Monday, December 27, 2010

No place like home

It has been a month ("how did that happen?" I ask myself) since I wrote, the first gap of that length since I started a blog.  Some of what I've learned:
  • Students absolutely must have the structure imposed by a syllabus, course calendar, and clear assignments.  Otherwise, they will do exactly what I've done this semester and put off whatever does not have a deadline and/or cause some pain (to grade, salary, etc.).
  • It's difficult to balance the demands of ones job with the desires to learn anything not required for the job.  (See previous point.)
  • Though I have enjoyed the challenges of my non-teaching semester, nothing has captured my enthusiasm as much as the recent preparation for teaching.  I have missed this.
  • I do not have to present my course content in the linear format preferred by most academics. The overview and "course calendar" for the Innovation and Creativity course are now in Prezi  so that I could capture as closely as possible the 3x5 cards and sticky notes I used to design the flow of the course.  
  • Everything is (still) connected to everything.  The acquired knowledge about standards, certifications, strategic decisions, data requirements, and other components of sustainable business practices are enriching my preparation for the courses I will teach next semester.
  • Several of the business people with whom I've developed relationships over the past six months are willing (and incredibly capable) guest lecturers in their area(s) of expertise.  Everybody wins.
  • Once you take on a new role, it's hard to give it back; thus, I will juggling more responsibilities next semester than in any previous semester here.  The synergy works, though, at least with careful planning and multi-tasking.
  • I miss being in the classroom.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Not your mother's board games

As predicted by an astute reader's comment on a previous post, I am currently immersed in Harvard Business Review case studies of innovative companies and how to foster creativity.  Most of them are surprisingly good at identifying ways in which creative companies and innovative leaders are different.  Reading about others does have benefit; ultimately, however, we have to put the reading aside, get off the bench, and play the game.  And the only way to play better is to play more.

Combining the serious aspects of education (learning objectives, practice, assessment) with the playful aspects of creativity is an opportunity to get into the game in a whole new way.  Since I obviously can't assign a grade to creativity, I'm still considering assessment options.  Ideally, I'd like to find some way to identify shifts in perspective from the beginning of the course to its completion.  I have some glimmers here, but not the fully shaped vision I'm going to need.

One of the course objectives is to be able to see common things in a different light, which stands much of traditional academic thought on its metaphorical head.  So, I'm toying with inviting some of my most playful--and successful--colleagues into the classroom...a physician, an auditor, an attorney...perhaps the executive for an NGO that writes product standards.  All of these people are passionate about what they do and represent a variety of perspectives on pretty much everything. 

I'm liking this...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A "new" average

Sometime this week, I finished Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind...and read (from a different author) this quote:
The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed.  The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore, it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is much higher.
And in one of those rare "Aha" moments, it all made sense.  Pink is advocating for an approach to work that combines analysis with affect--logic with emotion, if you will--to create a new average to follow on the heels of the information age.  His reason for doing so is to create citizens whose skills cannot be outsourced or performed better by a keep us competitive in the world help ensure the success of the republic.

What excites me about this perspective is that it takes the arts and humanities out of the academic ivory tower created to safeguard them from the "common man," while also debunking the bottom line mentality of the traditional business school.  By combining medicine with mythology, engineering with English, and business with bards, we come closer to the new average of citizens who succeed in a shifting world because they have the breadth of skill required for success.  And despite those who bemoan a crisis in the humanities, there is reason to be hopeful that the classics are actually more relevant for being lived and not just studied.

And the source of the quote above?  It's from a speech given at the Sorbonne in April Theodore Roosevelt.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Perfect moments

Today I watched a master teacher.  He'd met his students for the first time this morning and spent the day with them; the result of their collective work was perfect.  As I watched those students, everything in me wanted to freeze the moment, hang onto it, and squeeze the last drop of meaning and awareness for them.  It's not that the students weren't enjoying the moment; they were, with every fiber of their beings.  It's that they will soon be adults; their lives will accelerate, some will go to war (in fact, the only student I knew in the group is in the midst of ROTC interviews) and, in the words of T.S. Eliot, they may have "had the experience but missed the meaning."  And I was humbled thinking about the beauty of the teaching moment.

When Don Bailey took the stage to conduct 20 senior high school musicians in the All-Region Jazz Band, he brought his heart and soul--his passion--and electrified the students, the stage, and the entire high school auditorium.  His ability to ignite the passion of the students and fan the flames of the collective talent was magical and time stood still in that auditorium for me today.

Don has been teaching at his current location for 25 years, bringing 10 years of prior teaching experience with him.  When he calls roll at the beginning of the semester, Don says he asks students two things--their name and their passion.  And to the students who ask how to know their passion, Don's response is profoundly simple.  Your passion, he says, is what you must do...when asked why you do whatever it is, the only response you can make is "because I have to." 

It's important to have a marketable skill and to be productive members of society.  But far too often, I think, it comes at the cost of the passion that sustains us.  Though I didn't intend to spend part of my afternoon watching a senior high jazz band, it may be the most perfect moment I've witnessed lately.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Linking life, laughter, and learning

This morning, I've pondered writing the serious academic critique valued in the Academy.  And I'm not going to do it.  There are far too many (easy) opportunities to find fault with education in general, my academic institution in particular, and, while we're going there, anything and everything.  It always seems helpful and instructive to point out what could be better, which, in fact, is the rationalization of choice used by curmudgeons.  I'm not arguing whether the commentary of curmudgeons and critics on the human condition has value; I'm just not all that interested in seeing what's wrong today.

Finding the way(s) in which we resonate with our world, so that we can be productive, is one of the goals of education.  For many of us, joy and laughter (kin to optimism) are required for maximum productivity. From Norman Cousins' belief in the value of positive thoughts and behaviors on human healing, to the amazing Raspyni Brothers (whose 2002 Ted Talk is laugh-out-loud funny), to myriad poems, cartoons, puns, and ad libs, I need the occasional reminder that combining learning, life, and laughter creates a near-magical confluence of joy and creativity.   And therein is the source for taking the next step, forging the next river, climbing the next mountain....and writing the next blog.

Choosing to see the positive in my students, my colleagues, my university, and my life does not mean I am unaware of the ways those things fall short of some ideal.  It does means, though, that I believe we make choices about our focus.

Maybe better folks than I can focus on the things that need to be improved without feeling overwhelmed, as it's pretty strong medicine.  With that particular strong medicine, a little goes a long way.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A jinx on both your classes

I wrote a few weeks ago about the oxymoronic exhortation to be spontaneous.  Closely related is the conundrum of being labeled "creative," a surefire way to create a self-consciousness that rarely co-exists with creativity.  Next semester, I have the opportunity to take all of this to new heights by teaching a class entitled Innovation and Creativity for which I will be "perfect" because I am "so creative."  Oy vey.

