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, April 29, 2009

A new way to conceptualize teaching for the 21st Century?

Ken Allen and I have had an interesting conversation going on his blog. He has a great post about what we need to do in the 21st century to teach technology skills, which was pretty much what we should have been doing in the last century. Namely, students need to understand the "concept" of technologies, they need training (what I would call mentoring as he uses the cognitive apprenticeship model as a basis for the post), and practice. He contends (and I agree) that most instruction today focuses on the training, leaving out the concepts and the practice.

My last comment was:

My point was that by just teaching the "skills" of a technology we aren't teaching the students to learn the "affordances" of a technology.

In my experience, students come to new things initially with creativity. Facebook and myspace became what they were because users could use it in any way that met their needs. This is happening with twitter. When we "teach" a technology, however, we tend to destroy thMis creativity because we say "use this technology this way." Often my kids will say to me, "You can't do that with X technology. We were taught you have to do it THIS way."

We need to have a new approach where students are taught the concepts of how any technology can be applied (i.e. for computing, for communication, for editing, for visualization, etc...) then allow them to practice those concepts using a wide variety of technologies. To do this, the instructor needs to change his or her mind set from "teaching the technology" or teaching "technology skills" to a deeper level of analysis.

In fact, I think this is true of all teaching. We focus on the "training" so that students will pass the assessments, but gloss over the concepts so students don't understand why they are doing what they are doing, and don't give them enough practice in multiple contexts to allow them to gain a deep understanding and familiarity with what they have learned. In the last case, especially, students need to formulate the boundaries of new concepts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Marketing 101

Christine Martell had an interesting post about market segmenting. As both an educator and a marketing instructor, I felt a post putting marketing concepts into education terminology was warranted.

I find that many of the concepts in education and marketing are similiar. Many educators don't like to hear this and many marketers would like to think their field is more "professional". However, straddling the two worlds, I often borrow concepts from both in my teaching and analysis.

Lesson 1: Know your Audience

Target market is the audience that you want to capture for your business. As educators, we walk into a classroom or learning environment and want to know where are students are at. Image walking into a classroom and basing all of our lessons on the stereotypes in the class (e.g. girls, african americans, low socio economic students, non-native English speakers). While we can make some generalities based on culture and experience, we would really need to know the individuals and then put together a class plan based on the strengths and weaknesses of the students, grouping them together based on what they do and know, not on personal characteristics. Those who are visual learners need to have visual cues (as opposed to saying that all girls need visual cues).

This is what Kathie Nelson means by Phycho-graphics. We do this the first part of any course, trainig, or class that we teach. It makes sense to use this when trying to "sell" your service.

Lesson 2: Choose your strategy

In education, most instructors have the choice of standardizing their teaching (assessing with tests, stating standard goals and objectives and hoping to teach the greatest amount to the largest number of students). This is called mass marketing in marketing. As in education, there is an advantage to this as you are able to reach the greatest number of customers with the smallest investment. However, this is not a "deep" approach (the complaint with standardized curriculum is the lack of "deep learning").

In marketing this approach is called "skimming" as you familiarize your audience with the concepts, with the understanding that some will "get it" and others won't.

The other common strategy used in training is individualized curriculum. This is especially effective for complex concepts and a "deep learning" approach. The same is true for "niche" marketing. Products or services that require the customer have a deep understanding in order to make a purchase decision are best marketed using an "individualized" approach. However, this requires a lot of investment in time and effort (as would an individualized learning plan).

So for most marketers, the most effective strategy is a mixed approach. Catagorizing the market into segments that have similiar or overlapping needs so that you can make slight modifications for the specific needs of the segments is similiar to the instructor that incorporates flexibility into the curriculum or instructional design so that the differences can be addressed while still allowing for a basis of core content.

In Christine's case, she can have a portfolio of visuals, from which individuals can pick and choose depending on their needs. This recognizes the differences between clients, but allows her to have some standardized material.

Lesson 3: Don't confuse communication with product

Marketing has 4 parts to it (often call the 4 P's): Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. Education has similiar concepts only using different terms: curriculum, resources (time, instructor, expertise), communication (teaching style, student engagement, student/instructor/content interaction) and place (learning environment, means of delivery-electronic, self paced learning, instructor in a classroom).

New marketers often look at marketing as just the promotion (advertising, sales). But the other parts of the marketing mix are just as important. This would be like assuming a person that can communicate the content is sufficient without resources, the correct mode of delivery, or a poor curriculum.

