Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Introvert's Dream

A colleague of mine was invited to a little virtual coffee break get-together for others who had been hired around the same time as him. There were several conversation starters sent out beforehand. I wasn't invited, so I don't know how much they stuck to the script or talked about other things.

But one of the questions spoke to me:
You are stuck on a desert island and you can only bring one song, one movie and one type of food. What would you bring?
Keep your song and movie if I can have pizza from Sacco's and a promise that you're not pulling my leg about the desert island thing.

If I really do get a song, too, it would be one of Clapton's hour-long jams.

Monday, August 4, 2014


As IT is integrated into more and more aspects of our lives at work, home, and everywhere in between, the need to make all the varying systems around us work together seamlessly leads to increased complexity. But more complexity means more cost and more likelihood of downtime. The article linked below discusses the importance of keeping it simple and provides some basic principles to keep in mind to make your organization more flexible and keeping it simple at the same time. The points in their simplification roadmap are to start at the top, use an entrepreneurial approach, use cloud services when available, and be agile. By having buy-in at all levels and focusing on adaptability, you can focus on the unique value you add rather than wasting time running around trying to reinvent the wheel or maintain the status quo.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Technology Rights

A recent court case in Europe has highlighted a right that many would not immediately list in the top rights most important to them - the right to be forgotten. Privacy expectations in Europe are different from the United States, as Google found out as it took pictures all over Germany for its popular Street View service. But what about the right to have links removed which refer to old newspaper articles about something that happened a decade or two ago? It happened. There was a newspaper article about it. It's public information. Things change over time, and it's old news, but should the original articles still be searchable? Technology is an enabler. It helps you do what you want bigger and faster than you could without it. But that doesn't mean you can always control it. The man suing for removal of a past legal issue now shows up in more search results than he did before, magnifying the discussion around him. So how do you effectively leverage technology to magnify the positive and manage the negative without it getting out of control on you? That's the tough question to ask in your organization.

More on the Right to be Forgotten:



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Managing the Critical Path

When planning a project, the temptation is always there to build in extra time everywhere so that your schedule never slips. Just like if you're putting in tile or carpet, you order 10% more than what you measure that you need in case something gets damaged or if you mis-measured. Time is the biggest resource you have on a project, and the most visible "failure" you can have is missing your launch date. So it makes sense that you would add 10% or some other fudge factor to all your estimates, right? Not so fast. If you have a time-sensitive launch, set the completion date well enough before you really need it, but don't just give everyone extra time to get everything done.

The critical path is the sequence of tasks that need to be completed on time for the project to complete on time. If you have slack built in between tasks early on in your project, then what you've done is made it so those tasks can be delayed without changing the completion date. By definition, if tasks can be delayed and not affect the project completion date, they are not critical. If you do something like this, you'll end up with a very short critical path, with just the last task or two showing in red, meaning the last couple have to be completed on time. That makes sense if you look at it logically. It may be logical and possible, but is it allowed? I'm not sure I can answer that question or even if I can that I want to. The better question than whether it's allowed is whether it's a good idea. And that, I can say emphatically, is not a good idea.

Anyone looking at your Gantt chart or network diagram will expect a critical path. There are many ways you can show that, and there are many possible ways to put together a project. You can have a completely sequential project, in which case only one task is being worked on at a time and everything is on the critical path. It's neither logical nor desired, except in the rarest of circumstances, to have every task be on the critical path. On the opposite side of the pendulum, it is neither logical nor desired to have only a couple tasks or even no tasks on the critical path. At its most basic level, the critical path is really just a calculation. It is what it is. You simply measure the lengths of the various paths and the longest one is critical. At a more strategic level, the critical path is key to your management of the project, as it is the series of tasks that you will be watching most closely for scheduling issues. If everything is critical, or if nothing is, then you have nowhere to focus your attention, and the project just kind of does whatever it wants. You can probably see how that might be a bad thing.

