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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Blogs that I read regularly (top blog list for 2011)

About twice a year, I review my igoogle home page, editing out those blogs that I don't read and adding blogs that I may find myself accessing more often. I decided that others might want to see who I read on a regular basis and perhaps find new sources of information (which I do on a regular basis).

Daily reads

These blogs are ones that I read as soon as they are posted. While the authors may not post on a daily basis, I look for any new posts almost daily. In reviewing these posts, the reason I look for them daily is because I feel a "kindred spirit" with them (as Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables would say).

Karyn Romeis (Karyn's erratic learning journal) : Her blog deals not only with learning issues, but many times she includes cultural observations and family issues that I can connect with (especially as I also have two teens). I like the way she integrates her personal life into the blog and the honesty in which she writes about any issue. I like to think I do the same with my own blog

Andy Coverdale (Phd blog (dot) net) Like me, Andy is working on his Ph.d. In addition, I'm very interested in the visual communication aspect of his research. I connect with many of the academic issues he discusses in his blog including how the university works, the process of research, collaborating with colleagues, and emerging ideas (especially in academia).

Ken Allen (Blogger in middle earth). I have been a fan of Ken's blog for a long time as, like Karyn, there is a high level of integrity in his postings that cover a wide range of topics that he is interested in. Unfortunately, this year he has only posted sporadically ( I am afraid that he is being held hostage in Second Life as when he began to dabble in that program was when he stopped posting regularly). Hopefully, he will pick up the blog posts again this year.

Weekly perusals

The next group of blogs are those that I skim at least once a week (sometimes more often if I have extra time) because of the quality of information in their posts.

Jenny Luca: Lucacept-Intercepting the Web. Although she is half way around the world, it is amazing how relevant her blog is to what happens in k-12 (primary and secondary school) here in the US. Her School's out Friday are must reads for me (although I usually read them on Mondays). Many of her posts deal with integrating technology into primary and secondary education on a practical, practitioner's view point.

Quinn Clark: Learnlet's and Harold Jarche often have related content. Both are educational technology consultants, mostly in professional and/or organizational training. Quinn also has posts dealing with some of the issues for other levels of education. Both of these blogs have theoretical models, research related links, and frameworks for learning that are very educational. I usually skim through and find the most relevant issues to read as just keeping up with their posts would require too much of my time (this is the richness of their posts).

Tom Haskins: growing changing learning creating Tom deals with issues at both the university level and those in the field of business (especially management, marketing, and communication education). Reading his posts helps me stay current with the field in which I am teaching. For a business professor, his posts are remarkably insightful educationally (my experience with business professors is that they are grounded in old fashioned teaching methods, usually in the behaviorist tradition).

Michael Hanley: Elearning Curve As basically a non-techy in the area of computer mediated communication, I find Michael's blog an invaluable source of information. Each post is well thought out, grounded in current research, but also easily accessible to the basic novice. His series study an area in-depth which makes it easy to search past postings when there is a topic I may need help on.

Sahana Chattopadhyay: ID and other reflections. Like Jenny Luca, Sahana's blog (geared towards adult learning) is very relevant, although she lives and works in a totally different culture than my own. There are times when I have gone back to check her location, because the issues she discusses are so relevant to issues in instructional design I face here. Her posts always have good supporting resources. She does more than regurgitates interesting resources, she puts theories into practice with good analyses and examples.

Old Stand-bys

There are some sites that I check in on when I have the time as I know the posts will be interesting (as well as the conversation). I don't have as much time to participate in these blogs as I used to as I work on my dissertation, but I access these blogs, especially if there is a specific area I want to investigate.

Tony Karrer: eLearning Technology A popular elearning blog which allows readers to get a pulse of trends in elearning and organizational training.

Jane Hart: Jane's E-Learning Pick of the day. Still the best site to look for new technolgy.

Nancy White: Nancy White's Full Circle Blog. For anyone doing research on collaboration or communities of practice, this is an invaluable resource. I just wish she would post more frequently than she did this year.

Christine Martell: Exploring with Images Christine repositioned her business and her blog last year. She now includes many of her own original artwork. I love to just sign on and look through her images as it always makes me smile. Her art has such a soothing, happy spirit to it.

New Blogs for me this year

Mark Berthelemy: Learning Conversations Although I had visited his blog sporadically over the past few years, this year I finally added Mark's blog onto my igoogle page. He has a number of interesting insights, especially into learning and learning with technology.

cv harquail: Authentic Organizations This is a hard one to describe. This blog aligns with my dissertation research and addresses organizational behavior, but from a critical literacy perspective. It includes posts on organizational behavior, culture, and a feminist perspective. At the very least, it is always interesting in its perspective; at its best it is very enlightening.

So what are you reading?

I'm always looking for new blogs. What blogs would you recommend?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Prezi, a new way of thinking about presentations

Yesterday I gave my first presentation using Prezi. I had heard about the software and had even registered for the educational version, but then had promptly forgotten about it. Then one of my students used it in a class assignment. So giving a presentation on Presentations to my daughter's class, I decided to try it out. As this is the first presentation I've given using Prezi, it is still in the basic mode. Also, I'm not sure what the difference is between the educational version and the commercial version. So here is my review of Prezi's EDUCATIONAL version (this is free to educators and students...other users will need to pay for it).


What I particularly like about using Prezi in a presentation is that I don't have to present linearly. For example, yesterday, I found that many of the students were much further along in some aspects of presentation skills and needed a lot of help in other aspects. Also, as this was a classroom presentation, certain questions and issues came up "out of sequence." Students would ask questions for which I had planned to cover later in the workshop. However, because of the none linear nature of Prezi, I was able to go to that part of the prepared presentation that addressed the issue or question. This made my presentation much more flexible.

Likewise, Prezi was very easy to use, especially as they had a basic interactive video pop up each time you use Prezi (you can override this) which helped instruct on how to use Prezi. Their supporting videos and resources were really excellent. Some of the most useful features included an automatic YouTube link which makes it easy to embed YouTube clips right into the video...no having to go outside of the presentation like PowerPoint requires.


There are some features that I think Prezi can work on. The first would be the ability to embed any video link as easily as You Tube is. In order to embed other sites, you must first cut and paste the URL address into the Edit mode of Prezi, then leave the site, click on the link, then go back to edit mode and click on the site again. This is very cumbersome. You must also remember what the URL address goes to whereas the YouTube clip comes up on the Prezi presentation.

I also found the show part of the presentation a bit difficult to work with. I feel this would probably be easy to learn, and it would be a good alternative to self directed training as a click will focus on those areas of the presentation that you want someone to see in sequence. However, it is also possible for someone to take control of their own learning and override the "show" function.

Another problem was that the program was very easy to use with a mouse. But the computer I used for the presentation used a finger pad. Now, I'm the first to admit that I don't like finger pads and am not the best in using them. However, it was next to impossible to use Prezi with the finger pad. I ended up borrowing a mouse.

One final minor problem was that whenever I clicked a certain way on the presentation (I'm not sure what that was though), the presentation would rotate. Fortunately, there was a rotate icon which I used to straighten out the format. But this was very irritating.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Global voices

I am always interested in looking at the perspective of those outside of the US. I happened upon a clip of Ethan Zuckerman's presentation at TED, a series of speeches of important ideas. I rarely embed speeches because it slows down my readers downloading time. However, this was a really fascinating speech on the role of social media, breaking down the cultural uses.

In the presentation, he confirms some of the principles I have written about earlier in terms of culture and technology, namely that it is not the tools used, but how they are used. He uses graphics that demonstrate the depth of internet use; not just accessibility, but also HOW technology is being used and for what topics. As he says, "many places can GET media, it is just an enormous amount of work to do so." He advocates rewiring the system we have, going outside of the "flocks" (or what I would call discourse communities) to find new ideas and connections.

Zuckerman is one of the cofounders of Global Voices. This site creates these new pathways by finding media and blogs from around the world, translating them, and making them available for anyone interested in knowing what others in other parts of the world are discussing. Each area has translators and "curators" who who choose articles, blogs, and internet media that represent the issues of a certain region. The translators are listed on the blog, so anyone can see what their background (and bias) might be. This is going to be one of my new favorite sites, I think, as I will be able to get a perspective outside of the US on global issues.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Three models for a new higher ed economic model (part 2)

This has been some time in coming. I wanted to think through some of the options based on my earlier post on this issue.