It is important to have a product that is appropriate for the customer (you wouldn't have a curriculum that did not meet the learning needs of the student because it was too advanced or too basic for the student needs). Price helps to create value, especially in a non-tangible good. Which is better a "cheap" dentist or a dentist that fits in your price range? The image of "cheap" dentist is someone that might not do the work correctly or pain free. In education, learning that requires more time input and effort is perceived as more valuable (as opposed to the "busy work" type of learning a student may need to do to "get the credits"). How a product gets to the customer is usually a negotiation, especially for a service. Services are difficult to "distribute" as they may require the customer to come to a central place or service provides to go to the customer. There is also a question of quality control so that the service provided is the service the customer expected. This might not be possible if the service customer is far away fromt the service provider.

Lesson 4: Marketing is a negotiation process between the customer and the provider

"The customer is always right" is not always true with a service. Rather, the saying should be, "let the customer perceive that they are right." It is important that the customer be satisfied, however, not at the expense of the company. In some cases, a company needs to cut a customer loose if it means the company's reputation or values will be compromised. On the other hand, we are in a different world in which customers are much better informed and have access to more information in the past. Companies can't assume that they "know better" than the customer. It is important that marketing is a dialogue between the customer and provider so that the product meets the needs of the customer, closing the perceived gap between a customer need and the product provided.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The ideal University

Since my kids are on break from school right now, we borrowed a number of DVD's from the library. One was a movie called "Accepted" which was about a bunch of kids that start their own university when they are all "rejected" from other colleges. This got me to thinking of a lot things surrounding university study in the US.

University is an experience

First of all, this movie supports the idea that in the US "college" or university is a rite of passage into the work world. During the movie, the parents come to check out the college and are pleased when the "Dean" tells them that college is just a preparation for the work world. However, the actual school is one in which there is damage to the dorms, constant partying, and students are allowed to create their own times and curriculums.

This is the paradox I live with on a regular basis. On the one hand, students want to experiment with living without "rules" but on the other hand college is perceived as the gateway to the disciplined, rule based world of work. In fact, college is the first place where students need to learn how to live with others who have each been brought up with different values, lifestyles, and beliefs. There is something called the "Sophmore principle" in which students between their freshman and sophmore year have values that are the furtherest from their parents than at any other time of their life.

What this movie brings out is students that have been conformist their entire life are given the opportunities to live a different life style at the university, whereas students that are "different" are excluded from this experience. Is this really fair? Is this done because those who have lived a conformist life style need the college years to experiment because they will never have this opportunity again?

College Curriculum

One of the most striking concepts this movie presents is the idea that curriculum should be based on what student interests are and that students can teach themselves. The curriculum for the new college is based on students writing up what they would like to study, then organizing themselves to learn. The idea comes when a friend at a neighboring traditional university complains because she is not interested in the courses she has to take for her major, but at the same time, she will not credit for courses she is interested in.

This addresses the issue that many faculty, as well as students, struggle with on a regular basis: having to take courses that central adminstrators require, but many students and faculty do not find necessary. Why should I have students in my class that don't want to be there? If they can demonstrate that they have knowledge of the core competencies needed for the degree, why must they take the course? When I studied in Europe, students took courses that prepared them for their exams. They chose which courses they would need to fill in the gaps in their knowledge that they would then need for the exam. I would like to see a system where students chose their courses based on their strengths and weaknesses, however, with consultation with faculty to help them decide which courses would be the most useful.

Some of the courses offered at the "new" university included skate boarding (in which students learned the laws of physics and engineering), stess reduction (based on the principles of religion, philosophy, and psychology), and understanding women (using concepts from socialogy, women's studies, and biology). The assumption of the movie was that students would be able to teach themselves without any help from faculty. I would contend that faculty who set up the course could still have students teach each other, but point students in the right direction on resources and issues to research/investigate.

University as a place of dialogue

What I found especially interesting was the idea that traditional universities stiffle dialogue and conversations whereas the new university encouraged these conversations. This is something that I do believe has happened in colleges in the US as over the last decade there has been a move to "standardize" education (read cookie cutter approach). This ties back to the first point in that there is pressure from corporate America to crank out cookie cutter workers that will be creative as long as it fits into the mold of the company. Studenst that are allowed to ask questions and discuss issues will turn into employees that question the way things are done, power structures, and even things such as equity in pay.

