Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What if...

...we started with possibilities, rather than rules?
...we got carried away, then mapped how we got there afterward?
...we asked more questions and offered fewer opinions?
...we didn't stop after the first why?
...we measured our progress by the number of failures?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You gotta' actually DO it

Bouncing among several books seems to work for me.  Whether it's a short attention span, an inability to remember which book I'm currently reading, or just a reading style (I rather like that...I may use Reading Style more often), I am usually reading multiple books.  The past couple of days, it's been The Medici Effect.  Again.  (And, by the way, I enjoyed the improv class, survived the live performance with peers, and have plans for Improv II in the spring.)

On the heels of a several discussions this week about online teaching--some with peers who teach online and some with peers who do not--I was primed to read that people who are voracious readers, self-taught, and hands-on learners are more creative.  They actually do things, try things, break things, handle things...they learn in the the somewhat gritty world of up close and personal.

And the implications for online teaching are easy.  Teachers who want to use technology to teach are going to have to move past the theory and the models and the paradigms and actually wade into the technology.  To try it, break it, handle it...get up close and personal with it.  No amount of reading, planning, discussion, or practice will take the place of actually doing it.

And the innovators?  They've already tried it, taught themselves, learned from their mistakes...and quietly (more often than not) kept right on going.  They may not be the ones doing the talking.

Monday, November 26, 2012


It's different from inattention, at least in the common usage.  Inattention usually means that I am not paying attention, especially when I should.  Un-attention means unlearning attention patterns that cause us to miss important parts of what's right in front of us.

If your interest is piqued, you can read more in Cathy Davidson's Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will  Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century.  According to the packing list conveniently tucked inside my copy, I ordered the book in September; I'd forgotten when I ordered it, as it somewhat took up residence on my desk.  Today, while I should have been attending to a long list of other things, I picked it up and started to read.  I know it's going to be a good read when I start reaching for a pencil to mark up my copy, then turn to the computer to research related topics...and to write.

As is my custom, I'll note here that the concepts aren't new, though the application is.  An example:
The more you concentrate, the more other things you miss.
This is both the reason why eye witness accounts are the least reliable versions of what actually happened...and why a dear friend reminds me frequently that things are often more clear when I don't try so hard to see them clearly.

I am looking forward to paying just enough attention to finish the book, as the rest will likely take care of itself. And did I mention that Davidson is an English professor?  It just keeps getting better...

Friday, November 16, 2012

In search of...

The day after I wrote about struggle, Seth Godin wrote about the value of effort:  "The work of an individual who cares often exposes the grit and determination and effort that it takes to be present."  His conclusion is that we may be searching for--and unable to find--the person behind the perfection.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In praise of struggle

This morning, part of the class discussion was "why would anyone want to be a CEO, given the stress and pressure?"  After class, a student stopped me to ask whether I was familiar with how (differently) Japanese companies approached leadership.  Later, I happened upon an NPR story about how Eastern and Western cultures tackle learning. Now I'm wondering about cultural and individual approaches to success--to how we learn and to how willing we are to struggle.

While acknowledging diversity within each of the cultures, as well as the existence of "counter-examples," the NPR article states that "(f)or the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated, it is often used to measure emotional strength." Think about that for a minute.  The implication is that, in our Western culture, success should appear effortless and easy.

The article suggests that equating struggle with strength (rather than with weakness) means that we are more likely to demonstrate the very persistence required for success. And I'm sure I've heard this somewhere before:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge understood the value of struggling, of persisting, of pressing on, of just not giving up.  It may be one of the most important--and most universal--lessons available.

Perhaps easy isn't really...or shouldn't be.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cycles and seasons

Change is the only constant and yet we often resist it with everything in us.  When we have a perfect moment, we want to hold onto realize later, as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Dry Salvages, "we had the experience but missed the meaning."

The changing seasons are, perhaps, the best reminder for me that all things change.  Though I have my preferences regarding weather and seasons, I will admit (in my more honest moments) that I appreciate the beauty of the cycle and the reminder of my relative importance within it.

When semesters end, elected officials change (or don't), or milestones arrive, change looms large.  So do our natural tendencies to resist.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Electing to participate

Voting is a right afforded by citizenship in my country.  And, regardless of the rhetoric that my individual vote does not matter, my decision to vote does matter.

I am an educator.  I have a responsibility to think, to challenge my own thinking, to encourage others to think, and to engage in respectful, substantive discourse about issues that matter.  Participating fully in both my rights and my responsibilities is part of being a parent, a teacher, and a citizen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Twitter is over capacity.