In reviewing all the factors, I wanted to develop an economic or funding model that could be implemented sooner, rather than later. However, I realized that I have seen at least 3 models in use that have been effective over the last decade. So why reinvent the wheel? Two of the models are based on a large component of instruction being distance learning based, the third is more traditional.

Pure distance learning and assessment based higher education

The first model is based on a local university that was developed out of the New York state civil service training department. Often civil service workers, who did not have higher ed degrees, received training that was equivalent to a university course. Recognizing that those that received this training should be able to receive college credit, a system of testing and granting college credit for the training was established.

Approximately 10 years ago, a Swiss university bought out this service, adding there own model on to the established service. Currently, the university identifies online courses, creates its own courses, and creates a standard curriculum, all of which are based on a examination process. Students actually pay for exams rather than the courses themselves. This means that a student may not take any course, as long as they can demonstrate knowledge through the exams. Students that opt to take instruction through the university will pay for those courses. Students can also submit courses, training, and instruction to receive credit. However, they will need to pass the exam for the criteria laid out for their degree.

This allows a standard learning outcome to be used, with several options by the student (depending on their circumstances including access to courses, resources, location, learning needs) to fulfill the curriculum requirements. This also means that there is a minimal instructional staff, with most of the staff working on assessment and curriculum development. There are some area specialists who help in the curriculum development, but they are only used on an as needed basis. An instructor does not have to be a Ph.d. in the area in which they are teaching, but rather need to be effective instructors. This is because the subject matter is already developed by specialists in the form of assessment tools and curriculum. This also always the university to be more flexible based on the students' learning needs and goals.

One disadvantage to this model is that most of the students are learning in isolation. This also requires a great deal of motivation on the part of the learner to arrange for those courses/learning that will best help them pass the assessments. In addition, a great deal of resources go into the monitoring and revision of curriculum and assessment tools.

Individualized learning plans

Another local university in which I have worked uses an individual learning plan. The first course a student takes is a three credit course in which students sit down with a "mentor" and outline their learning objectives. They then plan how they will achieve these objectives academically. There are usually three options: test out, small group tutorials (face to face at learning centers), or online courses. A fourth option is an independent study, but that is used rarely. Unlike the model above, there are set courses which students must complete. Only a certain percentage of those courses can be assessments (either CLEF or assessment of real life experience).

Unlike a traditional university, there are no "departments". Rather there are designated "Area Specialists" who are in charge of a group of faculty (tenured and part-time). These specialists often are part of programs such as labor relations, healthcare, nursing, teaching, and humanities. In other words, they are more profession oriented and broader than a traditional university department. Because this is a state university, there are general education core courses that students must have to be granted a degree. However, if enough students are interested in a specific area, the mentors can ask the area specialists to develop a tutorial in that topic.

In this model, new specialties can be developed within an "area" that a traditional department might have difficulty with. In addition, students can flow in and out of the university as needed (an open university model). Most of the students work full time. One disadvantage of this model, like the one above, is that there is not a single "campus". Unlike the model above, however, students can develop a sense of "college" at their college centers, having tutorials with other students, and establishing a close relationship with their mentors.

Another disadvantage of this model is that it is very labor intensive. For the model to work, the mentors need to be knowledgeable about course options, adult learning, and have constant contact with their mentees. In fact, one reason I don't teach there anymore is that the pay scale was ridiculously low, with faculty being paid by the size of their student load (i.e. a class of 5 had a pay scale much lower than a class of 25. Someone that taught 5 classes to 5 students would make the same as person who taught 25 students in one class, even thought there was more time commitment for the 5 classes).

Traditional model

The fact is that many who go to school full time do so as much for the social aspects of being part of a campus as for the academics. In order to change the traditional model of education, there would have to be a cultural change, which could be difficult at universities that have been steeped in their culture for many years.

My current university used a very successful model to change this culture and cross disciplines and departments in order to integrate technology into its instruction. Basically, it was structured by creating a pool of funding to hire faculty who were adept in instructional technology. Each department was required to either train a current faculty member, identify a current faculty member with a technology specialty, or hire a new faculty member who had expertise in educational technology. Once this core group of faculty were established, they received tenure within the technology group (not their department, per se). This meant that if there was a need for one of these faculty in a certain department, they might be reassigned to that department or courses within that department. For example, one of the faculty members in the dept of communication also had expertise in information technology. As there were two within the communication department who were part of the technology group, one of them went over to information technology when one of the designated faculty members left the university. This same person also taught some courses in the school of business when the designated technology person in business took his sabbatical.

Imagine, for example, if this same model were used for Communication Skills, Creativity, Critical thinking, scientific inquiry, or writing (often the areas of core courses). This would allow a university to have tenure track faculty who could teach interdisciplinary courses without fear of cannibalizing a department. Smaller departments could go to the "centers" to find faculty that could teach courses in their department. General Education courses could be offered through the "centers" so that there would be a guarantee of having a pool of faculty to draw on for these courses, which may not be money producers, but are vital to the degrees. However, outside of the "centers", faculty expertise (specialties) could be offered within the departments. In addition, new areas of study, which might not fall neatly into a department, could be developed within the centers.

Unfortunately, with a new administration, the traditional culture and departmental structures proved to have to strong an influence and we have now moved back to the traditional departmental structures where departments fight for resources and/or are pitted against each other to keep "tenure track lines" for their department. For any of these models to work, faculty, administrators, students, and stakeholders (including employees and alumni) need to be open to a new way of funding higher education. Using a "business" model will never work as "knowledge" is becoming less and less a commodity that is possessed and more and more a necessity that everyone is working with.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Classifying feedback

My laptop battery is not working, so lately I have been hand writing all of my perceptions as I analyze my data. However, my work yesterday resulted in an insight I wanted to share. This is still a work in progress, so I am open to any research that someone might be able to point my way.

In describing the collaborative process, many of the participants (members of the distributed group) used the word "feedback" often. However, I soon began to see that feedback could be a source of tension, a helpful tool, or something that was ignored. Sometimes it was solicited, other times it was given without any prodding.

Now, most of the previous literature on feedback has divided it into positive or negative, summative or formative, or oral, written, or non-verbal. However, none of these classification systems really fit the types of feedback I am seeing in the collaborative writing process.

Defining feedback

To understand these classifications, it is important that I define the term "feedback". I am using a communicative definition. In the communicative act, there is sender and a receiver. The Sender initiates the communicative act and the receiver decodes the message as they receive it. However, the communicative act does not end there. The receiver gives feedback based on his or her interpretation (decoding) or the message. That feedback could be as simple as silence (or withdrawal from the conversation) or much more complex.

Based on this definition, I see feedback as the communication between the "giver" of feedback and the "receiver" of the feedback. The feedback could be verbal or non-verbal, formally requested or the natural result of the communication process.

Four types of feedback

I have (so far) identified 4 different types of feedback within a distributed workplace group or team. The type of feedback depended on the amount of ownership or the level of agency the feedback giver perceived. It also was effected by whether the feedback was formally solicited (as part of the work process) or was given in response to an informal communication act (written or oral).

1) Creative feedback. This makes the feedback giver a co-creator. In other words, there is a high level of perceived ownership and agency from the feedback giver.

2) Editorial. This is usually the result of a formal feedback mechanism within the work process or a heuristic created at the group, organizational, or professional levels. The feedback giver often has more distance between his or herself and the feedback receiver, and has less ownership of the task/process or product. As a result, feedback might be accepted or not by the feedback receiver without any influence between the feedback giver and feedback receiver.

3) Confirmative. There usually is a power distance between feedback giver and receiver when confirmative feedback is given (for example, a team leader and a team member). The feedback giver, as a result, will have a greater sense of agency, and by giving approval or confirmative feedback, he or she takes partial ownership (whether the feedback receiver wants to give it or not).

4) Political. While the feedback giver might have thought that they had agency, the feedback receiver holds all the cards and could decide to take ownership, give it to the feedback receiver (or force it on to the receiver) or become co-creator. Political feedback is often used to document the communication process, identify responsibility for work, tasks, or products, and to make the work transparent to those outside of the process/task.

These different types of feedback can be used to unify a group and make the work processes more efficient. Using the correct type of feedback can also improve the final product, expedite the group process, and create a sense of trust within a group (especially important with a distributed group). However, in my study, when there was a difference in the perception of the type of feedback being solicited, tension was created between the giver and receiver, which could result in resentment (especially if the giver or receiver did not recognize the difference in the feedback being solicited).

