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.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What are you doing for the Holidays?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Prettige Kirstdaggen en Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar
Felices Navidades y Prospero año
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année
God Jul og godt nytt år

Last year, I asked the readers at New Year's to tell me how they were celebrating the New Year. This year I decided to start earlier. I love hearing what others are doing at any point in time, but especially at Christmastime. Even as a kid, I couldn't get enough of what others were doing in other parts of the country and world.

For us, the "holidays" begin on Thanksgiving and end with the New Year (mostly the month of December). I also live in an area with a large Jewish population, so Hanukkah also plays into our region's festivities (thus, happy holidays is used more than merry christmas at this time of year).

This year, we had family visiting from Georgia (yes, they got stuck in the blizzard in Virginia on their way up), for Christmas Eve. It was fun to have little children in the house again! Then we went to 4:30 mass, where the children's choir sang. Next, we went to my sister in law's house for the traditional Italian Christmas eve dinner of pasta and Shrimp sauce (my husband's maternal grandparents were from Italy and this is one of the only family traditions that survived).

The next morning, we got up, opened our Christmas presents, called my relatives in Illinois and Florida, and had a formal breakfast (the tradition from my family). Then my husband's sister, aunt, and cousin came over for the day. This year, with one of his aunts in a nursing home and his mother home rehabiliting from broken hips, we went to his parents house to bring them dinner/open gifts, then to the nursing home to give gifts to his aunt. It made me appreciate having a healthy family and an extended family, as many in the nursing home were alone, commenting on how lucky my husband's aunt was to have such a large family. His aunt is a retired nun, with over 50 nieces, nephews, and grandnieces/nephews.

For the rest of the week, we will have dinner at our house with my family (sister and brother, nieces and nephews) and at my brother's house. My family will go to a movie matinee, as we do every year, during the week. My kids have plans with their friends from their old school and their current school to go to basketball games (many of their former classmates play on various local teams), bowling, and to parties at their friends houses. We will also probably go to the local bookstore so my kids can redeem their gift cards and choose books for their winter reading. We will also watch the various DVD's they received for Christmas, during the evenings (as NOTHING is usually on TV at night during the Christmas/New Year's week).

New Year's plans for this year are up in the air (as they normally are). Usually, our kids invite a guest over for dinner New Year's Eve. However, as they are now getting older, they don't want to do so anymore. New Year's is not a big deal for us, and we usually just spend the day taking our tree down, winding down the holiday season. My kids always find it somewhat sad once New Year's comes. New Years also tends to be very cold. This year the evenings (after tomorrow) are expected to be around 7-8 degrees F (-15 C) and the highs in the low 20's (-5 to -6 C). This is also depressing as it means the true beginning to hunkering down for the long winter.

So what do you do during the holidays? Which days are important to you? Do you even celebrate Christmas or is this just another day? What is the weather like? What are you doing during the days? What do you do in the evenings? What salutations (e.g. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year) do you use (both your own language and in English)?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Toys, games, and education

I was watching a new report yesterday where they were mentioning that children all around the world would be receiving toys thanks to the generosity of donated gifts. My first thought was, "Isn't it more important that they be fed and have access to healthcare (including immunizations and medicines that will keep them alive)?" My next thought was that toys really weren't necessary, and how did we get to the point where a new toy was so important.

As usual, my brain made links that for others might be a stretch. I was reading about a new school in New York City called Quest to Learn. In the article I read, they spoke about this school being a "games-based" curriculum. Well, after researching it a bit more, I realized there was more to the curriculum than games (in fact, it is very similar to my daughter's school). However, the connection I made was the role that "play", "toys", and "games" has in our society.

It used to be that toys and games were used to help develop skills in children. When the US was basically an agrarian economy and before universal education, kids learned to read using the bible or other books a family might have (which often was limited). They would learn skills such as eye hand coordination using toys. Toys also tended to be gender specific which helped teach a child's role in society (i.e. toy soldiers for those who would grow up to "lead" and fight in wars, dolls to help develop child rearing skills).

However, as toys and games, just like everything else in the industrialized world, began to be mass produced, the role of the toy changed from a "learning tool" (after all, children began to attend schools at the same time that the economy became industrialized) to objects of leisure. Leisure time was a result of the industrial revolution, but also helped to fuel the revolution. The age of consumerism was born. The more "things" you have, the higher your status in the consumer economy. As a result, toys also became a symbol of status.

Now, how does this relate to the game based curriculum? For thousands of years, games and toys were learning tools. So why shouldn't there be an element of games in a curriculum? Games and toys help develop critical thinking skills, strategy, creativity, and problem solving skills. If integrated into a curriculum correctly, it also can be a catalyst for learning motivation, team building, and self direction/discipline.

The fear I have is not the Q2L curriculum being one that is too "fun" or not providing enough content, but rather the misuse of this curriculum by teachers and schools who do not understand the underlying principles used to create the curriculum. Namely, I have seen some teachers who use gaming as a "down-time" activity in which teachers can have a break during the day. This is not good education. In fact, I suspect the teachers at Q2L put in a lot more time preparing and facilitating learning than the average teacher.

I am also concerned that students are not learning how to be bored (work is not always exciting and it is important to learn what to do during those down times), nor are learning how to interact with each other to resolve problems (rather than interacting with the technology). This is the only misgiving I see with this new school. My daughter's school does everything in groups, but it is off set with individual assessments. Likewise, while the curriculum is project based, the class does have more traditional learning/lectures when it is necessary for students to interact with the teacher and content. These are not the teacher lecturing the students, as much as group discussion where the teacher follows the lead of the students in answering questions or giving guidance in how to approach a problem.

So perhaps the "toys" and "games" going around the world, if perceived as a way to educate children in a more non-traditional way, will be more than a symbol of status and consumerism. Of course, I still think that alleviating poverty should be our first goal and children can't eat games.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Emerging themes for collaborative writing in groups

I have completed the initial code development for my dissertation. As mentioned previously, using Charmez's (2006) process, I developed codes using action words. The next step is to take those codes and develop emerging themes (or relational statements as Charmez calls them).

I had 53 codes which were then reformulated into themes to answer each question. I have completed two questions so far. The following are the emerging areas that I will be reviewing my data for.

1. How do individuals define knowledge?

Knowledge and expertise is defined by profession/professional standards

Knowledge is possessed and can be identified

Knowledge is defined by the group/department expectations and formats

Knowledge is defined by the formats and processes developed within the work power structure.

Knowledge is created through negotiation of meanings

Expertise is used as currency: withholding, contributing, and prioritizing expertise and who to please.

Knowledge and expertise can’t be defined

2a. What process or processes does a distributed group in the workplace use to create shared meaning and understanding during collaborative writing projects?
The group prioritizes work and expertise at the individual, group, departmental, and organizational level.

The group aligns goals and project vision with resources and organizational expectations.

The group develops common work and communication protocols and shared mental models.

Relationships within and outside of the group are used to compete work tasks.

The group establishes hierarchy within and outside of group.

The group defines and redefines meaning and understanding within the group.

The group identifies threats and barriers to work processes

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Assessment and preparing for the 21st century

As I am trying to get finish up my grading, issues of assessment and evaluation keep coming up.

Some of the questions/problems/issues I am dealing with include:

Should we be using rubrics? Don't they limit creativity and motivation? My students will only do what is on the rubric. I am restricted to grading them only on the rubric. So some students who just do a mediocre non-creative job may get the same grade (or higher because I used the rubric) than those that used more creativity, not really doing what I outlined as expected, but addressing the problem in a whole new way.

