Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I'll post here soon something showing the most common search terms and posts from this past year, but I don't like posting that kind of thing until the year is over. What if something totally awesome happens on December 30th and doesn't show up in any of top 10 lists because they had been put together before the year was over? It could be like how I got to go to two Rotary Club dinners when I earned my Eagle Scout, because I earned it near the end of one year, but it was awarded to me the next year. Of course, it could be the opposite, where the top thing never gets recognized because it slips in the crack between the two years.

In the meantime, I'll say that it seems like time is moving faster and faster each year. A friend of mine shows the math and how it works that as you are younger, a year is a larger percent of your life, but as you get older, each year is smaller and smaller relative to all the things you've already experienced. Then the point is to think about how we get on kids for not being able to sit through a one hour meeting, but an hour for them is the equivalent of like a week for adults. The math is fun and interesting, but most importantly, I think it's true. An older couple in our neighborhood talks about how they don't feel like they are old - they feel like they're the same people they were 50, 60, or 70 years ago. They are, yet they're not.

I heard someone explain it that as you turn a year older, you are the new age, but you are also all the previous ages. So while I'm currently 36, I'm also at the same time 25, 18, 12, 8, 2, and every age in between. I need now the things a 36 year old needs, plus the same things I needed when I was in kindergarten, when I was just starting to drive, and when I graduated college.

I hesitate to believe much of what the scientists say about how old our earth is and how time affects us, because I don't think we really understand it as well as they claim we do. We can use the limited portion of the concept of time that we do understand to measure certain things and make some guesses about what has happened recently or what will happen soon, but while we perceive time as constant, it's probably more like a Doppler effect, where frequencies speed up or slow down depending on the relative position and velocities of objects in motion. Get too far away from our current situation and it breaks down and fails to measure our progress consistently.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CMC - An Annotated Bibliography

Anderson, T., Poellhuber, B., & McKerlich, R. (2010). Self-paced learners meet social software: An exploration of learners’ attitudes, expectations, and experience. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration XIII(III).

Most traditional and online courses use a group-pacing model, but self-paced models give students more access and control. Given the increased control self-pacing provides, there is a corresponding lower social interaction and higher rate of attrition. Varying backgrounds of students do correlate with persistence, but the design of course materials and support provided to students is all that can be adjusted by the school/instructor. Social networking and other communication technologies allow us provide more learning support and interaction. Social software should provide sociability, a sense of trust and belonging; interaction, how connected students are with teachers and peers; and peer collaboration, constructivist learning with cohorts or informal groups. Many students are interested in interacting with peers, so course technology design should make this easier to do. Connectivist learning models have many of the answers. Survey of student interest in social technologies revealed a variety of responses. They are largely confident in using the internet but have only moderate exposure to many social media tools, with older students being less familiar than younger students. About half the students are interested in interacting with other students, and half are not, thus online collaborative activities should be compelling but not required.

Arbaugh, J.B. (2008) Does the community of inquiry framework predict outcomes in online MBA courses? International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 9(2).

The CoI framework describes teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence. Teaching presence includes course design and organization, direct instruction, and instructor facilitation. Social presence includes group cohesion, open communication, and affective expression. Cognitive presence includes a process where a problem is identified, explored, meaning constructed, and then the problem is solved. Study findings showed that the model accounted for 54% of the variance in student learning, with teaching presence and cognitive presence the strongest predictors of success. Social presence was a smaller predictor but still necessary to support the other two. Simpler or more familiar learning environments should produce higher cognitive gains (CLT).

de Souza, C. S., & Preece, J. (2004). A framework for analyzing and understanding online communities. Interacting with Computers, 16(3), 579-610.

This article points out two components by which an online community can be assessed: sociability (people, purposes, and policies) and usability (software). In their framework, these two components have to be aligned to produce success. Any community (whether online, offline, or a hybrid) will have sociability factors that change as the people (or purposes or policies) in the community change. For any online community, the software has to work with those people, purposes, and policies. They continue on to discuss Semiotics and HCI and how communication takes place among users and designers. The important part is that everyone is communicating all the time, but the message doesn't always get across how we expect it.

Gagne, R.M., Wager, W.W., Golas, K.C., & Keller, J.M. (2005). Online learning. In Principles of Instructional Design (5th Edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

While many instructional design theories related to offline computer-based instruction also apply to online learning, the networked nature of online learning means that there are additional affordances for students and teachers. Students can be located anywhere around the world and still participate with others and costs for delivering instruction are lower. Specialized software is not needed, as everything can be accessed through a web browser, content is delivered more efficiently, courses are flexible in allowing both self-paced and group-paced activities, updating content is instant, web analytics provide robust tracking of behaviors, and interactions among others can be increased. However, there may also be issues if students are overwhelmed with the amount of information without a clear path to follow through it all, and if social connections are not cultivated, individuals can be left on their own. If learners are required to access materials synchronously, that may cause scheduling conflicts; on the other hand, if learners are required to access materials on their own personal time, they may be unsatisfied with required training taking away from personal activities. Computer literacy is an important consideration. Learning management systems and other collaborative environments can support group work and constructivist teaching methods. Collaboration can be synchronous or asynchronous and text- or multimedia-based. Blended learning, with a combination of online and face to face activities is also an option.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

The Community of Inquiry framework refers to three major components - cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Teaching presence is getting the conversation started and keeping it focused, cognitive presence is the desire to exchange ideas, and social presence is how well everyone gets along.

Lowenthal, P.R. (2010). The evolution and influence of social presence theory on online learning. In Online Learning and Adult Education. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

The internet can be social and bring people together or separate and isolate them. It can also cause addiction and dependence. By studying the sociality of a network, we can better understand and deal with the negative issues while promoting the positives. Early research in computer mediated communication (CMC) showed that it did some things well and other things not as well. The theory of social presence was developed to help determine the quality of communication between people. Mediums with a high degree of social presence are considered warm and personal. The meaning surrounding a CMC message depends highly on context, thus initial research in primarily business environments made educational researchers and practitioners wary of trying out CMC, although those fears have been generally unfounded. Additional research in social presence theory has supported the principle that the extent to which a given aspect of a communication medium (visual, audio, etc.) is important depends on the task for which it is being used. Media richness is the extent to which a communication carries understanding and data. While some cues that promote richness are filtered out in CMC, users of the system find ways to convey that same richness, such as a winking emoticon where a physical wink is not possible. Future research in this area will move from online learning to the blurring of boundaries between the classroom and personal communications in social media.