For example, two of the study participants had the following discussion during the group interview:

Ronda: Well, exactly that. And I think it’s that…there’s two things that are sort of complating that…that problem. This notion that have sort of too many cooks looking at your project. And then that there’s no level of authority assigned to, um, whatever you put up there. Like when s….when I put something up for review and people send me editorial comments, I personally, because I’m arrogant and snotty about this stuff [everyone laughs], don’t feel like because he said this or he said that or he said that or he said that, that I have to change it. You know. That’s not their job, in my opinion is not to tell me how to change it. Because this is my expertise. I’m putting it up there for a different kind of review. And…I don’t always feel obligated to take that feedback. But somebody else might put something up and say, “Well, you know, what do you think of this design?” And then there’ll be c…comments from Helen and Robert and Phillip and… Make one change. Then the next person comes and says, “Do this.” Then they’ve changed it back. Or change it this way. And it’s…just turns into this huge morass of inexpert opinion shaping products that shouldn’t be doing that. So there is this level of disrespect for people’s expertise, which you subject yourself to by putting stuff on basecamp. On the other hand.
Phillip: You know, Ronda, it’s interesting that you say that, cause sometimes the process is, eww, should I comment on it or is that going to [anger] her?
[Everyone laughs}
Ronda: Yeah, and I don’t ever feel like that!
Phillip: I don’t know.

And later:

Phillip: When you take my sentences and change them, I go, “Wow, that’s…that’s a better sentence.”
Ronda: And that’s…that’s…that’s my j… That’s not personal. It’s not, you’re not a good writer…
Phillip: Right.
Ronda: It’s not any of that. It’s my skill.

In the first case, Ronda is asking for editorial or confirmative feedback, but she gets angry when she gets creative or political feedback. On the other hand, Phillip is reluctant to give creative or confirmative feedback because he does not feel that it is his place in the group to do so. As a result, he tends not to give feedback very often, referring to others to give feedback even when he has the expertise.

Note: See the post by Karyn Romeis on workplace collaboration. This framework for feedback might explain the problem she describes in her post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We just want a chance to try and to be heard

Next week I'll post about my new economic model for Higher Ed. That post is going to require some deep thinking, which can't be accomplished this week as it is Thanksgiving on Thursday. As I posted last year, Thanksgiving is a very important holiday in the US. This week we have relatives visiting from across the country (Seattle), down south (Georgia), and nieces and nephews coming home from college.

I have also been very busy with work, volunteering with my daughter's school, and just life in general as the mother of two teens, one of which is in the middle of his search for universities to attend next year.

Over the last week, I had a few insights into my own kids, education, and young adults in general.

1) My daughter tried out for two plays this past month. She went in with a positive outlook, confident in her abilities (she has a spectacular voice if I do say so myself), willing to take any part. Her resume is very good and she is willing to take any part, including chorus, when required.

However, it has been very difficult for her to go through the two auditions she had. In both cases, it was obvious that most of the parts were already pre-cast. As she said, she would have felt better had she known, "we only are casting part X and part Y, looking for this certain look." Instead, she went through one casting call, waited for 3 weeks during which they announced 3 additional casting calls. Then they changed the play and made everyone try out again. It became very obvious during the next audition that the play had already been cast as some people were told by the director what to sing. She also was given a 30 second audition and then told nothing. Others waiting for the audition, however, already knew when call backs would be, and the implication was that they had a time BEFORE the audition as to when they should return.

The second audition she had was not to obviously fixed. However, before going to the audition, she was told who would be getting the leads. It is demoralizing for those trying out to know that they have no chance, though. One girl, in particular, my daughter can relate to. Her older sister is a very talented singer (she is the other lead). My daughter, like this girl, has always felt that she has lived in the shadow of her sibling.

This leads me to the conclusion that most students just want a chance to show their abilities in a fair and equitable process. This is especially true when they might not have been heard within our system of education. A student that does not test well wants to be able to show that they KNOW things that don't fit into the process. Students feel powerless when they walk into a class with certain expectations because of siblings or records that as often as not are based on politics or a system in which those who know how to work the system come out on top. I can hear students' silent screams when they come into my class with an attitude that says, "I don't care if I do well or not. I'm not going to try so you can prove I can't." This is why I try to permit them to have as much choice as possible to prove to me (and themselves) that they can.

2) Related to this was work that I did with my daughter's school. My daughter took on an unbelievable task in putting together a musical review, the first for her "Science/Math/Technology" based school (I put this in quotes because the fact is, the majority of the students are incredibly creative and much more artistic, rather than STEM mentality). She was allowed to do so as long as she accepted all of the students who auditioned. She took up the challenge, put together a series of broadway songs, worked with those students who had never preformed before, put together and taught group numbers/harmonies, and taught acting skills she had learned over the past two years doing community theatre. I did mostly supervisory tasks, although I did identify those areas in which her colleagues might have not understood her.

I was very impressed with how she handled those in the review. She made each of them feel as if they were vitally important to the show. She also knew when to get on their case when they did not focus in rehearsal, or they would give up or not practice. At one point, when she had to come to rehearsal late, they invoked her name, afraid that she would be angry if they didn't buckle down and do what she had directed them to do. I was told by a theatre professional who attended the review, that she had done a wonderful job in putting the show together, highlighting the students strengths, ensuring that the weaker performers did not follow very strong performers.

I did work with three of the performers that had little to no experience. One of my strengths, I have found, is to create confidence in my students to try new things, and to continue on when they perceive they have failed (or to reset their standards).

Students often just want a chance to try things and to feel as good in trying and failing as when they try and do a spectacular job. So when my son and two of his classmates, their last year in high school, played for the football team for the first time in their life, they felt great about it, even though they did not get a lot of play time. Why? Because their coach made them feel that he respected them just for trying something new. At the end of the season, he presented each one of them at a football banquet with over a hundred players and their families, pointing out how each had worked hard to learn the new skill and contributed to the team. It was amazing to see the pride that each had, even though most played only about 1-2 minutes each game (out of a possible hour).

My son and his classmate just asked if they could sit in on an advanced French class in December. Their college classes don't start again until January and both are interested in French (they completed their requirements in Spanish). Their teacher was more than happy to have them come to the class, although he warned them that they probably would not understand very much as neither has studied French. My daughter is taking Art in her free time as an independent study. In both cases, the teachers could have denied them, but they encouraged them to try something new.

Good teachers want their students to try and are proud of their journey and development more than the final accomplishment (test grade). Unfortunately, in the current educational climate in the US, this is not recognized. Low test scores equates to ineffective teaching. This loses the lifelong learning skills often developed by these teachers.

3. Young adults are works in progress until their early 20's. My son, a fairly intelligent, responsible teenager, still has his moments of total stupidity. Yesterday, while horsing around, he ended up with a face full of glass when one of his friends (also usually responsible) put his hand through a window (he thought is was plexy glass). When his mother, the school nurse, the dean of academics, and I asked the same question, "what were you thinking?", their answers were the same, "we didn't know it was glass."

I think we expect too much of young adults: that they know what they are doing is bullying, inappropriate, dangerous, etc..., that they know what they want to do with the rest of their life, that they are not going to make mistakes. Of course, they also like to exert their independence. What is important is that we allow them to make mistakes that won't impact their lives, that we allow them to crawl out of the messes they have made, that we are there, not to "save" them or take on their problems, but to support them as they work through the problems that everyone must face as part of life, and that we teach them the skills to deal with life that sometimes might be overwhelming for them.

I see many of my students who have no one to say, " you know, you're doing a good job coping, life sucks sometimes, but you have to keep going, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, keep a positive out look." I also remind my students of those that have it worse than themselves (although sometimes it is hard when I hear some of their stories). One way to help students help is to have them help others.

4. Finally, I think we in the US have to recognize that ultimately, most teachers get into teaching because they really care about their students. While we may not always agree with their styles and not all teachers' styles will be effective with all students, teachers DO NOT get into education because they will have their summers off (the fact is, most states require that teachers have additional training during their "time off."). They truly believe they can teach. Most education programs weed out those that don't like or are unable to connect to students. I always have to catch myself when my daughter or son has a problem with a teacher. They may not be "good teachers" as I would define them, but for the most part, they do care about the students.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A new economic model for Higher Education: Part 1 history

More and more people have recently been writing about a new economic model for higher education (Andy Coverdale, Clark Quinn, and Tom Haskins, just to name a few). However, as we grapple around the world with how higher education should be structured and funded, we aren't willing to reexamine the underlying beliefs upon which the funding and academic structures were created. Now is the time to begin to look at the basis of the traditional structures and how they have changed, and the current needs in a new structure that will fit Higher Education's needs.