If this is what we are training our future workers to do, we will have the "best" workers (those with the highest grade) doing only what their managers told them to do, thus stifling the possibilities and creativity of our workers.

Should we be telling our students our expectations for every assignment, giving them detailed instructions? How many times have you received detailed instructions on the job? Shouldn't we be creating the skill to negotiate "outcomes" with our superiors?
Situations change, factors we can't control require us to change outcomes, and there might be a disconnect between strategists and front line workers. Companies would benefit if workers and managers began to communicate about outcomes be and open to the changing environment.

If graduates only expect to do the work that a manager has outlined for them, an organization loses incentive, ideas, and reality checks from both those at the top and those on the front line.

Should all grading be "fair"? How is "fair" defined and aren't there instances when a standardized means of evaluation is in fact "unfair"? I have students that excel in class. They are engaged, apply concepts or take ideas to new levels. But they don't "evaluate" well. Neither papers nor tests get at their level of understanding that I see in class. They do the work, but it does not translate into their grades. Is this fair? They will be great employees on day. In addition to their academic work, they are good team players, contribute to the class, have a good work ethic, act responsibly in class, and add to an overall good environment. Others that test well are over critical, stifle others ideas, create a negative environment, and really don't do much work, but are good writers and/or good test takers. I'd rather have the ones that don't grade well than those that do grade well. So how fair am I in my assessment?

So, a word of warning to all those in the training and HR departments: make sure you are using other measures to identify the ideal employees. GPA's don't really reflect a student's potential. A word of warning to educators: we need to re-evaluate how we assess in the current climate of "standardization." We may be doing our society a dis-service.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The future of the training department

Although it's a bit late, and I have my grades to finish (or because I have my grades to finish), I did want to post something as part of the ecollab's blog carnival. ECollab is a bilingual multi-author blog on enterprise collaboration.

This month's carnival was about the future of the training department. As an educator of the future users of the training department, I thought I would give my insight into some of the challenges and expectations of future workers about training and education.

1) Instant feedback
: my students don't want to wait to hear how they have done. If they write a report, they expect feedback immediately, perhaps even as they are writing it. As a result, any training they receive will need to be interactive (either electronically or face to face). It will not be enough for them to post something, for example, without any feedback with an hour or two. They do have more patience if you can give them a specific date. But even then, they will put it out of their mind until that date.

2) Choices in learning: Unlike students when I started teaching almost 20 years ago, students want a choice in what they learn, how they learn it, when they learn it, and who they learn it from. This means that training departments will need to offer both formal and informal choices in a variety of mediums (online, face to face, mentoring, tutors, simulations).

3) Just in time learning: If students don't feel it is important for them to know something (at this point, for a test or a grade), they won't bother to learn it. As a result, students are used to picking and choosing what they learn based on direction from authorities and whether or not they perceive what they learn as being useful. Translated in to work related learning, employees won't go through the training if they think it is not useful to their current work unless they have some incentive (promotion, location of training, paid training). Related to this is the idea that anything they will need to know in the future, they will be able to learn quickly, so why bother learning it until it is needed. Any training will need to be situated in a person's job.

4) Situated learning: My husband just had some standard computer training which he found irrelevant until the last class in which they were able to learn the software based on the problems the trainees were experiencing themselves. While there is societal and organizational push to standardize training, most employees won't undergo training unless it is situational. I see this a trend within organizations so that organizations will require more "targeted" training that allows for the training to be pinpointed for a specific employee. This means training departments will need to do a lot more assessment and develop a different model of training that is not standard across an organization.

5) Assessment tools: My students want tests. Why? Because they have a standard way of assessing how they have learned which they can then take with them to the workplace. More and more I am getting students who demand a detailed rubric on how they will be evaluated and assessed. In the workplace, especially as workers have greater access to informal learning, they are going to want the training department to assess their learning, rather than plan their learning. This means the focus of the training department will move from providing resources to assessing skills and knowledge, but in a way that workers accept. Coming from a background of standardized assessments, this next generation will expect the same type of testing to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. The training department will look more and more like the civil service or professional organizations (i.e. legal bar, CPA, NACATE).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dissertation: Group defining knowledge verbally

In looking at how the participants defined four terms, knowledge, know-how, content, and design, there was an insight into their similarities and differences in their perceptions of knowledge and the knowledge creating process.


They defined the term “knowledge” differently. There appeared to be three different groups: those that defined knowledge as something measurable or tangible (“information”, “content”, “things that you know”), those that had difficulty defining knowledge, and those that defined knowledge as something more intangible (“with knowledge, I know how to behave in any particular situation”, “shared meaning”). Surprisingly, those that identified knowledge as something tangible felt that they were within the organization and group’s powerstructure. They also were part of the traditional training group, which had a greater influence on the project according to the second round of interviews, 3 months later.

On the other hand, those that defined knowledge as something more intangible, were the most disgruntled with the project 3 months later. In fact, one of the group members left the organization before the second interview. The two that had difficulty defining knowledge, also felt a disconnect from the group and organization throughout the project. In fact, they felt a stronger connection to their profession or department, feeling as if they were outside of the group. They also tended to be much more careful with the answers they gave during their interviews.

This would indicate that knowledge workers need to be aligned with the epistemologies of their organizations. When there are different epistemologies within an organization, for example between departments, than there might be tension within distributed groups. This tension was not obvious in the routine collaborative written project (quarterly report) in which the format and even content was dictated from outside of the organization. However, in the creation of the document that required more group interaction and ownership, the differences in epistemologies were evident.

In analyzing the documents, therefore, it is important that I look at the changes to the most important document underwent. It is also important to look at the alignment of these changes, the interpretation of these documents by the individuals in relation to the perceived value by the organization, and the perception of what this document represented to the individual, group, and organization.


Unlike knowledge, the definition of content was consistent throughout the group. In most of the definitions, “information” was included. In many cases, some description of a tangible product was included. This included, “a variety of media”, “source material”, “images”, “what goes in a page”, “curriculum”, and “whatever the written material is.” Additionally, most participants included skills and knowledge or the word “know” in their definitions. In many cases, the definition also included how content was applied.

Interestingly, however, is that while content was consistently defined, and often used interchangeably with knowledge, knowledge was not consistently defined. Therefore, we can define “content” as a tangible subset of “knowledge”. While there might be differences as to what content is valuable or needed, the idea of what content is within a group does not seem to differ. This makes me wonder: 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” is defined and negotiated at the individual, group, and organizational level. In other words, the “what” will be defined.


Many of the definitions were similar for know how. Often skill and process, “how to use” and experience were used. Those who defined knowledge as something that was possessed also implied that know-how was “possessed.”

While each defined know how differently, they all seemed to share a common understanding that know how was not easily measured, had to do with a process or skill which helped to create know-how, and was informal learning. It also seemed that many of the definitions included how know-how was applied. Some of these included:

“Application of both what to do and knowing how to use it, mainly in an efficient way.” (R.).
“I guess I know…I’m going to use as…I know the know-hows of web development, know-hows of graphic design.” (D.)
“…, know how get things done even if it’s delegating.” (S.)
“I guess that’s knowledge that translates….into an ability to do something.” (P.)
“…intuitive gut navigation.” (H.)

While content seemed static, know-how seemed more action oriented. Know-how also appears to be an individual concept. When defining know-how, the participants tended to use the first person. No one used a collective pronoun in their definitions.

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?


After the first series of interviews, I noticed that many of the participants used the term “design”, but each in a slightly different way. As a result, a definition of design was included in the second interview. In fact, the definition of design had very little in common from speaker to speaker. In addition, it seemed the most difficult term for the participants to define, most having long pauses before they answered.

