trainees through their paces in learning how to best facilitate creative problem solving sessions.

The programme for the three days didn’t say much, and if you didn’t know Katrin, you might think ‘meh, I know this stuff’. There’s expected topics on creative problem solving, and even the four d’s of design: discover, design, develop and deploy along with the double-diamond. You can find all of this in books, and probably on YouTube too, if that works better for you. You’d be wrong thinking that was all there was to one of Katrin’s training workshops.

As with my StrategicPlay training with Katrin I had read any and everything I could find about the process, and I had run a few LSP sessions too. Similarly, I’ve been using various creative problem solving approaches, organising and facilitating co-design sessions and Global Service Jam events alongside running sessions with students. All of this was familiar territory. I’d done my homework and the extra credit stuff on Simplex creative problem solving process too.

Despite this, I was willing to put my money down for training. I also and had faith that my colleague would be satisfied with the training too. She’d only met Katrin at #p4a15 and had participated in a few LSP sessions that I’d run. My faith in signing up for this workshop was based on this: I came away from the LSP training going WOW! She had put all of the bits I knew into perspective, and added more on top of this. Katrin is a master trainer, and knows how to make a training session feel like you’re effortlessly learning while working.

I trusted that this new ‘CoCreACT’ training would be of the same standard: that at the end of each day my head would hurt from all the new things I’d learned I’d done. I knew I’d be using a ‘learning by doing approach’ in a small, safe environment where I’d be challenged in a fun, supporting manner. Yes, I’d have to work, but I’d also have fun while working. I wasn’t disappointed.

CoCreACT day threeThe first day you learn the process and apply it to a problem of your own. You also explore your own preferences for how to solve problems so that you’re aware of blindspots you may have in the process, and thus don’t overlook them. the second day you work as a team on a few problems and see how this all works in a larger group. The last day participants are leading sections of the process. So you go from walking through the materials to running with them
by the end of your three days.

All of this training is done in a highly tactile, collaborative and supportive environment, which aids the learning process. There are worksheets to write on, Lego bricks scattered around for you to finger with while you’re listening; but you’re never sitting for too long in any case as you work through energisers and brainstorm ideas writing on hundreds of Post It notes while on your feet. Then there is all of the wonderful food and drink, cake and endless coffee or tea too. All of this combines to make for a stimulating learning experience where you comfortably grow into the role you wanted for yourself by the end of the workshop. You came to gain more facilitation experience, and that is what you’re practicing by the end.

During the training you’ve made more friends with your fellow participants too. There were six of us in this workshop. All but one had previously done the StrategicPlay LSP training with Katrin. My colleague, hadn’t done this. It didn’t slow her down or hinder her and she grew in confidence with the training too. By the end we six had spent days together and
shared many a coffee, croissants, lunch and drinks, and blended into a nice team. This is the same thing that happened the LSP training too. There, as here, I knew some participants, but we all got on well together and were friends by the end. The mix of the food, drink and the training plus Katrin’s coordination and training magic make it all happen.

So, go take part in Katrin’s CoCreACT training workshops. You will learn lots, even if you think you might know some of the materials. By attending you’ll gain the insights of someone who has worked out a process that blends many of the ideas and steps together into a well-structured whole so that you too can use this process later as second nature, and always wonder why you didn’t notice these little things that help make it all come together so much
easier and better than before.

And my colleague, was she happy with the time and money spent on this training? Did she still trust my judgement on these things? Prior to coming to Hamburg, at the end of Play4Agile she
said we must go to Play4Agile North America as that would be useful and help her development as a facilitator. Now she says that can wait. She wants to return to Hamburg for three days of StrategicPlay Lego Serious Play facilitation training. As I thought, she did enjoy the training and found it useful for her work.

Update: I’ve now used CoCreAct for an event and was very happy with the result.

HEA STEM Workshop on Developing Student-Run Software Houses

In March 2014 I ran a workshop on developing student-run software houses for the HEA at London Metropolitan University in London. The day was broken into two halves with the morning devoted to short case studies with plenty of time for questions, and an afternoon of hands-on workshop starting with Strategic Play session using Lego Serious Play to let people think about their own situation followed by a wider focused World Cafe style approach to our main questions. This worked well for our twenty-five or so participants.

The seven short case studies meant we had at least one look at each of the four ‘live client interaction models’ I’ve identified at different universities. The ones in bold presented for us.