The History of Higher Education in the West

Higher education came out of a belief that only those within power should have access to knowledge. The knowledge included philosophy, history, stories (literature), music, etc... In other words, the humanities. This made sense as only those who were rich and powerful would have the time to study subjects that did not necessarily contribute to every day economics of that time: agriculture, warfare, trade skills. Often, those that were educated were the spare sons. This allowed powerful families to control what knowledge was passed down and how that knowledge would be perpetuated.

The advent of the printing press allowed for knowledge to be transferred from location to location in greater amounts. Still, higher education was only for those who were "scholars". The economic reasons for this was that the serf system allowed powerful families to maintain their power, and knowledge was perceived as a commodity to be controlled by those families who had power, land (thus resources), and a means to control their serfs.

Adam Smith developed the principles of Capitalism as the economy, in the form of the industrial revolution and the age of mercantilism, changed the need for knowledge within the economy. No longer was a person's wealth tied to family (birth), but also know how, skills, and the ability to understand the complex systems outside of the local environs. People were "human capital" and became mobile, something that was not possible under a serfdom. More importantly, a person could go to a university, if they were clever enough, and "gain" the knowledge that was originally set aside for children of the wealthy and powerful landowners.

There was also a shift towards science and the creation (think industrial revolution) of products, tools, and technology as people moved away from their sources of substance (food, water). Soon, in places like the US, there was the recognition that knowledge was a commodity that, when invested, could lead to power, riches, and opportunities. In other words, the university was one means to "acquire" the knowledge that could be used to participate in the economy. However, up until the end of the 20th century, higher education was still perceived as something that could be withheld or distributed, thus allowing some to "possess" the knowledge and then use that to be successful in the economy.

During this period of time, knowledge was also perceived as being individual. An individual could pass knowledge on to other individuals. If an individual did not do well in a class, it was because that individual, even though they had access to knowledge, was not able to use it because he or she was lacking in some way (not smart enough, not motivated enough, looking for the wrong type of knowledge that would be useful for that individual). The university was a way to train future leaders in the economy, and as a result, universities decided on who would have the most potential, which subjects to study, and what would be the most useful for the economy. This is one reason why so many universities eventually became government run. The university was a means to implement public policy.

However, also during this time period, the economy changed to one in which corporations, not individuals became the structure within which the economic decisions were being made. While there has been a lot written and criticized about corporations, they have had an impact on how business is done and who controls resources. Adam Smith's theories included an explanation of motivations based on the serfdom model in which the individual landowner would have a self interest in making sure that those within his or her community were taken care of. However, as communities became mobile, and companies no longer had individuals, but rather a collective making decisions, his theories no longer are true.

New Basis for Economic Model for Higher Education

Much work has been done in the last two decades on the knowledge economy. In addition, during the 20th century, there was a realization that the economic principles of the past were not fitting the economic realities on the present. With this in mind, any new economic model for higher education will have to take the following premises in mind:

1) Knowledge is no longer just in individual "thing" possessed internally. Knowledge can be collective (within an organization for example), be located externally (via the web for example), and time dated (it can be irrelevant the moment it is created).

2) Humans are no longer "capital" that can be or are expected to be moved around to take advantage of opportunities. When they do move, often it is based on many factors, most of which may not be quantifiable. Humans don't always make "rational" decisions. And societies in the 21st century have (for the most part) recognized that individuals have the right to make decisions about their education, work, where they live, and what they do with their free time.

3) Every individual has the right to education and literacy. It no longer (for the most part) should be limited to just those born into power and privilege.

4) Knowledge and services are major contributors to the economy. The basis of many of our jobs is the ability to learn new skills and apply both individual and collective knowledge to a situation.

As a result, it is clear to me that the current capitalistic model used currently to decide what we should be doing with higher education is no longer relevant. My next post, I will try to present some of my ideas on what a new economic model should include.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Culture and Technology

This post is as much a work in progress to help me understand some of what I am seeing in my dissertation. So I apologize for the lack of specific references at this point. I am hoping to find some to support some of the ideas I have uncovered.

Defining Culture and Technology

There has been a lot written over the last 2 decades on the impact of culture on technology and the impact of technology on culture. Betty Collis and Catherine McLoughlin have written extensively on this issue. Rather than reiterate what they have written, I would like to look at a framework for further research in culture and technology.

To begin with, the interaction of culture and technology often looks at the influence of one on the other. However, I feel that culture is the unseen basis of technology. Technology can be a process, a tool, and/or the use of a tool or process. As a result, knowledge is at the basis of what technology is. Epistemology (the belief of what knowledge is) is grounded in our cultures. This becomes evident when someone changes cultures or is introduced to a culture other than the one in which they grew up.

For example, when children first go to school, suddenly they are aware that there are differences between what the school believes is knowledge, what their classmates believe is knowledge, and what their families believe is knowledge (thus, I was told I "didn't know how to write my name" when I began school because it was not my given name I had learned--Virginia--but rather my nickname--Gin).

So our understanding of what a technology is and how it can be used may change if there is a cultural challenge to our understanding of that technology. At that point, we can either adapt the technology, change the technology we are using, or require that others use our technology.

Considerations for culture and technology research

In my current research, I have seen how organizational, departmental, personal, or professional cultures influence the understanding, use, and acceptance of technology for a given situation. In this section I will identify some of the factors that influence the impact of culture on and by technology.

1) Affordances: An affordance is the use of a technology for a given situation. It is the ability for a process, tool, or use of the process or tool to allow us to accomplish something. Many times, what we look for in an affordance for a specific situation is based on how that technology has been used in the past and what we understand its capabilities are. If the technology does not allow us to accomplish what we used it for, then we either did not use it correctly or the technology does not work. Rarely to we look at whether our expectations in the use of the technology differed from others expectations.

For example, my sister currently lives in the Midwest and has embraced a midwestern, protestant, rural culture. However, her New York, small town, Catholic culture in which she was raised comes out when she uses technology. Unlike her husband (who was raised in the culture where she lives), she wants to be able to individualize the technology she uses and expects to work with ITS personnel to help her to modify the technology or be given new tools when she finds the technology lacking. A case in point was her use of a LMS that she did not feel met the needs for her class. Her colleagues just adapted what they were given to their own teaching, while my sister demanded that the ITS look for modifications in order for her to accomplish the learning and communication goals she had set up for her class. She expected better affordances to monitor student progress, for students to be able to interact with content, and for better teacher student communication outside of the class.

2) Design: The spacial relationship with processes, tools, and the uses of those tools and processes differ depending on the cultural epistemology and context. In high context cultures, I feel there will be less variety in the understanding and expectations for a given technology (within that culture) whereas in a low context culture, there will be more variety. In addition, many western cultures will use a linear relationship within the technology while eastern cultures may be more apt to use a spatial relationship with the technology. There will also be differences in the relationship in the human/technology interaction and the human/technology/human interaction. This makes sense given the differences between cultures in the way they organize information, communicate ideas, and validate knowledge.

3)Visual and language differences How a tool looks, how a process is communicated, the terms and symbols that are integrated into technology will differ between cultures because these are all at the heart of culture differences. For example, many Asian languages read from right to left and their writing is based on symbols for ideas rather than phonetic symbols. Many cultures value oral traditions over written, written over visual, or equally value oral, visual, and written traditions. As a result, different technologies might be valued differently within one culture than another culture.

Future research

I feel it is important that we begin to look at the culture that is embedded in technology in order to understand how people decide what technologies to use and how to use them. This would also help us to identify what factors we need to consider when choosing appropriate technology for use with or in other cultures and the impact that that technology would have on its implementation and on the use by the culture.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A new model for Higher Education

I recently read two good blog posts about higher education: one by Clark Quinn and the other by Andy Cloverdale. In both posts they point out the need for change in the way that education is provided at the University and the way instructors/professors are trained to teach in the University.

This and the extreme budget cuts to our university in the face of rising enrollments got me thinking about the call for "reform" in how our universities are run in the US today.

Current system in the US

To understand what we are up against in the US, it is important to understand the model of education as it currently stands in the US. Our current system is based on a belief that the ultimate goal of education is to become an expert (which was redefined as "specialist" in the 1980's) in a specific field of study. In other words, the Ph.d. holds all knowledge about a content area, thus making them an "expert".

After a broad basic education at high school (secondary school), a person is expected to learn the basic requirements of functioning in our society (through understanding our culture through the study of history, literature, and social studies, to basic written communication skills through the study of language arts, to basic calculation skills through the study of math, to the understanding of our environment, health. and work processes through the study of science). This is the ideal.

