Here is a set of rules that I hope you will find useful.
I think it's important to have rules for oneself, as well as one's classroom. The way I see it, as professionals, our time, and that of our colleagues, is far too precious to waste. We're made to feel guilty, or have somehow been conditioned to feel guilty, if we don't read every possibly useful report. Or every relevant newspaper article. Or if we don't get our lesson plans absolutely perfect -- and then rework them in the light of what happened when we used them.
Feel guilty no more. Here are some rules which I am gradually starting to live by myself.
The heading rule
If you can't tell from the heading what the chapter/article/blog/section is about, at least to start thinking about it, skip it. I was browsing in a bookshop a couple of years ago and was looking at a book about website usability. The author stated that if a heading or link was worded in such a way that the reader had to think about what it might mean, it was no good.
Great stuff. What a pity, then, that he didn't take his own advice. I found it very hard to tell what some of the sections might be about. I didn't buy the book.
The paragraph rule
In a well written piece you will be able to tell from the first paragraph whether you need to read the whole thing. Newspaper articles are a classic example of this technique. No time to read the paper? Then read all the first paragraphs. They contain the gist of the story while the rest of it, usually, is concerned with filling in the details.
Same with press releases. Same with Government reports -- although there the "first paragraph" might be an executive summary of a couple of pages. Same principle though.
The 90 second rule
The trouble with podcasts and video-casts is that it's not easy to skim through to see if it's worth listening to or watching all the way through. Now, iTunes lets you listen or watch for 90 seconds without your having to download it. That should be enough time for anyone to decide if it's worth bothering with the whole thing.
Astonishingly, some podcasters have completely failed to understand this. There was one I was interested in, and I tried previewing 3 different episodes. All of them spent at least the first minute and a half on completely irrelevant stuff. Apart from the intro, which took up at least half the time, there was stuff about his loft, his dog, and some other highly interesting (to him) topic. By the time he said, "OK, today we're going to...", the preview timed out. I'm too busy to have other people waste my time: I can do that myself, but far more productively thank you!
The 1% rule
From what I have seen (and apparently this is a well-observed phenomenon), in any undertaking only about 1% of the people affected are active in any way. What that means is that, on average, if you work in a school which employs 100 teachers, only one of them is going to be moved by your efforts to introduce podcasting, video-blogging or whatever. With that in mind, concentrate your efforts on the people who are going to make a difference, and feel pretty good about yourself if two or three people come on board.
Freedman's 5 minute rule
I invented this rule when I was a head of educational technology and educational technology Co-ordinator in a secondary (high) school. The way I saw it, someone should be able to come into my computer suite, log on, do some work, print it out and save it and log off, all in the space of 5 minutes even if they had never set foot in the school before. I set up systems to enable that to happen, and it was highly successful.
What a contrast to an occasion in my next job. I visited a school where I was, in fact, well known, and asked if I could use a computer for five minutes just to type up some notes. The conversation then went like this:
Ed Tech Co-ordinator: How long will you be here today?
Me: Erm, a couple of hours, probably, why?
ETC: OK, I'll set the password to time out at 2 pm, that should give you an extra 30 minutes or so.
Me: Right. What is it?
ETC: Your username will be mydogisacat, and your password will be t43egi98sp97
Me: I'll just write that down
ETC: No, we don't like people writing it down, it doesn't set a good example to the students.
Needless to say, by the time I got to the computer room, which had to be unlocked, I'd forgotten all this, and by that time the ETC was teaching. I had to find a teaching assistant to help me. All in all, it took me 40 minutes to get on to a computer to do 5 minutes work. Now, I understand about the need for security, but puh-leeeze! This is a school, not the Pentagon! It is perfectly possible to set up guest user accounts which give no access at all to students' areas.
Freedman's 100% Rule
Lesson preparation should never take longer than the lesson, or series of lessons, will be.
Freedman's One More Time Then I Must Get On With My Life Rule
Lesson plans, reports, articles, chapters etc should only be revised once before submitting them. Any more than that and they lose their freshness. Basically, if you can't get it right second time, take the view that this will have to be good enough. Tough one that, if you're a perfectionist like me.
I hope you find these rules useful. If you prefer some more amusing ones, then look here.
A slightly different version of this article appeared on my Technology & Learning blog.