There is a limit, even to how many tweets can fly at one time.  And, tonight, Twitter is what is known in the computer world as "down," despite the cute little orange birds holding up the whale.  "Over capacity" may sound more friendly, but the end result it is the same.

It's still about the magic of technology.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Practice what you teach

Later this month, the project team I've been 'leading' will face the music.  The product we've designed, developed, and tested (okay, still testing...) will be delivered.  To the entire campus.  Faculty. Staff. Students.  No pressure there, let me tell you.

I'm pleased with the product...and the feedback gathered (when it's rolled out) will help determine how, when, and where we use technology to facilitate learning.  My role as titular leader of our happy little band coexists this semester with teaching an MBA course on managing and leading organizations, so there are many opportunities for observing my own successes and challenges.

There are few things quite as humbling as having to practice what we teach.

I have no direct reports on the project team, no direct responsibility for the budget (I did get to spend money, though, which is always nice), and total responsibility for meeting deadlines and delivering what we envisioned.  Welcome to the world of leading by influence, where a clear vision, enthusiasm, and sharing the anticipated good fortune of success is the currency of the realm.  

We'll see how this goes...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sometimes frustration is just frustration

It doesn't happen often and it just frustrates us all.  In my most recent post on student frustration (which, now that I've written those words, makes me wonder just how much I write about frustration...), there was a broken link.  So anyone actually interested in the MIT articles on leadership would just be going in circles.

Found it.  Fixed it.  If I do that again, someone really ought to tell me....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Life lessons in unexpected places

First night of Comedy College and it was awesome.  Awesome not to be the instructor, awesome not to have homework to grade, and awesome just to be there.  Did I mention it was awesome?

There are seven of us who considered a class in improvisational comedy a good idea.  It turns out we were right, though maybe not for the reasons we thought.

I already knew that being funny was not required for improv; otherwise, I wouldn't have considered the course. What I didn't fully appreciate is that improv is a skill, one that involves listening, being in the moment, focusing on one's partner(s), and viewing ourselves and others without judgment.  The most important element of improvisational comedy is genuineness.

Who knew?

Earlier today, I was talking with a student about the 88 keys on a piano...and how a magnificent piano can sound very different when played by a student at her first recital than it sounds when played by a virtuoso.  In music, in management, in improvisational comedy, who we are makes all the difference.  
I suspect that many of my students, my colleagues, and my friends struggle with whether to be successful as defined by society (or family, in many cases) or to be true to who they are.  It's a decision we face many places in life, even in a class on improvisational comedy.

Related Ramblings:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It's why I teach

Grading the collaborative project assigned to an MBA class today, I had one of those moments for which teachers of those perfect moments when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have connected with your students.  It's why we teach.  And I am grateful for those moments.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Craning my neck

The view from my office window changed dramatically last week and I am fascinated.  Each morning, as I walk up the hill to my building, I watch the slow and elegant movement of the construction cane that towers above both the dormitory across the street and the office building nearby.

My fascination with cranes started years ago, when I lived in Houston and the local newspaper interviewed one of the few female crane operators. Her description of her day, climbing the steps each morning to spend an 8-hour day high above the rest of the world, transformed a piece of machinery into a place where someone works, laughs, and has coffee breaks (on a small table outside the cab...which still leaves me with a 'how in the world...?!?' wonder).

This particular crane is the first one with which I've had more than a passing relationship, as this one is up close and personal for the foreseeable future.  I've already read how cranes are transported and erected, the costs (shipping, leasing, and renting) associated with their use, the maximum load, and the names for various components.

And I wonder...when is it we lose the innate curiosity and awe about the world around us?  And how much of that loss is attributable to the way we teach?

In the meantime, I put "bring binoculars to work" on my list of things to do.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seeing with technology

Some months ago, I read and bookmarked this analysis of the American electric grid and the massive blackout (grid failure) in North American in 2003.  In addition to the educational value of the analysis (which suggests our grid actually is in a bit of trouble), I was intrigued with the assessment of the 2003 blackout and the summation that people monitoring the grid "simply didn't have the technology to see the big picture."

I spend a lot of time researching, using, and experimenting (okay, playing) with technology that helps me live or work more productively.  And I'm surrounded by students and peers who are, to put it kindly, technology geeks.  But, despite the critical role that technology can play, it's not always technology we need to see beyond what's right in front of us. Sometimes what we need is experience, common sense, intuition, or a willingness to collaborate with others who have pieces of the puzzle that we don't have.