McLuhan, M. (1964). The medium is the message. In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Signet.

The personal and social influences of any medium (or technology) can be positive or negative. Technologies shape us and affect our interactions. The example given is that the railway sped up expansion and growth of society, leading new cities and types of work, where the expansion of the airplane undoes the work the railroad did and builds different types of cities and work. The technology of the light bulb allows certain activities to take place, which could not otherwise, thus those activities are the message inherent in that technology. “The message, it seemed, was the content, as people used to ask what a painting was about. Yet they never thought to ask what a melody was about, nor what a house or a dress was about.” The content of the message often distracts from the real substance which should be the medium and the structural changes it makes in us and in our society.

Vonderwell, S. (2002). An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in an online course: A case study. The Internet and Higher Education, 6, 77-90.

This study looked at how asynchronous communication affects student learning and whether or not it enhances it. Interaction among students and between students and teachers is an important part of the learning process. Pulling apart and putting back together beliefs and knowledge help promote collective knowledge building. Introverts tend to participate more in CMC environments, while extroverts tend to participate less. In the study, an online technology course for education majors, the students appreciated the opportunity to interact electronically with the instructor and that they did not worry as much about what other students thought of them as they do in a traditional classroom. It seemed easier to ignore questions in the online classroom that would have to be immediately answered in a face to face environment, so some negative aspects frustrated some students. Response time by the instructor tended to slow down toward the end of the semester, where responses and grading were fast at the beginning of the semester. Some groups had a hard time collecting information needed to write group papers, while others felt that they learned from each other and collaborated well. Students attempted to ensure their writing was more clear to avoid miscommunication issues. A balance should exist between quick instructor feedback and giving students time to carry out their own inquiry.

Walther, J.B. (1996) Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction. Communication Research 23(1).

The initial line of research into CMC showed that the medium is not rich or personal enough to convey important interpersonal communication or effective task-related communications. So if it’s not good for tasks or socializing, what is it used for? In early studies with zero history groups using CMC, it was effective as a task-centered communication mechanism. Low social interaction in these zero history groups led CMC to be pegged as depersonalized. For groups with an impersonal focus, this is actually a good thing. Task orientation without affect getting in the way was a bonus. This is especially true as social power relationships are minimized and the playing field is equalized for all participants. The absence of verbal and visual cues leads to this. These findings were quickly countered with examples of friendship, love, and rewarding exchanges in social communities online. What became quickly obvious is that an unknown variable was affecting online exchanges. Speed appears to be one of these variables, as long term studies of CMC interactions show that eventually users convey all the same information as they might have face to face; it just took longer due to lack of a channel that directly transmits this information in person. Long-lasting groups have an anticipation of future interaction that promotes a sociality and feeling of cooperation. So rather than it being CMC that causes a lack of sociality, it is other features that do so. Comparing synchronous and asynchronous CMC, the asynchronous communications tended to have more social aspects, as participants could communicate at their leisure, where the synchronous communications necessarily had to focus on the task at hand with a limited amount of time available. Even task-related asynchronous communication has the potential to be better, as communications can be more deliberate and thoughtful. CMC can be compared not only to face to face communication but written forms of communication. CMC is rarely impersonal, but when it is it is due to other factors than the CMC system itself. CMC is interpersonal when users have time to compare, discuss, and otherwise build relationships. It just needs time, as it happens slower than face to face communication. CMC is hyperpersonal when users manage relationships in a better way online than they might face to face. Providing limited channels to communicate allows users to select what to present and how without preconceived notions getting in the way.

Wiley, D. (2006). Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education; Panel on Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies, February 2-3 2006. Accessed September 11, 2007 from http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/3rd-meeting/wiley.pdf

The world has moved from analog, closed, tethered, isolated, generic, and consumptive to an environment that is digital, open, mobile, connected, personal, and participative. Education tends to hold back; even a typical online course has moved to digital and mobile, but lags behind, keeping students isolated, using closed materials, generic content that is the same for everyone, and they must consume what is given to them rather than being allowed to create. Ensuring openness and transparency gives students and teachers the ability to be connected, personal, and creative. Without openness the classroom remains as it always has.

Xin, C. (2012). A Critique of the Community of Inquiry Framework. Journal of Distance Education 26(1).

The CoI refers to three key elements: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. As those aspects interact, learning takes place. Much of the research, however, is focused on the three pieces individually, not necessarily how they work together. The author claims that the CoI framework could actually apply in any educational environment, that it is not specifically suited to online asynchronous communication. The aspects are really just various functions on a continuum, just like colors in a rainbow, and while it serves a purpose to separate them, in fact many interactions serve more than one purpose. The author points out the concept of moderating as a function that communicates in a way that combines cognitive and social aspects. The moderating function includes providing context, monitoring conversation, summarizing conversations, and ensuring communication links are not broken. The author points out confusing of the term presence; the only way to show presence online is to communicate. You can’t just lurk. The CoI framework actually focuses on ability to perform different types of tasks, but if those functions are not carried out, presence is not displayed. Thus the social presence construct is supportive and implied. There is also ambiguity regarding whether social presence measures an action or a result. Regarding the teaching presence construct, many of the teaching presence indicators overlap with the moderating function. The process of creating orderly discussion out of chaos is the same process that constructs knowledge. The key is that communication must be consistently and intentionally produced by student and teacher. A face to face class is successful if students come and leave on time. An online discussion has no arbitrary beginning and end, thus a successful conversation online requires work from participants to keep it going.