What used to be called Junior College but is now called Community College has developed into two tracks: the first is vocational and advanced technical training to meet the needs of an educated workforce (but not management), especially those in manufacturing and the service industry, whereas the second is the preparation for those underprepared or not able to afford a university or college education. In the second case, students are expected to take a broad range of courses across disciplines. In the first case, students are expected to become proficient in a given skill or discipline. However, in our current model of community college education, those that finish community college (usually with an associate's degree) do not hold expertise even if they have specialized in an area. Rather, they are able to work with the experts and/or gain expertise as they work within the discipline.

The current model for undergraduate education is 2 years of general education courses (also known as gen ed or core courses) from categories of disciplines (i.e. quantitative studies, language and arts, culture, social sciences, man and environment, etc...). Then a student will specialize or "major" or "minor" in a field. The traditional majors and minors normally fall into humanities, social sciences, applied sciences, natural sciences, liberal arts, or professional schools (pre-law, pre-med, education, accounting, etc...). Each major normally has a dedicated faculty consisting of tenured and/or full-time professors and adjunct, part-time, or student instructors. In the last two decades, "interdisciplinary" majors consist of faculty drawn from different majors. Tuition flows into the traditional majors to sustain faculty positions and support staff. The interdisciplinary major ends up being "gravy" (extra money) as there is no support staff or dedicated instructors for these majors.

One problem with the interdisciplinary majors (which I suffered at both the undergraduate and graduate level since both of my degrees were interdisciplinary) is that many of the required courses for these interdisciplinary majors are cut during budget crisis because they are perceived as "electives" within the traditional majors. The result is that required courses for interdisciplinary majors are cut and students in these majors are unable to complete their course work in a timely manor. This has just happened with a course I have taught in our major. It now is a part of Public Policy, an interdisciplinary major. Normally the course is offered either every 2 or 3 semesters, depending on the faculty interest. But now that it is part of another major, the demand for the course has increased. It is possible that I will need to teach it more often or if I leave, it won't be offered at all (we are short staffed within the Communication Dept. for our department's required courses as it is).

Once students leave with a Bachelor's degree, at the end of their college experience, they are expected to have a certain cache of skills and abilities that will make them employable. As a result, more and more colleges are basing their curriculum on employer needs (i.e. computer program specific, accounting law specific, ability to be licensed or certified in a field). The college graduate, in other words, will bring away from the college, the content they will need in the work place.

At the Master and Ph.d. level, students are expected to drill down to one area of expertise, that area being specific to the field of study they are pursuing. Graduate studies are based on the expertise of the faculty in a program/ field of study. In our department (Communication), for example our programs focus on Healthcare communication, political communication, and interpersonal communication. Other schools of communication might focus on mass communication, written communication, speech communication and disorders, intercultural communication, communication strategy, organizational communication, communication technology, etc... Many graduate schools try to build up a reputation in a marketable area. They will hire new faculty to reflect trends in specialties and encourage tenured faculty to change their expertise through grant writing support and research funding. A department that does not bring in funding (either through research, grants, or student tuition) usually will have programs or entire departments cut from the university.

Impact of this model on the Current Higher Ed System

This business model of Higher Education does not connect with the educational needs of the 21st century. As our economy and society moves into the knowledge economy, CONTENT is not as important as understanding how to find, interpret, analyze, and update content/expertise. Companies may be looking for specific content from their graduates, but what they need are employees that have critical thinking and reading, communication, analytic, information literacy, technology literacy, creativity, and collaboration skills. These skills might manifest themselves in different ways within different disciplines, but for the most part they can be found in all fields. As a result, it is important that those at the upper end of higher education (Master, Ph.d.), be prepared to cross the traditional disciplines to understand how each functions within a certain field of study.

Likewise, the internet has made content available on a mass basis, whereas it was limited to the university, publishing houses, depositories (such as libraries), and management before social networking. Access to information is not as important as knowing how to find that information and what to do with it when it is found. "Expertise" can be found outside of those trained and educated in the discipline, thus making the expert professor obsolete. The result is a need for professors that can teach, mentor, and develop life-long learning skills, something that was limited to graduate students in the past.

With the focus on new skills over content and access to expertise and content outside of the university, the current system of testing for content and expertise is lacking. There needs to be a deeper level of assessment that objective tests don't access.

Finally, the current process of appropriating funding based on a major or program will limit education to those areas dictated by market needs and tradition. New ideas will not be funded nor will more imaginative, ground breaking approaches to learning and application of student learning. As education becomes more costly, students and stakeholders expect more with less resources, and education is in greater demand from populations that would not have thought of higher education a generation ago, the current system is not meeting the needs (economically or educationally) of the US society.

A new model

With this in mind, I'd like to propose a new model for higher education in the US.

1) The curriculum of higher ed should change focus from general to specific to one of having students work on a specific area they are interested in in order to learn life long learning skills such as critical reading, self-direction, information literacy, technology literacy, communication skills, and collaboration skills. What if freshman were to start their education with a research project, rather than waiting at the end of their 4 years to bring everything together. They would learn the basic skills needed to learn in any profession. This would allow them to work in smaller groups, to be mentored by an educational specialist, and given the ability to work on those areas where they might be lacking. At the Master and Ph.d level, students would be expected to move in and out of various disciplines, learning in a complex system rather than limiting their learning to just one area. There would not be Ph.d. departments but rather one Ph.d. program in which students worked with faculty in multiple settings doing research in multiple disciplines. This would require a much higher level of thinking and abstraction, creating Ph.d's that could work solving society's problems outside of the unnatural boundaries of academic departments. Many are already doing this.

2) Funding would be a combination of educational professionals (with Ph.d's in a variety of disciplines, but training in learning theory for adults), learning centers, research centers, and learning support services (i.e. collaboration, written and spoken communication, critical reading and writing skills, quantitative research methodology and analysis, project based learning and scientific problem solving, etc...).

3) Learning and degree granting would be based on a portfolio of work and oral examinations rather than a testing of "content". In fact, the use of computers to identify content would be encouraged for the assessment tests rather than excluded from the process. My Ph.d. program does this now. We are given some articles to analyze and then given an oral exam based on our analysis. The topic can be anything related to education whether we are interested in it or not, have learned about it or not. We are given 3 weeks to prepare a paper and then defend it to a committee. Not only are they testing our understanding of the field, they are testing our ability to learn something new in a short time, to find resources to support this learning, to collaborate with colleagues when we don't understand something, and then to present a view point and support it appropriately.

These are just some ideas I have been kicking around. I am sure there are others who have better and more creative ideas. But one thing is for sure, the system will need to change if we are going to keep up with the changes and needs of society.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Free speech, free will, and will you say no?

Three issues have made national headlines in the US this month: the bullying problem that has resulted in adolescent suicides, the question of free speech currently being decided by the US Supreme Court, and, today, the case of the University of Notre Dame student videographer who was killed while taping the ND football team's practice in 60 mph (90kph)winds.

On the surface, it appears that these have nothing in common. However, looking deeper into it, they all have a common thread: civil discourse and communication.

In the case of bullying, the problem has become worse due to social media. Don't get me wrong, I am a strong advocate of social media. However, it also has the potential to create an environment in which bullying (either intentional or unintentional) occurs. There are two parts to bullying that many in the media fail to recognize: the bully and the person being bullied. In some cases, the person receiving a message may ignore the message; may feel hurt and confront the "bully"; may feel hurt and internalize the hurt, keeping it secret until they can't stand the pain and take their own life; or work in creating a social atmosphere in which perceived bullying is socially unacceptable. The other half is often over looked, however. It is assumed that the bully KNOWS that he or she is bullying. But sometimes it is just that the bully does not know how to engage in civil discourse. Name calling, teasing, put downs are all images they see on TV, in sports, and on the internet. Often, I will read something written to my kids on facebook and be outraged, my perception being that this is bullying. However, they do not perceive it in the same way. This divide between what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to say is magnified when someone misinterprets the intention of another person.

So does this mean that some people need to "toughen up" and that bullying is not taking place? No, it means that the way to overcome "bullying" is to create an environment in which there are clear communication standards and rules so there is not a divide between perception between people. And if there is a difference, there is a way to resolve the problem before it is unmanageable.

Another aspect of civil discourse has to do with taking responsibility for what you say. In the US, freedom of speech is a basic right. However, over the years, some citizens have wanted the right to speak without having to pay the price should what they say be hurtful, cause pain, cause damages to a person's reputation, job, or business, or be inaccurate, an outright lie, or a distortion of the truth. Just as someone has a right to free speech, the listener has the right to be upset, angry, or not agree with the speaker. Likewise, the listener then has the right to speak back.

