Lessons from the world of sports: #5 The rule of encouragement

Girl Talk at JellyNYC's Pool Party (August 23rd, 2009)Welcome to the fifth part of this mini-series, in which I consider lessons we might learn from sports and sports personalities which we can apply to educational ICT. How important is encouragement to Olympic class athletes? I’d like to start off with an admission of error….

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Lessons from the world of sports: #4 The rule of expert guidance

teacher's conference 2011Here is the fourth part of this mini-series, in which I consider lessons we might learn from sports and sports personalities which we can apply to educational ICT. Today I’d like to consider the role of the sports coach, and to start with I’ll quote from a conversation that has never taken place, and probably will never take place.

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Lessons from the world of sports: #3 The rule of eclecticism

girl thinkingWelcome to the third part of this mini-series, in which I consider lessons we might learn from sports and sports personalities which we can apply to educational ICT. I’ve called today’s rule the rule of eclecticism because it’s about learning from different, and disparate, disciplines.

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Lessons from the world of sports: #2 The rule of detailed analysis

leon taylorHere in London we’re pretty much immersed in the Olympics at the moment, and it occurred to me recently that there are several ideas which can be applied from sports to educational ICT. Last week I was invited by Acer to a talk in the Olympic Park by Leon Taylor, the champion diver. In this, the second part of the mini-series on lessons from sports, we look at what he had to say about detailed analysis.

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Lessons from the world of sports: #1 The 1% improvement rule

Cycling Yorkshire DalesAlthough not by nature an avid sports fan, I have been enjoying the recent offerings in the forms of the Tour de France and the Olympics. While engrossed in these I was struck by how far the work needed to do well in these activities could be applied to education in general, and ICT in education in particular. I will be exploring this idea over the next seven articles, starting with this one, in which we look at the 1% improvement rule.

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Rules rules rules

signIn case you missed them, here are a few posts I’ve written listing rules. They’re a little light-hearted – but they are serious too!


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7 More Rules for ICT Teachers, Co-ordinators and Leaders

IMG_0827All over the country, indeed all over the world, ed tech evangelists are bending over backwards helping, training and cajoling their colleagues into adopting the use of technology in their own curriculum area. Let’s be honest, most of the time it’s a thankless task. The hapless ICT Co-ordinator

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When To Procrastinate

Procrastination, n. The action or habit of postponing or putting something off; delay, dilatoriness. Often with the sense of deferring though indecision, when early action would have been preferable. Oxford English Dictionary.


My intention was to arise from the settee and take the tea things into the kitchen. I’d managed to reach Stage two of the three stage procedure (Stage one is thinking about it, Stage two is announcing it, Stage three is doing it). Having discovered that thinking about it had no effect, I made a dynamic and bold statement that I was going to do the deed. (I think what I actually said was something along the lines of, “I suppose I ought to drag my carcass into an upright position so I can take all this detritus away”, but let’s not split hairs.)

In response, my father-in-law, whose name is Frank, came out with a statement that really ought to be immortalised as “Frank’s Law of Procrastination”. He said:

If you're slow enough, someone else will do it.

Sound advice, and so true, generally speaking. But after laughing, I started to think that there are times when procrastination is, actually, the most sensible course of action. Or inaction. And although procrastination usually has negative and unflattering connotations, if you look at the OED’s definition (above), you’ll notice that it says “Often with the sense of indecision…”. Often, not always. There is, it seems, nothing oxymoronic about the phrase “planned procrastination”.

So when would procrastination be a good strategy to adopt? I can think of a number of situations.

Freedman’s Variation of Frank’s Law of Procrastination

If you wait long enough, someone else will beta test it.

There are those of us who, whilst liking the sense of exhilaration one gets from trying out something completely new, have become rather fed up with having trashed computer systems, security holes, and other unforeseen consequences. These days, I never buy anything until it’s on at least version 3.

Freedman’s Law of Intemperate Emails

We all know this one, and I’m surprised that as far as I can find out, nobody else has so egotistically given their name to it (my excuse is that I needed a snappy heading to this bit). When you hammer out an email reply telling your correspondent to do something to themselves which is anatomically impossible, that’s when you hit the Send key when you meant to hit the Delete key. Having done something like that myself once, I now draft a response in my word processor, or as an email reply but with the name(s) of the recipient(s) removed, so that even if I do accidentally hit the Send key nothing will happen.

Freedman’s Law of Decision-Taking

(You can tell that I’m on a roll here, can’t you?). I’m very good at taking decisions, but I’d not be the right person to have commanding you on a battlefield. I like to look at the situation from different angles, seek other people’s opinions and then sleep on it. Obviously there are exceptions to every rule (I wonder if that rule has an exception?), but I usually find that if I resist my urge to respond straight away I end up thinking of nuances and issues which had previously escaped me.

A good example of how planned procrastination is a useful device is when a client says they would like the bid, or case study, or vision document or whatever I’m writing for them to include X. It seems a good idea at first, until I think about it and realise that including X will mean also including Y and Z in order to explain and contextualise X, and doing all that would put us way over the word limit. But after sitting on it for a day, I realise that if I said W (do keep up at the back), it would get across the whole idea of X but without going into so much detail.

Bottom line

We live in an age when instantaneous responses are possible, expected and, furthermore, highly valued. But I think we need to ensure that youngsters are taught the value of waiting and thinking, in spite of all the pressures to do otherwise.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you’ll probably also like 21 rules for computer users.

21 rules for computer users


Rosenstock-Huessy's Law of Technology

All technology expands the space, contracts the time, and destroys the working group.

Sattingler's Principle

It works better if you plug it in. If it still doesn't work, switch it on.

Ninety-nine Rule of Project Schedules

The first ninety percent of the task takes ninety percent of the time, the last ten percent takes the other ninety percent.

Grosch's Law

Computing power increases as the square of the cost. If you want to do it twice as cheaply, you have to do it four times as fast.

Computer Rule

To err is human but to really foul things up requires a computer.

Lubarsky's Law of Cybernetic Entomology

There's always one more bug.

Gallois's Revelation

If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled, and no one dares to criticise it.

Westheimer's Rule

To estimate the time it takes to do a task: estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by two, and change the unit of measure to the next highest unit. Thus we allocate two days for a one-hour task.

Peers's Law

The solution to a problem changes the problem.

Gilb's 1st law of unreliability

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable.

Gilb's 2nd Law of Unreliability

Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable.

Gilb's 3rd Law of Unreliability

Undetectable errors are infinite in variety, in contrast to detectable errors, which, by definition, are limited. Investment in reliability will increase until it exceeds the probable cost of errors, or until someone insists on getting some useful work done.

These rules were coined by Thomas Gilb, a systems engineer.

Shipman's First Law

ICT capability is inversely related to seniority within an organisation.

Shipman's Second Law

The length of time required for a task is inversely related to its simplicity.

Freedman's Postulate

The reliability of computer systems is inversely related to the urgency of the task.

Allen's Axiom

When all else fails, read the instructions.

Gall's Second Principle of Systemantics

New systems generate new problems.

Coffee's observation

If you do not have anything to say, a word processor
will not say it ~ Peter Coffee

Peers's Law

The solution to a problem changes the problem.

Richards' First Law of Data Security

Don't buy a computer.

Richards' Second Law of Data Security

If you do buy a computer, don't turn it on.

Thanks to David Harley for providing me with these last two rules.

First published in InTegrate, March 1995.

You may also find 7 rules for ICT teachers, co-ordinators and leaders interesting.

7 rules for ICT teachers, co-ordinators and leaders

Here is a set of rules that I hope you will find useful.

Information for tech users should be more useful than this!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.