About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Challenge

My family and I were discussing the most memorable New Year's recently. For me it was when the new Century began. Our television had 24 hour coverage of New Year's activities. It was wonderful watching the Maori ceremony welcoming the New Year from the shores of New Zealand, watching the fireworks over the Sydney Opera House, watching the Chinese ballet/acrobats, seeing the fireworks around the giant Ferris Wheel in London, etc... It was an anticlimax as the ball fell down in Times Square to mark the millennium.

With this in mind, I would like to offer a challenge. Over the next couple of days, I would like to invite bloggers to post about what they did for New Years, sharing photos if they have them, giving a slice of life at the turn of the new year in your corner of the world. You can post the link in the comments section here or just cut and paste the url (I'll add the link to the post).

I hope you have a happy and prosperous new year.

Our New Year's

After 9 inches of light powdery snow on New Year's Eve, we did not do very much for New Year's Eve. My daughter had basketball practice (of which only 4 out the 14 members of the team came), we had a spaghetti dinner with just the family, then "special" cupcakes (with a surprise mint in the cupcake--my family was surprised but not pleasantly--I won't try that again). We then watched TV until the ball in times square fell, bringing in the New Year.

By the next morning, it was 3 degrees F(without windchill, that's about -16C) and windy. So we spent the day watching the Rose Parade (imagining it was as warm there!) and then football.

Top Ten Tools Summary

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been posting my top ten tools list. Here a summary of my top ten tools:

Google Calender
Many Eyes
Periodic Table of Videos

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top Ten Tools: Periodic Table of Videos

My last tool I chose, not because I use it in my teaching, but because I just love it! For me, the Periodic Table of Videos is a fascinating tool that should be used as an ideal example of good use of e-learning. Using the periodic table as an index, video shorts (2-12 minutes long) explain each of the elements in very engaging ways. In addition to the "facts" about the elements, the element itself is shown, its properties are demonstrated using lab experiments, and the importance of the element is placed into every day context. The energy and excitement of the scientists in the video shorts makes this very engaging.


I could see this as a prototype for many other similar interactive sites. For example, a company could have small videos of personnel explaining what their jobs were linked to an organizational chart. A complex product or service could have components linked to it's blueprint or brochure, giving more indepth information about the product and its use. A complex model could be used to introduce the application in different contexts. Another possibility would be to use a map with the various subsidiaries or offices, along with a video about that locations' culture and practices, and the perception of where they fit into the organization.

Top Ten Tools: Ning

This year, I have not used Ning as an instructor but rather as a student. I have participated in the work literacy course and the Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008online conference.

Ning is a very powerful and flexible environment in which social networking, resource sharing, and forums can all be included in one location. An individual can start a Ning (for free), then invite members into the Ning. There are different levels of privacy, but, like facebook, a member needs to ask for membership to enter the Ning.

How it works

I am not familiar with the set up of Nings, although those that used it have said it is easy to do so. A person must first register with the site. As a participant and member, I have the option to create a profile with as much or little information as I want, including a picture, location, profession, and gender. This is done very simply by answering questions after you have registered for a Ning. This profile can be modified (adding more information, changing pictures, etc...)at any time.

I would log into the home page of the Ning in which I was participating. Although this page may vary depending on who is managing the Ning, usually there was a menu which included announcements, new posts to discussion forums, and new additions to the membership, resources, and video section. There are tabs at the top of the homepage which allows you to go to your own home page and have "private" conversations (not broadcasted to the group at large, but still viewable to your "friends"), access uploaded videos, review the forum discussions (including identifying new posts), seeing the newest tweets or other feeds, or even blogging within the site.


This is a social networking site that allows for participants to create their own space within the Ning. Those that prefer to learn through discussion forums, can do so. Those that want to blog to learn, can do so. There is also great opportunity for collaboration and sharing of resources, all within on area.

However, for the Ning to work and be sustained, there does need to be a facilitator who will facilitate communication both within and outside of the ning to maintain interest. This might include e-mail updates to members (which the Ning has the ability to do), creating and organizing some structure for discussion forums, and maintaining social protocols to ensure group interaction.

Top Ten Tools: Many Eyes

This year I have tried to include the importance of visualization in my teaching. One of the most powerful tools to teach this concept has been ManyEyes. This site allows you to import data to create different visuals. By using the same data, my students are able to see the impact that different types of visuals have. It is an especially strong tool to use in teaching visual rhetoric.

How it works

I would suggest that you register for the site as you can upload data and save different visualizations. Once you have registered, I would upload a data set you might have worked on. You then click on visualizations and your data set will automatically be formatted into the chosen visualization. You might also want to try different visuals using the same data set. You can then save the visual and/or make it public for others to comment on.


I have given students an optional assignment to use Many Eyes to create different visuals from the same data. They then have been required to integrate the visual into a presentation, comparing the different types of visuals and analyzing the impact each one has on interpreting the same data. This helps in teaching data analysis, statistics, and the multiple interpretation of the same data.

As mentioned above, this site also allows for comments, collaboration in developing visual representation of data, and development of visual rhetoric skills.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten Tools: Wisemapping

I like to use mindmaps and diagrams when I am working on new concepts or research. I find that visualization helps be make connections between concepts. At this point, I still find a paper and pencil is the strongest tool I have for this. However, I did use Wisemapping this year to create a mindmap I could share.

I found wisemap to be the easiest mindmapping software to use in a non-linear manner, allowing for the connection of ideas in multiple directions and the addition of links to resources outside of the mindmap. While I find it still a bit too linear for the way that my mind works, it does allow for the connection and expansion of ideas in a more spatial way than the other mindmapping software.


Wisemap allows for the linking of ideas and outside resources to concepts. It also allows for the sharing and commenting on the mindmap (collaborative learning). This mind map also allows for spatial thinking and planning. I would like to try to use this more interactively with my students in the next year.

Top Ten Tools: Zotero

Zotero is a personal research tool that both my children and I use extensively. In fact I often use it in collaboration with delicious. Currently it is a download technology that allows you to save information about a website and then, integrating that information as a citation in papers using Word.

How does it work?

As I (or my children) search through sites, I will click on the Zotero icon which will capture citation information in its data base. This might include author, title, date accessed, URL address, date written, and other bibliographic information. I can then add notes or add further information that might have not been captured from the web. When I am ready to write a research paper, I then click on the Word Extension that can be downloaded and added to the Word toolbar.

In order for Zotero to when writing a Word Document, foxfire must be open. As I type the paper and come to a part that needs to be cited, I click on the "insert citation" icon. I can choose the citation format that I will be using (including MLA, APA, and University of Chicago--in text and/or footnotes) and the citation will grab information from the database and automatically format it to go into the word document. This will then be added to a bibliography at the end of the paper without any additional key strokes.

There are two limits to Zotero. First, if there are other non-web based resources you are using, you will need to manually type in a new entry into the database as Zotero does not work well with adding citations in Word. Secondly, currently Zotero is a computer dependent software. As such, if you are using multiple computers, you must either make sure the database is the same for all computers or use one computer to write a paper. I have started to use delicious to save the citations, which I then download into Zotero. There has been talk about having a web-based version of Zotero, which I think would add to it.


Zotero is a database which helps to organize information and resources. It is definitely a personal learning object. Users can take notes, save resources to come back to, and even save resources (by creating a snapshot of the site) based on the date it was published, even if the resource is taken down or no longer available. Zotero also allows for the storage of resources other than in a paper format.

Top Ten Tools: YouTube

This has become a must in my classroom. I use video clips to illustrate concepts in my class. For example, when teaching about teamwork, I found clips of high school basketball and soccer games to illustrate verbal and non-verbal communication cues. This made the concepts much more concrete for my students. I also have begun to use YouTube for students to upload clips of their speeches for my speech class.

How to use Youtube

Rather than describe how to upload clips, etc... I would recommend that you watch the following video clip.

You can also embed a youtube video on a blog or webpage easily. Just go to upper right corner of the page you want to embed and copy and paste the code listed. . One disadvantage to doing this is that it makes the download time for your page longer. If you or your students use dial up service, it would be better to have students go to the link. I have found that the viewing time (even with dial up) is reasonable with youtube.