Honestly, I like marching to a different drummer, singing my own song, taking the path not traveled, and seeing things from a different perspective.  But the minute you label them as unique or try to teach them to others....well, they kind of become mainstream and defeat the intended purpose of expressing uniqueness.  So, I tend to let others teach it and write about it ("it" being "how to be different") and just do what seems to work for me in any given moment or situation.  Now, however, I'm supposed to teach a group of graduate students how to be "it."  Oh my.

Yes, I love to teach.  Yes, I love a challenge.  Yes, I think it's important to find a unique contribution to the world.   I'm just not sure I know how to teach something I've never stopped to analyze or study and which seems to be nothing more than how I make my way in the world.

I have textbooks and a syllabus from the previous semester, both of which I am devouring in the hope that I will discover some magic formula for teaching something that seems both ineffable and idiosyncratic.  Perhaps it wouldn't be so daunting if I didn't feel the pressure to BE CREATIVE in front of 30 students who assume I know this stuff.   If chaos is in any way linked to creativity, then I'm feelin' real creative about now.  And that real creative feeling is temporarily getting in the way of preparing for both my Spring classes, as I'm having trouble with the focus part of creativity.

I started writing this blog to remind myself how it feels to be the learner; I am considering myself reminded.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A license to tech

I touched on related topics recently and the technology-privacy connection keeps bouncing around both in the media and in my head.  We are giving our youth access to technology and tools they don't understand and they--our youth--are reaping consequences...consequences which often have public and far-reaching implications.  Why are we doing this?  And why aren't we more concerned?

We are concerned about responsible use of an automobile.  My state places restrictions on the learner (at age 15) and removes the restrictions gradually until the age of 18, understanding that the highest likelihood of a fatality is when a teenage has limited driving experience combined with less-than-optimal emotional maturity.  In other words, less experienced, younger drivers make more lethal mistakes.  It's pretty high stakes.

And at an even earlier age, we have children using technology (text messaging, cell phone cameras, social media, as just a few examples) without the emotional maturity or life experience to understand the repercussions of many of their actions.  Is it as high stakes as a driving an automobile irresponsibly?  Maybe not.  But I'm not sure the difference would be all that compelling to the parents of teenagers who've committed suicide over images that went viral.

Frederick Lane, the author of American Privacy, describes it this way in a recent CNN article:
We're putting very powerful tools in the hands of children who don't have a frame of reference on how they should be used.  There are obviously very serious consequences when people break these kind of ethical and moral boundaries associated with privacy.
Lane goes on to say that education is the key.  Education may very well be the key, but I'm not sure what lock it's intended to open.  Cognitive development occurs in predictable stages.  We design our schools (and our driving requirements) accordingly.  Maybe it's not education that's needed as much as attention to how and why we are putting these technology tools into the hands of children who cannot possibly understand the implications of their misuse.  Perhaps the fallacy of composition in my own premise is that adults DO understand...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Just relax...and be spontaneous

Some of the least helpful advice I've ever been given is in the subject line.  It's well-intentioned and may, in fact, be quite sound.  But the exhortation to "be spontaneous" strikes me as something of a Catch-22.  For me, thinking about spontaneity pretty well guarantees its absence...and it's already far too easy for me to forget (in the midst of what we'll just call Life) that being the best version of who and what I am makes me the best teacher I can be. 

Education is a landscape rife with landmines, a reality we (the educators) can't ignore and can't escape.  Why we do the political equivalent of circling the wagons and shooting in, I can't answer.  But Bud the Teacher (in his recent comparison of teachers to Superman) offers this perspective:
I’m interested in those of us who are not invincible, who can only take so much, and who bleed, suffer and break when the rocks get tossed.  I want human beings in our schools.  I want kind and compassionate mortals working with our children, people who know what it means to hurt and fail and to rise up and succeed in spite of the foolish words from high places. 
I've been spending some time lately discovering how many educators (elementary, secondary, higher education, college, and beyond) write and/or read blogs.  The sharing of ideas, the call to courage, the support of radical creativity are a goldmine for me, but I am wondering why so many of my peers don't seem to find that support from the colleagues next door or down the hall.  Or from the parents of our students. 

As I begin my preparations for a 9-hour teaching load next semester, I am faced with a new Blackboard system, a class I've not taught before, a not-insignificant revision of a course where I had (finally) felt comfortable, and new departmental alignments.  Though I am fortunate to have supportive colleagues and administration, there are inherent risks when I bring my genuine, spontaneous (and, yes, well-prepared) self into the classroom.  It's much harder some days than others.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Calculating the odds that we'll figure this out...

Many of us remember the dark days before ubiquitous calculators, as well as the uproar when they were being incorporated into mainstream education. "If we let them use calculators, they'll never learn math!" was heard throughout the land (or at least that's how it seemed).  What was once feared has become an important learning tool, required for many junior high and high school courses...and beyond.  We teach students the requisite math skills, teach them how to use the tool, then weave both (the skills and the tool) seamlessly into educational delivery.  Though math aptitude is still a bell-shaped distribution, the assignments being completed with the new tools are far beyond what some of us were able to do in college, given our antiquated tools.  Were the concerns about calculator use unmerited?  Or did they actually help shape a better outcome?

So, what about ubiquitous social media?  From the July 2010 New York Times article about privacy issues, by George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen:
Facebook, which surpassed MySpace in 2008 as the largest social-networking site, now has nearly 500 million members, or 22 percent of all Internet users, who spend more than 500 billion minutes a month on the site.  Facebook users share more than 25 billion pieces of content each month (including news stories, blog posts and photos), and the average user creates 70 pieces of content a month.  There are more than 100 million registered Twitter users, and the Library of Congress recently announced that it will be acquiring--and permanently storing--the entire archive of Twitter posts since 2006.
The sheer volume of information being generated boggles the mind, as well as wondering who is viewing it.  A University of Southern Indiana doctoral student writes about hearing in her interview that her Facebook profile had been reviewed as part her social media internship application and found more acceptable than another candidate's page with a photo of eight shot glasses surrounding the candidate.  Her question in a social media guest blog seems fair:  "Why are today's students held accountable for not knowing how to use social medial professionally, yet they haven't ever been taught formally?"

We have recruiters and employers checking Facebook pages as part of the hiring process, personal information being shared without any (or with limited) awareness of the immediate loss of control over that information, and permanent records of what we create.  And, for the most part, we are not teaching students basic writing skills nor the proper use of social media tools.  We did far better with the calculators.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Education is the only place where students try so hard not to get what they pay for.

It's a bit long for a title, but Teddi Fishman nailed it with that comment during her recent presentation to our faculty.  Though her topic was academic integrity, she broadened the discourse (as any English professor would, by the way) to inquire whether "cheating" is the problem or a symptom.  And somewhere in the time she spent with us, she made the comment in the subject line.