This week, during the ongoing construction near my office, the cable that provides electricity to my building was cut.  With no electricity, the technology that would, one thinks, save the day was the wireless network.  With the wireless network, we could all...well, work.  But since the anticipated electric surge (when the power would be restored) was deemed a potential threat to the wireless LAN, the wireless service was disabled during the power outage.  Thus, with all the technology available to me, cutting the cable that provides electricity still left us all in the dark.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Student frustration...revisited each semester

"You're frustrated in my class," I say.  The student agrees emphatically, telling me that he is not learning, not being given substance, not being given deadlines, not being given lectures from which he can learn.  And we have arrived at the point where learning may actually begin.

I ask him if he's read the syllabus...and he tells me that he has not.  I ask if he has started on the assignments due in the course...and he has not.   He tells me that he is seeking substance and does not believe I am giving him any, since the class is mostly "free time" during which he feels compelled to be working on assignments for other classes.

He does have a point about the lack of structure during the class period, as there is very little.  But the lack of structure is by design and I am learning a great deal about my students by watching (in a leadership class, by the way) how they approach unstructured opportunities to learn and to lead.

And I have, indeed, given the students a great deal of substance, if one considers the textbook, articles from MIT on leadership, and bookmarks to the material I research and read on a near-daily basis to be substantive.  All of this material--the substantive material this student has been seeking--is...guess where?  It's all hyper linked on the syllabus. The syllabus I reviewed and explained on the first day of class.  The same syllabus I've referenced several times since the first day of class.

So, now the time is ripe to tell the student that my issue with lecturing is that students don't listen until a need has been created.  For the most part, we filter out information that we do not perceive as useful.  But the student and I have now discovered a need for information, information that has been available (but ignored) since the beginning of the semester.

It really was a good discussion, once he believed that my goal is his learning.

Student frustration is (still) too valuable to waste.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Okay, so I've added one more way to feel completely inept by creating a Twitter account.  I might be giddy if I weren't so befuddled.

It's amazing how such a small blue bird can be so intimidating.  But it's time to spread my wings and fly...if someone will please shove me out of the nest.

And, while, flying, I mean...I can take comfort in Seth Godin's assurance that "curiosity was framed."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We talk too much

It's not that I'm opposed to conversation; I thrive on razor-sharp dialog, lightening-quick humor, and premise-challenging interactions.  What I want to stop is the habit of lecturing that we've somehow substituted for teaching.

My semester is off and running and I am reminded (yet again) how much I enjoy the craft and calling of teaching...and how frustrated I am by the myriad forces that have created an increase in the size and number of lecture courses.  I am one of the fortunate ones, afforded the opportunity to work with smaller, specialized  undergraduate classes and the ubiquitously-diligent graduate classes.  Even there, however, the method of teaching is not always ideal, as noted by one of the exiting graduate students this summer:
There was no course in the MMBA program (where) we were able to get one-on-one or even group interaction with a professor.
This bothers me, as an educator, as the parent of a near-college-age student, and as a citizen.  The advent of classrooms and schools rather than individual or small-group interaction (think "Socratic method") were an attempt to be efficient and effective in educating more people more quickly.  Good idea.  Good intention.  Mediocre implementation, taken as a whole.

This is on my mind, of late, due to the steadily growing body of data that indicates we have a better way to educate--one that is efficient, effective, and replicates many of the best aspects of the mentor, the dialog, the one-on-one.  But don't take my word for it. Listen to Daphne Koller, who has enough academic credentials and research experience to be more than credible when she says:
We should spend less time at universities filling our student's minds with content by lecturing them, and more time igniting their actually talking with them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I sent to our vice provost

One of the reasons I enjoy my work is because I am often challenged to think.  That's a good thing.  So, having been challenged (asked) by our new vice provost for distance education about my objection to the use of "innovative technology" to describe our distance education strategy, I took some time to consider my objection:

There's a reason I am not in marketing, despite having been assured many times that I'd be "perfect" in that role.  I can understand why people might think I'd be a fit for marketing, when the reality is that I am a questioner, a challenger, and, when I believe in something, a persuader.  Marketing tends to be selling the sizzle, creating the buzz, etc.  It's important and brands are built that way, but it's not what I do best.  