In using youtube in the classroom, I always make sure that 1) I know the length of the clip (more than 10 minutes is hard to keep the attention of the students; however, most of the clips I find are 3-7 minutes long) 2) practice so you can passby parts of clips you might not want to show to the class as a whole, 3) maximize the screen (lower right side of the tool bar, there is a rectangle next to the horn-used to increase volumn--which will maximize the screen when you click on it), 4) have something for my students to focus on when looking at a video clip.


Youtube allows visualization of concepts, case studies, a basis for discussion, and analysis of complex situations. I will often use the same clip multiple times to analyze different aspects.

Youtube can also be made private so students can limit who sees their work. Students can upload assignments or works in progress and then get feedback from either the teacher or other students, thus creating collaborative learning environments.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Message

Merry Christmas to all!
Joyeux Noel!
Felices Navidades!
Prettige Kirstdaggen!
Gud Jul!
Frohe Weinnachten!
Buon Natale!

(Sorry about the spelling on some of these. Some of these I know just because I was taught them by friends).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Top Ten Tools: Blogger.com

I have tried two other blogging software, but you can tell from this blog that I currently use Blogger.com. I really like this blogging software for several reasons: it is easy to set up, it is easy to add on features without having to know HTML, it allows for customization as you get to know the software better.

Blogger.com for dummies

The first step in using blogger.com (as my students found out early) is to set up a google account. Once you have a goggle account, you simply click on "blog" in the menu bar on the top of the goggle page. You then can click on "create a blog". Up will come a menu that asks you to name your blog. I would use a title that gives the essence of what you will blog about. In my case, I wanted to include a blog that looked at international communication, learning, 21st century tools, and international business. This is why I chose Connecting 2 the world. I used the number 2 to differentiate my blog somewhat.

The next thing to decide is your URL address. Make this simple for both you and your readers to find. This usually means use the title of your blog (without spaces). Sometimes, if you have a blog with the same title (such as elearning blog) you might have to change the url. However, I would suggest changing your blog name so it is distinct.

Finally, choose a template for your blog. Often this is based on personal choices. You might find (as I did) that when you actually look at how the blog looks with pictures, graphics, or even the length of your posts, that one template is better than another for your blog. In addition, you might want to change your "image" which a blog template might project. You can always change the template later on (although I would warn your readers when you do so they know it is the same blog, just a different look). Now your blog is set to go. You only have to click on "create post".

Choose an engaging title, then start typing in the box below. You can change font, add pictures, do a spell check, add video, and add links using the icons above the text box. Unless you know html, make sure you click on compose as this gives you a user friendly view of what the blog will look like (including pictures)

To add a picture, simply click on the picture icon, browse in your picture file, choose whether you want the picture to the side right, side left, or above text, then "upload" and the picture will automatically be added.

The first page of blog when you come back to the blog is the "dash board". This is the control center. To design your blog, click on settings. This gives you options on how you want to moderate our comments, who can comment and who can author the blog, security, email, etc... I would recommend that you just scroll through and see what the options are.

Layout allows you to add tools to your blog such as a blog roll (links to blogs you read or recommend), subscription tools (I strongly suggest you add this as it allows readers to subscribe to your blog, giving updates when you post), add followers (those that want to admit that they subscribe to your blog), and a personal introduction about who you are and what your blog is about.

I suggest that you play around with the different features of the blog. After you add new tools, you can click and drag the box (indicating the tool) to different places on your blog to order the features however way you think makes sense for your blog.


While there has been much written about how blogs should be written, there is less written about the features of the blogs that allow for different affordances. I find that blogger.com allows for a greater level of collaboration than other blogging software I have used. It allows an easy way to have multiple authors (I had my class as authors for my one blog). The followers option also allows for linking blogs.

Another affordance is to use google analytics to analyze readers and traffic to the site so writers can get a better idea of who their audience is. This is especially important to my teaching as I spend a lot of time teaching audience analysis and the impact this has on communication.

Finally, the design options allows for multiple designs and the ability to test out different designs and its impact on audiences.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Leadership: is it overrated?

Michael Hanley had an interesting post last week about Donald Clark's posting on leadership.

This is something that I have thought of over the last 5 years as some of my research, teaching, and education has brushed up against the "leadership" research. In fact, my university has one of the leading leadership gurus in Management today. However, like Michael and Donald, I have always questioned the basis of these leadership theories. On the other hand, my current research has demonstrated that leadership can have an impact on how groups (especially distributed groups) work and are able (or unable) to complete work in a tight timeline.

Management or Leadership

I think one of the problems is that there has been a distinction made among "leadership" scholars between leadership and management. However, leadership is one aspect of management. Likewise, communication (which seems to be the link taken out of "leadership"), organization, motivation, analysis that balances risk and security, and TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for mistakes and correcting actions (another aspect of management that seems to be lacking in current leadership theories) are also vital in Management.

On the other hand, there is a role for leadership (effective leadership) in the new organization. With the advent of a flat organizational structure, where distributed groups may all be working at the same level, there needs to be some leadership structure. My current research looking at a working group demonstrates that when there is a perceived lack of leadership structure (as happens in newly formed groups) it is more difficult for groups to make decisions and move forward. This can be especially difficult for groups that have been set up under a strict time constraint to accomplish discrete goals or objectives. My sister works in professional groups which, because the members are professionals of equal standing, there are no identified leaders. As a result, the organization is having trouble maintaining a uniform level of service.

Is this leadership or management? If leadership is defined as the all powerful person that tells group members what to do without really interacting with them so that there is a fall guy when things go wrong (or more likely, someone to find a group member to blame) then this is "leadership". However, there needs to be a group facilitator (leader? manager?) who organizes the group, keeps them on track, manages interactions and communication between group members, makes final decisions when the group is deadlocked, helps interact with those outside of the group (i.e. with clients, upper management, front line workers) and develops the working structure for the group as members come and go into the group. This role is a bit more than a "manager", a bit more than a "leader" who makes decisions regardless of the group input, and more of a juggler of many aspects of the group.

Most importantly, what I have not read is why leaders (who are the risk takers) should get compensated more than the workers (who may have no choice in their jobs)? Shouldn't leaders that fail have to pay back money if they fail is they are being compensated for big risks if they succeed? Wouldn't this encourage them to make "better" decisions? Or should they be compensated the same as their team members as theirs is just a different job within the group? Why should "leaders" make twice as much money as "followers"? Isn't it just as important to have good followers?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top Ten Tools: Powerpoint

Now many may have an idea of how powerpoint can be used in learning and elearning. We are all familiar with Death by Powerpoint. However, I don't use powerpoint as a presentation medium as much as a springboard for interaction and a nice program to develop graphics.


Many already know how to use powerpoint as a presentation platform. However, it is much more powerful. Taking a page from one of my professors, I use powerpoint in place of the chalkboard, almost like a whiteboard. Leaving the powerpoint in the editing mode, I type in key points. I can then save these ideas and post them to the internet (either blackboard or slideshare). Sometimes I will have a title to solicit information from the class, which I type into the powerpoint. This allows me to create a student generated resource, which students can access later. This also helps students that might have had to miss class.

My students in my online classes have used powerpoint as a collaborative document, in which each member designs a part of the powerpoint, then a final powerpoint show is put together either by the group as a whole editing, or using one designated editor. Students then post the powerpoint to present to the group as a whole. This process makes powerpoint a learning tool as students work collaboratively to put the final document together. Many of my students create hypertext and links with their powerpoints.

Finally, I find powerpoint has the best graphic capacity through its chart templates and drawing tools. My daughter uses powerpoint in her spare time to create pictures and design clothes. The various options available to crop pictures, add texture, and change colors makes it easier than some more expensive software I have tried in the past. The size of powerpoint makes it easy to see models. I have designed models in the past, then taken a screen shot which is then used in Word. At this point, this is the only graphic program I use. I have found, more and more, that powerpoint allows my students to develop creatively. In some cases, my students have developed interesting visuals, in other cases, they have integrated music, and in still other cases, they are able to hyperlink and present ideas in a spacial rather than linear way.