There are those in our country who use the label "politically correct" as an insult, thus limiting the voice (and right of free speech) of the listener. A person who self proclaimed as being "not politically correct", is often saying, "I don't want to hear your anger because I have already told you I am not concerned with other opinions than my own." Related to this are those that must place blame or, in essence, say "whatever" or (the phrase I HATE, agree to disagree...in other words, I'm right and will not listen or try to understand your position). The current Supreme Court case is case in point. A group's protest outside of the funeral of a soldier killed in action (the protest was allowed as a right of free speech) resulted in psychological problems for the father. He sued group. This is not a question of free speech; the group was granted it. It is a question as to whether those that exercise free speech must be accountable. There are many more examples of this including the firing of Dr. Laura, a talk show host.

So what we need to do is go back to the notion that with freedoms, come responsibility for what you say. It is not enough to say, "I hear you. I take full responsibility." (Although this is a good first step). Rather, we need to teach children AND adults that what they say may have repercussions for which the speaker must take responsibility for. In other words, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of speaking before you think or considering the impact of your words on those that may hear or read them.

Finally, the death of the Notre Dame student yesterday is especially worrisome to me as I see my children develop into adults. In this current economy, many people feel powerless to say no to something that instinctively they feel they must. When a person in power asks them to do something, they feel that they do not have a voice to contradict someone that has power over their school, job, or even community. As a result, they may post their misgivings on facebook, or complain to coworkers/classmates about their environment, but they never tell the person in power that they have misgivings, and ultimately "no". This is a conversation I have had for a long time with my students. The fact is, our educational system rewards those that will do what they are asked. The best students, the best athletes, the best children are those that are "respectful" and those that "conform". For many, "respectful" is synonymous with agreeable.

But there is a difference. It is important that we teach our children to be civil, but to also disagree (respectfully) especially if their instincts are telling them what they are being asked to do is not right. Heaven knows, if the student had just listened to his instincts (his tweets indicated he was scared) he might be living today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Politics: a study in frustration and poor communication

We have one more week until the general elections and I'm totally disgusted. So much so that for the first time in almost 30 years, I don't want to cast my ballot. Why? Because I don't see much difference between the extreme voices that I must vote for. If I could, I would attend the Rally to restore Sanity in Washington, DC this week.

I see this current situation as a breakdown in communication in the US society. One thing that Americans always prided themselves on was the right to debate and discuss various issues. However, the "you're either with us or against us" attitude of many politicians (on both side of the aisles) and the vilifying of anyone whose position might hurt those in power or the media (which is big business in the US) has made it possible for the discussion to be squelched in the US.

I had had great hopes at the beginning of the Obama administration. Here was an administration that was elected by communicating using new media. However, over the last two years more and more voices are being quieted as people become afraid to express their opinions.

The White House, who had online live conferences in which the average person was able to participate, changed its media strategy and these conferences are almost non-existent now. In fact, last year when the President came to our area, those on the "invitation" list were politicians and those who held local power, rather than the common man who supposedly would benefit from the programs the president was speaking about. On the White House website, there was a video that explained how the president's 10 letters from the public (which he reads daily) was chosen. The letters are filtered through his staff, who choose the letters "most representative" of the letters coming in. This filtering, however, ensures that the present will only see the views that the staff feel are relevant. Why do the staff have to filter the letters? Don't they report on the issues they read about in the letters? Think of the variety of issues (come of which may not be covered by organizations sending in mass mailings or covered in the press) if 10 letters were chosen randomly. The farmer in Kansas struggling to make it, would have the same possibility of being heard as the unemployed single mother being thrown out of her house in Florida, or the prosperous rancher in Montana, or the factory worker in Michigan.

Most importantly, however, is that the issues would not be predetermined. Those issues that many of my friends and I feel are important are not being discussed. No one talks about the widening gap in income in the US between the very rich and the middle class. No one speaks about the tripling of prices of pharmaceuticals in the last 10 years, or the monopoly that 6 oil producers have in the US which allows for the price of oil to increase even though the supply in the US is the highest it's been for a number of years. No one speaks of the two United States: one in which a person's housing, education, health care, access to services, child care, and retirement are guaranteed and the other where any of these basic rights can be taken away at any moment.

So my hope for the US is to create an environment where civil dialog was acceptable, neighbors could live next door to each other even though they had differing views on how society should function, and a person was not afraid to express their ideas on various topics. Finally, communication is two way. This means there needs to be an honest dialog between those speaking and those listening. Listening does not mean agreeing with the speaker and speaking does not mean making your ideas known without determining if your message was received the way you wanted it to. Then I would feel as if my vote was one of many in a civil democracy.

Update: Of course, today there was a live online conference and there are more planned for the next week. Let's hope they continue to do so AFTER the elections.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How mobile technology and facebook is changing how we communicate

I have noticed lately that the emails I get from my students are shorter and much more direct. I have also noticed that some of the comments on my kids' facebook seem almost cruel in their brevity, communicating something that can be misunderstood. After doing some quick analysis, I realized that those messages that stood out as being "different" were sent from mobile technology. After a little more investigation, I realized that the way in which facebook is being used is changing as more and more people have mobile devises that interact with the internet.

My nephew just got a droid. He is a teacher in his late 20's, not a teen. However, if I want to get a hold of him quickly, I have found facebook as the most effective tool. Facebook is becoming the format of choice for informal communication. As a result, companies using facebook who are formal or spamming (I'm sure it's called something else, I'm just not up to date with the jargon) may turn off potential customers (just as people don't answer the telephone at dinner time any more due to telemarketers).

As younger people get used to being informal on facebook delivered via mobile technology and as they develop their own protocols in communicating via mobile texting, they may not make the register change when sending a message via the internet (which will show up as an email)by mobile phone. This might be why recent emails I'm receiving from my students are very direct and to the point. Sometimes, it almost resembles an order; other times they provide me with very little information (including their name!).

The biggest concern is that this style of writing can be brutal (for lack of a better word), lacking in any empathy. Received by the wrong person, these messages can cause hard feelings. Surprisingly, my own children seem to be immune to this (they don't seem to be as insulted as I am about things written about them on facebook). When I pointed out to them that they would probably be upset if someone said that to them face-to-face, they did not see the similarities in the intention. However, as I remind them on a regular basis, not all people are immune to the change in language, register, and communication mode, so they are often having to modify what they would write. My son got a kick out of the Saturday Night Live skit last week on the facebook filter ap "Damn, my mom's on facebook."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Standard vs. flexible: reconceptualizing the efficiency of "standardization of tools"

Yesterday I spent 2 hours in total frustration dealing with the administration of my daughter's education. Her schooling has been outstanding the last year and a half, but the administration of that schooling is complex to say the least. Her school district sends her to a regional high school that is funded by 31 different school districts. The high school is really just an alternative education program. They provide the instruction, technology, and building, but her school district provides the transportation, administration of the degree, and interface with the state (i.e. regents exams, graduation requirements, granting of the degree, health records). This is unusual for the district, our state, and the educational system in the US. So needless to say, many in the school district are not informed of my daughter's status. The result is that she was told she would need to buy a ticket to the school district's semi-formal high school dance as a guest since "she isn't a student there." This is the second year we have gone through this.

So yesterday, I decided that I would speak face to face to the administration at the high school to ensure that we were all on the same page. After, I spoke with the guidance counselor at the high school program where the actual instruction takes place. Between the two conversations, some of the problems and the sources of the problems began to finally come clear.

Standardizing processes and tools for efficiency

In the case of the school district, there is a standard system within the school district. All processes are set up to capture standard statistics required by New York state. The problem? When a situation or problem occurs that does not fit the "standard", the system is difficult to adjust. Thus, my daughter's friend was assigned to two different homerooms (the first classroom where each student goes in the morning to ensure school attendence). Last year my daughter was assigned to a home room, even though she did not go into the high school building. For 4 weeks her name was called while they looked for the errant student. For two weeks, her friend's mother was notified that her daughter was not in school.

While the administration was told repeatedly that my daughter did not attend classes in the main building and that her friend WAS in all of her other classes, they could not tell the computer. Eventually the computer program was modified. However, the school processes were tied to the computer program and standards, so until it was changed there was, in fact, administrative inefficiencies.

