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, May 30, 2008

Paying attention

George Siemans wrote about the use of laptops in the classroom and the resistance that many faculty had towards this. He implied that the resistance comes from boring faculty that are threatened by a new way of learning. However, I have a much more fundamental issue with my students not paying attention in class.

I allow my students to take notes using a laptop (or blackberry, or any other devise such as a recorder) in my class. What I resent are those students that use that time to write papers for other classes or do homework. I purposely do not have an attendance policy in my class because I don't want students there unless they want to be. However, if they do not come to class or participate, they will not receive class participation grades (10-20% of their final grade). So many "show up" thinking that this is sufficient to pass the class. I do not address the fact that I know they are not doing work for my class, but simply do not give them credit for coming to class that day. So I do find it disrespectful that they do work for another class while in my class (especially since they elect to come to my class). I also find it disrespectful that they underrate my intelligence in knowing they are doing work for another class in my class (after I have put time into preparing class to help them learn). But most of all, I can't stand when students ask me to repeat things over and over that, had they been paying attention, they would have gotten.

While George discusses new ways of learning and how the teacher needs to adapt to it, students also need to adapt new skills if they are going to use a laptop in class that will not distract others learning. For example, if you are typing and not paying attention to what the teacher is saying, do not expect the teacher to repeat what they have said (many laptops have a recording tool). In addition, students should look up from time to time to receive (and give) feedback to the instructor. Just as is it rude to never look up from taking handwritten notes, the same is true in using the laptop. Finally, there is a time and a place for laptops. Sometimes the use of a laptop (i.e. when a discussion is expected) just is not appropriate.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Measuring learning and the time factor

Clark Quinn has developed a chart representing a Performance Ecosystem. The main short-coming with most ePerformance frameworks that I have seen is the focus on short term results. In workplace training, especially, the skills we learn may not be useful until the student has reached a certain level. As a result, most assessments of ePerformance have to do with asking the trainee if the training was useful and could he or she use it in their work. This might not be possible right after training.

For example, micro-economics made no sense until I had to use it as an auditor. Remarkably, I remembered much of what I had learned in class and put it to use (despite the fact that I had taken the class 8 years previously). Even now, some of the basic principles of computer programming and economics come to mind after 20+ years.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How did I get here (blogging)

Karyn Romeis posed the question for her dissertation, "how did you get here?" in the use of Web 2.0 tools. Interestingly enough, I am not an early adaptor when it comes to technology. I will try out tools, however, if I feel that it will help in my teaching.

I don't think that I have really come into being a "blogger" as much as a reader of blogs. I do blog as a way to keep track of some of my thoughts. However, I don't think that blogging has really accomplished what I had expected of it: creating a space to dialog about ideas. I feel that I can accomplish that better as a commenter of others blogs. For whatever reason, I have had few people actually comment on my blogs (I received the first comment on my blog after a year of blogging, and most recently have had two more people commenting, one regularly!).

By August of 2007, I decided that I could use the blogging to try out the various aspects I read about on the edublogs. For this Vicki Davis's blog has been very helpful in trying different things out. It seems to me that there is so much tacit knowledge gained in blogging. I read about something, then I try it out on my own blog. Just in the process of trying it out, I then can come up with new ways to use it in my teaching and my own learning.

I don't like facebook, although I have found Ning groups that seem much more accessible. For me, the advantage of these programs is they allow for the two way dialog I rarely see in blogs (Tony Karrer's blog is the only one where I actually see "dialog" as opposed to a one way posting/comment). I tried facebook because I had heard of its power on the new generation of workers and students and was curious as to how it worked. At the time I signed up, I signed up as a student so I could play around with it. From facebook, I was invited into a Ning group, which I preferred. I find (as did many of my graduate students) that Ning is a much more rich environment as you can choose the way to participate depending on your preferences. You may just read blogs, you may blog, you can podcast, you can participate in discussion forums (my preference), you can be a lurker, or you can be an active participant. In fact, this is an environment I want to try out more for my teaching and learning for next year.