Unless I'm overlooking something (or it's somewhere on campus that I haven't been), my university is behind in our pursuit of quality distance education.  That's actually the good news, because the innovators take the risks, make the mistakes, and blaze the path.  It's the ones who come later (second movers or those who adapt to survive) who can learn from the mistakes and offer a better product.  

I don't see innovative technology on our campus.  We have some of the basics (Blackboard, Skype, some pockets of other technologies, etc.) and some very large holes that even the two-year colleges within our system have filled better than we have.  So, from my perspective, only a marketer could describe our technology as innovative and cutting edge.  

But what we DO have are innovative ideas, innovative people, and a system-wide spirit of innovation to address the opportunity and challenge of the things you've articulated very well (below).  What I'd like to see us do is not simply copy or play catch-up with others in this space, but to step back, start without any pre-conceived ideas, and see what possible solutions our innovation can provide.  Innovative solutions.

One example:  Our system does not function as a system, but as disparate and, sometimes, competing entities.  That wouldn't matter, perhaps, except that the big losers are the students we are trying to serve.  If I am a student (traditional college age or older student who is seeking a college degree later in life), the system is a morass of conflicting and confusing offerings.  If I am fortunate enough to find one of the two-year colleges who offer me a mostly (or fully) distance/online schedule and I work diligently to gain my associates degree, then what?  The majority of the distance/online offerings at my campus are graduate degrees, which are of no use to me at all until/unless I complete two more years of online offerings (which could be blended and include some monthly or weekly sessions at my local high school or library).  Where in the system can I find the solution to my problem?  And why is that not one of the questions we are addressing?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Medici at the improv

Focus. I admire focus.  Occasionally, I emulate focus.  Far more often, though, my mind flits or races in seemingly random ways, seeing intersections that beckon and distract.  The cost to my ability to stay on track and complete something (anything) is high, but the benefit to my imagination and curiosity is equally high.  And I've been willing to pay the price, largely because I can't seem to function any other way.

So imagine how much fun it is to hear "I have a book for you"...and find that seeing intersections and asking lost of questions is the subject of the book called The Medici Effect.  Part of the appeal of the book is the historical linkage to the Medici family and their influence in making Florence the culture center of Europe around the time of the Renaissance.

Perhaps The Medici Effect explains why I recently sign up for improvisational comedy classes.  That explanation works as well as any other.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

6 + 7 = 22

It's all a story, whether we tell the story with numbers, movement, paint, notes, or words. History, philosophy, genealogy.  We make meaning of our lives through stories, our own and those of others.  We laugh, we cry, we learn from stories.

College students take exception when they hear that there are only seven stories in the world, believing--as every generation believes, despite irrefutable evidence--that they are masters of their unique destinies.  One can't blame them, really, as we no longer put much emphasis on the study of Aristotle's seven characteristics of tragedy or its six component parts.  Nor are we avid readers of Christopher Booker's tome on the seven basic plots and why we feel the need to (re)tell them.

But if one is patient, reasonably informed, and willing to find the teaching moment, the Pixar generation will offer 22 "story basics" to confirm that nothing is really new, from Aristotle's view of the world in about 350 BC to the coolest, hippest storytellers of 2012.  

It sums beautifully.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Creative destruction

What is the tipping point that determines when one thing (a wall or a tree, for example) should be destroyed to make room for another, presumably better, thing?  How do we know?  How do we decide?  And who gets to make the decisions?

Today, I can see--and hear--the removal of the top layer of a brick wall, brick by brick. The construction fences, scaffolding, and machinery disrupt the flow of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, as the noise disrupts the flow of thought.  Large swaths of trees, pavement, and buildings are disappearing to make way for something else.

Yes, there is the need for change and progress.  I teach these topics, so I know these things.  I know that backing up is sometimes necessary to go forward, that disruptive technology can also destroy, and that loss accompanies all growth.  But there is a part of me that mourns the loss of a majestic tree and questions the removal (at some unknown cost for man and machine) of a perfectly good wall.

The changes I initiate (and support) should make sense to me.  And the others?  The ones I don't initiate?  They should make sense to someone...

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.  -- George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The magic of technology

Technology has magical properties. It exists without benefit of human effort, performs without human oversight, does not take up physical space...and it's free!  Wow!  