RIP Robert Romano

On the 10th anniversary of Dr. Robert Romano's death (November 20, 2003), 
may we all remember the surgeon who we loved to hate and hated to love.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Andragogy - An Annotated Bibliography

Ausburn, L.J. (2004). Course design elements most valued by adult learners in blended online education environments: An American perspective. Educational Media International 41(4).

Part time adult learners make up over half of the higher education market. The for-profit schools have grown rapidly due to their focus on serving these nontraditional students. Established principles for meeting the needs of adults include understanding the purpose of the learning, how it will be applied, relevance to experience, and self-direction. Studies show that previous experience in non-traditional education environments and gender affect attitude and behavior in distance learning. Interactive course designs and promote communication and bonding in learning communities is desired. The study looked at gender, technology skills, prior experience in distance learning, prior experience with self-directed learning, and the features of the course they thought were most helpful. The ATLAS instrument used in the study identified three main types of learners: navigators (results-oriented learners looking for efficient navigation of the course), problem solvers (critical thinkers who analyze a problem deeply before solving it), and engagers (passionate learners with high involvement). The most important course features to learners dealt with the structure and guidance of the course. Next comes the instructional content. The next was convenience factors that streamlined common tasks. And last was communication features. In terms of content, the most important instructional goals related to individualization, self-directed learning, variety of activity types, and communication/interaction. Some features showed up in different orders for each of the student types.

Bergeven, P. (1967). Concepts to implement the education of adults. In A philosophy for adult education. New York: The Seabury Press.

Adults can learn. Some adults may not participate in lifelong learning due to lack of organization, discipline, or a desire to change. While everyone is limited to some extent by age, mental capacity, or otherwise, everyone can break through these differences and excuses to learn. Adults and children have different educational processes. Some teachers are hired for adult education because they are good at child education, but understanding the differences between adults and children will help teachers of adults be more effective. Adults are more focused on creating/maintaining family relationships, raising children, working, keeping up the home, and social responsibilities. Physical ailments make it more difficult to learn as one gets older, and changing one’s opinions and mindset is also more difficult as one ages and becomes more set in their ways. They do, however, have longer attention spans than children, as well as experiences to draw from. Existing institutions are effective channels. Schools, libraries, churches, hospitals, and other organizations should all take on the responsibility to push for adult learning. Adult education programs should be indigenous. Education should be natural, built around real problems they are experiencing and in a familiar environment. Expectations should be reconciled. Each person has something different they are looking to learn from a class or a lesson, including the teacher. Freedom is important in learning. Learners should be able to choose the content, leaders, time, and place of a program of learning. Too much freedom can be destructive if not equally shared across all participants. Goals are vital. Realistic, specific goals should help shape learning (SMART). Learning how to learn is helpful. Metacognition is one of the most important trainings that can take place. Needs must be considered. Both the learner and the organization sponsoring training have needs that need to be aligned. Problem-centered learning is basic. Adults understand a need to learn something if they can see a problem it helps solve. Resources should be appropriate. Technology, format of content, and other appropriate equipment should be utilized. A programming cycle should be a cooperative experience. Participants should help in the planning, organizing, conducting and evaluating of an educational program.

Blaschke, L.M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 13(1).

Self-directed and self-determined learning is becoming more important for our increasingly complex world. Distance education is especially suited to this self-directed learning in the way of heutagogy. The article begins with andragogy as the basis for showing the need to help learners become self-directed. They need to learn to diagnose their own needs, set goals, identify appropriate resources and strategies, and evaluate learning outcomes. The educator is a mentor. With heutagogy, the processes are similar, but learners take an even greater role. Double loop learning is a key strategy, where learners not only determine how their actions solve a problem but also how the problem solving process influences the learner’s beliefs. Learners become both capable and competent. Due to the technologies we have available to us, the experience and maturity of adult students, and the built-in autonomy of distance education environment, heutagogy seems a natural fit. Social media technologies support education going mobile and generating their own content. Heutagogy certainly causes concerns when it comes to accreditation, but some higher educaiotn institutions have found success handing over more control to students. Aspects of a heutagogical learning environment include learner defined learning contracts, flexible curriculum, learner-directed questions, flexible assessment, and a holistic approach to being a lifelong learner.

Christensen, C.M. & Eyring, H.J. (2011). Change and the indispensable university. In The Innovative University. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

There is great demand for higher education, but also great need for change. Higher education has grown in the past due to innovation, and it needs that again. Decreasing prices and better service to students are some of the keys, in addition to continuing to support traditional research roles. By growing what it means to be a university, rising tides lift all ships, everyone can win. Schools should be ranked based on their outputs, not their inputs, so traditional ranking systems will (or should) become relics of the past. Schools with different missions shouldn’t compete against each other but for their own definition of success.

Dewey, J. 1998. Experience and education. (60th anniversary ed.) West Lafayette, IN: Kappa Delta Pi.

Different schools of thought exist around what education is – a natural growth of one’s self or a change pushed at someone from the outside. While genuine education may come from experience, that does not mean all experience are educational. Every experience we have modifies us and affects the quality of subsequent experiences (good or bad). Factors of both the internal thoughts of the learner and the objective goals of the teacher need to be considered. Traditional educators create a place for students to learn without considering the background of learners; just because a condition is effective for one group at one time does not mean it will work again. Education can be used to improve desires and impulses, but that should be done by helping the individual reflect and make self-judgment rather than impose judgment from the outside.

Freire, P. (1970). Chapter 2. In Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

The banking model of education consists of the teacher expounding to and filling up passive students with detached words. As empty receptacles, they lose their natural creativity. The solution to this problematic approach to oppressing learners is to transform the educational structure to allow students to be themselves. Rather than wait and hope that students will break the mold on their own, it is the calling of the revolutionary educator to help students become partners in their education. Problems to be solved liberate the students. Teachers learn and students teach in the new liberated model.

