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, July 29, 2009

Critical questions we should be asking about team work

The picture above was taken last year at the annual life guard's challenge on Fire Island, NY. Teams of life guards compete in life saving, relay races, and swimming competitions after a day of work. These teams are made up of life guards from 5 communities and one National Park. What is interesting is to see the level of interaction needed, especially in the life saving competition. Fire Island is a barrier Island off the coast of Long Island, commuting distance from New York City. I have been going down since I was born, and my mother has been going down for 80 years, spending her childhood summers down there. I (as I am sure many) take for granted the abilities of these lifeguards. However, a visitor to the beach before it opens in the morning will see the team training which makes these life guard teams function.

Tom Haskins has had a good series of posts on collaborative/group learning. My daughter's summer project was to interview 2 adults about team work. And I have been working on my dissertation looking at collaborative writing in the work place. I thought it might be good to post the questions both my daughter and I have been asking those in the workplace about team work.

My daughter had some guidelines for creating the questions (how to write good discussion questions, what factors about team work she should consider), but she had to develop her own questions (which will be part of her grade). In reviewing them, I thought they are important for teachers to address in developing any group assignment (begin the school year or semester with a discussion of these questions):

  • In what way does your job demand teamwork?
  • What traits do you look for in a person in order for them to work successfully in a team?
  • What are some negative aspects of working in a team as opposed to working independently?
  • What are some positive aspects of working in a group as opposed to working independently?
  • What are some examples of when team work helped you in your job?
  • What are some qualities you look for in a good team leader?
  • While working on a team, how do you decide who has more say on certain matters?
  • How do you make sure work is distributed evenly within a team?
  • How do you handle a team member who is not handling their fair share of the work?
  • How do you see yourself as a team leader; Do you take a passive role or a proactive role? Why is this?

I asked the following questions about group work for my dissertation:

  • Where do you perceive your team or working group fits into the organization?
  • What is your perception of how your team was created? In other words, who chose who would be on your team and why? What do you think was their basis for deciding on team members?
  • When doing a written project as part of a group, what role or roles do you like to do? What role or roles do you usually do? Why?
  • What, if anything, do you like about working in a group?
  • What, if anything, do you dislike in working in a group?
  • Can you describe to me your best experience in working in a group? Why do you consider this a good experience?
  • Can you describe to me your worst experience in working in a group? Why do you consider this a poor experience?
  • Have you ever worked with any of the other group members before?
  • What are your perceptions of the other group members? What do you think they can contribute? What possible problems do you anticipate in working with them? who do you think will have the most influence on what goes into the quarterly report? Who do you think you will work best with and why? Who do you think you will learn the most from?
  • Describe the best possible scenario of how you will be working with your group.
  • Describe the worst possible scenario of how you will be working with your group.
  • What other resources or expertise might you need outside of your group? Where would you get those resources/support?
  • What other projects and project tasks will you be working on as you complete the group task?

Using Tom's guidelines, this would allow students the opportunity to discuss their expectations in working in a group. I also use group generated codes of conduct, based on the class discussions on expectations for group work. In a paper I coauthored a few years ago, we found that these codes made group work more acceptable for students, but did not necessarily improve the quality of the finished product.

Yonkers, V., & Buff, C. (2005). A Matter of Trust: Using Student Designed Codes of Conduct in Face-to-Face and Virtual Group Environments. Journal of Academy of Business and Economics (JABE). Presented at the International Academy of Business and Economics-2005, October 18, 2005, Las Vegas NV.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Getting into the head of a teenager on facebook

When my daughter turned 14, I decided to set up a facebook account for her---with some restrictions. First, I used my email address so I knew what was going on in her account. After a week in which my email was loaded with fzcebook updates, I changed the security settings (as per my son's directions) and only received updates on new friends and friend requests, photos tagged with her name, and allowing only friends to see her facebook.

Over the last month, I have been able to monitor how she uses facebook, who she invites as her friends, and how she communicates with her friends over facebook. Here are some of the insights I have gathered:

1) She uses facebook to share photos. This is a very important social tool as she has been able to show friends from one venue who her friends are and what they are doing from another venue (i.e. camp photos, photos from graduation, hang-out photos, etc...).