Last semester, when asked what might have prevented or minimized the industrial tragedy at Bhopal, one of my students wrote:
One other large mistake...was the fact that they depended on manual operations.  It is much more likely for a human to make mistakes than a machine.  All they had to do was spend a little extra money on quality technology that will make sure things are done correctly.
Just this past week, I asked a group of students why unlimited data plans had been scrutinized so carefully by service providers and why, with few exceptions, the prices for these plans have risen steeply.  The immediate and emphatic answer:  "Because they just want to make more money.  It doesn't cost them anything." 

Survey any group--whether high school students, college students, or working professionals--to define 'the cloud' and few will be able to explain the linkage of physical entities (servers, cables, routers, databases, etc.) responsible for the magic we see on our screens of choice.  And if we can't understand the physical entities required to provide the magic we call technology, we will be oblivious to the environmental impact (yes, there is one) of the very real data centers required for the existence of the invisible cloud.  

Technology cannot exist or function without human creation, human intervention, and human maintenance.  The tragedy-behind-the-tragedy at Bhopal is that there were technology safeguards in place to prevent and/or minimize the potential negative impact to people--but the human intervention required for maintenance and monitoring did not allow the technology to function as it was designed.  

Bandwidth (another magical concept) is a physical entity with a dollar cost; so, too, the 'server farms' required to deliver the computing speed to which we seem to feel entitled. I'm not bemoaning the proliferation of technology (at least not in this post) but the proliferation of illusion:
The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. -- Stephen Hawking

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

News that isn't

Yikes.  I know it's not a particularly professional response to what I'm reading this morning, but it's honest.  I guess I could go with 'wow' or 'how frustratingly short-sighted,' but I think I'll stick with the mono-syllabic expression of shock and alarm that preserves the element of humor.  A bit of humor and a strong dose of get-a-grip seems helpful when reading that tools can do some things better than people (gasp!) and how that's all well and good right up until the trite we-can't-let-machines-replace-us fear is invoked.  

It may be the slightest bit hypocritical and/or short-sighted to be thankful for a hammer (which works far better than the heel of my shoe...) or a screwdriver (try using's not pretty) and bemoan tools that specifically--and selectively--affect my own profession.  What has me a bit ruffled this morning is the NPR article which opens with this paragraph:
Computers have been grading multiple-choice test in schools for years.  To the relief of English teachers everywhere, essays have been tougher to gauge.  But look out, teachers:  A new study finds that software designed to automatically read and grade essays can do as good a job as humans--maybe even better.
It doesn't get a lot better from there, as the NPR article continues to sound the alarm about the tool, how students might game the tool, and the danger(s) of using the tool to replace both good teaching and good teachers.  Credibility is lent to the NPR article through judicious quotes from (with requisite links to) a New York Times article about a study conducted at the University of Akron.

The scary part is this:  The NPR story was largely based on an interview with the author of the New York Times article.  But only the reader (not the listener..) who takes the time to read the NPR article, follow the links to the New York Times article, and then follow those links to the original source will find this:
Shermis, the lead author of the Akron study, says thrift-minded administrators and politician should not take his results as ammunition in a crusade to replace composition instructors with...robots.  Ideally, educators at all levels would use the software 'as a supplement for overworked [instructors of] entry-level writing courses, where students are really learning fundamental writing skills and can use all the feedback they can get.' "
At this point, I have so many browser windows open (love this tool!) that I'm having a bit of trouble keeping them in the order that makes sense to me.  But by now I also have access (because of this amazing tool...) to the original study conducted at the University of Akron.

I can read the study for myself and draw my own conclusions, conclusions which are likely to be far more similar to those of the lead author than those of the NPR writer who does not quote or reference the original work--at all.  Yikes.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fluffy reads

I'm trying to keep an open mind about virtual books and to listen respectfully to those with whom I disagree.  All too willing to accept that my preference for books (the ones with actual paper in them) may be rooted in emotion or history, I've been pretty quiet about those preferences.  Until now.

While reading levels of American high school students continue to fall, it's time to ask when we accepted the fallacy that reading is supposed to be easy and fun.  Light reading for pleasure while on holiday, sure.  But all reading?  I don't think so.

The best writing (of the caliber of Shakespeare, Plato, Dante, Socrates, or Homer) is intended to challenge the reader, to make the reader think, to force the reader to The Oxford English Dictionary or another study aid, or to require the reader to tackle a paragraph s-l-o-w-l-y one or more times before the dense text becomes clear.  Great writing takes work, both for the author and for the reader.  And it's not the kind of work that lends itself to handy electronic devices far better suited for popular contemporary fiction.

