Friday, July 31, 2009

Flannel Shirts

Searching for one thing invariably leads to looking for something else. The last few weeks I've heard mention of edupunk in several different contexts. So I thought I'd try to wrap my head around the concept, see where it intersects my own thinking and where I might find issue with it.

I became a teenager in the late 1960s. My sister, 5 years my senior, is visiting us now. She describes herself when she attended college then as a hippie, seemingly spending her entire junior year in protest. I came of age in the aftermath. When punk rock emerged, I was in grad school. Mostly, I was oblivious to the culture (and still am). I did have a general sense that punk rock was a bit "in your face." I could do without in your face.

I did a google search on "edupunk definition" and followed some of the links there, first going to the Wikipedia page with the Jim Groom picture. This appears to me as validation of my stereotype. Then I alight on Alec Couros' post, with a different image, a stylized version of the guys my sister knew when she was in high school and college, but carrying a Mac. Couros' first topic heading is non-conformity. I have this bad have that when I don't understand something I shortchange the process and go into pedantic mode. That happens here and I start to fixate on the picture and non-conformity. It's certainly not a preppie look. Maybe it's counter-culture. But non-conformity? No.

I'm aware of this limitation in my own learning, so I try to get past it. I go to the About Page and there is a picture of loving dad with cute kids. There is no in your face; rather gentleness is conveyed. I read the full post and still no in your face. The discussion too is gentle, compassionate. On the core points, I too am Do It Yourself about using the technology, so similarity there. On commercial software; I'm probably more than a bit different (my post about Blackboard and D2L and the patent case case showing some alignment, but this other post about PowerPoint getting a bum rap casting more of the blame on the user than on the technology itself). These differences seem to me more like varying shades of gray than like opposite poles of the universe.

I start to puzzle over the picture. Couros talks about himself in 10th grade. He had a mohawk haircut and trouble at school. I start to ask myself whether we need images of ourselves as learners to facilitate our own learning. I scratch my head about this for a while. When we are most intensely learning, we often completely lose sense of self and also become unaware of our environs. Others who are not quite so engaged may come to our aid to protect us from intrusions, directing us perhaps to where the meal is served or first where to cross the street to get to the meal, enabling us to stay fully in tune to flow.

Couros, however, is not identifying a picture of himself as learner today. The image appeals to a nostagalic sense of self, how we were as learners when we were teens. I think not so much of myself but my friend Lenny. He wore clodhoppers (high top hush puppies) courdoroy pants and a flannel shirt over a tee shirt. This was the nerd uniform. I also thought about my personal symbol of the intellectual - wire rim glasses, the type that wrap around the ear, taking them off a signpost of deep intellectual struggle. I affected much of this look over time. Sometimes I wore a sportscoat with patches on the elbow. And sometimes I'd swap out a mock turtlneck for the flannel shirt. This was only variations on a theme, not an entirely different genre.

Was this look for me as learner or to convey to others that I was nerd? I'm not sure. There is no doubt, however, that it emerged from deliberate choice. That's the part to ponder about more. It seems to matter. But why?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Unanticipated Consequences

Last week I was in Burlington Vermont for the Learning Technology Leadership Program. This is my last year of being a faculty member for that Institute. I'm going to miss it. There is much fun in leading sessions and interacting with the attendees at meals and in their work groups.

After my first LTL two years ago I wrote a tome of a blog post about it, since I was full of being wrapped up in it. Now I'm trying to let go so will be much terser and limit my observations to a couple of points.

There is way too much rich food at this thing, both at the meals and for the breaks. Even with that, however, I managed to shed a few pounds last week. I didn't limit myself at the meals at all, but for the first few days I tried to be a good boy and resist temptation at the breaks. (It helped that I was leading sessions on both Tuesday and Wednesday and for that I didn't want to feel bloated.) I did have a bit of a breakdown on Thursday when they put out brownies and eclairs at one of the breaks in the afternoon. Mostly, though, I think it's not having a fridge in the hotel room so once dinner was over that was it for the evening, a little discipline imposed by circumstance rather than force of will.

I wonder if there are good examples of that sort of thing with learning, likewise with beneficial results. I've long thought that we should schedule student out-of-class-time that should be devoted to their schoolwork, mainly to facilitate group work. I really hadn't thought of it before as a way of avoiding temptation, as I tried to avoid sweets at LTL. Obviously that can't in itself work perfectly. We know students zone out even when going to class. But for those who want to try, perhaps it could help. Hmmm.

The other thing I want to note is about topic coverage. The sessions I led went pretty well in my estimation. After the first, a sidebar on budgets, a few people came up to me to say how much they liked the session. Yet in the commentary I got in the evaluations we did (we used the forms in Google Spreadsheets and that worked like a charm except that we lost network on Wednesday afternoon) a few folks remarked that they felt the presentation was rushed and they noted I didn't cover everything in my slides, so they wondered what they had missed.