Top Ten Tools: Google Calender

My second top ten tool is Google Calender. This is a relatively new tool, but already I find it is invaluable as I have access to my calender from any internet connection. This means I can make appointments regardless which computer I am using. In the past, I would have a calender that I would carry around, and if I lost the calender or ran out of time (year or semester end), I would have no way of making appointments with confidence. Now, I can access google calender and determine what days I have open and what is happening a year from now if necessary.

Google Calender for Dummies

This really is a dummy proof tool. I am not sure if you first need to have a google account, however, the calender comes up on the tool bar of gmail. Simply click on "calender". You then have the option to look at a month, week, or day view of your schedule. You click on the time you want to create an event and a menu will come up. You can also just type in the information on the calender itself (meeting with John 11:45-12:30) and the event will be created. Make sure you click on "create event" to make it permanent.

You can easily delete an item also (this was always a problem I had with outlook). Simply right click on the event and a menu will come up that includes "delete event".


I find this useful because of its portability. I can access the calender on my computer in my classroom (if someone wants to make an appointment with me), any of my 3 computers I use in 3 different locations, and, if I had internet connection (or I should say, if I could figure out how to use it) on my cellphone, I could access the calender anytime, anywhere.

One additional use, however, just came to light last week. You can set up different calenders for different groups and then share schedules for planning purposes. Although this is a new use for me, I am thinking of having students use the calender to help keep me informed about their group activities outside of class, including creating work schedules and using the calender for task management. I also am thinking of using the calender as a form of a syllabus and informing students when there are changes in due dates. In this case the calender can be used for the affordances of collaboration, planning, and information sharing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Communication IS Customer Service

Well, so much for the best laid plans of mice and men. I guess I'll have to wait for a little while longer for me to complete my top 10. Today, I'm going to write about the event that has put my town in the middle of the National News--The Ice Storm.
By Thursday night, we knew we would most likely loose power as we already had a 1/2 inch of ice on surfaces. We lost power around 1:30 in the morning. However, we were prepared.

Around dawn, we heard a crash. A neighbor's branch had fallen and landed on our fence and shed. We heard another crash around 8:00AM and looked out to see the top branch break off and take down 3 more branches on its descent.

Fortunately, that was the worst of the damage. Being prepared, we had a battery operated TV, lantern, a gas powered fire place, gas for cooking, and a hot water tank which ran on gas. But until 5:30 the evening, we just waited--waited for information about whether to go stay with friends, waited for the lights to come on, waited to see if our house's temperature would go below 60F, waited before we began to move food out of the refrigerator into the garage to prevent spoilage. Just waited. With no information. Just a message that said, "Due to the catastrophic event, power will be out indefinitely."

As the day went on and we grew more and more frustrated, I thought this problem is a symptom of most businesses today. They are afraid to give you information for fear that it may be used against you. Just like this picture, you are trying to put together information, but the image is blurred.

The other power company had detailed information available for their users. They have areas where they were currently working and time estimates (including those that might wait a week). They also gave warnings that these were only estimates and that there might be additional power outages. People tend to be patient when they have a time frame. This GIVES BACK their time for them to control, without the hurry up and wait press that wastes the customer's time.

So, now we have our power. The tree branches and debris are being removed. We've had power 48 hours (although, we don't count out some blackouts still as repairs are being made), we got our internet connection back this morning, and as my pictures show you, the icing really does make everything magical. Tomorrow we are expected to have a big thaw--and hopefully there'll be power restored so the kids can return to school!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Call to Reassess Assessment

Okay, so my top 10 list will be delayed. But the topic of assessment is screaming at me and just needs to be put down on this blog!

Two things happened over the last week that just gets my blood pressure up. First, my son got his PSAT scores back. For those that are not familiar with the PSAT's, these are the preparatory tests given a year or so before you are expected to take the SAT. Now, my son did well, not great, but well. But what really upset me was his impression that he wouldn't get into school or perhaps the school he wants to go to because of one test. He asked the question that I have asked the past 40 years when I took my PSAT's: how can doing the work FASTER mean that you are SMARTER? As he said, "They didn't test if I was a good reader, only faster."

Meanwhile, a project I have been following is finally ready for implementation. The developers were very proud of the way the pre-test and post test looked, with explanations given when a user gets the multiple choice question wrong. However, the project's goal is to change attitudes and professional culture. So how can a pre-test/post test multiple choice test with the "correct" answers assess these attitude or cultural belief changes? More importantly, how can we expect changes over the course of a week? Doesn't it take time?

I keep reading about the changes in Instructional Design, changes in the tools we use, even changes in the theoretical basis of instruction. Yet, we still fall back to the old measures. This is like using a magnifying glass to verify nano-technology research. We just can't see everything that is going on.

A New Way to Assess Complex Learning

I have written previously about the need to change assessment. I especially liked Ewa's expansion of my original idea:
test those who were not present in the training but worked on a project / assignment, with the ones who were. Assessment after 3-6 months of the project and the methodology used should be team-based: teams assess each other in front of the other teams that participated in the training. This way you'd see the advantages of networking and flow of information as well as assessment on how useful your training was: if people didn't use the methods you might want to reconsider its adaptation for the organization. I think this should be the model for business school or any other applied science education. Project- based Companies that want to practice continuous learning could also apply this model.

In terms of the SAT's, why must the tests be timed? If it is so important that students be ranked depending on the timing, then students need only finish the test, then punch in when they are finished and a time is generated. Is this just to generate a false sense of pressure so schools can see who does well under exam pressure? And shouldn't the SAT's include measures of the use of tools? I don't want to imply that those who do well on the SAT will not do well in college. But many of my "best students" come ill prepared for the college classroom as they are used to doing only what is given them to do. They also are paralyzed when they have to deviate from the written material and give their own insights. Education is becoming much more complex and the assessment tools should be also. Why isn't there a movement towards standardized portfolio assessment as a means of measuring high school student work (as NEAP does)? I wonder if this would be a better measurement of student preparedness?

The Future

I hope that students realize that there are alternatives in getting into good colleges. How many students are encouraged to enter national academic competitions (often this is reserved for only the "top students", those that take tests well)? Certainly demonstrating your ability in a National Writing competition, science fair, or even having an article published on a top the student has an interest in counts for more than a timed multiple choice test.

My hope is that the schools my son is interested in looks at the overall picture. But from my own personal experience, I know this doesn't happen. It is easier to cull the pool of applicants using a superficial mechanism when you have 10-20,000 of them. However, I am proof that there are many ways to achieve the same goal. Although it has taken many years and many rejection letters, I have straight A's and at the end of my Ph.d. program, with only the data analysis and my committee between my completing my degree.

I also would like organizations to stop looking at employees as nothing more than computers which just need the correct "programming" (training) to spit out the desired output (testing). There is a lot of untapped protential, and until companies learn how to measure this, they will wasting resources on busy work. They need only look at Coke's use of this old "numbers" model in developing New Coke, without really looking at the complexity of customer behavior.

And for all of you out there that say that this is too much work, I have never used a multiple choice test in my 17 years of teaching at the university level, and I only used multiple choice tests that were imposed on me by the organization before that. I have had up to 50 students in a class where I was the sole teacher, and still I used essay exams or projects. It can be done.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My top 10 tools: Delicious

I know that Jane Hart will be compiling a new list of top 10 tools in the near future. Every time I see her call for contributors, I am in the middle of a major project. So as the year ends, I decided to do things different and spend the next 10 days listing a different tool in my top ten, and why it is important. Also, in line with my desire to begin to identify the affordances of a tool and therefore, how that tool could be used (which instructional goals can be met, limitiations of the tool) will also be included.

Today's tool is top on my list for this year: Delicious. Delicious has become a life saver for me in my teaching, my research, as I move from computer to computer, and as I try to share resources with my colleagues, especially those I am trying to help into the 21st Century.

Delicious for Dummies (I'm not saying that I think my readers are Dummies, but rather using the format used in ".... for Dummies" books!!)