2) She uses truncated speech, but it took some time to learn the texting norms. There is always the assumption that the younger generation knows these abbreviations almost by default. However, many of her friends are newbies to facebook and they are even coming up with their own form of shorthand.

3) She told me yesterday that she finds facebook a great tool to organize events (its original purpose). These might include play auditions, parties, public meetings (i.e. all meeting to go bowling, play miniature golf, go to the movies or a play).

4) A surprising aspect of facebook has been seeing the connections that those from one venue have with others in other venues. For example, she found that the exchange student who was staying with her second cousin (we have a large, close extended family) was friends with a member of the cast where she had been working. They went to different schools and lived in different towns. So how did they know each other? It ended up they were friends though their church. There have been similar connections for both my son and daughter through what would appear to be totally unconnected lives. As a result, both my kids have been able to learn more about their friends outside of the venues that they knew their friends.

5) The amount of information the comes up on facebook can be overwhelming and often information is lost if my kids don't check their facebooks daily. When there are 70-100 friends in your network, the means a lot of messages.

6) Friends tend to post in spurts. There are many that don't post for weeks, then suddenly have a number of posts (to walls, comments to friends, quizzes). One of the most common posts are the quizzes. As this is the summer, it seems that this is a way to while away the time.

7) Teenagers are (or at least proport to be) bored throughout the summer. I think the most common status I have read this summer is "I'm sooooooo borrrrrrrrred." The second has been, "my summer reading is soooooooo boringggggggggggggggggg."

Monday, July 20, 2009

4 R's Meme: my favorite posts

Ken Allen tagged me for his 4R's Meme: favourite posts. In it, I was given the following instructions in identifying posts within my blog:

Paul Cornies’ recent post, 4 R's Meme: Favourite Posts, asks those tagged to select 4 of their favourite posts from their own blog, one from each of the categories: Rants, Resources, Reflections and Revelations.

The posts are then listed with a brief summary on each describing:

why it was important,

why it had lasting value or impact,

how you would update it for today.

The intrepid bloggers are to tag all of their selected posts with the label postsofthepast and then select five (or so) other bloggers to tap with this meme.

After a lot of sifting, these are my favorite (and in some cases my readers' favorite) posts. Like Ken's, mine are not all related to education, but are related to my blog description found on the side of my posts.


In the middle of December's ice storm, I posted a rant about customer service and communication. This continues to be a pet peeve that I have difficulty with. Just a few weeks ago I was trying to find out information from my daughter's school and being bumped from place to place until I found someone that would listen to me and give me some information. I found out through an ad in the newspaper that the person I kept leaving messages for was leaving which was why my messages weren't being returned.

My experience in December and again in June, makes this posting relevant, as it is obvious that poor communication frustrates end users and gives organizations (schools, utilities) a bad reputation. I have the feeling that NO-ONE knows what is going on and therefore, there is probably a lot of waste and corruption/nepotism in these organizations. I am not willing to work with them as they are not willing to work with me. This creates a poor working environment, not to mention outright hostility towards the organization which can result in greater levels of oversight and control from outside of the organization (i.e. government, etc...).

The one area I would update today has to do with the importance of creating an avenue of two way communication. Both customer service and organizational communication systems need to make sure the they have feedback mechanisms and ways around the formal communication process so clients/customers/employees/stakeholders are able to communicate their needs and at least have a feeling of control over the communication process. Computers do not allow for this. Only recently, I tried to call our New York State Dept. of Environmental conservation and was in the middle of an infinite loop. After listening to the 5 options on the recorded message, none of which were the reason I was calling, I pressed the option to speak to an operator, which then brought me back to the same 5 options!


This was probably the hardest for me to decide on. However, I think I like the most recent series of posts on assessment: Incorporating assessment into constructivist based design, Examples of multiple assessment: traditional courrse, Examples of assessment Part 2: Blended course, and Examples of assessment Part 3: Online learning

This was difficult because I don't really provide many "resources" per se in my blog. However, this series (and it is important that it be taken as a series, not just one post) gives concrete examples of assessment tools that are updated from the traditional standardized exam. I have seen little written about assessment, even though I feel this is the currency of learning. It is like looking at economic policy without analyzing the financial data that indicates the results of that policy. While everyone could see the numbers of foreclosures increasing, no one was really looking at the reasons why. In fact, it wasn't until these numbers began to impact the economy negatively that anyone really paid attention to the rising number of foreclosures.