Those from the training department tended to perceive design as a definitive construct using terms such as “strategies”,“content”, “framework”, and “curriculum.” Design was a more situated term to define for those in the elearning department, grounded in the creative and meaning making process. For example, “Design is the…planful…elegance and pattern…which gives…definition and meaning.” (R.). Not only is there some situated aspect to design, but those in the elearning department identify a sense of agency in their definitions.

Such a divergence in the understanding of what “design” is could lead to difference in understanding during the creation of a collaborative document, especially when there is no structure to the document, such as the second document studied. The first writing project, using a clearly defined structure was, “Well, the quarterly report’s always a by-product of individual contributions.” (R., group interview). On the other hand, the second collaborative project studied was a document created by the group to help identify the various aspects of the elearning project. In discussing this document in a group interview, the difficulty in creating an agreed upon product was obvious:

R: Well, what formally…I think the … for the classroom trainers, they have a document. Module 1 contains X number of elements. Module 2 contains X number of elements. Eh…for me, there’s a sort of isomorphic mapping of those content elements onto a schema that reflects those same strains and tho…and that same order. Uh…And I’ll give you a copy of this map which talks about where those elements are…


P: There’s a certain way to do that in the classroom. So, um… I think that’s…I don’t know if you can…say right now what your product is going to be. It’s going to be some type of elearning product.
R: Right. I mean…
P: But what it’s going to look like and how it’s…how it’s going to work is not…really isn’t there yet.
R: It isn’t really there... I mean, we have an idea…

Those in the training department seem to perceive design in what Buchanan (1992) refers to as the “categories” of design: “Categories have fixed meanings that are accepted within the framework of a theory or a philosophy, and serve as the basis for analyzing what already exist (p. 12).” The elearning department looks at the possibilities of design, however. This is what Buchanan refers to as “placement” of design. “Placements have boundaries to shape and constrain meaning, but are not rigidly fixed and determinate. The boundary of a placement gives a context or orientation to thinking, but the application to a specific situation can generate a new perception of that situation and, hence, a new possibility to be tested. Therefore, placements are sources of new ideas and possibilities when applied to problems in concrete circumstances (p. 13).”

It appears that coming to the collaborative writing process from these two different approaches affects the knowledge creation and collaborative process.


In this project, it would appear that the source of conflict over epistemology was not a shared understanding of what content was (information, tangible) or know-how (intangible), but rather a shared understanding of design (what is as opposed to what can be created). This appears to be an overlooked aspect of the collaborative writing process.


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, Vol. 8, No. 2 Accessed: 11/12/2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The best teachers don't give you the answers

My family likes to watch the new series "Glee", usually on Sunday mornings on the internet. Since they need to get up early in the morning for school, the 9-10 PM time period is a bit late.

I think what has struck a cord for them in this program is that they bring up issues that are relevant to all high school students, often in a humorous way. In this week's episode, the teacher for the Glee Club has been suspended and cannot accompany the group to the Sectional competition. The students are upset as they complain that they won't be able to do well without their faculty adviser. However, he replies that he has every confidence they can do it without him. "The best teachers don't give you the answers."

I was surprised when my daughter whole heartedly agreed with this. She goes to an alternative school which is project based learning, using groups. "That's how it is in my school," she commented to her brother, who also agree with her. Perhaps there is hope for the future of education if society begins to understand this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Knowledge creation in distributed group collaborative writing projects: Methodology

As promised, below is an outline of the methodology I used to study indepth a distributed group as they worked on two collaborative writing projects.


The original data collection was based on the research questions: How do individual members interpret the experience of a collaborative writing process within distrubted workplace groups? What factors influence the interpretation of experience that individuals take with them outside of the group as a result of participating in the collaborative writing process? The purpose in answering these questions was to gain a deeper understanding of what the individual perspective is and the various factors, including group dynamics, context, the role of writing and technology, culture, organizational structure (including agency and power structures), and types of learning, that influence the individual in creating his or her own knowledge, contributing to the group’s shared knowledge, and contributing to organizational knowledge and learning.

Due to the complexity of each of these factors that might influence the individual, it was necessary to have a deeper understanding of the individual, group, and organizational processes and contexts in which collaborative writing takes place. Therefore, qualitative methods, specifically grounded theory and ethnomethodology, were used (Charmaz, 2006; Clancey, 2006; Garfinkel, 1967; Patten, 2002).

After the data was collected, it was apparent that there were many directions in which the data could be analyzed. There were three areas that could be analyzed based on the literature review: the effect of group communication, the impact of organizational structures, and/or the effects and affects of written formats on the collaborative writing process. As a result, as often happens in grounded theory research (Charmaz, 2006), the research questions were rewritten to address the emerging themes and concepts found in the data. I decided to focus on the impact of the collaborative writing process from an organizational learning perspective. The questions still were used to gain a deeper understanding of what the individual perspective is and the various factors, including group dynamics, context, the role of writing and technology, culture, organizational structure (including agency and power structures), and types of learning, that influence the individual in creating his or her own knowledge, contributing to the group’s shared knowledge, and contributing to organizational knowledge and learning. However, the questions were more focused on the methods of common understanding created through individual and group practices located within the organizational social and knowledge structures (Garfinkel, 1967).

The questions were then changed to: What knowledge do members of a distributed workplace group identify as being important when creating a group product? What factors influence the choice of what knowledge is important?
The subquestions included:

• How do individuals define “knowledge”?

• What process or processes does a distributed group in the workplace use to create shared meaning and understanding during collaborative writing projects? What factors do they identify as shaping that process or processes?

• What patterns of work activity are maintained and changed at the individual, group, and organizational level within a distributed group? Who do workers identify with in maintaining or changing work patterns in different contexts?

Methodology Framework

While there are many qualitative methods from which to choose, ethnomethodology allows researchers to look at how the individual and social system (the collaborative writing group, organization, clients, and sponsers in this case) influence each other (Brandt, 2005; Schneider, 2002). Ethnomethodology, with its roots in sociology, looks at the effect that a social system has on individual behavior, which behavior in turn informs the development of the social system either by modifying the structure or reinforcing the social dynamics, assumptions, and power structures (Brandt; Schnieder). Researchers using ethnomethodology (as opposed to ethnography) look at everyday practices as coconstructed social activities based on the perspective of the individual (Clancey, 2006; Garfinkel, 1967). Thus, data is analyzed through the lens of both the individual and the organization through the interaction ritual chains (Hilbert, 1992).

According to Brandt, who has looked at workplace literacy practices using ethnomethodology, this approach not only looks at how an individual’s writing is influenced by the social context in which the writing takes place, but also how the individual then becomes the part of the social context by justifying his or her choices and helping to reinforce organizational writing formats. The context and the individual cannot be separated since the internal processes of the individual helps to create the social context.

Therefore, ethnomethodology will require that I look at the individual as a co-creator of the context for the group and the organization. However, rather than looking at it from an organizational or group perspective (thus separating the individual from the context), ethnomethodology allows me to look at it from the individual’s perspective through the interaction with the social context, however complex that might be (Clancey, 2006). In using this methodology, therefore, the influences on individual and distributed group outcomes in a collaborative writing project in the workplace may be both internal and external to the individual, but their location will not be as important as the impact on the individual’s perception of the collaborative writing process and outcomes.

It is important, therefore, that this study includes:
• a complete description of the perceived contexts by group members at the organizational, individual, and group level;

• individual member epistemologies;

• the perceived social structures and discourse communities in which individuals and the group as a whole work;

• a description of the process the group uses to achieve their task and understanding of each other’s position in order to describe the context of their work;

• individual perceptions of what they should and what they actually bring into the collaborative writing process;

• individual perceptions of the effect members have on the collaborative writing process and their group members, and how they themselves are affected by the collaborative writing process and the other group members;

• perceived learning and knowledge creation due to the collaborative writing process; and

• perceived value of the collaboration at the individual, group, and organizational level.