For those that may have heard of delicious, but really don't know how you could use it or how it works I will give some general information. Delicious is a public site of "links". I initially used it by going on delicious and searching for resources (without joining). You type in a key word and links that people have saved using that key word can be found. Once I became more accustomed to the features of delicious (I am definitely NOT an early adopter), I found I could keep links I found when working on multiple computers, in multiple locations (home, work, the library) in one place accessible through the web, regardless of where I was.

This year, I began to use delicious as a way to keep track of sites and links I wanted to use in my classes. As I teach technology and communication courses with only one computer in my classroom, I wanted to be able to demonstrate what I was teaching. Delicious made it easy for me to identify my links quickly, so I had less set up for the various sites I was going to. In the classroom, I could not save URL's so using delicious made it possible for me not to have to type in the same sites over and over.

As a member, you will have the ability to download a toolbar addition to your browser. What this means is that an icon will be added to your browser, and when you want to add a link to delicious or access your delicious account, you need only click on the icon. The directions for adding this accessory is very easy to follow (even my sisters have been able to figure it out--and they're old!).

Two other features newbies need to know about are tags and Notes. The one pet peeve I have with delicious is that tags can only be one word. So if you have a two word descriptor, such as international communication, you will need to either use an underscore (international_communication) or put together the terms without a space (internationalcommunication). I would recommend deciding from the beginning which you will do and sticking with that. However, you then need to understand that others will use both formats when tagging their own information.

I use the notes for two reasons. First, it reminds me of why I chose a link so it helps me to find links I saved for my classes or dissertation. Secondly, it helps others decide if they want to click on the link when they come across the resource on my list.

This leads me to the social networking feature of delicious. Once a member, you can do a search using tags that will allow you to access others links. I found one member that must be doing a similar dissertation project as he not only saved my delicious account, but had many links that I had been searching for.


At first, many might look at this as just a depository of information. However, I have also used it as a means of sharing sites (through tags with group names, such as the course number or project name). This allows groups to create a database of resources. Delicious also allows for collaboration, broadcasting of information, and social networking.

Instructional Design requirements

Integrating delicious into the classroom can be as easy as giving a link to a list identified through the class number (i.e. delicious.com/vmyonkers/ACOM203). However, if it is going to be used as a collaborative tool, the group needs to come up with a way in which they will share the information (either creating a separate account for the group, friending others to your list, or creating a common tag for shared resources).

I would be interested in knowing how others use delicious and what affordances they see in the use of this tool. Also, how do you integrate it into your instructional designs?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What I learned this year blogging

In response to the Big Question for this month, I followed directions, reviewed my posts, and reflected on what I learned.

First of all, I really like my writing style (which is good because I wrote it). Sometimes, as I reread the post, I realized that it was really well-written! (Enough of self promotion). I feel that the best posts, however, were the result of other bloggers pushing me to reflect on and write about an issue I had not thought was really important. Ken Allen, Michele Martin, and Christine Martell especially, asked some questions and entered into dialog that really made me think.

So what did I learn?

About Blogging:
  • Comment on others blogs, but when the comment is more than 2 paragraphs, write a post and link it.
  • You can vary your voice and tone.
  • Tag so you can find links when writing about the same subject in subsequent posts. I can't tell you how many times I had to go searching for a post I was SURE I had written, but had not done a good job of tagging
About Research:

I have been submersed in Academic Research for the last 5 years. This year, through some simple questions from Michele and Ken, (can you give us an example or tell us what you saw in your class), I reconnected with the importance of "quick and dirty" observation and analysis.

In academic writing, you look to the literature to give you theories. Then you set up your research in a well planned systematic way, analyze the data, and then go back to the literature to explain your findings. While this has its place, I feel it also makes academic research (and even corporate market research) outdated. After looking at my posts on the use of wikis in my classroom (Group Communication and Wikis , Lessons learned about wiki use), the lessons learned from my New Communication Technologies in Organizational Life course, and even my observations on my own children's use of facebook, ipods, and cellphones has allowed me to begin to create an emerging portrait of the new knowledge worker and the type of training he or she will need to be successful for the 21st Century workplace. This has taught me that I can begin with my observations in realife circumstances and still come away with some valuable information that would be helpful to others. I wonder if this is a new direction for academic research (and a new battleground in academia as it does not fit the model of "academic rigor").

About technology:

More and more as I write about the Web 2.0, I find that there is less need to know the tool and more importance should be placed on the affordances. It seems that many of the postings came down to what technology could allow us to do rather than the tool itself.

I find that I am also moving away from blogging sites that list tools, and concentrating more on sites that discuss HOW to USE the tool and the impact it will have on instructional design and student learning. Don't get me wrong, I still refer to Jane's E-learning Pick of the Day and Cool Cat Teacher on a regular basis. But I go to these sites when I know what I am looking for, usually a specific tool use. I wonder if this is the natural progression of Web 2.0 users? Do we start with the tools, then see the potential after using the tools, then look for new ways to use the tools and look for advice on more design or instructional uses?

Comments and reader interaction:

I have learned to be content with the few people that comment on my blog. I value them highly. I also like the new google option that identifies followers as it allows me an opportunity to get to them on their blogs. While I think I work best with comments, I took a page from Michael Hanley's blog where he commented that as long as he can see through the viewer stats that people are reading his blog, he is satisfied. He recognizes (as do I) that his posts tend to have a lot of information. As long as he has the feeling that this is helpful to readers, he won't worry about comments. I have adopted this philosophy as well (although I do like people to comment as it takes the guess work out of what your thoughts are). I hope that I am inviting enough for people not to be intimedated to post questions, comments, and even disagree with me. I learn so much from those disagreements (as long as they are civil).

I learned the most in an interaction with Ewa. Her comments have really inspired me to look at alternative ways to assess learning in the workplace.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Language and Knowledge

In a recent post by Ken Allen, I commented

"...literacy is more than the language. Governments and certain societies want to control language, but it has a deeper goal. What they want to control is the knowledge, the means of communication, and the structures that are behind the language, imposing their ideas through the restriction of language."

Ken then challenged me to come up with an example of what I meant by controlling knowledge through language. I came up with the example of using the passive voice in American English. In the States, we are taught in schools not to use the passive voice (The paper was handed in). In the passive voice, there is no action agent unless the speaker (or writer) puts it in (The paper was handed in by the student).

How does this affect knowledge creation? By requiring that there is an agent for action, the language is reinforcing the American cultural value of the belief that man has control over every thing (even nature). An extension of this is that every idea is tied to a specific person (thus the obsession with identifying plagiarism in schools and identifying owners of "intellectual property." In other cultures, ideas might be considered communal or community owned. But in American English, we have a language based mechanism that helps to reinforce that every idea comes from an individual (the active voice preference).

However, American English and English in general is much more flexible and less constrictive in limiting ideas. An English speaker can (and often does) make up, borrow, or modify words when there is no word or expression that fits a specific idea. Simply look at the tech words that have come into use in the last 5 years (to google something, wiki, social software, texting, just to name a few).

I am more familiar with the control of ideas for francophones. In the '80's and 90's there was a big controversy over the use of "le marketing" over "publicite". This had more to do with the fear that American marketing practices might take hold in the French organizations. However, rather than letting a French version of marketing evolve (so that le marketing was not the same as marketing in English), companies were fined for using the word, but did not necessarily create their own form of the concept. There was a gap in expressing what they were doing. Now, I am not saying that this influenced the direction the French marketing departments took on. However, the fact is that English became a language of choice for many multinationals companies, because French was not allowed to evolve naturally. The action did not control French ideas so they maintained their "Frenchness" but rather encouraged those that worked with French businesses to use another language.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Emerging Technologies for Learning

George Siemans, on his Elearnspace blog, gave a number of definitions for Emerging Technologies for Learning.

As I read through the definitions, it struck me that many were still using traditional definitions of "learning" and failed to capture the affordances that new technology provide.

As I scan at what people are doing that create new opportunities for learning, I realize that there should be a greater emphasize on new ways of learning and how various technologies (perhaps not "emerging") can be used in new ways.