I might not have noted this at all except I often don't get through my slides. That's never my goal, which is rather that we have a lively session. For the budget sidebar, in particular, it was more strange because I showed them ahead of my presentation that I had actually made an online version with Adobe Presenter that was available to them afterwards if they were so inclined. I also showed them another PowerPoint I had found on the Web which was quite good with a lot more detail than I intended to provide. I made a point of showing them how to get more depth. Nevertheless, several of the survey respondents wanted it then and there.

This was even weirder because in this sidebar I was doing essentially traditional lecture and I declined Q&A till right at the end so I could get through the little bit that I did cover. So here were adult learners, learning technology specialists themselves, who were asking for more straight lecture because they thought the topic important for themselves. We're seeing similar type of comments from traditional undergrads in a blending learning offering. I wonder whether there is something more basic in human nature that says this sort of thing is actually good teaching, in the right setting. In any event, I was surprised by that.

I do know that I felt very intense giving that session, like I was doing an extended bull rush. The intensity is not something I planned for. It just came about by itself. I deliberately under prepared for the session, because when I over prepare I'm dull as dishwater. Perhaps the intensity resulted from that and that it was the intensity that made them want more. I don't know. Maybe it's also that for many in the audience budgeting is mostly an alien concept and for them to get some sense of mastery they needed to linger on it for while longer. Realistically, they need to do a lot more than that. All we could hope to accomplish in these sidebars is to provide a gateway for them to investigate further on their own. As obvious as that seems to me, it appears that for some they wanted it all, then and there.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Old Guys, Superior Performance, Close but no cigar

So far I've not yet seen any comparison between the British Open, just completed, and the Masters, held a few monts ago. But I think the parallels are stark. Although Kenny Perry, who led the Masters till the end and Tom Watson are at different ends of the spectrum from a career point of view - Perry is a journeyman and Watson a Hall of Famer - they both represented the more mature presence in the field. Watson is older, by about 10 years, but even someone in their late 40s is old by PGA tour standars.

Both held the lead till the very last hole of the tournament, only to bogey that hole and set up a playoff. Both lost in the playoff. Perhaps this is the metaphor for the contribution seniors can make more broadly, excellent over a period but then eventually running out of steam. Not everything is a tournament. The broader lesson, perhaps, is that seeing the possibility of running out of steam, we old guys need to pass the baton to those with more energy. Hopefully, the younger folk are willing to take the handoff.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tom Tom

When we played golf as Assistant Professors, we really weren't very good. So we came up with some rules to adjust to our circumstance. Mulligans, sure. Foot wedge, absolutely. Perhaps unique to our group, if the ball fell off the tee at address, perhaps by accident, perhaps because at address the club touched the ball, we'd say Tom Watson. All would be forgiven. We'd start anew. Would that be the case in the British Open.

Unfortunately I'll be traveling while the tournament is in progress. So can't scream at the tube in support. Go for it Tom. We're rooting for you.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer Silliness

Norma is back but gone incognito, changing her name to Roberta. ;-)

Really all we were doing was testing ooVoo with multiple people in the call. Jill and Norma (and Roberta) came in via a browser. I have the pay version of ooVoo that allows others to not need the client. It looks pretty good from my point of view. Norma and Jill were in the same room, not a recommended practice, so there might have been some feedback from that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Online mini lectures and JITT

If the alternative is to read the textbook or view an online mini-lecture before coming to class, which if any would students prefer? Do students respond by upping their participation rate if instructors do some just in time teaching by surveying students asking for some open ended feedback as well as giving them some closed ended questions to test their understanding?

We are having some early success with doing both sorts of things together with non-residential students in our Professional MBA and Executive MBA programs. They like that the live class time is customized to the questions and issues they've expressed prior to class and the online mini-lectures ahead of time are more accessible to them than the textbook, plowing through the book is hard work that some don't do.

Just in Time Teaching could be made even easier if instructor who teach the same class, but perhaps at different institutions, shared in the creation of the mini lectures. That would lessen the burden on the individual instructors. I wonder if we'll see that happening in the near future.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

NY Times Built In Dictionary

If you go to an actual article or column on the NY Times Web site, but not a box with the first paragraph of the article on the homepage, and then you select a word by clicking and dragging over it, a question mark will appear. If you click on the question mark, it will ask whether you want a definition of the word. This is remarkably quick and convenient, a very nice feature indeed. The Kindle has something similar but at least on my original Kindle, it is not a fast. I wonder what it would take to produce this sort of functionality more broadly. It would really help language acquisition and encourage people to read online because they could more readily get past their own blockages.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Is intelligence the gateway to monumental mistakes?

Robert McNamara has died. Reading his obituary, lots of painful memories return. In many ways he seemed like Donald Rumsfeld, though McNamara was repentant and saw the error in his ways.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Aspect Ratio

Below is a screen capture movie of Powerpoint slides done to appear in the HD YouTube player. Here is the Powerpoint for that movie so you can see what this is all about and play on your own. Note it should be very easy to change the background color.