Most American high school and college students write poorly, largely because they read poorly.  And the need for curriculum to develop 'critical thinking' would be diminished, if not eliminated, by requiring students to read prose and poetry above their grade level, grapple with the complexity of what they are reading, and explain the meaning--in writing. That's critical thinking.  The critical thinking employers want.  And learning to read Dante well helps with reading--and writing--case law, historical documents, philosophy, learning objectives, short stories, instructional manuals, position papers, and annual reports.

Consider, for example, Bram Stoker's Dracula, which can be read here courtesy of Project Gutenberg.  Written in 1897, Dracula could be considered 'light' reading of that era.  The writing style, the historical references, and the cultural differences illustrated by the narrative are what make Dracula harder to read in 2012 than it was in 1897.  And those are exactly the reasons for students to read Dracula rather than--or, at a minimum, in addition to--one of the plethora of current teen best sellers.  If students aren't able to grapple with adventure writing from 1897, what are their chances of understanding philosophy from 400 B.C. or poetry from the 16th century?

What we seem to want is the reading and learning equivalent of cotton candy.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Meet Seth

You and I may be the last two people who don't know Seth Godin.  But we've just changed that, haven't we?

I found Godin's self-described education manifesto last week while I was researching education and technology. Provocatively titled "Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?)"-- a choice which provides the first clue about Godin's marketing talent--the document is over 150 pages and worth its entirety.

In case I haven't convinced you, perhaps Godin will:

Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.
The question I’d ask every administrator and school board is, “Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?”
Transparency in the traditional school might destroy it. If we told the truth about the irrelevance of various courses, about the relative quality of some teachers, about the power of choice and free speech—could the school as we know it survive? 
This manifesto...well, I wish I had taken the time to write it.  But the more important contribution, perhaps, is reading it...and sharing it...and acting on it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dancing geek

The pedagogy of teaching fascinates me, despite the hubris implied by use of the word 'pedagogy' in public.  Taking pride (of the appropriate kind) reflected in preparation and professionalism in ones craft as an educator requires an awareness that teaching is both art and science, in somewhat equal measure.

Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is part of the rich science of teaching; understanding how to use the taxonomy is part of the art.  Long a fan of the elegant simplicity of a hierarchy of thinking skills, I have used Bloom's Taxonomy in course design, test design, and content delivery.

In the midst of teaching, explaining to students how learning happens seems prudent; students are, after all, my partners in the process and it helps if we're doing the same dance steps.  The step-wise progression from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills is beautifully choreographed in the latest revision to Bloom's--we now have digital verbs.  For example, from the Update to Bloom's Revised Taxonomy:

  • Remembering - bookmarking, searching, googling, social bookmarking
  • Understanding - advanced/ boolean searches, blog journaling, annotating, subscribing, tweeting
  • Applying - executing, playing, uploading, editing
  • Analyzing - mashing, tagging, linking
  • Evaluating - commenting, posting, moderating, collaborating, reviewing
  • Creating - programming, blogging, podcasting, publishing, wiki-ing

For those of us who are pedagogists as well as closet geeks, this is really good news.  It means I can use technology as more than a tool to enable learning objectives related to other content.  The effective and well-planned use of technology is its own pedagogy, music to the ears of a geek who dances.

Related Ramblings:
Learning Through Teaching: Pandemic consumption
Learning Through Teaching:  My cup runneth over
Learning Through Teaching: The "no textbook" decision

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A work in progress

I don't even know where to begin to describe what's happening in our classroom this semester as we address online education as an innovation. From the scholarly articles and supporting texts come descriptions of what I'm observing:

"Above all, innovation is work rather than genius. It requires knowledge. It often requires ingenuity. And it requires focus." (1)

"(W)hen all is said and done, what innovation requires is hard, focused, purposeful work. If diligence, persistence, and commitment are lacking, talent, ingenuity, and knowledge are of no avail." (1)

"Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge common wisdom...they like to ask 'If we did this, what would happen?'" (2)

"(I)nnovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots. Unlike observers...experimenters construct interactive experiences and try to provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge." (2)

"It's no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that's merely functional. Today's it's economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging." (3)
We have created a lab focused on asking questions, researching answers, and creating prototypes that embody the experience students (and standards organizations) expect from online education.  It's truly a beautiful process to watch.