  • Model one focuses on the degree with a core live client module for all students (Durham, Lancaster, Sheffield Hallam and Aston)
  • Model two starts small when someone offers services to community supplied by students across discipline or university (Aberdeen, Greenwich, Worcester, Plymouth and Chester)
  • Model three is an umbrella where a commercial and entrepreneurial unit organises activities (Edge Hill, Hull, and Napier)
  • Model four is a commercial unit where a manager liaises with live clients and organises students as staff, or as freelance developers (London Met, Southampton Solent, Kent and Sheffield)

The afternoon sessions started with the warm up using StrategicPlay approaches using Lego Serious Play with each participant reflecting on their own situation by building models to share with others at their table reflecting these questions:

  • what is your biggest challenge to the next step of starting, or developing further, a student-run software house
  • add how will you have overcome this challenge in the next six months?

StrategicPlay session
The goal was to have people reflect on their situation and take in what they’d learned from the morning case studies and general discussion over lunch. The next step was to widen out the discussion using a World Cafe approach that addressed these four questions:

  • What might the ‘next level’ look like at your institutions?
  • What don’t you know that you wished you did know?
  • What is holding you back?
  • Where do we want to go?

We gathered the results on sticky notes on flip charts which have now been collated here.

What might the next level look like for our institution?

Sticky notes say:next level at your institution
HR/finance/IT/legal departments informed and engaged
IP and contracts
IT support?!
senior management support
investent in future
long-term planning, sustainability
visibility internally and externally
Plan B
more staff involved
greater engagement of staff
incentives for staff to engage
train students to do some work for staff autonomy

enhance first year lead in
opportunities to engage at every level capture results
opportunities both inside and outside curriculum
separate or linked?
graduate/industry mentors
external clients
curriculum keeping pace with industry
guessing the next gen.
maintenance/support ‘surviving the summer’
working around inertia

How might we achieve this?

how might we achieve thisSticky notes say:
motivate by linking to drivers – employability, income, student satisfaction
reward staff appropriately
enthusiastic staff members setup team – perhaps as their own loss of time initially
less talk, more action
academics working in collaboration with software specialists
find large org’s in local area that would support idea and business costs
get external partners
focus on lean and agile – reduces risk
specialised contracts
research orientated software solutions
marketing
transubstantiation
make initiatives self-financing
institutional mandate to support this including legal, finance, etc
departments recognise value of this and willingly invest money
skip the university – set it up externally!
seek approval/support from relevant departments. exchange knowledge with similar schemes
students develop own ideas initially!

What’s holding us back?

what's holding us back?Sticky notes say:
support from university service teams, e.g finance, legal, etc
buy-in by key people
lack of sustained support from senior decision makers
sustainable future and proof planning
visibility for the university’s programmes
increased pressure on staff time. Limited staff resources
incentive misalignment (workload reluctance)
the contractual process ->timeliness
equipment
space: labs, group working areas
IT services
structure for this new initiative
industrial involvement (of the right type!)
mindset
assessment strategy
good infrastructure needed
VLEs
(small?) numbers (of students), lack of vitality, feedback (about how we are doing), atmosphere
quality assurance
managing TA support
can we deliver what client’s want? within budget, timeline, etc?
module descriptor and latency issues
getting the right type of students and staff on board
varying skill base of students
how to get the first project out?
visibility for students (student motivation)
management: unreasonable expectations and promises

What don’t we know that we wish we knew?

What don't we know that we wish we knew?Sticky notes say:
how to engage less-able students safely in outreach-like activity
how do we group students?
engaging with mid-range students
is here an unaddressed market for ‘safe’ student activity? (i.e. not addressed by existing business)
how to identify bad projects (and clients)
how to identify good projects
how to combine live projects with rigorous assessment efficiently
use cv* to filter the type of students and not necessary be a cv
students do not get paid in many successful cases
how much trouble will I get into if i short-circuit university procedures?
things that active software developers know
future skills to demand
what barriers to entry prevent students joining software development teams
better lead and networking
costing and planning
a fair commercial contracts that is business, not ‘academic’
when IP is given away. Should source code be accessible by client, or just the final product?

Where do we wish to go?

where do we want to go?Sticky notes say:
Happy students (NSS)
flexible and adaptable students
develop confidence in students by giving them positive opportunities
generating good quality professional [students?]
generating successful students
good score DCHE (festinate of leavers in higher education)
enable students to develop skills that industry want
internships
maintain links with former students
craftmanship
catching the next wave (wearables)
happy, satisfied customers
maintain connections with industry (be in their little black book)
will develop good reputation with industry
a successful cooperation with industry
assist local companies
able to adapt quickly to changes (in IT industry, HE, accreditation, etc)
grow talent pool in the UK
cross department links
ease of implementation of programmes
ease of assessment
have fun
utopia
efficient resourcing
showcase research
generate income
improve overall reputation
spin-outs
feedback in connection with modules and programmes
manage numbers realistically
depends upon obstacles in your way?