While ethnomethodology will help inform the type of data that is collected and impact how data is analyzed, grounded theory, especially constructed grounded theory, will guide the research process. Constructed grounded theory uses the identified themes emerging from the data to construct theory. It differs from classic grounded theory in that it interprets the data in developing theory rather than looking for explicit codes initially (Charmaz, 2006).

Group Selection

A major criticism of research on group dynamics and processes in the past is that studies created groups and group tasks in an artificial environment, therefore, minimizing the complexities of group work. More recently, research on groups have studied naturally occurring groups in their own environment, so as to look at the relationship between members in a more authentic environment and capture the dynamics that are the result of organizational structure, shared culture, organizational politics, and shared past experience (Gersick, 1988; Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Jehn et al., 1999; McGrath et al., 2000). As I am trying to understand the external, as well as the internal factors that influence an individual’s experience, it was important that the group I study is a naturally occurring group that would normally collaborate together on a written document.

The first step in recruiting a natural occurring distributed work group was to identify organizations that would allow the study to be conducted, as required by research protocols laid out by the University’s Institutional Review Board. Groups were chosen from organizations dealing in “knowledge” as part of their business. Brandt (2005) identifies this knowledge as the intangible tacit knowledge that adds to the value of a product. Because a large part of services are the intangible product, capturing knowledge and codifying it through writing to make it more tangible is very important to service organizations. There may also be strong external pressures to a group collaborative writing process such as government regulations, organizational quality control to standardize processes, and the demand for knowledge in a tangible format (such as a book, webpage, prototype, or software). As a result, sites were chosen from organizations whose products do not fall into the first three categories of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS product codes for: 1. Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting, 2. Mining, and 3. Manufacturing). Possible service industries included government organizations, economic development, advertising, education, consulting, financial services, transportation and travel, retail, healthcare services, legal services, or software development (United States Census Bureau, 2002).

Organizations were identified through trade organizations (i.e. Capital District Trade Organization), listservs (Communication Faculty listserv), and other professional groups and contacts. I made contact with management within the organization, gave them an overview of the project (based on the application made to the Institutional Review Board) and identified two organizations that worked with distributed work teams.

I then needed to work with an organization in identifying pre-existing distributed groups that would be interested in participating in this study. The group as a whole would need to agree to the study, meaning that if one member did not want to participate, the group would be excluded, rather than replacing that member with someone new that would agree to participate.

In identifying possible groups, potential teams needed to meet the following criteria:

• the group or team should be distributed during some part of the process,

• use technology to support their collaboration,

• and have a core group of between 3 and 7 members.

Groups that are “distributed” do not work within the same physical space on a daily basis. They may be distributed by department, by location (e.g. field office and home office, US based and foreign based) or by speciality (e.g. sales, support, management). The group or team may include face-to-face interaction, but part of the collaboration process should include interaction supported by technology (i.e. telecommunications, internet or e-mail, video conferencing, or shareware). This would help inform the study as to how enforced structure (including the limitations technology might place on interaction) and conflicting contexts (local and group due to distributed team) might affect the collaborative writing process. Finally, research has identified the optimal size of groups at 3-7 members (Moreland & Levine, 2001).

In order to limit the effect that group size might have on the collaborative process, optimal size of the study group would have been 3-5 members. However, in many naturally occurring groups, there are peripheral members that would also have an effect on the group process and at any given time more than 5 members may have been working on the project. It was important, therefore, to include these peripheral members in the study. As a result, the group studied was a core group of 4-5 members working on the collaborative writing project, with the input of 2-3 additional members at any given time during the study, all of which gave their consent for the study.

The first site organization was chosen because of its international distributed work teams. Two groups were identified as potential study participants and I contacted each group member directly with an overview of the project. It soon became clear that because of cultural differences and work pressures, that international members of the group were reluctant to participate. So I changed the site (and organization) of the study. The recruitment of the participants for the second site was modified somewhat. I gave a presentation that was an overview of the study to potential participants. They then gave feedback as to whether they would be willing to participate in the project. Based on this, groups were identified as potential study subjects.

I chose the group that met the criteria for the study. Many of the groups had been working together for a while. The final group chosen had never worked together, was at the beginning of their project, and were distributed in three different locations. In addition, the group used email and a project management software, Basecamp, to communicate.

Initially, I monitored the group’s work through Basecamp, after receiving their signed consent to participate forms. I identified two collaborative writing projects that the core group was working on simultaneously and decided to include both projects in the study. Because of the complexity of the phenomenon of collaborative writing, it is important that in-depth data be collected on both individual perceptions and group perceptions. Since one of the things that I would like to understand is how the dynamics of individuals and groups affect the creation of knowledge at the individual level, the question of agency and enforced structure (from the context) is very important. In order to understand the contexts, group dynamics, and individual perceptions, I studied the one group in-depth before, during, and after collaborating on these common documents. Looking at the two documents gave two contexts in which to study the same group.

Data Collection

This study was divided into three phases. The first phase, pre-task and collaboration consisted of a group of interviews looking at what an individual perceives he or she brings into the collaborative writing process and the perceived context in which he or she was collaborating. In addition to the interviews, data was collected on group interaction in Basecamp, meetings through meeting minutes, and additional documents such as email, document drafts, and planning documents.

The second set of individual interviews were conducted 3 months after the first set of interviews and the group interview. This had the unanticipated advantage of being able to collect examples of other documents, work, and group processes that were the result of those documents created during the collaborative process in the first set of interviews. In addition, it allowed me to explore group member perceptions of the organization, project, group, and knowledge creation over a longer time period.

I personally transcribed all interviews. The average length of these interviews was 45 minutes, the shortest being 38 minutes and the longest being 72 minutes long. In total, 15 interviews were conducted. With one exception, all transcriptions were verbatim from the audio taped recording. The one exception, due to malfunction of the recording equipment, had to be pieced together with partial recordings and notes from the interview. In addition, 40 documents were collected, including background information on the project, postings by group members on basecamp, drafts and final copies of documents studied, and additional documents that were the result of the documents studied.

Data Analysis

Using Charmaz’s (2006) process for coding in constructed grounded theory, each transcribed interview was initially coded at the line level using action words. Starting with an interview from each department, initial codes interpreting the interviews were developed using action words. After the fourth interview, codes were reviewed and common terms were written on index cards. Using constant comparison within the interviews and between interviews some codes were combined, others were dropped, and new ones were created (Glasser & Strass as quoted in Charmaz, 2006, p. 54) based on the analysis of the remaining interview transcripts. Once it was obvious that there was a theoretical saturation in coding the data (Charmaz, Patten, 2002), these codes were then used to develop themes.

Looking at each question, codes were combined that developed themes/concepts or “relational statements” (Glasser & Strass as quoted in Patten, 2002, p. 490) that could be used to analyze the data and begin to develop theory.


Brandt, D. (2005). Writing for a living: Literacy and the knowledge economy. Written Communication, 22(2), 166-197.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage Publications.

Clancy, W. (2006) Observation of Work Practices in Natural Settings. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, P. Feltovich & R. Hoffman (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook on Expertise and Expert Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 127-145. Available at http://homepage.mac.com/wjclancey/~WJClancey/

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Gersick, C. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. Academy of Management Journal, 31(1), 9-31.