(1) The Discipline of Innovation by Peter F. Drucker (HBR Case)
(2) The Innovator's DNA by Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal. B. Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen (HBR Case)
(3) A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dreaming in class

I wish I could take credit for it, but I think I just blundered into it.  Regardless of the genesis, what's happening in the classroom is the stuff that dreams are made of.*

The week before classes started, the new president of our state university system presented to our faculty his call for innovation**--specifically, in the form of on-line education within our state's higher-education system--and the virtual dominoes snapped into place:  What better illustration of the concepts and challenges of innovation, creativity, and change than one issued to the system in which students find themselves? Suddenly, having 11 graduate students from multiple colleges in an elective course on Innovation and Creativity appeared as the gift it is and the course was adjusted to incorporate a semester-long project revolving around online education.

So far:
  • Students are applying concepts, theories, and models to a system they understand.
  • We're all learning about the state around us (literally and figuratively).
  • Business decisions about innovation are more easily understood or, at the very least, more easily discussed.
  • Pre-conceived ideas (mostly negative) about online education are being replaced by facts obtained through research.
  • Faculty from other colleges are lending support to the students in my class.
  • Technology and instructional design colleagues are also lending support to the class.
  • The faculty and staff who visit the classroom and/or read the material being gathered and posted on Blackboard are excited about the process.
  • We are using tools and technologies seamlessly, both as tools and as research topics.
  • I look forward to class.

One goal for the semester is to develop a sample of what quality online education, incorporating best practices and using the tools available.  The class has selected the subject matter and a sub-group is focusing on development of the actual product.  

Another goal is to create and deliver a presentation about our design process, the questions raised, and the students' recommendations.  My goal?  To fill the auditorium (literally and through technology) with faculty and staff.  To include others in the dream. To see where this leads. To wake and find at least some part of the dream.

* Though I've used Carly Simon's lyrics, credit is also due to Shakespeare.  
**The text of the presentation is here, with a link to watch.

Related Ramblings:

  1. Stay tuned for Dr. Seuss
  2. Accounts receivable or accounts paid?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tripping through the classroom of life

This semester is my second time to teach a course in innovation and creativity.  Though many things are different about the course this time around (more on that in a subsequent post), Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind remains required reading.  The chapter about story and the power of narrative is one of my favorites.

I do love a good story...and a good story teller.  Often, the good story tellers are writers. Sometimes, though, the good story teller is a comedian, an actor, the guy at the local hardware store or the preacher at the local church.  One of my favorite story tellers, Rachel Remen, is a physician:
Life offers its wisdom generously.  Everything teaches.  Not everyone learns. Life asks of us the same thing we have been asked in every class:  "Stay awake." "Pay attention." But paying attention is no simple matter.  It requires us not to be distracted by expectations, past experiences, labels, and masks. It asks that we not jump to early conclusions and that we remain open to surprise.  Wisdom comes most easily to those who have the courage to embrace life without judgment and are willing to not know, sometimes for a very long time.  It requires us to be more fully and simply alive than we have been taught to be.  

A few lines later (in My Grandfather's Blessings), Rachel uses the metaphor of an entire oak tree contained--at least in essence or as potential--in an acorn and reminds us that "none of us are only the way we seem."   The summation of our life experiences, of which formal education is but one part, is to journey ever closer to our potential.  To become the wisdom we are intended to be.   And I resonate to the reminder that ""(t)his is not usually a graceful or a deliberate process."

I am neither graceful nor particularly deliberate in my journey.  In fact, I often blunder, stumble, and drive backwards in circles.  Perhaps, in that way, we are all more alike than we realize.  And I seem to be a far better teacher, friend, and parent when I focus on the similarities.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Take aim

There's a lot here to absorb, but it's probably worth spending some time to do so...starting with Stowe Boyd, where I first saw it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

True blue?

We waited for the house to open, offered our tickets to gain admission, and found our seats.  We were there to see Blue Man Group.  We came to hear good music, to laugh, to revel in the innovative combination of technology and entertainment.  We came to see a Blue Man (or three) up close.  

As we settled into our seats, I was intrigued by the language projected at the front of the auditorium, so I took a photograph.  Soon thereafter, the show started.  I heard, I laughed, I reveled and I saw a Blue Man (or three) up close; the experience was everything I had expected it to be, capturing my full attention (which is rare) for the duration of the show.

Later in the day, curiosity--that blessed bane--brought me back to the language and to the attribution--to the "International Diplomacy Guidebook."  I searched for it.  I found A Diplomat's Handbook for Democracy Development Support (which is, by the way, interesting reading).  I found other references to Blue Man Group.  But I still haven't found an International Diplomacy Guidebook.