I feel this is the same thing that is happening in education. While more and more people are earning degrees online and training is moving to an online or blended format, little has been done in changing the way that learning accurately captured and measured to reflect the complexity of these new learning formats.

As this was a relatively new post, I would not change anything.


My favorite reflection is something that I come back to on a regular basis: a new way of thinking for the internet society. I think it is important that we recognize that there are different ways to think and our society has preferred one over the other in its educational policy over the years. New technology has made the different forms of thinking more obvious, allowing for spacial thinking to now become more accepted and useful.

I would update this post by include some ideas I have been working on in terms of student preferences in "learning style". Using each of the learning theories, I think each person has a natural tendency or preference towards one style over another. Some people process information well, others learn through repeated actions, still others learn through social interaction and group processes, others are creative in building models or other artifacts that help them make sense of the world around them, while others, like myself, seem to make connections where there does not seem to be any, accessing information through learning networks (Cognitivism, behaviorism, socio-cognitivism or situated elarning, constructivism, and connectivism).

I am beginning to believe that it is important to include all learning theories in a teacher's repertoire so as to help all learners to reach their maximum potential.


I think my blog is one of revelations. In fact, my most popular posts are those in which I have revelations about technology, learning, and communication from my classes. I just can't limit it to one post, so instead I will lump together my 3 favorite posts on blog (and the readers' favorites also) in this category: Hanzel and Gretal through the Internet (an analysis of how I navigate the internet), Lessons learned in Wiki use (a summary of findings from my use of the wiki in my classes), and Time, technology, and the younger set (observations on the use of the internet, mobile technology, and social software by my children).

All of these are timely and impact my own understanding of my students. I use these observations in developing my classes and class activities, integrating technology, but also identifying areas my students may need more support in and a deeper understanding of the concepts behind the formats they use.

I am hoping to update the last post (time, technology, and the younger set) soon as my daughter has been using facebook and a cell phone for the last month and a half now, giving me new insights into the use of these technologies.

Tag, You're IT

It is always hard to find who to tag for this, especially if they have already been tagged.

However, I would like to see that the following people come up with as they contribute to my blog and learning:

Paul C
Anita Hamilton
Michael Hanley
Karyn Romeis
Harold Jarche

If you decide to take this challenge, you should include the tag (label) #postsofthepast. You can find others using this as a search term.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The sound of silence

I realized yesterday, when I had to moderate comments for my last post, that it had been more than a week since I last posted. Boy, does time fly! However, between shuffling my children to and from camps, working on my dissertation, preparing to teach a new course (for me), and doing the mountain of paperwork necessary for the kids' schools next year, time got away from me.

I also had begun to review my posts in response to a challenge by Ken Allen. I think it'll take some time to write my response. However, in the meantime, I thought I would address an issue that happens to me in times like this.

I check my regular blogs that I subscribe to on a daily basis. Last January, there were a couple of weeks when Ken did not post. It did not occur to me that he might be on "summer break". All kinds of thoughts went through my head. Is he teaching? Is he doing some new research? Likewise, over the last couple of months, I have notices that Michelle Martin was not posting as much. However, she had a post that explained that due to work obligations, she might not be posting as much.

Finally, I have had trouble submitting comments on Michelle, Michael Hanley and Jenny Luca's blogs (all wordpress blogs). At first, I thought I had somehow insulted these authors. Then I realized and was notified that it was the wordpress software.

All of this leads me to my point about online learning and communication. I tell my first year communication students that no feedback IS feedback. In the US culture, silence is awkward and negative. This is not so in other cultures. Nothing was more obvious than the international project my students worked on with other student groups in Italy, Peru, and France. Each culture interpreted silence differently. Sometimes it was used as a delaying tactic. Sometimes there were forces out of control of the group members (in one case a flood in which all of the computers were destroyed, in another there was only one computer available once a week, and in another, the students were on vacation). Yet other times, student groups did not want to make a mistake, so waited until they had the project completed.