Look at the following link provided by Karyn Romeis on the elearning Technology blog, for example. Vicki Davis's Flat classroom project, for example uses technology that has been around for a long time in new ways.

So perhaps what we should be defining is Technologies for emerging learning.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Understanding the Patterns of Organizations and Students

I just spent a wonderful week in Georgia (the US state, not the country) for Thanksgiving. We were visiting relatives. Our cousin's husband works in the construction industry and was telling us some of the recent initiatives he and a colleague had developed to improve safety.

"Bob" is a middle manager who worked his way up through the ranks. He supervises groups of workers on large constructive projects (commercial and industrial). What struck me as he described his "training" programs was how well he understood the students, his workers. Not a trained educator (he has a high school education), he intuitively knew how to get a concept across to those that would benefit from the training, engaging his workers, teaching them what they needed to know about safety, and motivating them to use what they learned.

This led me to wonder what he was doing differently from the "fancy" paid outside trainers they had brought in for training in the previous years. It also get me to thinking about the in-house-outside training debate that often comes up in training departments.

Differences between in-house and outsider training

Yakhlef (2002) had an interesting study looking at the impact that outsourcing IT services had on an organization. He found that there was a shift in knowledge from within a department to a mediator between the outside contractor and the end-user. The middleman became more and more important as functions were taken outside of the department and created in a distributed means both within and outside the organization.

The same could be said for having outsiders do the training. In some cases, this is a goal as an organization would like to change its culture. But more often than not, organizations are looking for subject matter "experts" rather than looking for experts in the "field". In other words, Bob's company might have looked for someone who has studied the roots of accidents and then delivers this to the workers.

However, what organizations should be looking at are those outside the organizations that understand the patterns of behavior of the students. To do this, they may have to interact with the workers, have an expert in the community of practice, or have someone from inside the organization as a team member. In other words, having an engineer who understands the types of time constraints workers might feel which might lead to them cutting safety procedures is more important than having someone who is an expert on the safety procedures that will cut accidents. In the first case, a trainer can identify those situations that workers are most apt to let down their guard and give ways to counteract the temptation to cut corners. For example, if there is a deadline for completion of a project, a supervisor might not have a worker who comes to work without the proper equipment go back and get the equipment. However, with an understanding of how much time lost might be the result of improper equipment, the supervisor might take the up front time so as not to lose time due to accidents.

Implications for instructional design and transition into the workplace/community

It seems to me, therefore, that it is important that instructional designers and university professors have a good understanding of the behavioral and communication patterns for organizations and communities of practice.

The following are questions that we must either ask as we begin a training assignment, or teach our students to ask as they transition into the workforce:

  • Who decides what knowledge is important? What are the organizational, departmental, and group power structures in which someone is working?
  • What is the usual way of communicating within the organization, department, and work groups? How might this be the same or different from the field in which a worker has been trained or is working (i.e. how do engineers communicate, how do accountants communicate, how do nursing personnel communicate)? What are the communication structures and formats used by the organization? by the field? Which technologies will accommodate those structures and formats?
  • Who controls access to information? Who controls storage of information? What information networks are available to a worker within a community of practice? within a group? within a department? within an organization? What are the prerequisites to gaining access to information (i.e. training, trust by a superior, expertise, position, need)?
  • Who are the reference groups that influence worker perceptions? work practices? perception of risk? organizational culture?
  • What is the epistemology (belief in what "knowledge" is) of students, workers, the organization, and the field of expertise? How do workers resolve conflicts between epistemologies? For example, in business there is the belief that the bottom line is the main measure of success. However, healthcare workers are taught that they should do anything humanly possible to save a life. How do healthcare workers resolve the dilemna of saving a life at an exhorbatant price if the patient cannot pay (thus putting the organization into the red)?

    Yakhlef, A. (2002). Towards a discursive approach to organisational knowledge formation. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 18, 319-339.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Group knowledge

Continuing the paper I am working on, I decided to post the section on group knowledge in response to the presentation by Nancy White, Dave Wilkins, and Mark Sylveter on Online Communities and Architecture. I was surprised at how they touched on much of what I am addressing in this paper.

Creating Shared Knowledge

Before discussing the literature on shared knowledge, it is important that I define what I understand as knowledge. Using a constructivist approach, knowledge is an individual’s construction of meaning through social and ecological interaction. In this definition, an individual creates their own knowledge based on their experiences, perceptions, and beliefs. However, there needs to be some social or environmental interaction which will trigger an individual to reflect on his or her experience before knowledge can be created. In addition, knowledge is dynamic as a result of constant interaction. This is very close to Ragnar Rommetveit’s definition of dialogical meaning making (Hagtvet & Wold, 2003). Knowledge is more than the construction of meaning through social interaction, it is also the individual choices a person makes in creating the meaning based on values, personal attributes, and experience. In addition, the context of knowing is as important as the interaction.

Yakhlef (2002) distinguished between the making of knowledge and the reusing of knowledge (applying what was learned to different contexts). He determined that in reusing knowledge, new understanding and meaning was created. However, society and (in his case) organizations try to capture knowledge through written and physical documentation such as reports, books, software, and other artifacts so as to allow for reuse of the knowledge. The question is, therefore, if knowledge is individually generated what is the use of these artifacts and documentation? The answer is that for individuals to work in groups, there needs to be some shared understanding and meaning. The process of documenting and negotiating meaning (knowledge discourses), moves the artifacts from being to knowing (Hall, Stevens, & Torralba, 2002; Yakhlef, 2002). The artifacts provide a common starting point from which interaction can move, thus creating knowledge. In an online course, the artifact is the course design including the technology, readings, and any other supplemental material such as course links and graphics.
Related to knowledge (cognition) is perspective (social). For Rommetveit, perspective is vital in creating meaning (Hagtvet & Wold, 2003; Mortimer & Wertsch, 2003). Other researchers have identified the ability to take on others perspectives as examples of higher order thinking (Herrington & Oliver, 1999; Jarvela & Hakkinen, 2002; Wegerif, Mercer, & Dawes, 1999). Perspective taking requires that a person be able to understand another’s viewpoint, anticipate their responses, and present their position in such a way as to encourage mutual understanding. Including both social and cognitive elements, dialogue that leads to perspective taking requires intersubjectivity, or the recognition that the other person has a position, whether it is implicit or explicit (Hagtvet & Wold; Mortimer & Wertsch). The higher the level of reciprocity, in which there is an equal exchange of social and cognitive information, the greater the chance to achieve shared understanding (Hagtvet & Wold). However, even with the exchange of information, it is possible that there is a low level of shared understanding.

This is obvious when there are a diversity of values or backgrounds within the group (Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale; Hall, et al., 2002). Individuals come into groups with assumptions about others knowledge and intentions. With group interaction, these assumptions might be confirmed or questioned. When those assumptions are questioned, cognitive dissonance occurs (Karau & Kipling, 1993). An individual can either ignore this dissonance or change to accommodate the internal conflict (Moreland & Levine, 2001; Skitka, 2003). There are many factors that affect an individual’s choice including interdependency with the group, amount of time in the group, the level of trust within the group, external threats to the group, threats to the individual’s social and personal identity, group cohesion, and personal traits such as the level of self confidence, comfort with the topic, and access to resources and knowledge (Hall, et al., 2002; Moreland & Levine; Olivera & Straus, 2004; Simons & Peterson, 2000; Skitka; Waller, Conte, Gibson, & Carpenter, 2001). In negotiating understanding within a group, an individual becomes aware of his or her assumptions and perspectives. Without the dissonance, it is unlikely an individual will create knowledge since they will be unaware of their own assumptions on which their perspective is based (Hagtvet & Wold, 2003). Therefore, multiple perspectives and perspective taking is an important factor to assess in order to understand the individual-group relationship in online learning.