Finally, my favorite tool for teaching and learning is a wiki. What is surprising is that I almost gave up on the use of wiki after last summer. I was teaching a course on computer supported writing and found the wiki software we were using as not very intuitive. I was part of a pilot program, so out university was just as inexperienced as I was. My first attempt did not work out, which I found disappointing as I am a great believer in collaborative writing as a learning tool. That fall, the university decided that they needed to present some "best practices" workshops, demonstrating how wikis could be used. As I was part of the pilot program, the professional development instructor came to see how I had used the wiki. While I had a contextual idea of how a collaborative writing tool could be used, I could not seem to fit the wiki into that model. After speaking with the workshop instructor, I had a better idea of how the wiki could be used and it has really changed my idea of what happens in collaborative writing (to the point that my ideas for my dissertation on workplace writing for distributed groups has been impacted). It has really made me more open to seeing the impact the wiki can have on both group and individual knowledge creation despite having a poor finished product. Even now, I think of how the use of a wiki can be used in research, in group projects, in team development, in knowledge management, etc...However, I have also learned that the wiki is a tool that can be designed and manipulated in many forms to provide different learning environments (i.e. creating community, creating permanent records and group memory, sharing information, creating processes and procedures) that goes beyond a given time, place, and group of authors.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Epistemology, knowledge and culture.

George Siemens commented on an article about knowledge and epistemology "changing". He questioned the entire idea of "collective knowledge" saying that what the article discussed was more information than knowledge and that he did not really believe in the idea of knowledge being created collectively,

I have heard his arguments before. However, I feel that having been immersed in a foreign culture (including having to speak the language every day) and moving between these cultures, that there is no doubt that knowledge is created collectively. Does this mean the individual is left out of the equation? No. However, what is hegemony except the result of collective knowledge that individuals are not aware of until they are introduced to ideas outside of their own cultural understanding?

Many times, an idea will come to mind in French, Spanish, and even German and Dutch (two languages I am not fluent in, but I have been immersed in through work and student exchanges). One example is the idea of "resumee" in French. There is not a good translation of the concept, however, I find myself telling students to resumee their papers at times. Although translated as summary, the word carries more meaning towards writing an abstract in which there are some judgments and conclusions drawn which a regular summary would not include. These cultural assumptions are collectively developed as a why of knowing without having to explain (tacit knowledge).

It is important to acknowledge both the individual and the culture (group) and the bilateral influence. Each individual will understand the collective knowledge differently depending on their experience, but the culture is not stagnant (despite the culture police that try to make it so) and is affected by individuals.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Corporate Policies on Web 2.0

Corporate Policies on Web 2.0

Corporate guidelines for social software

Tony Karrer's posting on corporate guidelines for social software/web 2.0 had some interesting links. Of all of the corporate guidelines, I liked the Sun corporate policy. First off, I have a bias towards open communication within a company. It is next to impossible to keep secrets in a company, and often the effort backfires and results in hard feelings to the employees. Sun's seems to have a balanced approach:

Don’t Tell Secrets · Common sense at work here; it’s perfectly OK to talk about your work and have a dialog with the community, but it’s not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces. There’s an official policy on protecting Sun's proprietary and confidential information, but there are still going to be judgment calls.

If the judgment call is tough—on secrets or one of the other issues discussed here—it’s never a bad idea to get management sign-off before you publish.

In my mind, Sun treats their employees with respect and as grown ups with intelligence.

What surprised me about these guidelines, however, is that they assumed that all social software was the same. How can a social book marking program such as del.icio.us be on par with a wiki? A wiki acts very differently than a blog. And shouldn't there be more codes like Sun which recognize the difference between the use of these tools internally and externally? In looking at these codes, the one question that kept popping into my head was who do the management feel own the products of the social networking tools (often they feel it is the property of the individual when something goes wrong, but the property of the corporation if it adds to the corporate value).

Likewise, I wondered who users of social software imagine is their audience. I know that my students rarely think of others reading anything they write except for those in authority or their friends (another reason I like the Sun code as they point out that others might be reading blogs, wiki's, etc..., not just those the author intended should read).

This brings me back to who bloggers write for. I think many write with an imaginary audience (I do) whether that is true or not. I was surprised when Tony Karrer mentioned that my blog was "specialized" as I thought it was very broad. In fact, I tried to write my profile as broadly as possible (which I guess made it specialized).