The lesson is that it is important to provide consistent information and communication (i.e. once a week or even once every two weeks if that is all you have time for). When you are unable to do so, it is important to let others know. Finally, rather than looking at silence as a negative void, look at it as a type of feedback which requires more communication to figure out what is going on with the others you are communicating with.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Let's hear it for the worker bees!

My daughter graduated from eighth grade last week. Like her brother, she was the president of the student council, had the lead in the school play, was on the honor roll all 3 years of junior high school, and was active in all of the sports teams from the school. Like her brother, she worked very hard to improve on her weaker skills, both academically and socially. However, unlike her brother, she did not receive one single note of recognition. In fact, many did not know she was president of the student council, although she worked harder than her brother ever did at organizing fund raising events, student volunteering, and community building between the classes. Many in the lower grades knew her by name, coming up to her to hug her whenever they had the chance.

The difference? My son is a "Queen Bee". He often sat by and directed others to do things, but basked in the limelight. He is a person with a gregarious personality. He has a commanding, confident personality that gets people to do things. On the other hand, my daughter is a worker bee. She quietly works hard, behind the scenes, worrying about the details (my son lets others worry about them). She takes up the slack when others fall down, working hard and consistently, going out, coming back, and working/communicating with everyone involved.

Too many leaders, not enough followers

In management training, there is a focus on the "leader": the person that tells people what to do and how to do it. These people are not always in positions of power. For example, the best run offices often have a strong leader in the secretary or receptionist. They are command central. However, we don't look at the impact that a strong follower has on the office: someone who can take direction, read the social environment, and get things done by consistent, hard work.

This translates into teaching our students how to be leaders, but not how to be followers. As schools and businesses use the team approach more and more, it is important that we begin to train workers how to be both leaders and followers, depending on the situation. Interestingly enough, my daughter does very well in group work. She is willing to take on the leadership role when it is needed. However, when working with strong personalities, she also is able to take on the follower role.

How many of us have worked in groups where there is a power struggle between two strong "leader" personalities? This creates mixed messages and work can't get done. Many leaders leave the details to their "worker bees", assuming it will get done. But if there are no worker bees to do the work, the work does not get done.

What makes a good follower

According to Stewart Tubbs (2007), there are three types of followers. Dependent followers are those that will do as ordered without asking questions. This type of follower is important for vital jobs where the execution of a task as ordered is important (such as the military, nuclear power plant, or professional sports team). Often this type of group will have individual group members with vital information or expertise which must be coordinated for the team to work as a whole. Deviating from orders might weaken the team as a whole as each member may not have all the information they need as a team. Not everyone is a good dependent follower. There must be a high level of trust between the leader and follower and the follower must be able to understand and execute orders or be able to ask for clarification to ensure they are on the same page as other group members. "Taking initiative" might put other group members into peril.

The second type of follower is the counterdependent follower. This person is resistant to authority. For the most part, management will look at this type of follower as a negative role. However, the counterdependent follower can make a team stronger by ensuring all alternatives have been investigated. This also helps the team to avoid group think. My daughter often got herself in trouble by being this type of follower as she was very creative. I believe that this was one of the reasons she did not receive any awards as she was perceived as a trouble maker when she would bring up alternatives or questioned the way things were done, proposing alternatives that were fairer or more efficient. This is especially taboo in a Catholic School where there is a strong authoritative leadership style!

The third type of follower is the independent. This is the more traditional "worker bee" who takes the goals and accomplishes them with little direction. Of course, most management would prefer this type of follower as they need to interact with them less often, yet they can trust that the work will get done.

A good follower, like a good leader, needs to be flexible and be able to adapt to the circumstance, environment, and social dynamics of a group. A good follower also needs to know when they should be a follower and when they need to step up to the plate and give direction.

Who recognizes the worker bees?