I've seen steaks returned to kitchens, products returned to stores, service bills disputed, and a host of other examples that demonstrate the expectation of getting what we ordered, purchased, or otherwise paid to receive.  We don't even have to think about the concept of receiving full value for payment.  So, why would it be any different in education?

Once I started thinking about spending thousands of dollars for an education, then thwarting the process at every turn (which, of course, makes no sense...Teddi's point), I realized that we may not all be talking about the same students.  I want to teach students who want to learn.  And some of them do.  But what about the students who are getting exactly what they paid for--a degree?

Somewhere, we--educators, parents, legislators, business leaders, and administrators--have treated education and a college degree as fungible.  It's another variation of means versus ends and it's creating all sorts of unhealthy behavior.  And misinformed decisions. 

Part of our discussion of academic integrity touched on the reality of cheating.  Implicit in the behavior of many students is "Degree now; integrity later."  It becomes a far more interesting discussion when you remind students that the people who may hire them, recommend them, or be their coworkers are the same students with whom they are in classes...the ones watching the cheating.  I'm not sure most students believe that professional communities are virtual small ponds, shrinking daily with technology.  And while fellow students may have limited recourse now, that tends to change dramatically when the classroom becomes the workplace or the community.

If students are paying for education, the alarming declines in academic integrity (increased cheating, plagiarism, free riding) make little sense.  If students are paying for degrees, those same behaviors make much more sense.   But the more difficult question to face is who created the degree-for-pay market...and why.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Our evaluation system is broken

Being the Secretary of Education has to be a difficult job.  But Arne Duncan seems up to the challenge.  And, frankly, I'd love to be on the bus when he visits teachers in our state (as well as in seven other states), because he's not afraid to say the things that need to be said.  From his August 25 remarks at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock, here are my favorite quotes:

  • In just one generation we have fallen from first in the world to 12th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees.
  • As a country we will stop lying to our children and dumbing down standards.
  • Nothing is more important and nothing has a greater impact on the quality of education than the quality and skill of the person standing in the front of the class -- and there is so much that needs to change in the way that America recruits, trains, supports and manages our teachers.
  • Singapore selects prospective teachers from the top third of the class and in Finland only one in ten applicants is accepted into teacher preparation programs. They only pick the very best.
  • The issue of teacher evaluation is especially important today for a number of reasons. First of all, everyone agrees that our evaluation system is broken.
  • (T)he vast majority of teacher colleges in this country are doing a mediocre job at best.
  • As a country we must stop highlighting only ballplayers and rock stars and start highlighting teachers who are our true heroes and role models.
Read the text of the speech, agree or disagree, chalk it up to politics, if you must.  But don't sit on your laurels, ignore the declines in our system, and decide that you can't make a difference.  The very least we can all do is to stay informed.  The most we can do is make conscious decisions to be a constructive force in our own sphere of influence.

I may not make a difference in my state, my country, or the world, but I make a difference to the students who sit in my classes, who ask me to serve as their thesis advisor, and who look to me as a role model for how teachers should teach.  I'm no Arne Duncan, but that's no excuse for overlooking the opportunities I have to make a positive impact in my small corner of the world.  That's my seat on the bus.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Flirting with cynicism

I intended to write about Blackboard--which I will, soon, because it's new, it's awesome, and I'm excited about it--but my thoughts this morning are elsewhere.  Perhaps that's due, in part, to starting the day with an email from a friend and former co-worker who wrote "in one of the great upsets of the 21st century, my life long bachelorism ended."  What makes this noteworthy is that my friend is near the high side of his 50's, has had health struggles for as long as I've known him, and married a woman who has battled cancer (quite courageously) for over a decade.  She'd been suggesting marriage for years.  No one thought it would happen.  And when I read the message this morning, several seemingly unrelated things became clear, at least for a moment.

I flirt with cynicism...a lot.  And, as with any flirtation, there's the headiness of getting close, but not too close.  Of believing in one's unique ability to charm and disarm.  Of wondering how it might be "if."  I have to admit that I find cynicism somewhat alluring--the world weariness and uber sophistication, the absence of naivete, the Lonesome Dove-ness of it all.  It's downright romantic, right up until I actually try to live with cynicism.  And that's when I realize that I will always enjoy the flirtation, but I just don't think I can make the commitment.

And, what, you may be asking, does this have to do with education?  One of the seemingly unrelated things that became clear this morning is how dangerous it is for cynicism to take up residence in the halls of the academy. I've been reading the thoughtful writing of a professor of organic chemistry who, until recently, has been on sabbatical.   Though he writes anonymously, his discourse seems to be an honest flirtation.  There are other anonymous authors whose relationship with cynicism is far harder to assess.

One of my favorite students gives me a fair amount of grief about "bunnies and rainbows," which is her summation of my not-infrequent life perspective.  It's not that I manufacture six foot rabbits; it's that there really are some bunnies and some rainbows in and around my life and I try not to overlook them in the midst of my ongoing flirtation.  My newly married friend may not be a bunny, but he's certainly a rainbow.  And a reminder to see the gifts in my well as the gifts in my colleagues and our students.  

Friday, August 20, 2010

Traveling spirals

Success is not always traveling in a straight line from where we are to somewhere else.  I often warn students that my thought process resembles a spiral, which they may find frustrating.  It's not intentional (the frustration or the thought process) and I've come to understand both the value for me and the confusion for others.  Revisiting the (almost) same concept, data, or assumption from different perspectives over time has allowed me to see new connections, abandon old beliefs, and learn. Though I am capable of delivering a well-planned and sequential presentation, I rarely least not in the classroom.   It's not all that pretty for the uninitiated...or the very organized thinkers...or the compulsive note takers, but it does create the somewhat messy environment in which learning seems to occur.

The current semester--the semester where I will not be in the classroom--was a choice made several months ago in the hope that it would allow me to revisit the (almost) same place next semester.  And, as sometimes happens, being willing to forgo what I wanted has allowed me to reclaim it in a different way.  This semester will be spent managing projects, building relationships (both internal and external), and using the skills I encourage students to develop.  That step away-toward is proving to be a good decision, allowing me to use (perhaps rusty) consulting and management skills and to collaborate with my strategy colleagues on curriculum changes.

Though I already miss the class preparation and planning, the step away-toward is generating new ideas and insights, as well as appreciation both for the respite and for the return.  Traveling in a straight line seems to work well, just not for all of us.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Learning through traveling...together

One of my greatest blessings is having a daughter whose company I enjoy--and who has turned out to be a wonderful travel partner.  We've taken road trips since she was too young to remember in order to ride refurbished rail cars, marvel at aquatic creatures, dig our toes into sand, or watch minor league baseball.  We've flown across oceans, driven through hail, and walked seemingly endless miles .  We've learned about history, geography, arithmetic, planning, other people...and ourselves.