Gagne, R.M., Wager, W.W., Golas, K.C., & Keller, J.M. (2005). The Learner. In Principles of Instructional Design (5th Edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Learners have many of the same characteristics, but vary in their abilities for each characteristic. That is, if all the students can read, perhaps one reads well and another poorly. Students can learn intellectual skills or procedures, cognitive strategies or productions, verbal information or facts, attitudes, and motor skills. Learning the above is affected by factors of motivation (ARCS), developmental and social factors, and individual differences. The ability to process concepts to build schemas and store in memory is one that differs from learner to learner.

Gibbings, P., Lidstone, J., & Bruce, C. (2010). How do student attributes influence the way students experience problem-based learning in virtual space? Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, 16(1), 69–80.

Study of engineering students in a PBL engineering course found that students expected the class to help them learn as they started the class, and that after the PBL class, students found that a PBL course really did help them learn better how to learn.

Isenberg, S. (2007). Background. In Applying andragogical princples to internet learning. Youngstown, New York: Cambria Press.

There is a lot of talk about andragogy and about the Internet, but little about both together. The Socratic method promotes probing questions from the learner and self-assessment to help the student construct knowledge. The field of mass communication has shown that diffusion of knowledge needs to happen systematically, with clear scaffolding. The Internet allows for enhanced systematic diffusion of knowledge. The Internet allows for customized curriculum for each learner, both helping the learner with the content and with his or her own metacognition. The whole-part-whole model can be facilitated online, by showing worked examples, helping the learner practice the parts, and then practice all the skills in one immersive case. Preassessments can automatically guide students to areas where they are deficient. Self-learning does not have to be alone learning. Virtual groups can be provided to allow for important interactions with peers while still being self-paced. Internet learning requires learners and teachers to be engaged and needs to be made easier to use.

Kenyon, C., & Hase, S. (2001). Moving from andragogy to heutagogy in vocational education. Retrieved April 2, 2013 from http://www.avetra.org.au/abstracts_and_papers_2001/Hase-Kenyon_full.pdf

Traditional education is pedagogical, where the teacher is in control of everything. Andragogy improves educational methods but still has a student/teacher dichotomy to deal with. Heutagogy provides a movement even further in self-directed learning. The key is a holistic approach to build independent capability. Heutagogy is most effective in a flexible environment, where resources are provided without too much direction as to the specific content that needs to be studied. The ideal learning environment challenges learners to ask deep questions without getting in the way too much.

Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2011). A theory of adult learning: Andragogy. In The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.

The most famous teachers in history worked with adults, not children. They used processes of mental inquiry rather than passive reception of transmissions. Learners delved into cases and dialogue. They challenged and confronted and defended. Proponents of traditional pedagogical methods will claim that adults are uninterested in learning; if they were interested they would make it happen. Of course, the key is to engage adults and make them aware of the learning they have available to them. Adults are motivated by satisfying needs, centered around their life, have much experience, work best when self-directed, and have unique needs.

Kopcha, T. J., & Sullivan, H. (2008). Learner preferences and prior knowledge in learner-controlled computer-based instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(3), 265-286.

Studies have shown that giving students control over their learning motivates them. Computer-based instruction is an effective method for maximizing learner control. In the study, students were given a computer based instruction program for teaching math, with varying levels of control over the program. Students were broken out by preference for control and prior knowledge. They found that when students had high prior knowledge, they preferred having control over their learning, while students with low prior knowledge preferred high teacher control. This may be because lower performing students simply want to get through the course quickly or are not confident in their abilities, but preference for control had no significant interaction.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

Merrill’s model builds on many existing instructional design models. The key principles are that learning should deal with real-world problems, activate prior knowledge, demonstrate new knowledge, and apply and integrate new learning. Problems should become progressively more complex. Both examples and non-examples should be demonstrated, and relevant media should be used. Coaching should be gradually withdrawn as the learner’s ability ramps up.

Tomei, L.A. (2010). A theoretical model for designing online education in support of lifelong learning. In Online Learning and Adult Education. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Web-based courses increase the potential for students to collaborate and share information with others, potentially leading to higher order skills. The traditional ADDIE model has stood over time as a solid yet generic process for designing instruction in a straight forward way. Wiggins & McTighe’s Backwards Design model and others have refocused ADDIE to meet the needs of the educational environment. Behaviorists, cognitivists, and humanists each describe different theories about how we learn. Just as learning taxonomies, such as Bloom’s categorize the types of knowledge that can be learned, distance learners need a taxonomy of skills for dealing with technology: literacy, communication, decision-making, infusion, integration, and technology. Learning materials, whether print, video, data, or otherwise provide tools and technologies that may be swapped out with each other to meet learner preferences. Adult learners prefer collaborative and realistic learning experiences. Distance education students use various synchronous and asynchronous tools to help them achieve a similar collaborative environment. Adults may be assessed by having them build higher order responses on Bloom’s taxonomy, while built-in analytics in various forms can help the learning environment assess the student with his or her input.

Weigel, M., James, C., Gardner, H. (2009). Learning: Peering backward and looking forward in the digital era. International Journal of Learning and Media 1(1).

While methods of education have changed greatly over the past decades or even centuries, the need for relevance has never been so important. Current youth use digital technologies extensively, yet understand little about how they work or how to create the technology. The rate of change with new technology means that even once they get a technology down, it won’t stay around that way for very long. Constructivism, with its increased engagement and investment of the learner and decreased control of the teacher, modern learning theories fit the Internet’s potential for deep exploration. But for that to happen, they need to have solid skills to navigate the technology, including the underlying biases and structures that affect its use. The number and vast difference in quality of resources found online serve to make the process difficult for the non-information-literate student. The social aspect, which allows for back channel communication and instant sharing of ideas serve to add to the crowdsourcing culture, which helps construct new knowledge effectively with a risk of drowning out dissent. Moderate changes to schooling have changed little about how students learn, but the technologies now available, in combination with the accepted learning theories such as andragogy are pushing towards a radical shift in education.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Why Wikipedia is Awesome

From the Wikipedia article for the song Fishin' in the Dark by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band:
The premise of the song is a couple contemplating a late night fishing expedition. Specifically, the adventurers plan to make their way to a river and chart constellations in the full moon light. In the song, the tentative date for this excursion is set in the late spring to early summer.
This is a great example of a pseudo-scientific neutral point of view.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Facilitating True Student Engagement

Our students at Western Governors University have not always been successful in other attempts at college for a variety of reasons, some internal and some external. Regardless of the reason, many of our students come to us with two loads to carry: a history of failure and a preconceived model of college that does not match our model. Whether they have tried things that have not worked elsewhere or tried things that have worked elsewhere, that rarely translates directly into success at WGU.