Blogging vs. Wikis

While bloggers write either for their thought processes or an "imagined" audience, wikis are the result of group interaction. The product of the blog is a record of thoughts, often with little evidence of the thought process that created those ideas. On the other hand, wikis show the thought processes that created an idea. The importance of the wiki is the thought process (and group cognitive development) whereas the importance of the blog is the final thought.

Social networking software such as Ning and Facebook is still another tool that creates totally different dynamics and insights into the creators and contributers. Like a wiki, the process is important, but so is the development of social relationships. Unlike blogs and wikis, the final product is a "feeling", usually of trust or belonging (confirming or disconfirming behavior as group communicators term it). What is important to users are the patterns of communication, the roles that individuals play in their network, and the building of communication.

As a result of the differences in each of these tools, doesn't it make sense to create different "rules" for their use within a corporation? I think the real difficulty is in balancing "rules" with the affordances these tools can bring to the corporation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Creating a Research Agenda

I have been following the online conference created to help develop research on e-learning in Canada. I have tried to only be a "lurker" as I am not Canadian and I think the conference is targeted towards Canadian researchers and educators.

However, I am very interested what is going on in Canada's e-learning community for three reasons: 1) living in a state that borders Canada, I have had a number of students that either live or work (or both) in Canada. Many have been in my distance learning classes. 2) While doing a comparative analysis of educational, economic development, R&D, and technology policies, I was surprised at the lack of policy analysis on Canada. I thought the conference might be able to give me direction on resources or studies in this area. 3) I find the idea of many researchers coming together to try to come up with a common research vision very interesting.

The debate

As an outsider, I did not want to join too much into the debate on a structure. However, I did post that I felt the role of this organization should be to coordinate research, helping to identify holes in the research and making research available at a central location.

Steven Downs replied that he did not want to be "coordinated".

However, my intention was not that anyone be coordinated (have coordination inflicted upon them), but rather there be an entity where researchers could identify potential partners, resources, funding, and findings from other researchers. As I mentioned in my post, the analysis I did on how successful countries have developed a knowledge economy is to have a mechanism for the coordination of education, economic development, R&D, and ICT policies. I found that the most successful countries created a mechanism that worked for them (for example, Ireland uses local groups that are a combination of public and private entities under a loose national umbrella while Singapore uses strong centrally public controlled policies). I did not mean to suggest that Canada should use the same mechanisms that were established by the Scandinavian countries or Ireland or the Netherlands, but rather see how they created a national research mechanism. In fact, I feel by "taking" their system and trying to fit it into Canada, the system will never work.

I do feel, however, that there needs to be some way to exchange ideas, coordinate research and research findings over multiple contexts, and give multiple stakeholders a forum to discuss research needs and resources. The fear always in an endeavor such as this conference is that the same voices will be heard, groups will continue to stay within their small context and fail to cross geographic, academic, and disciplinary borders, and there is a lot of good research going unread (or a lot of poor research making the media rounds).

However, the question is how to coordinate without intimidating. That balance is delicate, but there are some areas that have managed to do so. The most important thing is to continue what the conference is currently doing: encouraging dialog and the exchange of information and ideas.

Making the transition from university to the workplace

I recently had an exchange with Dave Ferguson about a previous blog posting.

I wrote:

Perhaps I am unique in that I try to bridge the university and the
workplace. I have taught in both the workplace and university, working in
business communication, international business, ESL, and business
communication. I actually get upset at the line that business schools
make towards workplace learning (how can you discount years of experience
valuable learning) as well as the growing demarcation I find corporate
trainers are making between "school" knowledge and workplace learning.

One of my interests in the last 4 years (as I pursue a Ph.D. in Education,
because the program would let me focus on workplace learning with writing
and technology in an international context, something the Management
Schools would not allow) has been how best to prepare my students
(especially undergraduate) for future workplace learning. What skills do
corporate trainers assume graduates have coming into the workforce? What
type of learning will employees be expected to do in their career? This
will help me to better prepare my students for the future. I keep reading
the literature that says that businesses complain their students are not
prepared for the workplace, but no specifics. How are we supposed to
better prepare them if we don't know what the businesses expect?