I no longer have to do all the driving (the worrying, yes, but not the driving) or all the planning.  And asking a teenager to make a budget for a trip?  Best lesson I never had to teach.

It's time for another road trip to watch a minor league team we haven't seen, visit two museums of interest to us both, and introduce old friends of mine to my daughter.  And we'll take a Mother-Daughter walking tour of the campus where I did my undergraduate work.

It never occurred to me when I was an undergraduate student (and just a couple of years older than my daughter is now) that I would visit the campus some day with my teenage daughter.  Or that my own journey would bring me full circle to teaching college students.  And though my students see mostly the differences between us, I do remember how it feels to be in their shoes...and seats.  The memory is so clear, in fact, that it drives me to be the kind of teacher I wanted...and to emulate the teachers I admired, some of whom taught me on the campus we'll be visiting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

And we have a completely new world...sort of

Recently, a friend recommended a book about economics and the global economy.  While I was reading that book, my daughter was reading the AP history review text required for this fall (yes, I was making her start early...more on that later).  Though she was immersed in the events which led to the establishment of the 13 British colonies and I was reading more recent history, the motives, positions (both taken and defended), and outcomes were eerily similar.

There are important facts upon which historical scholars tend to agree, mostly names and dates associated with key events.  Beyond those facts, however, truth becomes largely a function of perspective and nationality.  Take, for example, the recent events around leaked documents, hackers, the intelligence community, and war.  There are variations of truth, shades of gray, and conflicting realities.  It's hard to know which version(s) of these events will be considered "history."  And, without the ability to place current events into a larger historical context, we (all of us) are incapable of being well-informed citizens and making sound judgments about our community and about our world.

One of the raging debates in education is why we bother to educate at all.:

  • What's the intended outcome of government-funded education?  
  • Why does the government fund education?  
  • How do we agree on a body of knowledge that a citizenry should possess?  
  • Is it enough to graduate students who can demonstrate proficiency on standardized tests?

The thread of recent posts mirrors my growing awareness that we just aren't getting it right, despite our best efforts.  And, rather than place blame (since I'm not even sure where to start), I'm making choices I can make to change what I can change.  Thus, I asked my daughter to start on her AP history text and sought reading material from friends whose perspectives are different from my own.   I've been talking with my teenager about how everything is changing globally (Hans Rosling's 2006 presentation is still hard to beat), nothing really changes at all, and how important it is for her to understand her world in order to be a responsible citizen.  We read this article together, then we wondered whether Patrick Henry was viewed in his time as a hero or a heretic; it's hard to know.  What I do know is the education of my daughter to be a world citizen is ultimately my responsibility.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ancient history, scholarship, and deja vu

I find myself in the oddest--and most unexpected--places, of late, at least as far as my reading material.  A student sent me an article from The Journal of Higher Education (and how cool is it that a student reads the Journal?) on the use of technology in teaching; I wound up reading the referenced essay by David Pace on the history and scholarship of teaching and learning history.  And that essay from The American Historical Review is absolutely worth the effort to read and evaluate critically.

The essay begins and ends with the contrast in colleges and universities, "between the amateurism that we accept in our knowledge about teaching and the professionalism we demand in other aspects of our work."  It's not a secret that the rigor demanded of researchers is not expected of teachers, for reasons we love to debate ad nauseum, including the ubiquitous recognition and reward structure biased toward publication (regardless of value, whether to the classroom or to the community).  But lost in academic posturing and debate is the informed discussion of what makes good teaching:  
  • How do we measure good teaching?  
  • How do we teach the art and science of good teaching?  
  • Shouldn't those questions--and their answers--inform not only how we teach but also what we teach?

The academic equivalent of throwing money at a problem is developing and teaching courses designed to address specific needs.  We create courses and assignments to teach collaboration, teamwork, ethics, diversity, and a host of other Real World Problems so that we can
teach students to evaluate claims critically, to see complex questions from more than one perspective, to understand how different groups can view the same situation in different ways, to recognize the long-term consequences of actions, and to master dozens of other subtle mental operations that are absolutely necessary for their success as individuals and for the very survival of our society.
And the method Pace proposes to teach those things?  It's history. But history taught well, informed by rigor, based upon proven methods, and shared in forums traditionally reserved for scholarly research.  Just imagine...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Maybe we should have left it as it was

John Basinger recites Milton's Paradise Lost--the entire 60,000 words--from memory.  He started memorizing the poem when he was 58.  (You can listen here.)  I can't decide what fascinates me more, that he started at 58, that he was able to memorize Milton's entire work (I have trouble with my grocery list), or that he learns something new (what he describes as "a delicious possibility") with each recitation of the 60,000 words.

So, when Newsweek reported (this month) the data demonstrating that creative thinking is declining in America and explained that "those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better," I wondered again why we've abandoned the rigor that shored up innovation.  Some of the highlights:
  • A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.
  • When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. 
  • A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.
And the last quote reminded me that I've written before about Proust and neural networks and the possibilities for change--change at a fundamental, personal, neurological level.  We can alter our own realities (we can debate the limits another time), far later in life than previously thought and far more rigorously in the service of creativity, education, and innovation.  The education of our grandparents and great-grandparents was largely rote memorization, which has been widely vilified in favor of more open-ended instruction.  Rigor and creativity are inextricably confounded; why do we persist in attempts to separate them academically?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

People who know how to cheat will soon be on the front lines of cyber defense.

The title for this post is a quote from a recent NPR story on cybersecurity.   I read the story and a source document from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) with mixed emotion.  From the CSIS report:
The nation and the world are now critically dependent on the cyber infrastructure that is vulnerable to threats and often under attack in the most real sense of the word.  
From any perspective--strategic, military, identification theft, extortion, terror--the vulnerability of our cyber infrastructure is frightening.  And, from the perspective of a citizen, educator, and parent, some of the underlying assumptions are markedly, well, troubling. One example, from the related National Security Council report:
While billions of dollars are being spent on new technologies to secure the U.S. Government in cyberspace, it is the people with the right knowledge, skills, and abilities to implement those technologies who will determine success.  
 It is, most definitely, people who are creating both the problems and the solutions.  Highly intelligent, out-of-the box (trite, I know) thinking, creative, problem-solving people.  People who must understand how to break something in order to know how to build it to withstand breakage.  
The analogy is physicians who must understand etiology in order to heal.