What seems to work for the average new student starts with a thoughtful approach to deconstructing the walls of their current and past successes and failures. This deconstruction has to be with genuine concern for each individual student. They sense disingenuity.

Having listened in on calls with students, I can tell when there appears to be a real relationship with a student and when there is tension. As faculty members, our job is to reduce that tension, in terms of removing the extraneous cognitive load that blocks students' full participation in the learning process. I have seen faculty go into a meeting with a student already tensed up and ready for a fight. Ask any faculty member who their problem child is, and they'll list off a dozen problem children. There shouldn't be that many.

Imagine going into a meeting with fists at the ready only to be disarmed by anything from a heartwrenching to a heartwarming tale from the student that explains why they have been so problematic in the past. How much better would that situation be if we're the ones who kindly work through a student's fa├žade and pulls out the same tale, along with their commitment to truly work through whatever they are facing?

Whether it's the first or fiftieth contact, when faculty go into a situation without preconceptions, doing the following will set up both student and faculty for success.

Practice active listening. Restate or paraphrase what was heard, perhaps using the phrases "what I hear you say" or "what I understand" to make it clear that you want feedback to ensure the message came across. This has two benefits: it ensures you understand what they said and it lets the other person know that you're consciously trying to understand what they're saying.

Remember what you talked about. Keep notes, whether on paper or a spreadsheet, of what you discuss. Ask about how those personal situations are progressing when you talk again next week. Refer back to a file you sent or something either of you committed to doing the previous week so they know you remember talking to them.

Give them just a little more than they asked for. Too much extra will confuse them and look like you just copied and pasted everything you had and doesn't leave anything for next time. Exactly what they asked for will meet expectations. But giving them a little more, whether that's answering what you know is the most common follow-up question before they ask it or giving them a call right as you receive their email, they know you're available for them and care about what is important to them. Explain the policy rather than just stating the policy, send a reminder email of what you discussed in your call, and so on.

Compliment more than you criticize. Put the criticism in a compliment sandwich. Find something nice to say, specific and relevant to the situation, explain what they could do better, and reassure them they have the skills to accomplish it.

Remember the real world. Make the examples you give when explaining a concept or process relate to something you know the student is familiar with from a place they work or used to work. When they don't like the case studies or homework instructions, remind them that their boss probably doesn't always give them perfect instructions either. Help them keep their eye on the prize, in thinking about what their next job or two will be after completing their degree by acting as if they already have the degree. WGU is giving them a model that is more like the real world than it is like the other colleges from which they had to drop out.

Ask for more. Is there anything that doesn't make sense? Do you have enough to keep you busy over the weekend? What else can I do for you? Don't stay confused for more than 20 minutes without calling me. Should we set up a follow-up appointment right now?

By actively listening, remembering what you talked about, giving more than is expected, being free with compliments, tying students' learning to what is to come, and ensuring you haven't left any questions unanswered, students will know they have the support of the faculty in whatever they are trying to accomplish. We may be one of the few who really give them complete support in their lives. Don't be their excuse to fail again but be their excuse to be a success. Oh, and these concepts work at any school, not just WGU; if you teach elsewhere, hopefully it's a place that cares enough about students that you would be recognized for doing this.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wide Achiever or Highest Point of Contribution?

Two conflicting articles posted over the last few months, making their way around the internet:

The #1 Career Mistake Capable People Make
Capable people end up doing lots of projects well but are distracted from what would otherwise be their highest point of contribution which I define as the intersection of talent, passion and market. Then, both the company and the employee lose out.

Being able to do many things is important in many jobs today. Broad understanding also is a must. But developing greater discernment about what is distinctive about us can be a great advantage. Instead of simply doing more things we need to find, at every phase in our careers, our highest point of contribution.
Should We Aim to Be “Wide Achievers” in Our Careers?
Few career counselors today would advise you to be a wide achiever: they remain obsessed by the ideal of the specialist. We need to recognize that our culture of specialization conflicts with something most of us intuitively know but which career advisers are only beginning to understand: we each have multiple selves.

So it is time to challenge the reverence for the specialist that has become the workplace norm. We all know that disparaging phrase "jack-of-all-trades and master of none." But the original Jack was probably a fantastically interesting and creative person who was far happier doing multiple jobs than his friends who were stuck in narrow careers. We need a more positive term to celebrate the Jacks (and Jills) of the world: welcome to the age of the wide achiever.
So, which is it?  Or is it both?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Learning New Things

There was a VP I worked for several years ago. He was a WordPerfect man, and we had standardized on MS Office, so he had some growing pains when he was hired. The business manager was obsessed with Quattro Pro and refused to use Excel, so we had all kinds of resistance we were dealing with. Everyone had both office suites on their computers, because a lot of legacy stuff was in WordPerfect, but people weren't supposed to create new files in WordPerfect. Yeah, that worked out well.

The VP was putting together an agenda for a meeting, and he was trying to be good and use the right software. He called me in to ask about a hot-key that wasn't working. Apparently WordPerfect had some hot-key you could press, where if you were typing something on a line, hit the key combination, then it would automatically add a right tab to the far right margin and add leader characters (periods) all the way over to it. The effect is you have something like:
Review schedule of upcoming events...................John Smith
...where the agenda item of reviewing the calendar starts on the left margin like usual, dots all the way across, and the name of the person leading that discussion on the right margin, right aligned. The number of dots automatically increase or decrease depending on how long the right-aligned name is. Fair enough and a nice effect.