Unfortunately, few awards and recognition are given to the worker bees. For every famous leader, there is a team of worker bees supporting them (Watch the report Brian Williams did on Obama's staff). We need to start recognizing the followers/worker bees in our country and schools. What about the kid that has consistently been attaining the 50% mark on standardized tests, never going down, but chugging away and learning quietly every year in school? I once read that this country was run by "B" students: those that did not "excel" at anything, but were consistent workers getting things accomplished without any fanfare. Where would the quarterbacks be without the guards (many of which we don't know their names) to protect them? How many of us know the names of the relief pitchers that come in when the starting pitcher begins to fail? How many of us know the names of the middle managers (plant managers, marketing and sales managers, customer service reps) who keep a company going, through break downs, complaints, and other daily problems that come up?

How about schools beginning to recognize the worker bees?

Tubbs, S. (2007) A Systems Approach to Small Group Interaction, 9th Edition. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Example of assessment part 3: Online course

Below is the assessments I used for an online course in Distance education. When I create assessments for distance learning, there is a more systematic approach as assessments act as a means of dialogue between the student and myself and the students with each other. Not only do I use assessments to check student learning with the desired course outcomes, I also use it to check if the course is fulfilling the needs for the student (which might be different than what the institution requires), a means to create a class community, and a way for the student to identify their own needs, strengths and create a learning agenda for after the course.

As a result, I use multiple mediums for assessment and multiple measures including teacher, student reflections, peer reviews, group assessments, discussion, blogs, student projects, annotated bibliographies, and group projects. One thing that is missing from my assessments are standardized tests.

Below is the evaluation criteria I gave students:

A. Students will be expected to participate and contribute to online discussions, both within SLN and on outside assigned discussion boards (Yahoo, Googlegroups). Students will be expected to demonstrate they have done the readings by citing pages and ideas from the readings, but applying those concepts to the discussion activities. Minimal discussion requirements are included in the discussion instructions. This will earn students a “B-”. Students that want a higher mark will be required to post more frequently and include quality postings (a discussion of quality postings is included in the instructions for discussions in Module 1). Maximum 40 Points per module.

B. At the end of each module, students will be given time to reflect on the module’s instruction and their learning as a journal entry. They will be given some guiding questions in the journal section and asked to answer the questions and evaluate their performance in class for that module. Students may also post other issues that they find of importance for that module. Maximum 40 points per module.

C. Students will work on designing a distance learning or outreach module with other teachers. As part of the process, students may be working with other faculty at a distance. A series of preparatory activities and the journal questions will be used to help guide students through the process. Ten percent of the grade will be based on the preparatory activities and 10% of the final grade will be based on the final product. Maximum 200 points

D. Students will write an evaluative annotated bibliography using 5 resources from the resource list posted on the course website and 5 additional resources (peer reviewed article or academic book) which are related to their module and research interests. In addition to the APA style citation, the annotated bibliography should include a short summary of the resource and how it relates to their module topic. Maximum 15 points per citation.

E. Each student will write a reflective paper on the instructional design choices they made for their distance learning module. The paper should include research and references which support their choices or explain their approach. The paper should be 10-14 pages double-spaced, using APA style. Maximum 250 points.

Note the level of choice students are given, yet there are also standards established (i.e. APA style) that are required by the department and profession.

In addition to the above evaluation criteria, I include the following at the beginning of each discussion area (entitled "Instructions for discussion")

Quality discussion responses
A high quality response contains information from the textbook or other valid source, or applies a concept from the text or course in a meaningful way, or facilitates understanding of the course material or topic. This could include posing questions, clarifying others ideas, giving alternative view points or interpretations of the same reading passages, giving real life examples that apply the concepts, and citing additional resources. Responses such as: "I agree.", "Good question" or "Good answer" / Any response that is just an opinion, or is unsubstantiated may add to the discussion but will not be evaluated as part of your discussion grade. Any response that is carelessly typed, poorly thought-out, grammatically incorrect or confusing / any response that is disrespectful of another student or any other person, etc., are not acceptable.

As discussion is of a public nature, please observe proper "netiquette" -- courteous and appropriate forms of communication and interaction over the Internet (in online discussions). This means no personal attacks, obscene language, or intolerant expression. All viewpoints should be respected. Because there are no communication cues, such as a smile, eye contact, nodding, and tone of voice, to help identify when someone is jesting or being sarcastic, you should be careful not to be insulted if a comment is misunderstood or misinterpreted, but rather to clarify its meaning. Likewise, you need to expect that others might misinterpret or be insulted when using subtle humor, so reread what you intend to post to make sure there will be no misinterpretation of your intentions. Emoticons can be used to express your intentions.