Hilbert, R. (1992). The classical roots of Ethnomethodology. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Jehn, K., & Mannix, E. (2001). The dynamic nature of conflict: A longitudinal study of intragroup conflict and group performance. Academy of Management Journal, 44(2), 238-251.

Jehn, K., Northcraft, G., & Neale, M. (1999). Why differences make a difference: A field study of diversity, conflict, and performance in workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 741-763.

McGrath, J., Arrow, H., & Berdahl, J. (2000). The study of groups: Past, present, and future. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4(1), 95-105.

Moreland, R., & Levine, J. (2001). Socialization in organizations and work groups. In M. E. Turner (Ed.), Groups at work: Theory and research (pp. 69-112). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erbaum Associates.

Patten, M. (2002). Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods, 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Schneider, B. (2002). Theorizing structure and agency in workplace writing: An ethnomethodological approach. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 16, 196-214.

United States Census Bureau. (2002). North American industry classification system (NAICS): United States Government.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Study on knowledge creation in distributed groups

I currently am in the process of identifying emerging themes for my dissertation. However, recently, the blogsphere has been ripe with discussion on communities of practice and working with groups. This might be the result of the publication of Wenger, White, and Smith's book, "Digital Habitats".

In reading these posts and comments, I realized that my dissertation topic may in fact be relevant! Sometimes I think it is just a matter of finding the correct community in which to place research and ideas. With that in mind, I have decided to make my work in progress available on this blog. As this is a grounded theory based study, I will write my research memos (Charmaz, 2006; Maxwell, 2005) on a blog (research blog posts?). I hope I can get some feedback as I am finding the process of writing my dissertation very lonely.

My next post will outline the research methodology.

Charmaz, K. (2006) Constructing Grounded Theory. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.
Maxwell, j (2005) Qualitative Research Design. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A cultural analysis of Thanksgiving

Over this past week, we celebrated the quintessential American holiday: Thanksgiving. Only Canada and the US celebrate this holiday. I'm not sure that the Canadian holiday holds as much meaning as it does in the US. So why is this holiday so important and what cultural values are embedded in our celebration of this holiday?

First, let's speak about cultural frameworks. Many researchers use Hofestede's framework. However, I prefer Hall's anthropological framework for cultural analysis, specifically, the high context/low context basis of analysis. The US is a fairly low context culture, meaning that the culture is open to those that have not been born into the culture. It is not necessary to understand the "context" of the culture as there are few rules, but those that there are rarely are broken. It is not necessary to understand the context of the holidays, for example, in order to understand the rituals.

So what are the features of Thanksgiving that gives an insight into the US culture?

Agrarian culture

Even though we are known for our urban centers in the US (NY City, LA, Chicago, New Orleans), we still have our roots in Agriculture. The land, food, and even patterns of life are based around the agrarian lifestyle. Our school calender is still around the harvest. Depending on where a person lives, the calender will change. In the Northeast, where we have late summers and late falls, our school calender is late by definition of the rest of the country. Thanksgiving is basically a holiday of the harvest, as we celebrate with a core set of dishes (Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweat potatoes, pumpkin and apple pies, squash) that are traditionally harvested late in the fall. However, like the rest of the country, there are regional differences, again based on the regional cultures.

Last Thanksgiving, our family celebrated Thanksgiving in Georgia, where the food was a bit sweeter and richer, with pecans, cream, and cornmeal playing a key role in the side dishes. My own family used to include foods such as dried fruit, green beans, and stale bread stuffing. My husband's family used sausage in making their stuffing for the turkey, and side dishes that reflected his family's Italian roots.

Going Home

One aspect of Thanksgiving which is unique to other US holidays is the importance of going home. This is more than going home to be with family, it also is a time to reconnect with the community in which one grew up. Perhaps a result of an agrarian culture which became mobile (as people moved to the cities or other parts of the country for better opportunities), many people take the time out to go back to visit school friends, extended family, and reconnect with their past. This is unique for a culture that tends not to look to its past. However, it is more than just seeing old friends.

Many high schools have official or unofficial reunions. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving (this holiday is always on a Thursday) is a big day for the bars and local restaurants as people go out to be with their friends they have not seen for some time. This is truly one of the most social times of the year. The Wednesday before is also the biggest travel day of the year. Interestingly enough, this "migration" reminds me of the biblical census time where everyone was expected to go back to the town in which they were born. I also feel the same sense of connection to community as I did on Election Day in Costa Rica in which most voters returned to their home town to vote. There is a connection with the past and the present; with those who were brought up with the same values even though they may have changed and have different values today.


Interestingly enough, if you were to see the portrayal of Thanksgiving on television, you would think that is was the most important part of this holiday. While family is more important than many other US holidays (e.g. Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day), who we spend our Thanksgiving is an indication of how we define "family". In some cases, family is extended, in others it is nuclear, and still in others it is a close set of friends.

What we do as a family also varies. In my own family, when we were growing up, we would go outside and play American football. For many years we spent Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house on Long Island. The day after Thanksgiving, my father would take us into New York City once we were old enough (I think 6 or 7), to look at the Christmas decorations and have Shirley Temples (punch) at the Plaza Hotel. My own family has a tradition of going for a walk after dinner and before dessert is served. This too is an insight into our culture, as each family creates their own traditions on Thanksgiving.

To me, when I lived outside of the US, Thanksgiving was the hardest holiday NOT to celebrate. It seemed so AMERICAN. Perhaps that is why we always celebrated it as expatriates. We often had a feeling of real nostalgia and it was difficult to explain the "spirit" of Thanksgiving to non-Americans. For anyone who lives outside of the US, if you want to capture the true American spirit, I would suggest that you spend a Thanksgiving in the US. It is unlike any other holiday here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is it the train or the tracks that are important

Harold Jarche had an interesting post about a metaphor used in the book Revolutionary Wealth. In it the authors outline a metaphor using the speed of the train as an indication of readiness for technological change.

However, I did not like this metaphor. I feel it is the tracks (which includes the structure and the paths laid out for the trains to go on) which makes entities ready or not for change. Some organizations, such as the government, might have the newest technology available, but are restricted in how they can use it. I see the train as the technology itself. Some older trains can do very well if there is a well kept track, while even the most advanced engines must slow down for poorly maintained and planned tracks.

There is portion of the train ride from Albany, NY to NY City were trains have to come to the slowest crawl imaginable because the track cannot sustain the train. There is a delay in Washington DC as engines from the south (or north) must change to fit the difference in track size between the south and north. Trains from the mid-west to the east coast are always late due to the complex structure and poor condition of the rails around the Buffalo area. Trains must feed into this one high traffic area where there is always rail repair going on.

So with that in mind, I developed the follow metaphor using the tracks, rather than the train. I have copied it from the comment section on Harold's blog:

I can’t say I really like that metaphor. It assumes that Business is the only fast train with all other support services as behind the times.

I think a better metaphor would be the “tracks”. Big business has the fastest tracks maintained and built right to their door. As a result, they have the fastest track to progress.

Small business must try to deal with their track being just a bit out of reach, so they have a fast train to a certain point, but then must be creative in getting the goods (knowledge and technology) to their door.

The civil society makes sure that there are spurs off the main track. Even if these spurs are a bit slow and in need of some help, at least it gets to a larger number of people. They just need to be patient.

The government train has the nicest tracks around, although they don’t go to the places that they necessarily need to go. However, this is a very efficient train, so it doesn’t matter if it is going anywhere, as long as it can prove that it went SOMEWHERE. Meanwhile, the train employees would just like someone to plan out the track and END at some point.