Building in slack between tasks, aka giving people extra time to finish their tasks, is not meaningful or helpful and if anything is damaging, because if you give them extra time, they will take it. If you give someone a 1 week task but give them 2 weeks to do it in, they will wait until the second week to start. The idea is probably so if they end up taking 6 days instead of 5, the schedule doesn't change. That's good in theory, but if they have a 1 week period to do their work and start week 1 and go one day over, they are just one day late. If they have two weeks and start week 2 and go one day over, they are now 6 days late. Even if they have 2 weeks and start at the beginning and finish in 5 days, there is a phantom 5 days that everyone else is going to be sitting around waiting. Why tell the next team they can't start work for 5 days when the previous work is done, just to maintain the schedule? If there are things that have to happen on a certain date, well you hard code those and work around it. But those are pretty rare. If you want to build in some slack, put that at the end. If management wants things done by the end of the year, you plan the project to complete, say, October 31. But the project due date is published as October 31. You don't tell everyone that the goal is Halloween but you don't care if it's not done until Christmas. Stick to Halloween. If it does go over by a week, we'll all survive. But the second you start telling people your "real" go-live date, that's the date everyone will be aiming for and before you know it, New Years' comes and goes and everyone is still trying to wrap up loose ends that should have been done 2 months prior.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Self Plagiarism

Citations can be a messy thing. They're actually simpler than most people think, but everyone likes to make them messy. Citing your own work, of course, does add a layer of complexity.

At its simplest, using someone else's idea means you need to cite them. There are two reasons for this. One is that you should give credit if your idea actually isn't yours. It's only right. Even if you put it in different words, it's still their idea. Second is that you should give credit to actually lend some credence to what you're saying. That is the part most people don't realize. Often we're taught that we need to be creative and think of things completely on our own, but since when are either you or me the world's expert on any given topic? Better to apply what the experts are saying than to just make something up yourself. It's not weak to use someone else's idea, but it actually makes your argument better.

That said, related to self-citation, there are two principles at play. One is copyright and the idea of giving someone credit for an idea you're using. Obviously if you write something, you own the copyright to what you create, and you can copy what you wrote verbatim or put in different words as much as you like, since it's your copyright. Beyond copyright, however, the idea of self-plagiarism comes into play, as a particular ethical issue of higher education that is not really applicable elsewhere. Generally speaking, professors don't like you using something you wrote for another class in their class, without permission. Sometimes this varies based on the professor, and other times it is an institutional policy. Where I currently teach, they don't have a policy against this, because as part of the competency based model, it's not likely that something a student writes for one class will work in another class without major revisions. If you have published something, it's yours, so do what you want with it. If you think citing yourself will lend additional credence to what you say since it's been published, then use it to make your presentation stronger.

Many schools use a service like TurnItIn, however, to check if something a student submits was submitted to another class or found on the Internet somewhere. So it all comes down to execution, where the rubber hits the road. If you can copy something you wrote elsewhere but the computer dings you for it, you'll have to deal with it and explain what you did, even if it was perfectly okay to do so. If you make it clear up front what is going on and cite everything, then it doesn't look as much like you're trying to hide something.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

War on General-Purpose Computing

We hear a lot about security. We hear much about copyright. Not often do we think or hear about the connections between the two. Copyright- and internet-reform activist and science fiction author Cory Doctorow discusses just how these two come together in what he calls the War on General-Purpose Computing. The idea is that general purpose computers, such as your laptop or the servers locked away in the company data center, are designed to do exactly what we tell them. Because they can do anything, it's important that their owners/users know what is running on them. Rogue processes need to be found and removed to keep legitimate programs and data secure.

Being able to control everything on the computer means if it's displaying copyrighted content, you can (technologically, if not legally) make and distribute copies of that content. Content publishers claim this causes them to lose money, so they push for laws and technology that don't allow users to control everything on their previously general-purpose computer. Since owners/users can't even tell everything that is running, let alone actually control everything their computer is doing, security gives way as someone else is controlling their computer. Someone else is controlling your computer.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Make It Easy

In a New York Times technology advice column, a grandparent asks for advice on getting grandchild videos which are recorded in portrait mode to show properly since the media player they use plays it back in landscape mode. Various software options are discussed for accomplishing the task, but there is a glaring hole in this advice. The video shouldn't be recorded in portrait mode to begin with. Video is always more natural in landscape mode, so they should ask their son to rotate his phone when recording videos to begin with, but again there is a glaring hole in this advice. The fact is that it is more natural to hold phones vertically. So if it's easier to hold phones up and down but video is more natural to view in widescreen, what's the solution? The solution is for hardware and software vendors to create their cameras so they record in landscape mode even when the phone is held vertically. It would be very simple to do and reduce many of the poor quality videos that are recorded. You may not work somewhere that makes hardware or software for smartphones. But wherever you do work, there's probably a similar issue you could solve just by paying attention to the user experience and making it easier for people to use their technology better. If there's something you want people to do, the solution is simple: make it easy.


