Although I haven’t written about it before, I decided a few months ago to take up Jane Hart’s Ten Tools Challenge this year, after reading about it on David Kelly’s blog. This is a year when I’m learning new tools for a new job, having moved from being my own boss as a consultant and strategist to working for Versatile PhD. VPhD an internet-based business, and those prosper through one’s ability to use good tools effectively. It’s for these reasons that I’ve been thinking about this question lately: What is the nature of the connection between a tool, its purpose, and the audience for its use?
This was a departure from graduate school, where I had more time to experiment. Integrating technology into the classroom and the learning experience proved more complicated when I had to balance them against the basic demands of designing and delivering classes. My search for permanent academic employment took a lot of time and energy, as did other things, and so there was usually not a lot left over for experimenting with new tools.
For quite a while after it happened, leaving academia felt like losing my audience. This was much more true of my teaching than it was of my research. (The erosion of my connection to that audience had begun rather earlier; it was largely complete by the time I moved on.) The luxury of my lack of originality with tools was tied to the audience as well: in higher education, they and I were in the same place at the same time and so we could always fall back on that. But once the process of getting to what came next had started in earnest, I came to see that one answer to a loss of audience was the adoption of new tools.
You can find some of the earliest traces of this process in social media, on Twitter. It was there that I first found a cohesive group of professionals that had decided to use the platform not just as a tool for finding each other, but as a platform for sharing and developing professionally: #lrnchat. It was through that route that I heard of Jane, and learned about her work as the principal figure at the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies, or as a member of the Internet Time Alliance. And her especially relevant yearly Top 100 Tools for Learning list. The Ten Tools Challenge formalizes what many have already done: use the list as a starting point for professional development.
So I’ll be thinking of new tools as means to find new audiences and communicate with them. I’m also taking advantage of a lucky alignment: personal professional development and the development of the business of which I am part go together. I also think that changes in the tools that work for one is a way to trace development: the tool is a breadcrumb, or a chapter, or a bookmark.
My Ten Tools for 2013:
WordPress (personal; professional) Blogging more often, about a wide range of subjects.
Google Analytics (professional) Enhancing our understanding of what users do on our site.
Mailchimp (professional) Communicating updates and reminders to our promoters and champions.
Buffer (professional) Very handy for efficiently expanding the social media footprint the enterprise.
SurveyMonkey (professional) What do our users think about our site and services, now and in comparison to past surveys?
R (personal; professional, someday) One needs to be fluent with data and statistics in business more now than ever.
A new RSS reader to replace Google Reader (personal) A week ago, there was something else in this slot.
Asana (professional) A project workspace the extremely distributed VPhD team uses.
Tin Can API, aka The Experience API (professional) because I’m interested in what it could be used to do to track career development or accomplishment across a distributed set of locations.