Education keeps having the tracks ripped up and relaid. Sometimes this means that the train will get to where it needs to go, but for those on poorer or more isolated routes, it might just go around in circles. Of course, then the passengers blame it on the conductor and engineer, who are just trying to keep the train on the tracks.

The international track goes only so far, and then it stops. There is no coordination, and the track owners of one railroad won’t speak with the track owners of the others. When they do, it still takes time to move from one set of tracks to another.

The political system train can’t decide where to lay the track. It stops at their friends houses, but doesn’t connect to others. As a result there are hundreds of miles of tracks planned, but nothing is actually laid out because no one can agree on a system.

Finally, the legal train builds up, then takes down tracks. The piece meal track system means that there is no coordination with actual walls between some, but bridges that link others. As fast as the political system is laying out track, the legal system is rearranging it.

I can't help but think there are some stakeholders missing. Perhaps members of minority groups or "non-techies". Non-techies put up walls to prevent the track from coming to their community and hope to preserve their way of life.

Minority groups, tired of always being by-passed by the larger companies, lay their own tracks often in isolation. The larger more popular tracks then have others who come from outside who want to link them up to the main tracks.

Perhaps you can think of other groups.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Learn Trends 2009

The third Learn Trends 2009 is taking place this week. For anyone who has never taken part, it is well worth the time. What I especially like is the interaction during the presentation as there is often a very active chat. This year (tomorrow morning) they have a session in French. I hope this will expand in the future as I would love to see what else is going on around the world in the area of professional training and elearning.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Residents and visitors

Andy Coverdale had an interesting post on his blog about Dave White's idea of digital "visitors" and "residents" in place of the concept for digital "immigrants" and "natives". I feel much more comfortable with the idea of visitor and residents as it allows for different generations and levels of engagement with technology, applications, and tools. As I commented on Andy's blog:

This appears soooo much more useful than natives and immigrants. It also makes me wonder about the students (regardless of generation) who are visitors, but we want to become residents. Does this also tie into online communities (i.e. you might be a visitor in one type of community, as I am to facebook, but a resident at another, as I am with ning)? How do we get people to become “residents”? I think the question of trust is a big issue.

When Andy asked me if I thought that this was determined by socio-technical or platform factors, I replied:

I guess one problem I had with the digital natives or immigrants was that fact that there was a uniform amount of knowledge in “technology”. I have a greater understanding of the technological underpinnings of new technology than my husband or children. But I would be considered an immigrant. But the fact is that technology continually changes and with it the socio-cultural structures. I was on Facebook within the first year that it was developed as a member of our University. It changed drastically when it was “opened” up. My kids use it differently than friends and relatives of my generation.

Within the technological structures, there can be multiple socio-cultural structures and practices. Just like habitat structures can be similar between urban, suburban, rural, and different countries, structures between technology can be similar. However, the town next to mine differs because of a different community feeling. Experience, ties to the community, understanding of communication cues between members of the community affect the way someone feels coming into a new community. My husband and I lived in a neighborhood for 7 years and never felt a part of the community and felt as if we were considered “visitors”. However, our current community, we feel like residents as we know how things work, who the players are, and the subtle communication cues.

I feel it is the same with technology in that some will always feel like technology visitors as they learn new technology. Some may always “fit in” immediately and be a resident where ever they go. Still others will be a visitor initially and then move to resident status depending on the technology and community support in using the technology. And finally, others will be visitors at some technologies (usually by choice) and residents at others. I think there is a lot more choice in the use of technology and a lot more community influence that creates trust in using a certain technology.

In a related post on wirearchy blog, they discuss the importance of revisiting socio-technical systems business design field. As they contend, the "social business design" sounds very similar for the socio-technical systems business design theories in organizational development. However, the education field has continued to this body of literature over the last decade.

I think what is relevant in both of these fields is that it is hard to disassociate the tools that have been adapted for use in education and business from the social structures that continue to evolve. New tools are created as there is a social need; and tools are "retooled" with new social practices that develop around the new tools and the "retools". This is especially important to recognize in virtual groups, organizations, and workplaces. However, it also spills over into the personal life and the line between "personal" and "work" becomes blurred.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Does any one know anything about open source qualitative research tools?

As I am in the midst of my dissertation data analysis, I keep thinking that there has to be an easier way to do the data analysis than to cut and paste coded data (using the tracking and comment function of word) to do my data analysis. The problem is that I need to maintain a certain degree of privacy in my data analysis as per the IRB (Institutional Research Board) at our school. While I have access to data analysis programs at the university, I can't use them securely.

So after reading Michael Hanley's series on open source elearning, I began to wonder if perhaps there are some open source free research tools. Why do qualitative research tools cost so much? And why aren't universities trying to develop free research tools for others to improve the quality of research?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Valuating expertise

Ken Allen had an interesting post recently about expertise . I have become very interested in expertise as its definition within a group seems to be a key element in collaborative writing and knowledge creation.

Specifically, how "expertise" is defined varies among group members based on their professional development, the politics of the organization and department, and their own epistemology (often a result of schooling, culture, and reference groups).

The problem is that defining expertise is often implicit. As a result, when interacting with others, decision makers will impose their own definition of expertise if they don't first interact with those who will be impacted by their decision. If a decision maker's definition of expertise is different than the stakeholders, there will be discontent and the appearance that the decision maker is inept (after all, s/he should not make "stupid" decisions based on "false" data).

This is especially true when there are multi-generations. Some of the older expertise may be undervalued by younger stakeholders and some of the younger expertise may be undervalued by older stakeholders. Rather than merging the expertise, taking out the best for the situation, one or the other will be discounted.

This recently happened to me (and it is not the first time). As an expert on instructional technology, with a deep level of experience in multiple contexts, you would think that a school would reach out to have my input on instructional technology and its instructional design. Instead, my daughter worked on a distance learning component of her school (high school level) yesterday, experiencing a number of factors that are common mistakes made by first time distance learning instructional design. As I mentioned before, this is not the first school to discount my expertise because I am a parent (you wouldn't understand, you only have college level experience, you're a parent...not a teacher).

I am disappointed because I expected more from the school as it is an alternative school. However, upon reflection I realized that there are different definitions of expertise working here and that admitting a lack of expertise is a difficult as redefining "expertise" and "knowledge". There needs to be tools, especially in the current "objective" standardized educational system the US has been moving to, to allow for new ideas, new ways of doing things, but also the maintenance of old ideas and ways of doing things that may still work in different situations. One advantage of the current technology is that there is a more permanent record of not only new ideas, but old ideas as well. I need only peruse my blog as I develop my syllabus for next semester and see what worked, what didn't, and what situations I might need to deal with next semester.

I am especially concerned with the current recession, as the 50+ workers are being laid off, that some of the time tested ways of doing business will be thrown out (the good with the bad) and the same mistakes will be made (and covered up). Let's hope that the amount of expertise that is out there will be used rather than wasted.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Professions and expertise

My current research has made it obvious that in the workplace expertise in the profession is equated with "knowledgeable" or "intelligent." A specialist often is hired over a generalist. However, is this truly the best use of organizational resources?

My husband was complaining that the last 3 consultants (specialists) that his department had hired have not worked out. Why? Because they are not able to take initiative and see the big picture. They can do their small piece as long as they receive direction outside of their specialization. They don't take the time to figure out what is needed outside of their small scope of work.

In looking at cross specialization, I have found that there is a long time frame for those from different professions and specialties to create shared knowledge. The reason is that initially each person comes in with their own sense of what is viable knowledge, often based on their profession. Even if these divergent ideas can be combined, there is also a need to create a shared understanding of the task and knowledge from the various departments.