But the concern (for me) comes when we reward those who cheat the system, simply for beating the system.  It's a subtle distinction, I know, but we have strong punitive measures (beginning with The Hippocratic oath) for physicians who create illness or do harm.  It's a slippery slope to reward hackers for hacking, rather than for building.  Take a few minutes to read the links, think about the implications, and work out your own position.  It's harder than it sounds.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sometimes I'd really rather be wrong

Though I am an advocate of expressing opinions and advocating for position, I am also mindful of the damage that can be done, albeit unwittingly, through the written word.  Bright, passionate business students who are eager to make their mark in the world have difficulty understanding why I caution them about what they put in whom...and when.

The temptation to use quick and easy communication tools has landed more than one high profile person in the hot water of public outcry.  Recently, CNN's Middle East editor lost her job due to a tweet.  Though she later explained articulately and fully what she did--and, more importantly, did not--mean by the short tweet, the damage to her reputation was done.

"If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" is often attributed to Abraham Maslow.  I heard it countless times in graduate school as explanation for why we needed more than one theory to account for human behavior.  And, as a dear friend reminds me, New and Improved! is usually neither--the advice that served me well in the pre-Facebook, pre-blog, pre-Twitter, pre-internet days has stood the test of time.

Having a cool tool makes it oh-so-easy (and tempting) to use it when you shouldn't.  And, for better or for worse, the communication device is (still) mightier than the metal weapon.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Who knew work could still be fun?

During the past week, I've taught myself to use Prezi (you can see my first attempt here), created a web site to use for a high school technology program, and installed Google Chrome (that was actually today).  The week before, I finally mastered the web cam I blogged about earlier and actually used the administrator rights for the Facebook page for that same high school technology program.  And it's all been fun.

Fun is not a word I hear my colleagues use very often. We tend to use more academic terms such as intriguing, useful, invigorating, stimulating, challenging, cutting edge, or (if we're really going out on a limb) refreshing.  All of those are swell words--really, they are.  But multi-syllabic words don't capture what you see in a girl's eyes when she talks about how much FUN she just had at the park...or what you hear in a boy's voice when he tells you how much FUN it was to go fishing.

Call me old-fashioned, quaint, anachronistic (if you must, but not in my hearing, please), but don't take the joy out of learning something, accomplishing something (I had to create the Prezi twice, thus, twice the satisfaction of finally getting it right), or finishing something.

Life isn't, can't be, shouldn't be all about fun.  But there are places for sheer joy--and learning should be one of those places.  If we allow the fun to flourish where it can, it is partial recompense for those inevitable places where learning is just difficult.  And I do love that Prezi...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Curious about what happens to curiosity

If curiosity were framed as a competitive advantage in the workplace, business schools would be in serious competition to develop curricula in curiosity.  Consider, if you will what might be taught in:
  • Competing for Curiosity
  • How Curious is Your Strategy?
  • Curious Economics
  • Curiosity Killed the Competition
  • Accounting for the Curious
  • Curious Markets I Have Known
A Google search on curiosity has 26,600,000 results.  Narrow the search to intellectual curiosity and the results shrink to 3,360,000.  Much of the accepted wisdom in the articles, news stories, and blogs is about how kids are naturally curious.  Which is why I'm wondering what has happened to those Curious Kids by the time they get to college.

Curbing the curiosity Is it the educational system?  Is it the demands of the job market?  Is it our parenting style(s)?  Perhaps some inextricable combination of multiple factors?  Whatever it is, I'm seeing classrooms full of students who diligently take notes, perform at (what they perceive to be) the minimum requirement to get the grade they want, and, more often than not, accept without question whatever lecture material is provided.

(Let me wander off the path momentarily to differentiate the all-too-prevalent "gotcha" students--the ones who exhibit the obsolete meaning of curiosity, which is exactness or accuracy--from those who have a desire or inclination to learn about or inquire into any subject.  The former are proliferating as rapidly as the latter are disappearing.) 

I have very little in the way of scholarly wisdom to impart; rather, I just miss having the equivalent of academic playmates who find joy in intellectual discovery of something not known at the beginning of a spontaneous episode of curious cavorting.  I make room for it in my class planning, I encourage it in my students, I demonstrate it (sometimes to the point of absurdity), and the joy of learning--for no other reason than the fun of it--seems hard to find.

What if the absence of curiosity--and the related joy of learning--is a symptom that we're teaching and studying the wrong things?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing crap

In the world of online reading, it's hard to know where the road will lead. That happened today when I found Danah Boyd's post about the academic impact of what we--meaning, loosely, academics--write.  In a conference presentation to academics focused on research output, Danah (a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society), calls it as she sees it:
If you didn't believe in the value of research, my guess is that you could game the system to maximize citations and publications. There are plenty of folks out there who do indeed write crap that they don't believe in so that they can stir up controversy and get people to pay attention to their work.
Impact doesn't necessarily have to be about the public, but it does have to be about the future. It is fundamentally about getting people to think and see the world in new ways. My hope is that we can find a way to get beyond discussing impact and generate research that does impact.
In this view of the world, impact includes writing for the public, which may actually make some research far better, more useful, more engaging.   Anne Davis writes about the unfortunate dichotomy between research and writing in her EduBlog Insights:
I have blogged very little since working on published research for the past two years. I can’t help but think all the published results would have been improved with input from the larger audience that would lead to better meaning making.
This isn't a new dialog; it's been around for as long as I can remember and all that's changed is the forum.  But perhaps a larger forum will generate more possibilities by blurring the line (for the better) between quantifiable research for the purpose of securing tenure and research that allows us to be better educators.  Or, as one of my students wrote:
(We) should be taught real world experiences from teachers (not researchers) with real world experiences. Researchers should be in educational walls, but in concert with teachers. Researchers provide a great foundation for the theory of the concepts used in the real world, while the actual teachers should provide knowledge of how to apply these concepts in real world situations. This would apply Bloom’s taxonomy by providing the knowledge, understanding and application from researchers and analysis, synthesis and evaluation from the teachers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Are we taking the harder right?

"Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won."  This quote from the USMA Cadet Prayer kept playing in my head after reading student responses to Employers Want 18th-Century Skills

Today, I'll let the student voices stand alone; they really don't need any help from me.
Senior finance major.  The comments posted at the end of this article are the perfect example of the problems inherent to this country’s educational system. The writer of the article used a title that he did not fully clarify within his writing and instead of having an intelligent discussion about how to improve education, the entire conversation is about what is meant by the title.
In my personal opinion, colleges should be a place of elitism. It is hard to go to college. It is expensive, it is hard work and it should not be a vo-tech school. You should be forced to read classical literature, forced to learn a second language, basic math in college should be calculus and a semester of study abroad should be required. You should work hard to get a college degree and it should give each student a general knowledge of all subjects.
Senior management major.  This is the problem in Japan too. Many people are good at doing what they are told to do. That is, they have problem-solving ability. However, they are not good at thinking critically and voluntarily; they don't have problem-seeking ability.
Senior finance major I agree with Mark when he states that businesses are looking for employees who can both write and communicate clearly. Let’s face it. Who wants someone who has to have someone revise and edit their e-mail before they send it out to their superiors or colleagues? Secondly, who would want someone who goes around the office speaking the language of SMS, using lols, and omgs? Furthermore, to comment on the tangents being produced throughout the comments about punctuation, and grammar, most of these were minor errors. But, I do have one question. With all the elaborate word usage and detailed demonstrations put into written words in each comment…would you honestly forgo your literacy training in college for a technology skill to be taken in its place?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Educator, teach thyself