And then I wondered whether the Guidebook--offered as the only context, written or spoken, for the show--is a Blue Man creation.  Regardless of the source, it seems about right.  If we cultivate our interests (which, oddly enough, are often the things that bring us the greatest joy), share those interests with others, and are receptive to their interests, it often follows naturally that we are able to collaborate more successfully and build something of value.  Whether parenting, teaching, friendship, or marriage, we are all endeavoring to build lasting connections.  And we start with offering who we are.

Shakespeare wrote a similar version: 
This above all: to thine own self be true, 

And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Perhaps what matters about learning and about wisdom is that we are receptive.  Words of wisdom can, indeed, be true blue, regardless of from whence they came.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Whining trumps change far too often

My patron saint may very well be Our Lady of Perpetual Planning.  I adjust, update, edit, tweak and otherwise "improve" my course materials (syllabus, course calendar, daily plans, teaching notes, resources...pretty much everything) before every semester and right up to the day before classes start.  Classes start tomorrow, so you can pretty well guess what I'm doing.

Incorporating change into our lives is hard, especially if the change involves a learning curve or a risk.  Some of the changes I want to make in my course plan are risky, in the sense that the outcome isn't knowable.  What if the change isn't better?  How will I grade it?  Is the potential outcome worth the effort?  What if the students don't understand the assignment?  Just how hard is this going to be...for me?

As I head back to make those last and final changes (really, they'll be the last ones...absolutely, positively), I'll be going with the encouragement of trusted muses:
  • "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." -- Andre Gide
  • "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."  -- Helen Keller
  • "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover." -- Mark Twain
  • "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."  -- T.S. Eliot
Okay, I'm ready now.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My cup runneth over...

Though it pains me to admit, I have not yet finished The Digital Divide.  I have, however, traveled to visit family, celebrated a holiday or two, knitted on the year-and-counting afghan, celebrated my daughter's birthday, moved to a new office, conducted meetings, continued planning for two courses this semester, read other books and worked on a remodeling project.  In between, I've taken to photographing random cemeteries.  I'm not slacking, just over-committed.

But I have made progress in my reading, slowed somewhat by my long-standing tendency to write in the margins of the book, make connections that compel me to seek other sources ("Now where IS that quote that seems to say this in a different way?"), and allow time for what I'm reading to rumble around in my brain.  It's the rumbling that seems to yield the most benefit, especially when considering conflicting perspectives:
"In geography--which is all but ignored these days--there is no reason that a generation that can memorize over 100 Pokemon character with all their characteristics, history, and evolution can't learn the names, populations, capitals, and relationships of all the 101 nations in the world.  It just depends on how it is presented."
"One of the most interesting challenges and to figure out and invent ways to include reflection and critical thinking in the learning (either built into the instruction or through a process of instructor-led debriefing) but still do it in the Digital Native language."  
"(T)oday's neurobiologists and social psychologists agree that brains can and do change with new input.  And today's educators with the most crucial learning missions --teaching...the military--are already using custom-designed computer and video games as an effective way of reaching Digital Natives.  But the bulk of today's tradition-bound educational establishment seems in no hurry to follow their lead."
"Three unexpected sources can help us negotiate the historical transition we face as we move from one prevailing mode of communication to another:  Socrates, modern cognitive neuroscience, and Proust."
"Teens' poor performance (relative to adults when navigating unfamiliar web sites) is caused by three factors:  insufficient reading skills, less sophisticated research strategies, and a dramatically lower patience level."
"As the brain evolves and shifts its focus toward new technological skills, it drifts away from fundamental social skills, such as reading facial expressions during conversation or grasping the emotional content of a subtle gesture."

When I review the quotes, I am exhilarated, concerned, frustrated, hopeful, and overwhelmed.  On the whole, it's good news that we can understand (as least some of) the impact of technology on learning.  What concerns me, though, is the tendency to divide the world of knowledge into discrete camps, forgetting, for example, that reading narrative text and being forced to reflect upon the meaning is a different skill from rapid identification and absorption of information...and that both are required for success in navigating a complex world.  It's not either-or; it's both-and.

The web of knowledge existed long before it was digitally connected and it was already a lot to absorb.  Perhaps that's been the draw to the cemeteries--a tangible reminder of the finite and the infinite...and what belongs where.  One semester at a time...