On the other hand, I think that businesses have a real disconnect in their
understanding of the next generation of employees. There are many things
they can learn from this generation and I feel that learning professionals
in the workplace need to start preparing for a new type of worker. After
18 years of teaching at the university level, I see a number of trends
that have effected my students learning. This will begin to penetrate the
workforce at a lag behind the universities. But I don't see businesses
coming to the universities and asking what is happening with their
students (it is easier to say the universities are not preparing the
students correctly).

For example, over the last two years, I have noticed the effect that NCLB
has had on our students. These students (future workers in the next 5
years) are very "trainable". Give them a check list or a list of things
to learn and they will do it. However, many do not take the initiative in
terms of their own learning. One of my students, an educator at a
health-related university coined this type of learning as just in time
learning. Students won't learn something until they need it, and then
they want access to it immediately. I foresee this as an issue for
workplace educators in the future.

I would like to hear from others on both sides of the school/work transition.

  1. What skills do businesses assume students have? What would you like them to have?
  2. What are the difficulties new employees have in transitioning to the workplace?
  3. What skills do new graduates have that are different from 10 years ago? How can these skills be used to help an organization?
  4. What type of training do you think new graduates will need when they first enter the workforce?

The difference between teaching at the University and teaching in the workplace.

Ken Allen posted a question about the differences I saw between workplace training and teaching in the university in response to one of my posts on Is there (should there be) a difference between workplace learning and "academic" learning?In addition to the factors Ken mentioned (time for study), I think there is a broader cultural difference. Past generations (and even now) have been educated to believe that once schooling is ended, we will not have need for learning outside of specialized programs that will help with our jobs. As a result, most workplace learners will ask the question, "how will this help me in my current job." One of my students (an instructional designer) pegged this as "just in time learning".

At the university level, I can tell my students that they might not have immediate use for something I am teaching (such as learning how to learn for business or communication majors), but it is a skill they will need for the future. In the workplace, my students would not put up with this.

Finally, I feel that there are many outside pressures that affect workplace learning (families, bills, work) that forces learners to turn off their brains once they step out the door of the classrooms (or training rooms). I know for myself that when I am in school full time, there is a culture that allows for discussion of ideas at a higher level outside of class. These discussions do not take place in the workplace or at home outside of training/classes. As a result, I cannot rely on my students in a workplace to "get" something between classes that require higher order thinking. Instead, I need to bring them through the higher order thinking while I have them and then let them apply it to their own context once they leave.

With University students, on the other hand, I will work through the process (thus creating the experience), then challenge them to use their higher order thinking while out of class (through blogging, reflective papers, and projects) to figure out what went on. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that a 19 or 20 year old is thinking about the impact of new communication technologies on an organization unless they are forced to. However, when they are asked to articulate their thoughts, they at least have others they can bounce ideas off of outside of class. They also HAVE the time (whether they use it or not is something else) to think about ideas (as opposed to thinking about who is picking the baby up from daycare, can I mow the lawn tonight, is there gas in the car, do I have enough money to buy a house).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A glimpse into the future

I am very proud of my class as they put together the conference on Nanotechnology. I didn't think it was all going to come together as the students had trouble finding speakers and bloggers. However, they decided to use podcasts and the level of the conference seems to be fairly elementary, with the possibility of being more advanced.

We are using the pageflake to pull together all the elements, blogs, the pageflake, and facebook for discussions, an online registration form to register participants (we are up to 58), and e-mails and facebook to promote the conference. We are also using a wiki for updates and troubleshooting, along with a class gmail account for instant messaging and more traditional interaction (e-mails).

If I do this project again, I am going to have the conference at least 3 weeks before the end of the semester, as students have done the most learning the last week. I think when we get together in the last class, we will have a lot to discuss. What is especially interesting is that students can run the conference in between their final days of class (and in some cases, college life as many will be graduating next week).

I can't wait to look at what students have accomplished and to hear their feedback, as this is what they will expect to do when they go into their positions in the work world. This is a great opportunity to see what changes they see for communication in the organization of the future, and their future training needs.