In order for a group to function affectively they must have shared perspectives and assumptions: shared mental models. Shared mental models are the implicit heuristics a group develops to function, allowing members to describe, predict, and explain group processes and behavior (Mohammed & Dumville, 2001). These mental models are shared representations of relationships, the environment, and group tasks (Cannon-Bowers & Salas, 2001; Mohammed & Dumville). Cannon-Bowers and Salas have identified four different types of mental models that can be used depending on the group, goals, task, and context. Shared or overlapping mental models are when all members co-create the same group representation. Even though each individual may initially come with and maintain a different individual mental model about the group task, the group creates a shared vision that defines their work. Groups that have identical or similar mental models are designed with the intention that members come to the group with the same mental representations. Compatible or comparable mental models are when groups are designed to maximize the shared mental model. Like constructing a puzzle, each member will have a piece that when put together, gives a road map to the group process. The main difference between this and the distributed mental model is that the comparable or comparable mental model comes with the pieces already intact. A distributed mental model assigns the responsibility for each piece. If an individual does not already have the mental model of how that piece works, they are responsible for going outside the group to create that piece. These four types of mental models suggest that there are different ways in which groups conceptualize their functions: as a group with equal abilities and effort, designed or through group process, a group that utilizes member strengths, or a group that divides up the process with members responsible for augmenting those areas where they may have gaps.

While shared cognition focuses on what members bring to the group, group learning theories address how individuals create understanding from the group. According to social identity theory, individuals have multiple identities they access in any given context: material, personal, and social. The extent that an individual will contribute to the learning of others in the group depends on which identity is salient in that context. For example, if group cohesion is an important value to the group, an individual might decide to withhold information that could cause group conflict. At this point the individual is accessing his or her social identity in order to maintain group values. However, if this is an important concept for the individual to master, he or she might present the information, knowing that it might negatively affect his or her status in the group. Group learning is a result of the negotiation not only of meaning, but of problem and process construction (Olivera & Straus, 2004; Yakhlef, 2002). Problem construction and solving help to create the boundries within which interaction that promotes group learning takes place (Yakhlef).

Another aspect of group learning is the analysis of shared experience. Through feedback or group correction (based on the feedback), individuals create their own meaning based on the group experience (Mohammad & Dumville, 2001; Mulder, Swaak, & Kessels, 2002; Olivera & Straus, 2004). This analysis of shared experience can be based on individual to group interaction, group to group interaction, group to environment interaction, or intragroup interaction. It is not necessary that an individual be an active participant in the interaction to reap the benefits of group learning (Olivera & Straus). The implication for online learning is that even the lurkers (Mazur, 2004) who are following online discussions but not contributing to them, learn from observing how group members construct and solve problems.
Finally, the contextual and situational factors that are outside the control of the group contribute to how the group mediates understanding for its members. The level of contact between groups, transactive memory within the group, the development of group artifacts or tools, the control of information to and through the group, and the distribution of resources all help to create the boundaries that will define the group (Hall, Stevens, & Torralba, 2002; Mohammed & Dunville, 2001; Moreland & Levine, 2001; Oubenaissa, Giardina, & Bhattacharya, 2002). Not only will these factors allow the group to present its members to those outside, but it will also interpret the outside world to those within the group. Finally, another aspect of the environment is time: duration, timelines, and frequency of interaction. Because groups are dynamic, the time frames in which group work will change both intragroup and individual interaction (McGrath, Arrow, & Berdahl, 2000).

An Addional Note:

Because of the number of resources I used to write this paper, I will post the references in a separate blog post after I have posted each of the sections I am working on. As always, I would appreciate any feedback you can give me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reinforcing learning from an online conference

During one of the sessions in the online conference Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008, one of the presenters (I can't remember which) brought up point that we may not be taking notes as we used to.

This got me to thinking about how my learning is reinforced when I attend a conference like this. I can tell you that I am not sitting by taking notes using pen and paper--or even taking notes via the computer. I do take notes in a more traditional class, but more often than not, these are just keywords. The keywords are used to trigger a memory.

However, my style of learning requires that I make a connection to ideas or something I have learned previously to retain the information. So how do I do this in a digital environment?

First of all, I look for visual cues; chat, discussion, images. In a format like this conference, I monitor the oral presentation, but really pay attention to the text and images. Part of the reason is that I know these sessions are being taped, so I know that I can always go back to hear something I missed.

I think typing my reactions to the speaker helps to reinforce my learning. It is like social note taking. I like the feel of talking through a concept which the chat function allows. I then leave the session and go to the discussion forums. This also helps me to process the information and concepts presented in the sessions.

Finally, blogging allows me to tie in ideas that I have been working on, bringing in resources, and synthesizing ideas to conceptualize my learning, sometimes ending in mental models, sometimes frameworks, and often new questions to pursue.

As a result, I come away from these online conferences with a much deeper understanding than from face to face conferences.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Group Interaction Metacognition Assessment Framework

I am in the process of updating a paper on virtual group interaction and learning. I would appreciate any feedback as I try to update it for a business/management audience. This post will look at the overall framework.

Group Interaction Metacognition Assessment Framework

Many of the previous protocols used to analyze online interaction, look at the individual learning that has taken place or the group dynamics in an online learning environment that will facilitate or inhibit learning (Mazur, 2004). However, in previous research on group work using codes of conduct to improve group communication and processes, Yonkers & Buff (2005) found that improved group communication did not necessarily improve group learning outcomes. In addition, some members of groups that produced poor outcomes, improved substantially more on individual work than some members of groups that had produced above average outcomes. This leads to the question of whether individuals can learn from poor groups or can effective groups inhibit individual learning? In addition, what are the attributes of group interaction metacognition? Do students create different knowledge for the group than for their individual use? The literature on cognitive sharing would suggest this is so (Mohammed & Dumville, 2001; Mulder, Swaak, & Kessels, 2002; Olivera & Straus, 2004). In the rest of this paper, I will purpose a framework to assess online interaction in order to conduct future research on the influence of groups on individual learning, the influence of individuals on other group members’ learning, and the intersection between social and cognitive processes in creating knowledge.

The assessment of group interaction metacognition is divided into two parts: a) intragroup interaction, and b) group-individual interaction. The purpose of the intragroup assessment is to determine how things are becoming to be known by the group rather than what is known (Yakhlef, 2002). More specifically, it is important to assess the ways meaning is made so there is shared understanding. The assessment of the group-individual interaction focuses on the level of awareness between the individual and the group. The analysis will determine an individual’s common understanding with the group against the acceptance of group choices, and the level of the individual’s identification, both social and cognitive, with the group.

Intragroup assessment

The intragroup assessment can be broken down into three categories: type of group, creating meaning, and construction and reconstruction of knowledge. As discussed previously, groups can work in various ways, depending on their level of prior knowledge about other group members, the task, the group goals, and the context. The same group will approach an ill-structured problem differently than a highly structured instructor lead conversation (Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Kates, 2000; Levesque, Wilson, & Wholey, 2001; Mohammed & Dunville, 2001; Waller, et al. 2001). Environmental factors such as time constraints, limited resources, proximity, and cultural differences will also have an effect on the level of interdependency needed to complete a group task (Henning & Van der Westhuizen, 2004). By identifying the type of group learning, group goals, and shared mental models, researchers will be able to give a context to the group interaction. In other words, the type of group will influence the structure of the intragroup interaction.

Group learning

The method of group learning can be divided into four categories: cooperative, collaborative, individual, and competitive (Prater, Bruhl, & Serna, 1998). While there has been an on-going debate in the literature as to whether there is a difference between cooperative or collaborative learning, many make the distinction between these two. Cooperative learning is when students learn together, contributing ideas, reviewing those ideas, working through the process, and developing the final product (including summarizing ideas, making decisions, and/or drawing conclusions) simultaneously. The task has a high level of interdependency and students learn from one another through the process of interaction. Collaborative learning is when each member has a different expertise that he or she brings to the group in order to accomplish a task. Learning is less uniform than in cooperative groups, since each member will have their own expertise (either assigned as in dividing up work tasks regardless of ability or innate as in dividing up work tasks according to student strengths). The quality of the learning is dependent upon how well an individual student can negotiate meaning with the group. In individual learning, students are responsible for their own learning but can access the expertise of group members in a number of ways, such as asking for help, discussing options, or observing others completion of the task. Competitive learning is similar to individual learning, except students are motivated by competing with group members for limited resources or rewards (i.e. grades). One way to assess which form of learning a group is using is to assess how tasks, resources, and responsibilities are distributed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lost in translation

Janet Clarey had an interesting post about translating educational material. It actually reminded me of when I working on a project in Hungary in 1990-92. Our project came in just as Hungary was transitioning from a communist, centrally planned market to a more free market (I hesitate to say Capitalist, as it has many connotations that are not necessarily positive) economy.