 In an article sent to me on Friday with the subject line "chapter you might appreciate...," I learned something...then I learned something else...then I got excited about both of those, did some research, and starting seeing connections:
If we wanted to apply his style to, say, working on a new sales presentation, we wouldn't use other sales presentations for ideas, we'd use novels or plays, movies, paintings . . . maybe even, I don't know, zoos, or airports. And not just one, but dozens. Some would become rough models, several going at once.
By this point in my reading and research, I was seeing connections everywhere.  Because the Gehry Style is what I encourage when I teach.  It's through the use of novels, plays, movies, mythology, and music that many of us do our best and most creative work--and learn to see the connections that exist across and among seemingly disparate things.  And the ability to see connections seems critical to correctly framing a problem...and then solving it.

And, based on student responses to The Journal of  Higher Education debate, the students get it...maybe even more than the educators.  More on that soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I can work with anyone....except her

I've written before about grades and the unintended consequences of placing too much emphasis on GPA.  At our career center (I shudder even to write this), students are instructed to place GPA at the top of their resume.  Little wonder, then, that grades loom large here.  And yet, employers continue to take a much broader view of potential candidates, as illustrated by CNN's recent Top 10 reasons employers want to hire you, where good cultural fit (described as being able to adapt) and ability to work with others are two of the 10.

The course I'm currently teaching has, by design, both individual work and teamwork as part of a student's grade.  The biggest complaint about the teamwork is that they lose control over the quality of the work; thus, teamwork may cause their grade to suffer.  The most popular solution offered by the students?  Don't make us work in teams.  And, if you're going to force us to work in teams, don't make us work with people we don't like or who aren't as smart as we are.

I've been incredulous listening to students explain how The Real World doesn't work this way, that they will be able to control their own destiny when they get a job, and that I simply do not understand how unfair it is to have others negatively impact ones work.  My internal response is roughly, "O, really? You seriously think my reputation is not affected by the professors you label as uncaring and incompetent?  By the anonymous feedback provided through teacher evaluations?  By committee meetings--and members--that often drain my last ounce of creativity and interest?"  My external response is a sigh.  I wonder whether it's possible to develop a thirst and drag them to water.

Since one of the teams in my class decided to "fire" a member this week--for communication and performance differences which seem insurmountable to them and are, in fact, the very issues they will encounter in every company, job, and working relationship--I am highly motivated to seize this learning opportunity, both for myself and for my students.

This debate in The Chronicle of Higher Education exemplifies the difference of opinion among educators about what we should teach and why--which, of course, raises the question of how.  And that brings us full circle to assessing whether students are learning what they need to know.  So, one of the assignments for my class next week will be to read the article and the responses.  Then they have to weigh writing...for a grade.  It's a place to start.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why I love teaching

There are some days when it just works; today was one of them.  And if I could explain why and how it happens, I would.  What creates engaged students, willing contributions to class discussion, and startled disbelief that almost 2 1/2 hours have passed?  This is why I love teaching.  This is also why I despair some days about ever getting it right.

It may be a rare combination of subject matter, students enrolled (over which I have no control), prevailing winds, and the capriciousness of the gods.  Today we talked about Sun Tzu's Art of War (which you can read here), Rudyard Kipling's Six Honest Serving Men, Total Quality Management (TQM), competitive rivalry, Cirque de Soleil, and softball.  It just doesn't get much better.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


We tell our students that they need to learn to work as part of a team...they need to learn to give feedback...they need to communicate with their peers about "free riding"...and that they will need these skills in whatever job or career they pursue.  They do, they will...and we (meaning the faculty) don't.

Having worked in more than one Fortune 100 corporation, I can attest to the general lack of comfort with the concept of "feedback."  The reasons are numerous, ranging from fear of litigation to lack of knowledge.  Yet, despite the discomfort in corporate settings, the egg shells in the academic community are far more fragile.  Where are the role models for our students, not in theory, but in practice? 

Monday, May 10, 2010

To B or not to B

With a very small margin for error, I think I can recite every course in which I earned a B in my undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Some were lack of diligence (as in I just didn't do quite enough work and/or study, in the inevitable trade-offs most students make), some were genuinely my best effort, and some were a complete surprise, where I thought I'd nailed an A until I discovered the reality.  Many years later, I can honestly say that none of the B grades were a threat to my career or a limitation on my quality of life.

Each semester, the joy of electronic communication (aka email) allows students to petition for various grade-enhancing indulgences, without the discomfort or inconvenience of an office visit and eye contact.  Some of the requests are charming, some are amusing, some contain more than a modicum of entitlement--they came to class regularly, they turned in all their assignments, they tried really hard, they deserve an A.  I think it's the entitlement, more than anything else, that troubles me.

Doing the minimum (which, in my mind, includes turning in assignments and coming to class) does not guarantee an A, a grade intended to differentiate the top 10%.  In fact, doing the minimum would (in a perfect world) garner an average grade.  On some level, most students know this.  What they often worry about, however, is losing GPA-contingent scholarship money or dropping off some variation of the Dean's List.  Somehow, both the students and the academic community have lost sight of the real goal, which should be learning.  But that opens an entirely different discourse about how (and why) we use the methods we use to assess learning.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Just one day?

Being a mom is the best--and hardest--job I've ever had.  In constant pursuit of "getting it right," the best I seem to do most days is muddle through.  Just this week, my daughter came to me with questions about friends and how/why relationships change over time.  I don't have the answers, despite having officially reached Adulthood many moons ago.  You'd think I would have these things figured out by now.

This year, Mother's Day falls near the end of the academic semester, a time where students have varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their performance, my performance, University policies, their parents, and the world.  I've been thinking about how we see people in a specific role (mother or teacher, for example) without really seeing them at all.  Every student, professor, parent, and child has similar needs, wants, and struggles.  And it's so easy to forget.

We set aside one day each year to honor our mothers, when the job they do is all-consuming for close to 20 years, if not longer; it's not nearly enough recognition.  I wonder what would happen if we set aside an entire day (perhaps randomly and frequently) to really see the people around us and treat them--including our mothers--with the respect and kindness we all want? 