Pulling some of the thoughts together across these boards we see recurring themes:

  • Support from higher levels of the university, and coordination with other important departments like finance, legal and human resources as well as IT. In order to make this work smoothly each of these aspects needs to be addressed.
  • Support and recognition for the time and effort in managing these projects with students, and possibly some sort of incentive beyond this to encourage more staff to participate in these programmes too.
  • The difficulty in finding good students to participate, and levelling up those who are willing but lacking some skills to work on these types of projects.

So there is still more work to be done here, but we’ve made a start. There is also intention from the workshop participants to move ahead with this work. To start with the JISC mail list STUDENT-LIVE-CLIENT-WORK has now been created for those interested in talking about this more and keeping in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.

My Play4Agile Story

People attending this years’  Play4Agile 2014 were asked to blog their answer to these simple questions:

  • Who or what brought you to Play4Agile in the first place?

I saw Olaf post a tweet about the first one in 2011 and started following Katrin then too, but couldn’t make it. I was able to meet both of them at ALE2011 along with lots of other amazing people who inspired me very much, and life’s never been the same since.  I have them to thank for opening my eyes to the many possibilities which I hadn’t seen before.

  • What kept you from coming back/ what keeps you coming back?

I keep coming back because of the fun and the learning with these wonderful people in such a playful environment. And it’s good fun as there’s always something that I take home and use whether it be an idea, or games to use, or a better understanding of coaching and facilitation. I wrote about p4a2013 already.

  • How did Play4Agile make a difference in your life, your work and/or your community?

The takeaways of bringing in fun and games into the workplace and my teaching. This has helped make work more fun and keeps bringing new challenges because I’ve learned to keep moving out of my comfort zone as that’s where the magic is according to Pete’s drawing from last year.

Where the magic happens

  • Did you change jobs because of your experiences at Play4Agile or took a sabbatical?

I didn’t need to change my job to make the new direction, as there is enough freedom to change how I do the job. I can modify how I do the job and bring games into the classroom.

  • How might you bring the unconference forward?

The key factor of p4a is the people who attend and the conviviality of the secluded event. We could provide more interaction before and after the event. For example, in the way that this blog post and twitter events build up the excitement before we attend is good. We could also use something to continue afterwards by using http://www.futureme.org on the last day and setting a date in August when we read them so we don’t forget the fun and ‘learning opportunities’ we had.

  • What would be your wish for the next 5 years of Play4Agile?

May it continue to be just as fun and exciting as it has in the past and continue to be as relevant to my life as it has been.

I’m looking forward to this year’s event when I can see everyone again and have more fun learning with friends.

Learning to program or code

There’s been a lot of writing on this of late so it seems a good time to pull some of these thoughts together. There is the ‘everyone should learn to code’ camp as shown by Emma Mulqueeny, who runs Rewired State and Young Rewired State, because it helps to form logical problem solving skills and an awareness of algorithms and processes. There is also the ‘everyone should code, or do something to foster creativity’ group too as noted in this article on Forbes. And there’s also the ‘don’t learn to code for its own sake’ position best exemplified by Jeff Attwood, or use the approach of  Ciara Byrne  and others, who focus on learning to better understand coders instead.

Mostly though, as I see it, kids should have opportunities to see how things work, and learning to code is part of that, even if you don’t take it too far. Tools that let kids and adults learn more easily by themselves, or with friends is a good way to do that. Kano seems to offer another way for kids to do that too, and you’ll find more links to learning programmes for kids on the page too. There’s also a good list of where to learn code at LearnRoo, altough it’s focused on kids, but that’s ok. You can also find another good listing of ‘ways to learn to code’ based on what you want out of the process of ‘learn to code’ in a post by Scott Hansleman where he compares what a coder, programmer, dev and computer scientist. For him the issue is about ‘why’, and he poses a number of useful comments along with places to learn for hardware and software.

You should also be able to use Project Euler to develop your understanding of algorithms in your chosen coding language too. Yes, you can google all of the solutions, but that’s not the point. As with Code Retreat events where you go over Conway’s Game of Life using different constraints, the purpose of Euler is to learn how to think with the concepts you need to be a better programmer. All of this is supported by the teaching of programming experience by Wiggins, which stresses the need to develop the creative cognitive skills of students to imagine abstract processes.

All of these fit in nicely with another trend of articles on ‘how did you learn to code’ pulled together at geekwire.