But Word doesn't have a shortcut for that. I might be able to write a macro that does the same thing, but it's probably not worth the time. I just told him that Word didn't have the shortcut, but we could set up the same effect manually. Just click here, change the tab type, select the type of leader characters, click okay.... And in the middle of me demonstrating how to do it, he says - forget it, I'll just have the secretary create the agenda.

More than about three clicks was too complicated, I guess.  Really, just change to a right tab and select the leader characters.  It's not much.  And use the format painter to apply the effect everywhere else once you've done it once.

Of course, most people, rather than setting appropriate left or right tabs to get text to line up right will just space over and kind of eyeball it, but due to variable width fonts, you can never quite get everything lined up perfectly. Please do the OCD among us a favor and learn how to set tabs, because I guarantee we're not listening to what you're saying - we're angrily staring at the printed agenda with crooked text, or if you saved paper and sent the electronic file out, we're actually fixing the spacing and tabs on our own copy and wondering what excuse to give that would justify re-sending the fixed file out to everyone. At least the VP wasn't actually typing in a bunch of periods and trying to get the text to magically line up by getting just the right number of periods in there, so he had that going for him.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Password Security and the Minimum Password Age

Everyone has their favorite (or least favorite) password rule.  Just google password rules, and you'll find all kinds of things we inflict on our users.  Some sites require the use of special characters, while others prohibit them.  Upper, lower, numbers, symbols, length, change every 30/60/90 days, can't use the previous 3/5/10 passwords, no dictionary words, and so on.

There are a couple webcomics on xckd that address the issues of password strength and password reuse.  Go read them; they're great.  And then read a couple dozen randomly selected comics on the site, and if you remember to come back, the rest of the post with my point will be here waiting.

One of the most interesting to me is that of minimum password age.  We're all familiar with the maximum age - it's been 90 days, time to change it or you'll be locked out.  Whether it's effective to change a good password at all is debatable, but not the conversation for today.  The thing about not reusing a previous password is fairly common.  But why would you want to set a minimum password age?  That is, a certain amount of time needs to pass before you're allowed to change it again.

Let's go to an example.  There's a system I use that requires me to change passwords every 6 months.  Fair enough.  You can't reuse any of your last three passwords.  Okay.  The idea, then, is that you use one password for 6 months, a second for 6 months, a third for six months, and a fourth for six months, so two years later (or 18 months, depending on how you do math) you can switch back to your original password.  If someone had stolen that original password, they'd have to wait a long time to use it, assuming you ever switched back to it.  If it's been a couple years, maybe you're 'over' that password.

But what if it's been six months, and you're not over your first password?  So you change it, because you're forced to.  Only you change it three or four times to random whatever passwords that you don't even keep in your short term memory longer than to immediately change it.  You cycle through your throwaway passwords until the queue of previously used passwords is cleared, at which time you can set it back to your original password.

Stop and think about that for a second.  Without a minimum password age, which requires you to wait an hour, a day, two weeks, a month, or whatever you set it to, you can quickly cycle through 3, 5, or even 10 passwords to clear your preferred password from the queue in a matter of minutes.

Requiring a minimum password age of 1 month, with 5 previous passwords saved, means the quickest you could get back to your old standby would be 5 months.  If you've gone 5 months, chances are by then  you're over the old password.  Someone would have to have a pretty sustained interest in getting their old password back quickly to wait that long.

So if you're in the camp that a good password is a good password and need not be changed unless something has happened, and there's no minimum password age, you can rotate quickly through enough passwords to clear the list and go back to your original one.  On the other hand, if you're managing the system and setting password policies, if you decide you want users to have to change their password (and that's a big IF for another day), only let them change it once every so often with a minimum password age.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Legislative Goals

You've probably seen the pseudo-meme floating around Facebook and other places, saying something like this:

Legislators want teachers to be paid according to their effectiveness as evaluated by student test scores.
How about paying legislators according to their effectiveness - as evaluated by job creation and economic growth?

Being a teacher myself, although in higher ed rather than public ed so it doesn't work exactly the same way (yet), I understand the reticence of teachers to be evaluated on something they don't have complete control over.  Now, the argument could be made that teachers do have control over their classrooms and that they should be doing everything in their power to motivate their students to work.  If the students fail to progress, it is the teacher's fault.

I don't totally buy it.  I'm in the SMART goals camp.  For a true goal, you need something that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.  Specific means that you break up goals into appropriately sized pieces.  Measurable means you can objectively tell if you achieved it or not.  Attainable means it's possible to achieve.  Relevant means there's a purpose behind it.  Time-bound means at some point you need to be done, whether you finished it or not.

So whether we let teachers set their own goals or set their goals for them (since we do pay their salaries), their salaries should be tied to meeting goals, and their goals should be SMART, so they can be objectively measured.  That said, using student test scores fails the SMART test.  It is not attainable, because it relies on someone else to do something in order for teachers to meet their goals.  An individual student could have a goal to achieve a certain score, but if a teacher does not have direct control over achieving the passing score, it is not SMART for the teacher.  It's measurable, and students take the tests at the end of every year (time-based), so it fits some pieces.  You could argue relevance.  I'd have to know what test students are taking, but many tests are actually poor indicators of anything useful (or indicators that are particularly un-useful like the social efficiency curriculum theory), so they tend not to be relevant to the kinds of learning students should be doing, or to flip this back in the control of teachers, the types of learning teachers should be promoting.

So there are some problems with the teacher pay thing, but I have to admit that it's a false analogy to say that politician pay should be linked to job creation and economic growth, in spite of how poor a job I see them doing on that goal and as nice as it would be to hold them responsible.  I see the connection with teachers more directly, in that their job is teaching students, in spite of the problems I've already discussed.  The question, then, is whether it is job of legislators to create jobs and grow the economy.  I wonder if that's not giving them too much credit.

The government does create the environment in which businesses function.  But is it really their role to create jobs?  Isn't it also their job to create a safe environment for us?  So if crime goes down, that should count for something.  What about road construction and maintenance?  So do legislators get bonuses for building two more roads than the previous year?  They own the post office, so what if they didn't create more jobs but they do help the USPS reduce their costs?