As a normal course of work, we were asked by our funding agencies to conduct an evaluation at the end of our management and business training courses (workshops or one week intensive courses geared towards people that wanted to start their own business). One of the questions we asked was, "Are there any other programs you would like us to offer?" We had an outstanding translator on staff, but we also back translated the questionnaire to ensure the questions asked were what we intended. Everything looked fine, so we started using the quesionnaire.

I remember our Hungarian Director contacting us after the first set of questionnaires were used warning us that we weren't going to be happy with the results. When we started looking through the answers, we contacted our center to find out if we had the correct translations. Yep, now we understood his warning.

It seemed that Hungarians did not know how to answer our open ended question of what they wanted us to offer because they had never been asked. In a centrally planned economy, all decisions are made by authorities who analyze the environment, then make decisions based on government priorities, resources, and population needs. The answers we received on our question ranged from, "My brother in law needs $5000" to "we need to change the laws in how we do banking" to "how do I get a visa to live in the US?".

Lessons from our translation mess

We learned that we had to teach our students how to ask for what they needed. We also needed to realize that they would give us "feedback" in a different form than we were used to.

What Janet is really talking about in her post is the differences in rhetorical style, epistomologies (perception of what IS knowledge and beliefs in knowledge), and the cultural basis of learning. I tell my classes in international business/communication that you can tell what is important in terms of manners and basic knowledge by looking at what a learner in the lower primary grades learns. Think of how hard it is to unlearn "facts" you might have learned in first or second grade (when you were 7 or 8). We also learned the social conventions for schooling, what was the correct way to do a test, for example, turn taking, and how to interact with the teacher.

In a virtual classroom, students come in with these cultural assumptions (the teacher knows everything, the teacher is a guide that may not know everything, we need to do only what the teacher tells us to do, we are our own best teacher). So to update Janet's list (the university of Utah list she outlined) I would include the following questions to ask about the targetted students (this is based on research I did a few years back on replicating business programs in emerging economies)

1) what is the theoretical basis of knowledge for that educational system;
2) what is the perceived role of the teacher;
3) what are the expected responsibilities of the student in the learning process;
4) what is the perception of “business education” within the educational system;
5) what are the learning conventions used by the student;
6) what are the institutional constraints (language, student selection, business resources).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What is appropriate to appropriate?

I encountered three situations that is the encentive for this post.

Yesterday, I was discussing "plagerism" and how our students perceive it, especially when using the internet. As I am teaching a speech course this semester, the question of plagerism becomes a bit dicey. It is not really interesting to hear a number of names when listening to a speech (think of the boring Oscar speeches when winners list all the people they want to thank). However, the information within a speech came from somewhere, so how can it be integrated into a speech without making it boring?

One way is through presentation software. Charts and pictures should have sources on the slides used to augment speeches. Another way is to create verbal "links" by using supporting information such as video clips (which will have the source on it).

In this same class, students are required to give a bibliography they used in preparing the speech. This means that students need to cite references in an acceptable format. I have used Zotero on my computer for the last year. However, one of my students mentioned that the new version of Word includes a citation feature. I still prefer Zotero as you can capture the information as you browse directly from the web. I was pleased, though, to see that word processing software recognizes the importance of including citations (and the tediousness of formating it correctly for each citation).

Finally, I have been trying to redesign the way my blog looks as I don't think it was necessarily reader friendly and perhaps a bit boring. On the one hand I don't want anything that will slow down the download time for those with dial-up (I had it for so long the pain of waiting for a page to load is still fresh!), but I would like to use pictures a bit more. One of the things holding me back is that I own very few usable pictures (although I did think of beginning to create my own library of visuals I could use that would reflect my postings). However, I was surprised to come across a post by Vicki Davis on the use of pictures available through creative commons.

I still am trying to deliniate when to use something (or link or cite ideas) within the blog. If I were writing a paper, it would be very cut and dry. However, blogging protocols are somewhat different. If I appropriate something directly from online (i.e. cut and paste), I, of course cite it and use the quotes. But what format should I use to cite? I have found that I feel much more comfortable linking the orginial document rather than "quoting" from it. However, there are times, such as when there are a number of comments and you want to use that comment in a post, when quotes are more effective. I am not sure I am 100% comfortable using the images from the creative commons sites as some people have stipulations (such as not using for commercial purposes, citing the source of the image) which might vary from picture to picture. What if I don't follow their stipulations (unintentionally)? However, I am beginning to find my own style of crediting others for their ideas.

How do you address this issue? Is it different in academic settings? Professional or business settings? Does it depend on the audience? How do you know what style to use? I would love to get others inputs on this issue.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Defining writing style: style vs. level

Ken Allen had an interesting post about "writing for the literacy level." I commented that there was difference between reading level and style. In the comment, I did a good job of describing reading level, but not such a good job of explaining what I see as "style" differences and how that is different than reading level.

When writing for a different level of reading, this usually means a writer must provide greater context and use a more common pattern of format, vocabulary, and grammar.

What are common patterns?

The common patterns will depend on the language (including the form of language, such as American English, British English, or International English). This means that there are certain writing, spelling, and punctuation protocols that are recognized by a large group of mainstream language speakers. Looking at a child's book, for example, this does not mean that sentences are simple, but they may be shorter. In American English, this means also that verbs are in an active tense, usually present, simple past, or simple future. More complex verb tenses (conditional, mixtures of time within the same sentence, and conditions such as might have gone if they had been there on time) would require high levels of abstraction (what is compared to what might be).

Likewise, language based on everyday life within the mainstream culture would be a common pattern. This is when defining reading level can put a member of a minority culture at a disadvantage. Younger members who might not be exposed to the mainstream cullture would not necessarily have the cultural knowledge needed to understand items written at a "lower" reading level. Therefore, it may be that a story, such as this one, written for a 5-7 year old, could be more difficult to an urban youth who has never been on a farm. Understanding the story might require a higher level of abstraction than a 5-7 year old is capable of.

Defining Style

Style on the other hand, has to do with the tone, register, genre or format, and organization of information that will be acceptable to the reader in the context of the audience.

Style may differ depending on profession, age, education, context, and (as my current research is indicating) power structures. For example, there is a different writing style for science, academic journals, business, managers, politicians, or a person's grandmother. The same content will be presented different ways, using different jargon and grammar, presenting information in different formats and order, and even giving a different visual representation of the writing (i.e. different fonts, spacing, pictures, use of white space).

Style won't have an effect on understanding a message, but it may have an effect on accepting the message or perception of the message.

Some examples

While Ken contends that he does not change his writing for the age group (as I have not seen what he writes for his students, I can't verify this) he does change his style depending on the top. For example, this post on the knol and this post on technology change style and format.

In fact, many of us change style depending on the circumstances, often unconsiously. A good writer fits the style to the message, the audience expectations, and the formats often provided by those within the power structures within which we work. Our style is often informed by feedback from readers, bosses, and coworkers/colleagues. We begin to think differently, formulating our ideas through the interactive process of writing, feedback, and editing.

I would bet that Ken maintains a "scientific academic" writing style regardless of the reading level. This is because he is introducing his students into the scientific community's communication protocols and structures. If he were to "dumb down" or use too simplistic formats in developing his written material, students would not be inducted into the scientific community. In other words, he would be doing his students a disservice. On the other hand, I am sure that he does make some "reading level" changes without even knowing it, using active voice for younger readers, including definitions with the jargon that older readers would not need. His choice of examples (the use of examples would be stylistic, the types of examples would be reading level) would depend on his students' prior knowledge.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New Format

No, you have arrived at the right blog, all 5 of you that visit on a regular basis!