The Dream Team Nightmare

Books tell stories to teach us important lessons in a variety of ways. Many ‘howto’ type books tell us what to do in a logical, linear path from beginning to end. Some of these might have quizzes and exercises that help us to learn the materials. Portia Tung’s book The Dream Team Nightmare uses a different device to help us learn ‘howto’ be an agile coach.

Cover of Dream Team Nightmare

Cover of Dream Team Nightmare

The Dream Team Nightmare book  is a ‘make your own adventure’ story so as you follow choices and move around the book. For example, you might find something like this “if you decide to take a walk turn to page .., or if you decide to have lunch with the team turn to page …”, which means you follow your logical path through the book, but in a meandering instead of linear path. Your goal is to make it to the end of the contract with the team and not be fired by the manager.

Instead of ‘learn by telling’ book, this is a ‘learn by seeing and doing’ book. You see what an agile coach does and you decide what our hero does at various times. Sure, you’re still limited by the choices on offer, and you might see other options that might have been, but this is a realistic scenario to show you what being an agile coach is like.
This is highly readable book that will provide you a good read, and leave you thinking about your choices and options long after you put the book down. Go read it and tell your friends about it too.

The programme to learn agile development

While the new degree will bring together lean startup and service design, an important part will be agile development too, so that students know how to use good practices to build quality software. All three of these goes well together.

A key goal of the new MSc Software Entrepreneurship is to appeal to those, who want to learn agile development in a realistic environment. By providing the startup situation on the programme of students forming teams to launch business ideas the students will have the long-term perspective of software development normally missing from the classroom. The long-term perspective means it does make sense to use agile practices such as test driven development, pair programming, and to have the #noestimates discussion too.

As students will be working on a number of startup ideas over the year, assuming that some ideas won’t work, then they will be able to try and better understand the agile practices of software development and how these contribute to developing great services. Even if some students only work on one idea, because their idea talks off, then they will still be learning how to revise and improve their agile practices during the year and will see the difference between where they started with those practices and how they changed over the year.

While the degree is about forming a startup we also want you to leave with the skills to keep that software business growing too, or to work in someone else’s startup, or an agile software house too. Knowing how to set up a development system and have it form a smooth cadence of flow, and then look to shorten your release cycle so that you can use continous deployment, are all part of the knowledge we look to share with you on this programme. These skills and approaches will serve you well wherever you go after this degree. We’re excited to see what happens.

New ‘learning by doing’ startup MSc begins September 2013

The new ‘learn by doing’ MSc has gained approval and will start this September with a second group starting in January. While the degree idea I’ve been pursuing for a while didn’t end up being one where teams would work on projects for other businesses, which is what I thought would be most useful, this didn’t get approval higher up the university. However, a colleague suggested a change, which did make it more acceptable, and indeed possibly more exciting too: instaed of working for others, why not have the students start their own businesses while doing their degree? This makes it a ‘startup degree’, which builds on top of other things we do already, and in some ways is even more suitable for learning by doing. This will not be the traditional entrepreneurship degree where you study other people’s startups. This is you working on your own startup and applying what you learn to your own customer development process. This is you living, breathing, learning and bootstrapping your startup.

We’ll have space set up for the students to work in, and mentor them throughout their year. We’ll also remove the need for exams on almost all courses, and gather their coursework for assessment instead so that we use the artefacts generated by the startup team instead. The coursework could be based on business model canvases, customer journey maps, business plans, prototypes, results and analysis of ‘build-measure-learn’ cycles, and minimum viable product source code too. The choice of what to submit is up to the students, who will also need to keep a journal of their own reflections on the year too, and how they see their team(s) working, or not, and what they learn from the experience. This self-reflection is important so that students demonstrate they are learning suitable habits to help them after graduation, and also to ensure that every course is based as much on individual work as much as group work.

The approach used on the programme will be ‘learn by doing’ so most of the time the students will be working on two applications/products each term. This is so that they all have a good exposure to different types of teams, and also so that they are developing a varliety of different products. The development ideas will be a mixture of ‘lean startup’ and agile informed by service design to provide for the co-creation of the early prototypes so that ideas are validated early. The teaching will be delivered through workshops and seminars most of the time.

This programme should develop students experienced in entrepreneurship with a good understanding of why they use different approaches, and know when to give up on an idea and to learn from failure. Most of their ideas will presumably fail, but that’s ok as they’ll be able to start another idea the next day, and they’ll learn how to build their creativity using a variety of techniques so that they always have many ideas to draw on for possible startups. For them it will just be another ‘learning opportunity on the way to graduation. Graduates will be valuable additions to establised as well as startup firms, who know how to develop, confirm, and grow ideas worth pursuing. If this sounds like someting you might want to do, then find out more and apply here, and if you have questions, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no the university won’t own your business. You will.