This sets a stand criteria on which I am evaluating the discussions. I find it difficult to "grade" each discussion post, but instead grade holistically. I give each student a grade for discussion after each module. In some cases, students may post a few very high quality posts or they may post a number of very thought provoking questions, both of which are evaluated highly. Other times, they may post frequently, but just very superficially in which case they are not evaluated as highly.

In developing discussing questions, I make sure students are required to apply reading concepts and class activities to their own situation and/or class problems. Below is an example of the discussion question I used to evaluate their understanding of distance learning assessment:

Work though each of the activities before you start this discussion! Since you will have more than three weeks for this discussion, I would not expect a high level of participation until April 14-26.

Analyze each of the activities listed in the activities section above using Philip's design dimensions. How would you categorize each of those activities? Which activities/design dimensions were you most comfortable doing as a student? as an instructional designer/teacher? Which were you least comfortable with as a student? as an instructional designer/teacher? Which do you think would be most relevant for your students? Why? What type of support do you think would be necessary for those activities above? Why? Look through at least 3 other students that were not part of your team and discuss the types of problems they had and how you would have supported them as an instructional designer.

The following are instructions for peer review on students projects:

Attach a draft of your project for the class to review and give feedback. Remember when you are giving feedback that the author of the draft 1) is probably still working on it so it is a work in progress, 2) has put a lot of time and thought into the project, 3) might want you to only look at certain aspects of the project, 4) may have a different teaching situation than your own, 5) is posting this for constructive feedback (saying" this looks good" is not enough, explain why it looks good, what you like about it; likewise, "you need to change X" is not enough, explain why you feel there needs to be changes, such as I wasn't able to understand what you wanted the student to do in X), and can't see your face (you might want to use emoticans).

Notice how I try to create boundaries for the type of feedback peers should be giving. This is especially true for online assessment as there are no social cues that will help to temper constructive criticism.

Below are the instructions for the project required by the students. Notice how, again, they are given a great deal of choice, yet within a very structured framework.

Each module, students will be asked to submit a different part of what will be their final project. Each student will be expected to develop a distance learning module. While more than one student may collaborate on the distance learning activity or module, each student will be expected to tailor the module to their own situation (in other words there needs to be some components that are their own original work). The module will follow this format:

Module Name
Author Name and Date Prepared
Target Group: Who will use this module (student, teachers, institution, general public); academic domain (i.e. ESL, science, history);level of education (elementary, secondary, higher ed, adult).
Institution (s): A brief description of the institutional context where it will be used including location (s), mission or goals, relationship between institutions if there are multiple locations, institutional structure (including required approvals and resource allocation).
Technology: List primary and secondary (or back-up) technologies that will be used. Include whether these technologies are currently available or will need to be procured by the students or institutions. Also include technology support that will be available including help desks or websites.
Module Description: Include a summary of the purpose of the module and how it will fit into the curriculum and/or standards and any prerequisite requirements
Module Goals and Objectives
Dates and/or Activity Schedule:
· Identify due dates and/or time frames for activities. Specific dates are not necessary (i.e. you may use Day, Week, or Month 1).
· Identify and briefly describe module activities
Module Content: Include auxiliary information including readings (in PDF or Word files), CD’s, Websites (addresses), Video or Audio clips (web address or on CD’s), scripts, or accompanying manuals (i.e. video conferencing).
In class activities: How will this module be integrated into your course or class? This section should be different for each student, even if you are collaborating with another teacher. It may include discussion questions unique to your group, separate activities, or separate assignments.
Evaluation: Method and basis for evaluating achievement of module goals and objectives. These might include a grading rubric, module evaluation by students, and/or end of module assignment or exam.
Supporting documents: This includes websites, worksheets, or articles for teachers.

Some samples of previous modules are posted in the shared reference area and on the course website.

Another aspect of this project was the submission for feedback by both the instructor and peers and the negotiation of standards based on that feedback.