I have not been happy with how "readable" the blog is for a while. So I decided to change things around, hopefully making the blog more readable. Let me know what you think.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Defining collaboration in a learning context

In response to a question raised Britt Gow on the workplace literacy site, I'd like to address the idea of "collaborative learning". Britt's comment was based on a post she read about "drop box" collaboration. In the post, Mr. Rezac, a 7th grade teacher in Illinois brings up a legitimate question as to whether an international project in which students video tape "what it is like to live where they do" is a collaborative learning project or rather just a "drop box" assignment. He questions where the collaboration is in the project.

I believe the real question here, however, is what is collaborative learning. We have had this debate in our department in that some insist there is a difference between collaborative and cooperative learning. In the first case, collaborative learning is when students take a piece of a project and learn from interacting with the group on the piece they have studied. Cooperative learning is when students work together in supporting each others learning.

Just in my own work and research, I see a number of different ways that collaborative/cooperative learning could be manifested, including:

  • Learning from a collaborative event: students collaborate on a project, then have directed/facilitated individual learning based on that collaboration. In other words, they learn from the collaborative process and individual reflection after.
  • Learning from others on a process they all undergo individually: students go through the same experience or individually do the same project, then learn from each other through discussions or collaborative activities designed around the project. In this case they are sharing meaning and creating shared cognition. This is especially useful when the group is distributed (as the example that Mr. Rezac uses).
  • Learning through collaborative problem solving: students work on a team to achieve a definitive goal. The collaboration requires that students use each others expertise and learn from the problems that are created through the collaboration process. There may need to be a facilitator that helps students to focus on each others expertise, to learn how to create shared knowledge for the group, and access that knowledge when needed.
  • Synergistic learning through putting pieces of the puzzle together: in this case, individuals work individually on parts of a collaborative project, but then learn from others as each of the pieces are put together into a whole.
Internal, external, tacit, and explicit learning

One of the major problems with collaborative learning, especially in the formal educational process, is how to measure individual learning. One way to approach this is to ignore individual learning and only look at the group learning. However, this devalues collaborative learning.

Tacit learning outside of the collaborative process is difficult to measure. I believe, though, that this is the real power in collaborative learning. As we move deeper into the 21st century, it is important that we recognize that collaboration is a vital skill in the workforce and may not necessarily be a natural instinct (and definitely is not part of the American culture-or any of the Anglo cultures).

I am not sure how to measure this learning and hope there are some ideas out there as to how to capture the level of learning collaboration presents. However, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater just because we don't know how to measure its impact yet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lessons learned about Wiki use

A post by Michael Hanley reminded me that blogging takes discipline and like going to the gym, if you give up on posting regularly because of other commitments, it is easy just to get out of the habit. (I have been remiss in both instances: the posting and the exercise!)

In my case, I have been trying to keep up with some great blog posts, including one from Ken Allen on support in learning, and the e-course on work literacy, along with my own research for my dissertation on organizational learning and research for my class on visuals and electronic aids in teaching speech composition and presentation.

However, this week is wiki week on the work literacy, and while I think the personal learning information is good on wikis, there is so much more to the use of wikis than the tool itself when used collaboratively in the classroom.

A Multiclass Wiki Project

One problem with using a wiki in formal training is that it is difficult to measure the actual learning that takes place in using the wiki, especially if the final product is a "mess". However, I found the more my students experimented and communicated through the wiki, more learning took place
outside of the classroom and wiki.

I used the same wiki for an ongoing project between classes, to plan and execute an online conference. At the university level, this means that students could take part in a long term project outside of the semester. The first semester, a group of global communication students planned an online conference, including the title of the conference and audiences (international), along with some background material. Students in two different classes the next semester then performed different tasks that were laid out from a document from the previous class and my own format to help structure the work they would need to do outside of class.

Findings from Multiclass Project

Set up is important.
I made the assumption when I initially set up the wiki that each group would be able to develop their own way of using the wiki. However, I soon found that unless they were granted ownership, and encouraged to use the wiki as "group" property, that they would not take ownership of the wiki.

I found that a front page that is used for logistics and acts like an aggregator or organizational tool (table of contents) for the group helped groups to develop their own group pages without feeling as if they were stepping on toes.

The wiki should have instructions on how it should be used for that specific wiki. I found that by establishing protacols such as color coding changes or adding icons to areas that had been changed or tasks that had been completed, helped establish the boundaries for the use of the wiki. Even though the changes would show up in a separate post, my students wanted to find the changes within the context of the page and quickly (i.e. seeing the icons).

Halfway through the second semester, a group of students and myself sat down to establish instructions that fit the groups' purposes. This might be necessary as groups change and/or the project requires a new structure.

The wiki should be perceived as a tool for collaboration, not a piece of collaboration. Once my students started using the wiki as a means of collaboration, the wiki itself became a mess. This meant that students would then need to go back in, edit and restructure the information so that it was accessible for readers outside of the group. This editing process was much more of a learning tool than the final product. When I asked students to give a presentation on what they had learned, the wiki was a vital center piece to their learning process. However, the learning they presented to me was not obvious in the wiki view.

belive one reason for this might be the tacit learning that wikis promote through the collaborative writing process. There are also group processes that happen outside of the wiki space, such as leadership, conflict resolution, group organization, the development of group norms, inter and intragroup relations, the development of trust (cognitive and affective), group assumptions, and shared cognition. Of course, this will make the use of wikis less than desirable for organizations that want proof of learning.

It's the process, not the product.
All of these points leads to the conclusion that the process of creating the wiki is where the learning is. As such, work on the wiki should include assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they have learned, not just the final product that they come up with. For example, I had my students blog about what they were learning as they used the wiki. I also had them give a presentation on the project they worked on. Often the wiki was a record they could go back to which gave some evidence of what they had done. However, they admitted that the work on the wiki (e.g. mistakes made that needed to be corrected, misunderstandings that were resolved, identification of resources from multiple sources) was much more important to their learning than other activities they did in class or the final outcome.

In addition, the wiki was a document that only those that went through the process could really understand. Therefore, something that looked like a mess to me, was understood by the group members as it fit their communication and group norms.

Wiki products/documents may need to be "translated" or interpreted for the outside reader. My students found that they also learned through the comments and questions features (although not as much as I feel they could have) and through class discussions with others outside of the class. They were often surprised when others outside of their group had difficulty following the way their document read. It is important, therefore, when a wiki is used for learning or even within an organizational environment, that feedback be actively solicited. It is not enough to ask readers to "post their comments". The feedback should be targeted. This is one reason why we established an icon protacol to help monitor tasks.

The wiki should be easy to read and follow. One complaint I had from my students was that the document was boring and hard to read based the set up. They wanted pictures and better design (e.g. text boxes with additional information). They also would have appreciated more audio visuals such as podcasts or embedded videos. Many of the wiki software now includes templates for those with limited programming and software design skills.

The uses of Wikis in formal learning

Finally, there are three main uses of wikis in formal learning: sharing and communication of information, collaboration, and developing a permenant record of information.

My students used the wiki as part of their conference to keep track of the logistics of the conference. The conference went on for 12 hours. Each group had a designated "trouble shooter" for 4 hours at a time. The students chose times for check in during the day to identify any problems. For example, the group taking care of registration, needed to "dump" the names into an excel file on a regular basis so that the limited file space of the free registration software they used would free up (they were only allowed 50 names at a time). At the beginning of the conference, the registration closed out. The group keeping track of the promotion were contacted by various people trying to register for the conference indicating that the registration would not work. They posted this problem on the wiki so those in charge of registration and technology were appraised of the problem within the first check in period. By the next check in period the issue was resolved, so other members of the trouble-shooting team knew what was going on.

In another of my classes, students put together a wikipage for an online class presentation that drew resources from a number of places. Students used the wiki first as a collaborative space, in which they learned about the choice of technology in instructional design through colloborating on the presentation.

The wiki then became an information tool as they used the document to present how a specific technology worked ( a wiki in one case, and a podcast in another).