I would love to see more dialogue and conversation in my classes. However, I am always surprised at how much work it takes to get students to present opposing views. In this movie, students are excited about giving their opinions. Is it because of the atmosphere that has been created in the learning environment or is it because these are students that are basically smart, but have been rejected from the best schools because they don't conform? Should we change the admissions process, identifying smart but creative students that are outside of the mainstream? How would this change our colleges and the students that come out?

Defining a University

Finally, in the conclusion of the movie, the college is brought before the accredidation board. They define a college as having a curriculum, faculty, and facilities. It was interesting that facilities was a requirement as today, many universities don't have facilities (they included having sports facilities, interesting that that was considered important by the movie writers).

So how would you define a university? What makes something a "university"? What curriculum should today's university have? What is the role of the faculty, student and administration in today's university? What should it be?

Friday, April 3, 2009

What I learned from transcribing

As I have written before, I have been busy transcribing taped interviews for my dissertation. Interestingly enough, through the process of transcription, I have made a number of observations about language, how we interpret messages, and even perhaps, how easy it is to miscommunicate by hearing what we think rather than what another's words actually are.

These observations include:

1) There are filler words that we tend to tune out in listening. There were many times when "like", "you know", or "I mean" were in a sentence and I had to slow the tape down in order to identify those words. I knew I was missing something, but without slowing down the tape, I had trouble "hearing" the words as it seemed my mind ignored them. It makes me wonder what other things I don't hear in conversation for the same reason.

2) I just finished transcribing a tape which I found was extremely difficult. The person who was talking placed words such as adverbs (really, very, actually) in odd places. As a result, I found myself lost at times, trying to understand the meaning of the sentence. I remembered how tiring this interview was and thought it was because there was very little interaction between myself and this person (which was an accurate perception after completing the transcription). Now, however, I feel it was the non-traditional use of word placement that was difficult to follow.

3) I found often that I would type those words that seemed to make sense to me rather than really hear the words. As a result, those who spoke the same way I do were the easiest to transcribe. In other words, I often anticipated and filled in words rather than truely listening to the speaker. I wonder how often we do this which then leads to miscommunication (but I thought you said...). The transcription has made me more aware of my listening skills (which others have told me are good, but obviously can be improved).

4) I have always had trouble listening and writing at the same time. I was always a person who took very brief notes if at all. I could usually remember what was said. However, I realized that I missed a lot of information from the interview because I focused on certain concepts. Even stopping to take general notes made me miss some important things being said. I believe that taping lectures might be more effective for some students and note-taking might be more of a hinderance than helpful.

5) People who work together closely do begin to use similiar terms. But in distributed groups, these terms might be understood differently. In exploring this in my interviews, I was surprised how those who worked in immediate proximately had almost the same definiation to the word, but those who worked within the group but a different office differed in the meaning of the words they were asked to define.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A new era

Last week, in between my work, I went on line to check out the virtual home town meeting run by the White House. It worked this way: people submitted questions for the president to answer. These questions were posted and the most popular questions (through voting) where chosen for the president to answer at a "home town" meeting video streamed through the internet. The audience included people that had submitted the questions.

What was interesting was the difference in popular questions from those asked by the press. This was even indicated on the home town meeting site. In fact, I believe that the president did not answer the questions as well as those the press presents him, maybe because he was not as prepared to answer those questions.

For education and the economy, the most frequent question was one I hear on campus more and more as graduation draws near. How will students who have racked up thousands of dollars in debt, going to pay back these loans when there are no job prospects for them? What programs are in place so these student loans don't default?

For education, from all sides, repeal or modification of the No Child Left Behind act seems to be the biggest question. In fact, the president did address this. However, he made on comment that I have to disagree with as a teacher and parent. He said the the teacher is the most important person in each child's education. In fact, I feel that with out a teacher/parent partnership, a child is at a disadvantage as a life long learner. Parents need to support children's learning at home, reinforcing concepts. But this can't be accomplished if they are left out of the loop. Parent's know their children better than any teacher could (except perhaps in Sweden where the student stays with the same teacher throughout primary school). On the other hand, the teacher needs the support of the parent because without it there teaching is no more than throwing felt pieces on to a piece of velcro with hope that something will stick. Teachers need to be respected by students and this can't happen in Parents don't show that respect. Teachers know what is expected of students, spend more time in many cases, than parents with the students, and for the most part really want their students to succeed. NCLB pitted teachers against parents and our educational system as suffered as a result.

I would recommend looking at the White House web site and starting to participate in democracy using the new tools available to us. It is very exciting to be a part of this effort!