One of the biggest problems is that you're going to get what you decide to measure and base performance on.  If we base teacher pay on students passing tests, we'll get teachers that reward students for passing tests.  If we reward legislators for job creation, we'll have legislators who encourage war, since war is one of few known job creators.  War is also conveniently a good excuse to take away our freedoms and make it appear we are more secure.

We must make sure we're asking for something we really want.  I'm not sure we want jobs created by legislatures.  We also don't want students who are good at taking tests.  Perhaps that is the point of the pseudo-meme.  There's just too much complexity that is lost behind the trite saying.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Congressional Term Limits

It's past time for a serious discussion of term limits in the U.S. Congress.  The current system of seniority holding so much power leads to situations like the one we have now, where they have abysmal approval ratings, yet the states keep sending back the same people.  The problem is that while no one likes what is going on, no one is willing to lose the power they believe they have through decades of seniority.

The problem is that the people don't have the power.  Again, they believe they do, but they don't.  Their congressional delegation has the power.  Each state sends back their own delegation and hopes that all the other states replace theirs with new people.

I was looking up something in the Constitution (something I think most of Congress hasn't spent much time doing recently), and I found something really eye-opening to me.  The U.S. Senate website has a copy of the Constitution on their webpage.  Great.  Thanks for that nice service.  Of course, they go so far as to interpret it for us.  Okay, so I know we're in murky waters when it comes to trusting their interpretation of the Constitution, especially since that responsibility falls in the lap of another one of the three branches.

Before even getting to the preamble, there is a short introduction.  It points out that the first three words, "We The People", stress the fact that the government is to serve its citizens.  Great so far.  And stop.
The supremacy of the people through their elected representatives is recognized in Article I, which creates a Congress consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The positioning of Congress at the beginning of the Constitution reaffirms its status as the “First Branch” of the federal government.
I'm good where they say that government should serve the citizens and that the people hold supreme power, but that's not where they're going with it.  The Senate's claim is that not only is Congress the first branch of the government, but in effect, they are the people.  That is, our power is not inherent in that we are the citizens of the country but that our power is made manifest through Congress.  We are not supreme but rather supreme through our elected representatives.

I get that we are a republic and as such the statement they make is true from a certain point of view.  Our power, however, is supreme, in that we can replace those elected representatives.  The only problem is that we are tricked into not exercising that power by rules Congress puts in place to promote their own longevity.  So what we need to do now is push for a rule that limits longevity and promotes turnover and new ideas.

So where do we put the limit?

To figure out if there is a natural break, I grabbed a list of all current members of the House and Senate, all elected under an open market, if you will, with no term limits.  The average length of time current members of the Senate have been serving is 9.6 years, with a standard deviation of 9.8.  Given a normal distribution, two thirds of a population are within one standard deviation of the mean (0-18).  Since there is a hard cut-off at 0, one standard deviation below the mean, the percent actually drifts a little higher at the other end.  16% have actually been in office for longer than 18 years, more than one standard deviation.

Interestingly enough, the numbers are almost exactly the same in the House even though Representatives are elected every 2 years, while Senators are elected every 6 years.  The average tenure of current members of the House is 8.9 years, with a standard deviation of 9.5.  Likewise, 16% (71/435) have been in office for longer than 18 years, which is again, one standard deviation above the mean.

An interesting stat with members of the Senate is that almost exactly 50% of them served in the House before being elected to the Senate, so the numbers are actually even more skewed in the Senate if you include their full tenure in Congress.

While I'd be more tempted to place the limit at 12 years - 2 terms for Senators and 6 for Representatives, I'm actually okay with giving them 18, although if you let me think about it too much longer, I might talk myself back down to 12.  Only 16% really overstay their welcome all the way past 18 years, and those are more likely to be the extreme sociopaths.  If we cut it off at 12 years, we'd be skimming off the top 28% in both the House and Senate (still interesting how the percentages stay the same, 28 in the Senate and 122 in the House).  If the 18 years was a cumulative total between the House and Senate, that would perhaps make up for going with 18 instead of 12.  There would be a more steady churn from House to Senate and from Senate out to pasture (jobs with lobbying firms or a run for the presidency).

So where do we draw the line?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Color Differences

My mom has long wondered what my brother and I see, due to curiosity and potentially some latent guilt from passing along the color blind deficiency genes to us.  I don't feel bad about it, other than possibly knowing that I might not get the full effect of the fall colors in the canyon, but then again, I don't know what I'm missing.

I've written elsewhere about interesting conversations arising from my colorblindness, as well as the importance of colors and symbols.  Because I'm missing something, I notice things others often don't, like that in the board game Ticket to Ride, there are symbols along with each color to help distinguish the different lines.  They aren't just decorations to make the cards look pretty.  Go look real quick; I'll wait.

When I went to get tickets to Les Miserables, I had checked out what seats were available online and knew the row and seat numbers I wanted.  I went to the theater to buy the tickets instead of paying the online service fee, because we all know it's cheaper to perform a transaction with a real person than an automated system.  Of course, when I got there, those seats were no longer available.  The girl asked me what other seat I might like as she turned her screen to me.  The color scheme online to show which seats were or were not available was great - high contrast and easy to tell the difference.  Her screen looked all the same.  Every seat was the same color.  I just told her I couldn't tell from the colors which were available or not, and she had a look on her face that showed she obviously couldn't comprehend that someone couldn't tell the difference.  There was a little bit of a glare that may have contributed to making it difficult to tell.  I just had to ask for something close to the middle and trust her judgment.  Why the system at the theater used a different color scheme than the one online, I have no idea.  Better yet, put a big, high-contrast X in the middle of the ones that are not available or put them in a very light gray.

So for my mom, movie theater girl, and anyone else who has asked repeatedly what color I think everything in the room is, you can now see what I see.  Actually, I have two things for you.  The first is based on this graphic that was making the social media rounds recently on the differences in how women and men see colors, which I've included right here.