It would seem to me that the first step in any group work should be to create a shared understanding of knowledge, standards, and group processes. This means that any use of a wiki or google docs for example, should begin with some discussion as to what and whose standards for knowledge will be used. This may take some time, but I would think the outcome would be a much deeper understanding and creation of knowledge.

Unfortunately, I am finding in our fast paced world, this is not considered good use of time. It is hard to measure "outcomes" especially if the group will not stay together. Of course, if an instrument were developed to measure the impact the knowledge would have on company production (like the multiplying effect in economics), then this time spent would have some economic basis.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is our educational system aiding in creating the flu pandemic?

Many may have noticed that I haven't written a blog for a while. My kids went to a school dance a couple of weeks ago and 4 days later came down with (most likely) the H1N1 flu...along with 400 others. I guess the school was lucky it was only half of the 800 at the dance.

My daughter actually attends an alternative school in the school district (for science and technology) and my son went as a guest of one of his elementary school friends. My daughter's school, a technology based, project based, group learning based school which draws students from multiple locations in a 200 square mile radius, requires students to continue to check into school and expects sick children to keep up with their work while they are ill. As a result, my daughter went back to school fever free, but still not well as we were having internet connection issues. The school is still unprepared for the students coming down with the flu. Even before my daughter got the flu, her work was affected as there was always a team member sick from the first week of classes. However, as there is a greater critical mass of students coming down with the flu, a letter has finally come out outlining what students should do. This still does not address how those that are WELL or teachers should handle classes and projects that can't be completed because a majority of group members are ill.

The high school where the dance was held initially sent out a letter stating that the flu was the "general flu", not h1n1 despite the rapid spread of the illness. They did not shut down the school, despite the fact that a quarter of the students were ill. The next day a "clarification" was sent out in conjunction with the health department which began to monitor the situation at the school. In fact, there were no other confirmed flu types in the county (although there were some in other nearby regions). So most likely, any flu students from the school came down with was h1n1.

My son, being a typical teenager, did not tell anyone at school that he was feeling feverish. His driver's ed teacher had told them that the flu was not an acceptable excuse to miss class. If that wasn't bad enough, that evening my son played a soccer game which he had been looking forward to for the entire season. So he played, then proceeded to shake hands with the opposing team, and went home where we discovered he had an 102 fever.

What the flu reveals about our schools and healthcare system

I recently heard an interview by the head of the CDC who said that they were recommending the schools not close down because students were safer in school (healthy) than unsupervised (also healthy). This reveals the role that education has taken in the US. Schools are safe havens from communities that have broken down and duel working parent families (or single parent families). No longer is school just a place to educate students. So shouldn't we be putting more money into after school programs, family and student support services, and even healthcare?

My own experience at how the different approaches the colleges in which I work take demonstrates the different approaches the healthcare system can take. At the one college, students see health professionals, initially at the health center. However, as more incidences of illness has begun to take place, there have been emergency health screening available at the dorms. On this campus, we have diagnosed strep, the two different types of flu, and mono (a common occurance for college students). Students are put on medical leave, sent home, and not allowed back until they are feeling better. Surprisingly, there has been less long term illness (from students in my class) and my students seem much healthier than I usually see this time of year. It will be interesting to see if they perform better, as they are allowed to heal.

The second school has only self reporting, with very little diagnosis of the illnesses. The health center does not really see any cases as they don't have the man power to do so. My classes for the last 3 weeks have really diminished. In some cases, at other colleges, I have heard about incidences in which professors will fail students for x number of absences, whether they were diagnosed with the flu or not.

Our society believes that it is better to "work through" any illness. This is in line with our "hard work" values, individual over group (you wouldn't go into work to infect your colleagues if you valued the group), and our relationship with nature (we can overcome nature, work through illness). In addition, we have a tendency in our healthcare system not to seek treatment until it is critical, nor do we want to overwhelm an already overwhelmed system. On the part of education, our society reinforces these values in the school. We need to "get through content", keep students safe, and keep pushing the envelope for student achievement.

However, perhaps it is time we start investing in a healthcare system that can meet the challanges of the unexpected. Perhaps we should start providing healthcare and "sick beds" in schools for those times when parents feel they can't take time off. Perhaps we as a society should allow parents to take the time off for family illness and start developing protecals and infrastructure for work from home.

And for anyone who gets the flu, don't go back to work too soon. While I only had a fever for one day, and had been fever free for 3 days before I went back to work, it took me a good 2 weeks to feel healthy again. The same was true for my children.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writings of a harried 21st Century mother!

There are so many topics that I would like to write about, but lately, my mind does not hold a thought for more than 5-10 minutes.

In any given day, I

  • am teaching. This semester I am teaching the 18th different course I have taught in the last 20 years, in consumer behavior, in the marketing/management department. I have two sections of 33 students in each. I teach in the communication department at a second university where I have been for the last 5 years.
  • writing my dissertation (although this seems to be on the back burner more than front in my thoughts). I am in the "brain explosion" phase as I try to take my analysis and figure out what it means. I have bits and pieces of insight, but now I'm trying to pull it all together to make sense out of it.
  • teaching my son to drive (as he does not want to drive with his father who makes him nervous and my husband does not to drive with my son who makes him nervous). Of course, my son makes me nervous also, but I have learned how to appear calm and respond to his mistakes with gentle instruction so he doesn't panic and drive into a tree or another car!
  • attending soccer games, working concession for the team, or picking my son up from soccer practice.
  • driving my son and/or daughter to the school dance, football game, or the store to pick up something for school
  • driving my daughter to dance class
  • meeting with or communicating with one or both of my children's teachers about some issue with school
  • or correcting papers, writing papers, or checking my emails

Occasionally about 3-4 times a month, I am checking in with my mother. But I have to prepare myself for those calls to my 83 year old mother, as I still revert back to the old triggers from my childhood.

This of course is in addition to the regular house hold chores of cooking (with the exception of soccer night games, the whole family eats together, but I cook dinner every night whether we eat together or not), grocery shopping, cleaning, wash, dishes, and helping out with the occasional homework question.

I am tired! I know I am not the only one in this position (at least I don't have to run my own business like Karyn Romeis, now are my children totally dependent on me like Janet Clarey). But I do want to apologize now if my blogging is a bit on and off again in the next few months.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dumbing down in the World? Defining "smart"

Let me start with a question to reflect on. Make sure you think of this before you read on. Think of the teacher that had the greatest impact on your learning throughout your life. How did they influence you? What did they do to influence your learning? What characteristics did they have?

Now read on.

I recently had a conversation with my adviser about "good teachers." He begins his introduction to teaching course asking his students to reflect on these questions. This conversation came back as I read a post by Ken Allen on "Is the world dumbing down?".

In the post, he has a clip of Branford Marsailis who speaks about what he has learned from his students. Basically, he says he has not learned anything, as his students just want to be told they are good, and don't want to work hard to learn. My adviser also mentioned how one of his students felt that much of teaching education focuses on the "touchy-feely stuff" and not on the learning outcomes.

This got me to thinking about which teachers had influenced me the most. There were four teachers who had the greatest impact on my learning. One thing that they had in common was they challenged me, but always let me know that they had confidence that I would meet any challenge.

Miss Relation was my reading and 3rd grade teacher. I can still remember when she was so impressed with how well I did with multiple digit multiplication and complex math concepts (such as sets). As I learned to read, she would always re-enforce it with, "I knew you could do it. See?" But she would never take, "I can't" as an excuse. She was in it with me, guiding me, having confidence that I could do it.