Monday, March 31, 2014

The Statistics of a Degree

This video posits that the school system somehow robs students and that they will be better off if they don't get a degree. Instead they should educate themselves on the street or in their garage. The performer (yes, he's performing to get a YouTube paycheck by millions of us watching his video and associated advertisements) asks the watcher to look at the statistics, and then proceeds to list off a dozen predictable outliers who were wildly successful without graduating from college.

Let's actually look at the statistics, shall we?

Maybe you're special and will be the next outlier. Maybe our schools could do things more efficiently (okay, not maybe; they do need an overhaul). Maybe you'll be more likely to have a higher paying job if you get a degree.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Help Seeking - An Annotated Bibliography

Aleven, V., Stahl, E., Schworm, S., Fischer, F., & Wallace, R. (2003). Help seeking and help design in interactive learning environments. Review of Educational Research 73(3).

Help seeking can be seen, not as dependence of the learner, but as self-regulated behavior that helps to develop independent ability. For this to be the case, the help seeking needs to be effective. There are various types of computer-based instruction, including intelligent tutoring systems (AI gives context-sensitive hints), computer assisted instruction (feedback on actions without AI to guide), educational hypermedia (cross-linked information), and problem/based systems (authentic problems with background information and hints about solving the problem). Help seeking model is presented: aware of need for help, decide to seek help, identify helpers, ask for help, and evaluate help. Many studies actually show ineffective use of computer based learning, but that on demand help does tend to help students learn better. Student prior knowledge is a major influence in student performance and success, both in terms of familiarity with the subject and the learning environment. Help seeking ability improves with age due to better ability to monitor one’s own performance. In terms of gender, males are less likely to seek help than females in traditional classroom environments, and while there is less research in computer based learning environments, similar results have been found. A focus on performance rather than learning can lead to avoidance of help seeking.

Anderson, T. (2003). Getting the mix right again: An updated and theoretical rationale for interaction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 4(2).

Interaction may be defined as only between two people, but here they accept the definition that allows any people or objects to interact with and influence each other, so a student may interact with another student or may interact with content. It’s difficult to know for sure if interactions, as helpful as they may be, actually have educational value. Some students choose programs that minimize the amount of person to person interaction required. A high level of interaction with content, other students, or the teacher may be sufficient, even if the other forms are not present (although student/teacher interaction is perceived as the highest value). Student/content interactions can take the place of many person to person interactions in the right circumstances.

Azevedo, R., Moos, D.C., Greene, J.A., Winters, F.I., & Cromley, J.G. (2008). Why is externally-facilitated regulated learning more effective than self-regulated learning with hypermedia? Educational Technology Research and Development 56(1).

This study compared self-regulated and externally facilitated learning with adolescents studying complex topics. If students lack metacognitive abilities, such as planning, setting goals, activating prior knowledge, and so on, ineffective strategies may lead to less effective use of online resources. The tutor provides individualized scaffolding to each student, that fades (although not completely away) during the course. Tutor-led scaffolding conditions helped students obtain a more complex mental model, as well as more declarative knowledge, and different metacognitive strategies were used by both groups. The study is fairly limited based on age, low prior knowledge, and relatively complex nature of the content.

Butler, R. (1998). Determinants of help seeking: Relations between perceived reasons for classroom help-avoidance and help-seeking behaviors in an experimental context. Journal of Educational Psychology 90(4).

This study dealt with help-avoidance. Students will seek less help for assessments identified as to test competence compared to assessments that are an opportunity to learn. This is because their reluctance is often due to perceptions that learning should be autonomous and that asking for help is evidence of incompetence. This can lead to students who do need help to seek covert help (cheating). Some students may ask for help in solving a problem because they simply want to finish, not necessarily learn anything. Students with ability-focused orientation asked fewer questions than those with autonomous or expedient orientations. Boys with ability-focused orientation cheated more often. One observation that wasn’t a specific purpose of the study was that teachers participating in the study created an environment more conducive to asking questions than is normally found in classrooms. Also limited due to young age of students.

Elen, J., Clarebout, G., Leonard, R., & Lowyck, J. (2007). Student-centred and teacher-centred learning environments: What students think. Teaching in Higher Education 12(1).