Then there's a spinoff on the differences in how dogs and developers see colors.  So I thought I'd take the men vs. women one and replace the generic guy on the right with me.  I only thought just now that as long as I was editing it, I should have actually put a picture of myself over there.  Oh well.  Pretend it's me, except that my shirt is blue, instead of the red one he is wearing.  I'm kidding; I know it's green.

So there you go.  Of course, just reading what I call the colors doesn't really mean you actually see the same thing.  Deep down inside you actually think I'm making it up.  Or that if you talk louder, you can get me to understand that you want me to squint and look harder and then I'll see the same thing you do.

Well, you're in luck, because there's a second way, where you can actually see the same thing, not just read what I say about what I see.  The Huffington Post was kind enough to put up some examples and link to the Colour Blind Simulator used to create the examples.  I assume it works, because the original and processed images I uploaded looked the same to me, and when my second grader said the colors of the two pictures were totally different, I made fun of him and said he needed to squint and look harder, and then he'd see they were the same.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Very Impressed

I was reading the paper and came across this article about a local travel agent being sentenced to prison for stealing money from clients.  He would charge their credit cards twice - once to pay for their trip and the second time to give himself a 100% tip that he used to pay off other debts and expenses he had.  A quick search turned up another article from a few months ago on the trial itself.  I'm not sure how I missed it the first time.  Perhaps it was the picture with the story the second time around that caught my eye.

Let me throw out there right away that I don't understand how someone wouldn't notice they paid for a Hawaii trip twice.  Maybe he figured if he only did it people who were rich enough and careless enough they wouldn't notice.  Perhaps he figured if he did it randomly and for the same amount as the original charge, he could play it off as a mistake if caught.  Maybe if people are making down payments and then several follow-up payments, they don't notice that too many smaller payments were made over a period of time.

Last summer, as part of my ongoing college courses series, I had written about the marketing class in my undergraduate program.  Although I remember who most of the instructors of my classes were, I haven't used their names in any of them, even when I've had nice things to say about them.  I had to go back and look at what I had written about my marketing class.  I actually hadn't remembered his name previously, but when I saw the picture and the name together in the paper, I knew he was the travel agent.

So how was my experience with him teaching my class compared to his double charged clients?  You can go back and read the original post, but let's say that my experience wasn't all that different.  Like his clients, I got what I paid for - they got a trip to Hawaii, and I got credit for taking a marketing class.  Somewhat similar to his clients, I lost something of equal value - in their cases, they paid twice for one trip, and in my case, I didn't actually get the marketing class that he was paid to teach us and that I got credit for.

The best piece of marketing he tried to get away with was his restitution offer that you can see in the first link above.  He offered to pay restitution of $100,000 that he had stashed somewhere and claimed that a mystery man was willing to lend him the remaining $30,000 on the condition that he not go to prison, since that would likely reduce his ability to make enough money to pay the mystery man back.

Oh.  Okay.  A mystery man doesn't want you to go to prison, and if you do end up in prison, the people who you stole the money from won't get restitution.  That's pretty clever.  It doesn't even matter whether or not the mystery man is real.  I wonder if it was the marketer or the lawyer who thought up that trick.

The judge's comment was an instant classic, "the parole board will be very impressed if restitution is paid."

Friday, January 4, 2013

Famous Deaths 2012

Everyone is in such a hurry to talk about the best/most/biggest/worst/etc. of the year that lists start coming out as early as November.  I think we should save those lists until January, so anything that happens in the end of December will still count.  I still remember hearing on the radio on Christmas day that Billy Martin died in a car accident, over 20 years ago, but how unfair is that to leave him off a list because it's near the end of the year?  I had my list ready a week ago, and sure enough, Norman Schwarzkopf died, and he shouldn't have been left off the list.

A few of these are pretty obvious, but some might need some explanation.  I left off some famous deaths because I didn't have much of a connection to them, like Harry Carey - he was in two great movies, Gremlins and Back to the Future, but I didn't really remember his characters even after looking them up.  When Polly Holliday, who played Mrs. Deagle, dies, she'll be in the list for sure.

The zombie actor is there, not so much because of his role specifically or anything about the movie itself, although it is the granddaddy of all zombie movies.  Actually, it is likely that we even have the zombie industry fascination that we do have because of the copyright status of this movie.  That is, it doesn't have one.  Before the U.S. adopted the Berne Convention, you had to claim copyright to be granted copyright.  A last minute change to the title of the film and someone forgetting to put a copyright notice on the new title screen meant it was public domain, open for remixing, sharing, and a multitude of other uses, which increased its popularity.

Trayvon Martin stuck out to me because of his complete lack of being famous, yet his tragic death, which is still being investigated is what made him famous.  I didn't know or care that much about Vidal Sassoon, other than growing up knowing it was a shampoo, and it wasn't until he died that I realized it was a person.  What's worse?  Being famous for dying or for being a shampoo?

Joe Paterno - Penn State coach
Ian Abercrombie - Seinfeld actor Mr. Pitt
Bill Hinzman - first zombie in Night of the Living Dead
Whitney Houston - singer
Gary Carter - catcher (Go Mets!)
Trayvon Martin - teenager
Davy Jones - the Monkees
Mike Wallace - news correspondent
Dick Clark - TV host
Junior Seau - football player
Adam Yauch - rapper Beastie Boys
George Lindsey - actor Andy Griffith
Maurice Sendak - author
Vidal Sassoon - hair stylist
Robin Gibb - singer Bee Gees
Ray Bradbury - sci fi author
Rodney King - LA riots
Andy Griffith - actor
Ernest Borgnine - actor
Stephen Covey - author
Sally Ride - astronaut
Mel Stuart - director Willy Wonka
Phyllis Diller - comedienne
Jerry Nelson - muppetteer
Neil Armstrong - astronaut
Michael Clarke Duncan - actor
Gary Collins - actor
Arlen Specter - politician
Zig Ziglar - author
Rick Majerus - coach
Jack Klugman - actor
Norman Schwarzkopf - general