My daughter's program guidance counselor related how difficult it was to work with 31 different reporting systems so that all of the administrative requirements for the students in the program would be accurate when they went to graduate later this year. Having 31 different systems would have been too difficult for the program to handle. And yet, the 31 systems needed to be able to conform to the programs reporting and administrative needs.

The effect of distributed knowledge on administrative systems

The old school of management based on the assembly line had specialists so that a product (or service) could be standardized, thus creating a uniform product and quality. For this to work, however, the production line needed to be linear and sequential. Much of our educational system still focuses on this linear, sequential format for instruction. Much of our management systems also look at the linear logic in production, distribution, and monitoring of products and services.

But this model does not work any more with distributed knowledge. Karyn Romeis has a good example of how this DOES NOT work in a recent blog post. What we used to have in terms of planning, now will need to be changed to something that allows more flexibility. This also requires upper management to have faith in their workers, put resources into training, and allow users to adjust computer programs and applications to meet individual needs.

Rather than the standardized industrial model that focuses on setting and measuring standards, we need to start integrating multiple approaches to problems and development of ways to measure needs, abilities, and performance that is not quantifiable. We also need to teach students how to go outside of their own abilities where knowledge might be contained by external groups. And our tools (which the next generation has already figured out) needs to be adaptable, but within a general framework which gives us boundaries within which to work and communicate.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Distributed knowledge in the workplace

I'm still working on this idea, but both Michael Hanley and Karyn Romeis have blogged about knowledge recently so I decided to post what I currently am grappling with. There are still a lot of questions to answer.

Three types of knowledge

In analyzing the data, knowledge could be placed into three categories: tangible representation of knowledge which could be found in policies, forms, formats, curriculum, degrees or credentials, records, and other artifacts at the individual, group, departmental, organizational, and/or professional level; procedural and tacit knowledge, which would include an understanding of work processes and the knowledge created as a result of those processes; and spatial knowledge, which was created through the linking of ideas, social relationships, cognitive interaction, and/or cultural interaction. Each type of knowledge was manifested, accessed, created, and valued differently at the individual, group, and organizational level.

Spatial knowledge is the most valuable for knowledge based organizations. Knowledge can be part of the network internal to the group, external to the group, within the profession, internal to the organization and external to the organization.

However, spatial knowledge is difficult to quantify, control, and capture. Spatial knowledge is created through creative practices (writing, design, problem solving) rather than through the imposition of formats or processes. The imposition of formats helps to create organizational boundaries and impose organizational expectations that may lead to a change culture. But there will be no cultural change if the individuals do not perceive ownership to a document, work artifact or product, or process. In other words, they will confom to the imposed format, process, and/or culture, but they will not claim ownership to it.

This creates a tension between values imposed through authority and personal values. As the AIM model theorizes (Skitka, L., 2003), a group member has three choices: 1) live with the imposed values while maintaining personal values, try to change imposed values, or leave the environment (in the case of this study, quit) in order to maintain individual or group values. In this study, a fourth option developed, create a parallel structure so both individual/group values are maintained, while fulfilling the requirements of the imposed culture.


1) If there is a difference in epistemology which leads to a breakdown in the group knowledge creation process, it might help to use a strategy in which acceptable content rather than knowledge is defined and negotiated at the individual, group, and organizational level. (What are the other components of “knowledge” which might need to be negotiated initially or will affect the collaborative writing process? Start the collaborative writing process with a common “content”.)

2)This brings up questions as to the role of “know-how” in the group collaborative process. If it is considered an individual attribute, can a group have “know-how”? Is there such a thing as collective “know-how”? Would it be developed or used in the same way as individual know how? Is this why knowledge management is unable to capture group implicit knowledge? Is the continuation of the communication a way to develop collective know-how which is important to the group and not to the power structure? Because it is more difficult to measure, is it possible that collective know-how is in fact knowledge that is not important to those in power or within a group, but is important to the individual?

3) Who owns the knowledge? This is especially important in a distributed group in which knowledge is culled from multiple sources (profession, personal experience, the group, the department, the organization, and other stackholders). What if no one takes ownership? What happens to the work process, the end product, group dynamics, organizational culture? This can be seen in corporations where everyone, yet no one owns the knowledge.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5-21.

Skitka, L. (2003). Of different minds: An accessible identity model of justice reasoning. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7(4), 286-297.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New technology demands for the 21st century classroom

Let me begin by defining the 21st century classroom. It is not the stagnent classroom of my childhood or university. Rather it crosses grades, generations, locations, and cultures. And yet, walk into any classroom today and it will physically look like the classroom my father sat in over 70 years ago.

Education today is life long, formal and informal, and dynamic. Likewise, educational technology is constantly changing from one tool to another based on teaching goals and needs, access to tools, government privacy policy, societal norms both in terms of social norms and acceptance of technology, and infrastructure.

Over the last year I have seen a movement from a computer based technology environment to mobile technology. In fact, I predicted this as one of the major trends in education last year. My students use their cell phones now in new ways not even thought of 2 years ago. With that in mind, I forsee the following technologies being used in the classroom within the next two years:

1) mobile technology. This may take a few forms: ipads, e-readers, cell phones, pda's, and mini-lap tops. The implication for teaching is that students will have access to the internet whether a teacher wants them to or not. I suggest that teachers focus on the use of the internet with the understanding that it is here to stay.

2) Interactive aps. As mobile technology allows for more interactivity including the ability to scan, gps's, and internet access the interacts with software. The implications are that there can be greater individualized learning plans and pin pointed learning. It also creates the opportunity for greater levels of cheating, academic dishonesty, and learning outside of the established curriculum. This could also be a nightmare for teachers who would be expected to provide a greater level of individualized learning plans requiring a constant retooling of their skills. In terms of the educational system, administrators will need to be able to provide their faculty with the resources to upgrade their skills, parents training to understand the tools their children are using in schools, and students with responsibilities and expectations for the use of technology.

3) E-readers. I heard a report on the news yesterday that the youth of today are much more likely to use an ereader than the older generations. In fact, Fisher Price now has an ereader for tottlers. The implication for the classroom (and publishers) is that there will be more choice in sources, using chapters from multiple resources. These resources will need to include multi-media sources including videos, audio, and interactive reading. Students will be able to highlight, download highlighted sections, and reformulate them to create new meaning. This is going to require a deeper level of learning and interactivity with the written and spoken word. Focus will be on organization rather than content per se. And teachers will not be able to rely on a text to meet an individual student's need. This means teachers and instructors will need to understand how to design learning, above and beyond a cookbook style of design.

4) Multi-media. Music, video, animation, and games are all part of the new generation. Not only will teachers and instructors need to know how to integrate these into their teaching, they will need to learn how to use these modialities in their evaluation of student learning. This is probably the biggest stretch for k-12 teachers, where the "test" or "exam" is the preferred mode of evaluation and assessment. However, higher ed and professional education will need to start developing new formats and means of assessing learning using these new modialities.

We need to start preparing educators for the 21st century changes in education. At the university level, there needs to be a new way of preparing and developing professors. Content knowledge is no longer sufficient. Of course, my biggest concern is that universities will have a check list approach to hiring, excluding those of an advanced age (like myself) who would be perceived as not having understanding or knowledge of the 21st technology learning tools.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The discussion about US education

Recently, there has been a national discussion of education in the US within our media. NBC and the Oprah Winfrey Show both had programs about education in the last two weeks. The final verdict: tenure is the reason our schools are failing and the responsibility of education is in the teachers' hands alone (they must be accountable for failing schools).

I look at part of this as a result of the charter school movement and a movement to break up teachers unions to bring down costs of education. After watching programs on NBC and the Oprah Winfrey school, I think it is important that misinformation that was spouted by such experts as Bill Gates and Mayor Bloomberg (both businessmen first) need to be addressed.

1) Tenure is NOT automatically given to teachers, as both of these men contended on TV. First, tenure requirements vary from state to state and even school district to school district. In New York State, a board of education needs to grant tenure to a teacher. Some school districts won't look at tenure until someone has worked for 4 years. Others will grant tenure after a year. Many of us know of teachers that have not been granted tenure, sometimes even for just political reasons. The purpose of the tenure system is to ensure academic integrity. I find it ironic that Oprah's program discussed with horror the difficulty of firing a teacher who was incompetent (who was eventually fired once she went through a set out process, but that took about a year) while about 10 years ago she had a program about a teacher who was forced to change a failing grade to students who had blatantly plagiarized. The threat of being fired because someone in power has his or her own agenda means that a teacher could be forced to teach something that might be scientifically unbased. This happened to teachers who refused to teach a curriculum they believed was religiously based rather than scientifically based. Because of tenure, these teachers had the ability to keep their jobs and fight a small group of powerful people in their community.