Balanced view includes sharing instructional tasks between teacher and student at different points in time. Transactional view is similar, in that student and teacher share responsibilities, but the teacher has the additional responsibility of monitoring and coaching the student through their part. Independent view claims that their roles are fundamentally different. The survey tended to confirm that student-centeredness and teacher-centeredness are not necessarily on the extreme ends of the continuum, so giving more power to students doesn’t necessarily mean the teacher’s job goes away completely. They can actually be mutually reinforcing.

Karabenick, S.A. (2011). Classroom and technology-supported help seeking: The need for converging research paradigms. Learning and Instruction 21(2).

Help seeking is more likely to occur in a context focused on learning and understanding than ones focused on ability or where public disclosure may be embarrassing. Differences exist between research in computer-mediated environments and traditional classrooms. When presenting new information, one study showed preferences for a more structured environment, but given the new methods for the teacher and new content for the students, the study’s results may not be applicable elsewhere. Motivational content may lead to additional help-seeking behaviors. Help-seeking is susceptible to social influence, even when not interacting with another person directly.

Lebak, K. & Tinsley, R. (2010). Can inquiry and reflection be contagious? Science teachers, students, and action research. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 953-970.

Case studies of three science teachers who converted from a teacher-centered approach to an inquiry-based approach for student learning. Whether the teacher was unaware of a need for change, working with special needs students, or limited in the amount of time to conduct experiments, they all found students were more engaged by being hands-on. Peer reflection and feedback (of the teacher’s peers) was important in helping the teachers transform their classrooms. Both the students and teachers evolve dramatically during the conversion to inquiry learning.

Makitalo-Siegl, K. & Fischer, F. (2011). Stretching the limits in help-seeking research: Theoretical, methodological, and technological advances. Learning and Instruction 21(2).

As help seeking is a social behavior, some less socially oriented learners may avoid seeking help, so computer-based resources may reduce barriers that prevent face to face interactions. It is important to look at help seeking behaviors in a variety of environments, tied to various forms of instruction, with various types of resources available. In addition to studying the technology involved, it’s important to look at motivational and emotional dimensions.

Mercier, J. & Frederiksen, C. (2008). The structure of the help-seeking process in collaboratively using a computer coach in problem-based learning. Computers & Education 51(1).

There is little research on help-seeking in an online environment, as it is mostly in a social context like a classroom. Problems students may encounter in learning a new domain include not understanding the solution schema, not understanding the content, and making a mistake in the process. When problems occur, help can overcome the impasse. With a computer tutor, instead of having the expert monitor the student’s progress and needs, the student has to monitor his or her own progress and needs. Phases in the Mercier model: recognize impasse, diagnose impasse, establish specific need for help, find help, read and comprehend help, and evaluate help.

Peterson, S., & Palmer, L. (2011). Technology Confidence, Competence and Problem Solving Strategies: Differences within Online and Face-to-Face Formats. Journal of Distance Education, 25(2).

When students encounter a new problem, they often hesitate to participate because of a lack of confidence; however, research shows that that is the point where they need to engage with others, in order to solve a problem and move to more challenging tasks. Four problem solving strategies include: seeking instructor assistance, seeking peer assistance, further reading, and trial and error, all of which can be effective methods. One study showed that online students felt more comfortable asking for help than traditional students. In this study of university teacher education students, face to face students often waited for instructor assistance, while online students tended to do more trial and error or further reading, and the online students were more competent.

Roll, I., Aleven, V., McLaren, B.M., & Koedinger, K.R. (2011). Improving students’ help-seeking skills using metacognitive feedback in an intelligent tutoring system. Learning and Instruction 21(2).

A tutoring system must be able to detect metacognitive errors and encourage appropriate behavior. Help-seeking advice from the tutoring system can improve such behaviors within other domains of study.

Ryan, A.M., Pintrich, P.R., & Midgley, C. (2001). Avoiding seeking help in the classroom: Who and why? Educational Psychology Review 13(2). The help seeking process starts when students realize there is a problem and then decide to seek help. Students may choose not to seek help because they believe they should not, that no one is competent to help, that it may take too long, or that it highlights one’s incompetence. Highly competent students are more likely to ask for help, because they don’t think others will think poorly of them for it; low achievers are more concerned about what others think.

Weerasinghe, T., Ramberg, R., & Hewagamage, K. (2012). Inquiry-Based Learning With or Without Facilitator Interactions. Journal of Distance Education, 26(2).