That's probably a good answer to some of my daughter's questions.  Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spiritual beings

I know students mean "spawn of Satan" and "you are the devil" as terms of endearment for professors; how could it be otherwise?  I'm actually far less concerned when students address me with these terms, as I assume some measure of comfort exists and the message being delivered is a variation of the your-class-is-killing-me-but-I-don't-take-it-personally type.  Not that it happens all that frequently, mind you, but it does happen.

The most recent "you are the devil" comment followed my observation that the person who'd provided editing comments on a paper (the paper was lying on the table where the team was working) clearly did not have enough to do, as there sure were a lot of edits.  Since I was the editor in question, the devil comment seems appropriate.  And, as I thought about it a few days later, I was reminded of one of my favorite Satan stories, that of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.  I've read Uncle Screwtape's letters to his nephew Wormwood multiple times, but it's been a while; so I picked up the book again...and, as is always the case with good writing, it's a rediscovery.

C.S. Lewis (who was part of the faculty at both Cambridge and Oxford) wrote The Screwtape Letters when he was 44, an age that seemed far older at one time.  With whatever limited wisdom I may have gained in the years since I first read Lewis, I now appreciate the wisdom and life experience offered in his writings.  Screwtape has a pretty accurate take on human beings, what makes us happy, and what, ultimately, leads to our greatest misery.  But, as with many other things offered to those who want to lead examined lives, it may only be of value to those of a certain age.  As with any teaching, the student must be ready.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sowing and weeding

I spent time in the garden this weekend, doing work that keeps my hands busy and allows my mind to wander.  Gardening has taught me much, both literally and metaphorically, not the least of which are a respect for rhythms and cycles, an awareness of my place (sometimes small) in any growth process, and patience.

There are many things that, I hope, have helped me to be a better teacher now than I was two decades ago.  At the top of the list is becoming a parent; a close second is being a gardener.  The beauty of the garden I have in the late spring and into the fall takes a lot of hard work, much of which is never seen by anyone.  The seemingly endless pulling of weeds, the inability to predict weather patterns, the various annoying (at least to the gardener) bugs, and the complete unpredictability of it all don't bring much joy.  But, oh, the finished product.   It's the finished product--the flowers in full and glorious bloom--that make it all worth while.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The little lies we tell

The topic was ethics...and how good people persuade themselves (and others) that certain actions aren't really wrong.  A compelling speaker who looks like one of us and has spent time in prison for her own fraudulent activities.  A well-written article about the very specific ways people in a variety of business settings rationalize their own behavior.  A class discussion (one of the rare moments when students actively participate) about the speaker, the article, our own stories.  And it still happened.  Students benefited from a grading mistake (mine), remained silent, and were hurt or dismayed when another student told me about my mistake.  

I read recently (and I can't remember of the down sides of constant consumption) that we all tend to overestimate our abilities, our skill level, even our attractiveness.  The one reported exception was people who are depressed--they tend to be the realists.  So I wonder how much those little lies we tell ourselves pave the way for the rationalizations that lead to dishonesty. 

From Bhopal to Enron to my classroom, the difference is in magnitude.  People are hurt when we fail to hold our actions--and those of others--up for rigorous scrutiny.  My last manager--who is now the CEO of the company--is a very wise man who was (probably still is) fond of saying "Bad news does not get better with age."  Truth, no matter how painful, is far less damaging than the little lies we tell ourselves and others.

I don't have any answers today, but I sure do have a lot to think about.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three stories

She was young, blond, in desert fatigues, wearing her fully packed backpack, and sitting on the floor of what appeared to be a busy suburban airport.  It was as though she had knelt to hug the child, then, overcome with emotion, had sunk to the floor, knees bent awkwardly back, heedless of the travelers rushing by.  She had both arms wrapped tightly around the waist of her daughter.  And she was crying because she had to leave.  Duty, honor, and love captured in a photograph.

Last night, South Pacific opened to a full house at The Walton Arts Center.  The show was captivating.  Elegantly simple sets, glamorous (and sometimes amusing) costumes, and performers who were a joy to both eye and ear.  They had us engaged in the story within minutes, from that first twangy reference to our very own Small Rock.  Everything was as it should be...the Arkansas hick, the French gentleman, the salty military humor, and the travels to far-flung places, only to meet the self we thought we'd left behind.   The remarkable story crafted by Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Logan (based loosely on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific) has stood the test of time--we still laugh, hum, tap our toes, remember how it felt to be young, or wonder how it would feel to be old.  We are drawn in, entertained, and, if we wish to participate, challenged to think.  And as the story unfolded, I was reminded how very much things in our world have changed not at all.  Duty, honor, and love--the very essence of myth, legend, history, and art--were all on stage.

This morning, as I hurried to leave, grabbing papers that still need to be graded, it caught my eye.  It had been missing for almost a year.  I'd found it Sunday night in the midst of a frantic search for something else, tossed it onto a table, and forgotten about it...until I saw it again this morning.  It has my name, "daughter," my father's name, my parents' religious preference, and my father's military identification number.  It's the dog tag I was required to wear during an overseas flight to a three-year assignment.  I was nine.  And the things I remember most are saluting (lots of saluting), uniforms (dress blues, fatigues, camouflage), and how the entire base--every man, woman, and child--stood at attention each afternoon, while Taps played and the base flag was lowered and folded.  I understand now what I couldn't then--it was all about duty, honor, and love.
Stories--whether captured in a photograph, performed on a stage, or carried as a memory--can unfold in ways unintended and unpredictable.  The very best stories gain nuance as we gain life experience.  Were I younger, I might have walked down Dickson Street last night singing, thinking about love, or admiring the costumes (okay, got me there...I did like those costumes).  Having lived the stories I've lived, what I relished most about last night's performance was the portrayal of duty, honor, and love, inextricably confounded with joy, sorrow, laughter and tears.  It was life, writ large and executed beautifully.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Success, defined very loosely

It wasn't pretty, but I did it.  And now that I know which parts I don't do well (which, unfortunately, is most of them), there's always focused practice.

Getting into the cool technology rekindled my original enthusiasm for what can be accomplished with this teaching and sharing tool.  Students can access a recording where I've been able to combine any of the following:
  • Audio of my voice (as narration) or any other sound.
  • Video of anything on my computer screen, whether prepared or ad hoc.
  • Video of the activity occurring in front of my computer screen, whether monologue or dialogue.
And, when the recording is complete, we have Rich Media, Vodcast, and Podcast links for posting.  How cool is this....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Make it stop watching me

I know it sounds crazy, but the newly-installed web cam makes me nervous. It's part of (yet) another technology that I volunteered to try.  And I can't seem to get past...well, doing nothing.