2) Charter schools vary from state to state. I am actually a supporter of charter schools, as long as they must follow the same rules as the public schools and they offer something different to a population that cannot be met in a traditional public school. There is research that some states have a very effective charter school system that has improved the overall state education system (Wisconsin and Oregon). However, I do not believe that ANY company should be profiting from the government (charter schools should be non-for-profit). Also, charter schools should not have a religious or political agenda (they need to follow the same rules as a traditional public school). On Oprah, charter schools were touted as THE cure for education. However, I see this as throwing out the baby with the bath water. There are some good schools and some bad. We need a variety of models that will fit different communities, cultures, resources, and values.

3) The fact is that a smaller class size will result in more effective learning. Likewise, students who do not live in poverty and/or have literate parents do better in school. The current No Child Left Behind "accountability" focus on standardized testing in which a teacher is responsible if a child does not pass a test is an inaccurate measure of effectiveness.

In a report by Al Roker on Elementary Schools, the school that was highlighted had the average class increase from 20 students per class a decade ago to 32 students per class today. I know of a kindergarten teacher (1st year of school in New York State) who is expected to teach 25 5-6 year olds (usually with no previous education such as pre-school or even at home help from parents) how to read by the end of this school year. All without help in the classroom. Last year she was successful as she only had 16 students.

We need to look at student improvement from their starting point to their ending point (rather than measuring them against students from more privileged backgrounds). We need to put resources into the needs of the school based on their community, not a standard formula. And we need to find new ways (besides testing) to measure student performance.

4) We are not China, Switzerland, Japan, or South Africa. What works in their countries might work here in the US, but perhaps not. We need to develop an educational system that works with our communities, culture, and values. To do this, we need to move away from the industrial military complex attitude towards education that we are developing workers. When I went to school, schools were developing citizens that could make informed decisions. However, even as a student that began to change and we were told that education was to prepare us for a job of the future. This streamlining was used in France up until the 60's at which time Europe began to see that education was more than creating workers.

The current focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) has wiped out what made the US successful: creativity. A colleague of mine from Hong Kong was disappointed in her University Program in the US because there was no creativity allowed. My daughter's school, which was designed with STEM in mind, ended up being more important as a school that allows students with creative minds to succeed in STEM courses. A project based curriculum based on group work develops communication, problem solving, and creative skills for students that normally would have difficulty in learning math and science. What is interesting is that students that were especially gifted in math and science, in fact left the school or had the hardest time to adapt to this style of learning.

The fact is the US is loosing its place in the world because of lack of innovation. Innovation comes from creativity, not fitting a static mold set out by standards.

5) Finally, education is a joint process between the administrators, teachers, students, community, and parents. All are equally important and responsible. Until we use a model of community education building rather than competitive education, we will not have an effective educational system in the US.

I applaud the media for at least discussing education in the US. I just wish they would present a more informed and balanced discussion. The fact is that in some places, the educational system is working. In others, people are working hard to improve the process (but with mixed results) and in still other places the system has broken down. The biggest mistake we could make is to fix that which is working well, not giving those working on change the time and resources to succeed, and trying the same old policies in those areas where those policies have not worked and probably will never work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Collaborative Virtual Spaces: Sending a forwarding address

Over the last few years, I have collaborated with a number of people that I either have never met face to face or who live too far away to meet on a regular basis face to face. I moved from listservs to discussion boards to blogs and now to facebook. What I have noticed is an initial period in which I participate as a spectator (i.e. a member of the listserv receiving updates but not posting), then I move on as an active member. I then begin to build a trusting relationship in which I feel there are good conversations and a safe area to disagree and resolve intellectual disagreements.

My experience fits fairly closely with online community research (See Ruth Brown's research, for example). However, after a while, a new technology will come online and members of the community (not all) will begin to emigrate to the new format, leaving the one community to help develop and become part of a new community. As this happens, however, suddenly, a virtual colleague is now missing with no forwarding address.

I often wonder, where are they? Where did everyone go? How do I contact them again and stay in touch? what makes things even more difficult is that different members will gravitate to different technologies (and thus different communities). It is impossible to stay in touch with all new technologies, so we choose those technologies that meet our needs at that time.

I think that there needs to be a protocol for disbanding a community and/or migrating it to a new technology. In the snailmail, we have a forwarding address. It might be good if we began to use the same mechanisms as we leave communities. Perhaps someone will develop a directory in which the most commonly accessed addresses are listed for an individual. I currently do this by googling people's names. However, if there was an interactive directory that you could use to identify where people are posting and where you are most apt to contact them, it would be helpful to follow your community through cyberspace.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dissertation: Analysis of the Impact of the Environment on the Group

In order to understand the interaction between the distributed group, individual group members, and the organization and its departments within this study, it is important to understand the various working environments and perceived power structures.

There were numerous environments that an individual might have to work with as a member of the project under study. In addition, there were multiple layers of authority and vested interests (share-holders) that influenced individual members and the group itself at any given time.

From an ethnomethological stand point, this group influenced and was influenced by the complex environment that a distributed group creates. Distributed groups create multi-layered power structures, multiple cultures which workers need to traverse, and intricate social relationships, both internal and external to the group. These complexities are both created through the new power structures, work processes, and cultures that are established when bringing together group members from various departments and locations. However, distributed groups also create complexity for the departments and organizations where they are located as group members try to align goals, work processes, priorities, and even the image of the group and departments where they work. As a result, a distributed group may be working within a much more dynamic environment than that of a single department within a common location.

In looking at this group, some conclusions about the impact of this more complex environment on the group could be drawn:

• There were differing interpretations of perceived authority within the group, the departments, the project, and the organization especially when there was no clear authority structure imposed on the group.

• According to the group, there was very little perceived cultural change within departments and the professions that group members identified with. However, the group’s culture appeared to fluctuate to align with the perceived power structure’s culture. Some group members were able to adapt; but for others, they either left the organization or tried to change the culture within the perceived power structure to meet their own comfort level. This was dependent upon their perception of their own empowerment and importance within the group, their department, and the training and home organizations.

• The greater percentage of the group member’s time that was dedicated to the project, the greater perception that they had a vested interest in the project and its outcome. This also lead to those with a vested interest feeling more entitled to contribute to the project, which then lead to them having a greater role with in the group’s power structure. In other words, those that did not have additional duties outside of the project, believed that they should have the greatest influence on the project direction and decisions.

• The complexity of the environment made it difficult for group members and the management team to determine who exactly was part of the group (intragroup identification) and what an individual member’s role was within the group. Related to the previous point, those with the greater percentage of time dedicated to the project were closely identified with the Healthcare Counseling group. However, other factors such as acceptance by the group members, recognition by the management team and departmental power structure, and perceived expertise within an area the group and individual members identified as important also had an impact on whether others within the group recognized someone as a member or not. Those that individual members recognized as being part of the group, were included in project work processes and communications. Although, not everyone recognized by individual members was recognized by the group as a whole as being part of the group.

• The power structures, both internal and external to the group, were dynamic and not static. As a result, there was continuous realignment of goals, work processes, perceptions and expectations to maintain balance both within and outside the group. This sometimes required changes in the group culture, channels of communication, project formats and tools, and management (power) structures.

• The writing projects were both informed by and influenced communication, work processes group identity and member roles, and project goals and standards. The formats, physical layout, and virtual tools created both physical and psychological boundaries within which the group functioned. At times, these boundaries had to be renegotiated, either intragroup or between external power structures (stakeholders, departments, management). There were four strategies that were used: 1) accept a boundary (process, expectations, format, standard, etc…) as it was imposed on the group without any changes or comment, 2) adopt a process or format from one of the departments as is or making minimal changes to align with the group’s beliefs and processes, 3) maintain multiple processes or formats as long as they could be compatible with boundaries imposed externally, modifying those that were outside of the imposed boundaries, or 4) create new formats and processes from scratch to fit within the boundaries imposed externally. The strategy used depended on time constraints, the degree of perceived difference outside of the group, the level of ownership both to the project and the work task/product, the support (or lack) by the group members and/or power structure, the affect on personal, professional, or departmental image, and level of personal investment to certain aspects of the project.

• Related to this was the consistent tension between work processes established at the various levels of the power structures within the work environment. These tensions were often resolved either by 1) collaboration, 2) compromise, 3) subversion, or 4) withdrawal from the organization or project.