Inquiry-based learning promotes higher engagement and construction of knowledge in complex content areas. Teachers have an important role in encouraging participation in a community, but other types of interactions can be effective as well. The inquiry process includes four major phases: triggering event, exploration, integration, and resolution (see Gagne’s 9 Events). The study compared online course discussions with and without a teacher or TA present. They found that the dialogues in both cases students were able to attain high levels of interaction and inquiry and meaningful learning. If anything, when the facilitator was not present, students picked up the slack in terms of additional metacognitive activities.

Wood, D. (2009). Comments on learning with ICT: New perspectives on help seeking and information searching. Computers & Education 53(4).

Digital technologies have allowed for additional research into the area of help seeking, although there is little information so far that has been studied. It does seem clear that self-regulation is important, they need to be encouraged to use resources available to them, and students will be more successful as an independent learner if they paradoxically seek help when needed. While human facilitators are common and natural, it’s possible that automated recommender systems and knowledge bases may be as effective as those technologies become more robust.

Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 17(2).

Tutoring, where one member of a group knows how to do something others do not is a common feature of learning, especially with young children. Scaffolding, controlled by an adult, allows the child to solve a problem initially beyond his or her reach. One key that must exist is a recognition and understanding of a solution in order to be able to come up with one’s own solution. Younger children were as adept at recognizing appropriate solutions, although less adept at creating their own solutions. The tutor needs to understand both the task at hand and the characteristics of the tutee.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The State of the Education

This week we had the State of the Union and State of the State addresses. I didn't listen to or watch either. I guess I'm a bit disillusioned with our government right now. Maybe I don't want to listen to our president talk about creating jobs, when he has never had a real job himself. Maybe I don't want to listen to our governor talk about how he wants 2/3 of adults in our state to have college degrees, when he does not have a college degree himself.

I think jobs and education are important, but I think we're doing it all wrong. It shouldn't be surprising that these all came across my feed reader or FB almost all at the exact same time a day or two ago, given the mix of RSS readers I subscribe to, but I thought they all fit together nicely.

First is Roger Schank's post about the need for a different kind of university that trains people for jobs instead of training people to be professors.
Most universities have copied the “training of intellectuals and professors model of education” and have disregarded the idea that future employment might be of major concern to students. Professors can do this because they are forced by no one to teach job skills. They don’t really know much about job skills in any case. The major focus of a professor at any research university is research. Teaching is low on their priority list and teaching job skills is far very from any real concern. So, economics departments teach theories of economics and not how to run a business, and law schools teach the theory of law and not how to be a lawyer, and medical schools teach the science of the human body but not how to be a doctor. Psychology focusses on how to run an experiment, when students really want to know why they are screwed up or why they can’t get along. Mathematics departments teach stuff that no one will ever use, and education departments forget to teach people how to teach.

Still we hear that everyone must go to college. Why?
Right after that came this about regulators in California threatening to fine and shut down schools that teach students how to code and practically guarantee them a job immediately upon completion of the program.
In the learn-to-code movement, online schools and in-person courses are springing up to meet a huge need for more developers across a wide range of industries. For a price, these schools offer training in digital skills, such as software development, data science, and user experience design.

Many of these boot camps have a strong social purpose: They specialize in bringing diversity to the tech sector and in helping underemployed or unemployed Californians find jobs. Hackbright, for instance, specializes in teaching women to code so they can compete for lucrative computer engineering jobs.

These bootcamps have not yet been approved by the [the government] and are therefore being classified as unlicensed postsecondary educational institutions that must seek compliance or be forcibly shut down.
And finally this brilliant Ted Talk by Temple Grandin, where she explains how we need all kinds of minds, including both verbal and visual thinkers.
The thing is, the normal brain ignores the details. Well, if you're building a bridge, details are pretty important because it will fall down if you ignore the details. And one of my big concerns with a lot of policy things today is things are getting too abstract. People are getting away from doing hands-on stuff. I'm really concerned that a lot of the schools have taken out the hands-on classes, because art, and classes like that, those are the classes where I excelled.

What can visual thinkers do when they grow up? They can do graphic design, all kinds of stuff with computers, photography, industrial design. The pattern thinkers, they're the ones that are going to be your mathematicians, your software engineers, your computer programmers, all of those kinds of jobs. And then you've got the word minds. They make great journalists, and they also make really, really good stage actors.

The world needs different kinds of minds to work together.
...not more professors