The idea is to provide brief, self-contained educational or informative content (aka lessons) that can be posted to a learning management system, with the option to access the content via a mobile phone.  It gives a whole new meaning to Miles2go, assuming I actually take that first step.  I have everything I need.  The software is installed on my computer, courtesy of the awesome (and they know I mean it) technology staff; the hardware (did I mention the evil eye?) is installed, courtesy of the same group.  I have a plan.  I have content developed and ready to try.  And, as of two days ago, I have a nice "are you doing okay with the new technology?" email waiting patiently for my response.  The only thing missing is my ability to take that first step and be willing to fail.

Make no mistake, my first effort will be less than perfect.  And that's the rub.  Playing to my strengths of my strengths.  I know the 2.5 things I do well and this will not be one of them, simply because it's new.  Despite being a teacher to my core, I still have tendencies to avoid things I suspect I will not do well.  With years of validation that focused practice is a key to doing well, the high standards I tend to set for myself still make it hard for me to fail...which means those same standards can make it hard for me to learn.

As I've written before, being forced to walk in student shoes is sometimes painful. Even with reminders that the only thing to fear is fear itself (and I do know Franklin D. Roosevelt had far weightier matters in mind), I am still hesitating.  So, akin to whistling in the graveyard, I am writing to force myself to act.  Rather than respond to the email from the technology staff (the gentle reminder from those who know that I've done nothing) with another email, I will use the new technology to record my first lesson, complete with narration of screen shots and a verbal reply that I've just taken the first step.  

I can't teach with this technology until I learn it.  I can't become proficient unless I'm willing to fail.

Even the most focused people (and, no, I'm not on that list) sometimes need external motivators.  My external motivator is giving me the evil eye...and it doesn't blink.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My daughter left for Greece this morning

I am my daughter's first and most important teacher; in many ways, she is also mine. I re-discovered baking because she enjoyed being in the kitchen. I read aloud all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia because she hung on every word. I searched for child-friendly versions of Greek and Roman myths so that she could understand them and, through them, make sense of her world. And I have learned more in my role as Mom than in any other part of my life.

I've wanted to teach my daughter to respect herself, others, history, and her intuition. Sometimes, allowing her to learn about those things requires more of me than I really intended to give. The trip to Greece is a case in point. We had read about Hera and Zeus, Demeter, Heracles, Persephone, Apollo, Poseidon, and Atlas (among others), looked for the myths embedded in popular stories and movies, and identified the patterns—dysfunctional families, competitive games, petty jealousies—that just don’t change much, regardless of century. So, when I heard “Mom, I want to go on the Spring Break trip to Greece,” all I could do was smile. I brought it on myself.

And I asked for one thing from Greece: I asked my daughter to write about her trip...what she sees, what she learns, how she feels. Though the writing will serve as a reminder of her trip (all she remembers from London is Big Ben and "having to walk a lot"), the far more important reason is that the view through my daughter's eyes is the best view I know.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Score one for the old people

When we are old enough to have experience, we are often seen as merely old. I am reminded of this frequently.

I recently took my daughter (who is 15) to see Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis at The Walton Arts Center. We've been seeing live theater and attending concerts since she was old enough to sit through performances, many of which she doesn't remember. This particular event was high on her list, however, because she plays the trumpet and often listens to her favorite Marsalis CD. It was high on mine for several reasons.

Art, music, poetry, and literature are all--in some form or fashion--about history. Sometimes the history is of a people or a society, sometimes of an individual. And educating our youth to be productive members of society requires some understanding and respect for history. The recent concert was full of history, from Count Basie (one of my favorites) to Dizzy Gillespie and exciting new compositions commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (where I've also taken my daughter).

Soft-spoken Marsalis (who did not, by the way, command the spotlight very often or for very long during the recent performance), talked with respect, affection, and a gentle sense of humor about the jazz greats on whose shoulders he stands. He described one gentleman as being "old when I was in high school" and the one who would hang around "to tell us we were playing the music wrong." Marsalis went on to say that seeing the man as old meant Marsalis wasn't seeing (or hearing) the right things. This "old" man became Marsalis' mentor, teaching him much.

Being in the presence of history and learning from it is a rare gift. Most of us realize far later what opportunities we had, what lessons we spurned, what greatness we missed. Teaching, for me, means cherishing those moments when the magic happens...and realizing that most of the time my role is to offer what I have, letting others decide what they see or hear...and whether they need it. And, sometimes (as my daughter says), we can "score one for the old people."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What we learn...or don't

Predictable cycles are standard fare in strategy texts. It matters, for example, whether your industry is primarily a slow-cycle market or a fast-cycle market (affecting the speed with which your competitive advantage is lost). It also matters whether you are on the pendulum swing toward or away from centralized management. And there are others. But the up-close-and-personal cycle I'm seeing this week is the one seen pretty universally across colleges and universities--it's the mid-semester slump. We (meaning students and faculty) know it's coming, think we're better prepared for it this time, and experience it anyway.

Learning from the past (history) or from others (case studies) gives us the intellectual ability to interpret our behavior, whether corporate or individual. Amazingly enough, very few of us seem to be able to change it much.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Everything old is, well, all there is

One of the joys of teaching any subject is watching the "aha moment" when a new concept or piece of information slips almost visibly into place. One assumes a synapse fired, a neural pathway was created (or completed), and the mysterious process of learning just occurred. It's one of the best experiences I know. And the mystery is that the only things worth really knowing haven't changed--ever. Sure, the details change, the names change, the packaging shifts, but the truly important things don't change.

The challenge for teachers is to honor the ancient, understand the new, and help bridge the gap for the students. As much as I love this process, some days I am just not up to the challenge. There are not enough hours in the day, days in the year, or years in my life to know enough to be a truly competent teacher. It's humbling.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Black belts

Students want to get it right, think it all hinges on a grade, and feel tremendous pressure (some of which is inflicted by professors, parents, and peers) to perform. Today, we talked about competitive rivalry and competitive dynamics, added some Sun Tzu on the Art of War (which you can download here), and dabbled in six sigma vis a vis Deming's Total Quality Management. It's a lot to absorb.

And, yet, when I tell them about martial arts and how a black belt entitles you to start over, right beside the white-belted beginner, the disbelief is almost palpable. It's no wonder so many of our businesses are overly focused on short-term results. It's woven into the very fabric of our educational system.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A mind stretched...

I've wondered what to do with this blog, since the original reason for writing was to chronicle the development of a beta course...and mostly for purposes of transparency. Oddly enough, doing something slightly out of the mainstream is not always well accepted in the halls of the academy. But I've missed the communication (albeit somewhat one-sided), I'm teaching the course again this semester, and...well...I miss my blog.

So, as time and opportunity allow, I'm going to continue writing about the old/new/hybrid Business Strategy course, how teaching it the "old" way won't ever be what it was...and it's too soon to know what it may become...and perhaps the gap will cease to exist or to matter.

What I know for sure is that I have a new enthusiasm for the course as it was, since the changes in my approach have