Miss McDonough was one of the toughest teachers I had (5th grade), but when I accomplished something, she would let me know how proud she was that I stuck with it and was able to master it. At no time would she give up on any student. You would achieve her high standards or she (and possibly you) would die trying. Her utter confidence in every student (I never heard her say a negative thing about a student...they weren't smart, they were lazy, what were they thinking?) made you want to show her you could do it.

My middle school math teacher was the first to let me know that I was really good in math...during a time when women were not expected to be good in math. Everything that we did, he would point out the good job I did. This confidence in me, made me confident in myself and I excelled in math as a result.

Finally, one of my professors in graduate school, allowed us to co-create our own curriculum. I loved this class as the students found the readings, presented the content, but were guided by very insightful questions from the professor. He treated us (master and Ph.d students) as knowledgeable students that he could learn from. Some of his questions would make you stop and think (and sweat if you weren't prepared). He was very low key and respectful of the students, which made you want to do the best you could. I still remember many of the discussions we had in the class, and the project I worked on (tariffs and counter-tariffs for the Steel Industry).

Another trait that all of these teachers had was that they knew ME and what I needed to learn. They did not use a cookie cutter approach to teaching and took time out to know what I knew and how I thought. They then used this to help me learn better.

What I learned from poor teachers

Likewise, the teachers that I look on with humiliation and anger, even to this day, taught me what a good teacher does not do.

As I mentioned in my comment to Ken:

"Dumbing down" is in the eyes of the beholder though. What is important is that in the US at any rate, we have begun to classified "smart" or "knowledgeable" as being able to take standardized tests about basic facts (i.e. math formulas, defining terms, and writing in a standard format regardless of audience or purpose). We have also relegated anything outside of math, science, and technology as "fluff" and not real knowledge.

The teachers that impeded by learning only looked at the standards and never bothered to look at what I actually knew. They also had a very narrow view of what "learning" and "knwoledge" was, then labeled those outside of those norms as "not quite smart". I can remember being moved from the "smart" reading group to the "slow" reading group in 1st grade. The major problem was that the teacher taught reading in one way only, and those that did not learn that way were then labeled "slow". It was humiliating for me and I lost all confidence in my studies. She always made it know who the "good" students were and who the "bad" students were.

These teachers also tended to have only the curriculum and book learning, with no abstract or creative activities in the classroom. Students did what the teacher wanted them to do ONLY or else you were a poor student. I remember a home economics teacher telling me how disappointed she was in my cooking class because I didn't follow the recipe exactly. My classmates all liked my changes (for the most part, sometimes they ended in disaster though), but I did not "follow directions."

Finally, the most difficult teachers that really turned me off to learning were those that seemed to exert their power over me as a student. They always had a way of making sure I knew they were in control and knew more than I did, so I should not ask questions of them or interrupt their class flow. In fact, years later, I realized that they did not like me to ask questions because they probably did not know how to answer them.

Dumbing down the World? Or a new way to assess learning?

In some ways, I do think that we are "dumbing down" in the world. But not in the traditional sense. I don't think that a grade these days is complex enough to assess a student's learning. I don't think that many of the teachers from which I learned the most (I still can remember many of the lessons 30-45 years later) would be able to keep up with the "testing". In fact, some of my daughter's teachers that had the qualities I look for in a good teacher were considered "poor" by some parents because their students enjoyed school and the kids did not have enough homework at night! (Even though their students tested high on standardized tests).

The new educational reforms in the US still focus on these simplistic quantitative tests and pitting teachers against students and parents. I have just read about community schools, however, which I hope with create a new educational environment that is based less on numbers and more on learning.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The dangers of good communication in the networked society

This week was very busy in our region as the president came to one of the community colleges in the region. It was very exciting as both my children were able to listen to his speech, the president's motorcade went by the son's school, and one of my daughter's teachers attended the speech live (they had a police escort for their school bus from the farm where they were doing scientific field work so she could attend in shoes borrowed from one of the students as she was wearing heavy boots coated with mud!).

I took the time out from my day to listen to the speech as it was telecast live on our campus. But for the second time now, I have been disappointed in one of the president's speech. Upon reflecting about my disappointment with the president's speech, I realized what the problem was. I feel as if there is a role for me to participate in the healthcare, economic, and educational discussions going on at the federal level. The White House has done a good job of setting up incoming messages. However, I feel they need to close the loop. I feel as if my messages posted on their site is just one out of a million (just like buying a lottery ticket) and it just goes into the cyber black hole. How are my posts any different than discussing my opinions with my husband as we watch the president speak. I KNOW my husband's not listening to my remarks and could care less about MY opinions. Rather, my husband would like to get HIS point across and have me agree with him. Although it took a number of years of marrige to figure it out, now I just agree with him and keep my opinions (if they are contrary) to myself.

I feel the same way with the communication system the way it currently is set up at the White House. I don't see an online community developing where there are public discussions of what others have posted, nor is there anyone facilitating these discussions online. The closest has been links to blogs where there are some discussions. Likewise, when you send an email comment, you are put on the listserv, but you don't get a message saying, "Thank-you for offering your opinion on ....(the issue, which can be electronically generated). The messages ...(explain what happens to the messages: chosen randomly to be read, all read by volunteers and passed on to policy makers, deleted the next day and not read?)." This at least allows the writer to feel like they are being heard.

Implications for others developing communication policy

As the communication technologies allow us to connect with larger networks and communities outside of our geographic location we can learn from our current administration.

Lesson 1: People want to be heard. This includes having their opinions VALIDATED even if the listener doesn't agree. "I understand what you are saying, but I don't agree," or "that's a good point, but..." Even a message that states, "We have so many comments that we may not be able to respond personally. However, be assured that we are reading your comments."

Lesson 2: Let those you are communicating with know what your processes are. How will communications be used? Who reads and responds to the communication? What are the time frames?

Lesson 3: Understand the networks. Usually, networks are based on common values and ideas. An perceived insult or snub can be very damaging, but a note of encouragment can have positive ripples through a network. Only imagine the impact had the president sent an email (even if it were a form one) to my daughter's school or teacher. This could then be forwarded through each of the students' own social networks.

Lesson 4: Don't ask for feedback unless you are going to use it. This is something marketers and researchers learn early. Related to this is make sure you are asking the right questions. I always begin with very broad questions, then narrow in on the discussion. The broad questions will help you to determine where the conversation/dialog should be steered.

Lesson 5: Understand that those who use new technologies have high expectations. It is difficult to control those within a network and someone that uses web 2.0 must prepare for those who are receiving your messages to disagree and want to give their opinions. As a result, it is important that some policy is developed on how to handle "audience" reaction.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Integrating elearning into the classroom: Technology

This next section, I am not going to recommend any specific technology. In fact, as I found out the first semester I taught an educational technology course, often instructors and instructional designers have little or no input into WHAT technologies they can use.

So the first step in developing elearning is to befriend the ITS department. Don't start with, "What technologies are available that I can use in the my teaching?" as most will list the technologies as they understand instructors using it (i.e. blackboard is a classroom technology that we have so you will use that because that is why the organization ordered it).

Instead, describe to your ITS friend what you would like to do WITH the technology. For example, I am looking for technology that will allow my students to access elearning from any computer, post their work, and then be able to discuss it either simultaneously or asynchronously, work at the same time on making corrections to their work (written or multimedia), and maintain a record so that I, as the instructor can give them regular feedback as they work on the project. They may come back with questions of their own. Will they be working from home or school? What level of skill do you have? How much control/support do you think you will need?

In presenting the technology choice as a problem for the ITS worker to work with you on, you are giving them greater choices to choose from that they may have experience with. Often, they will go with what technologies other use based on their limited experience of what goes on in the classroom. You can't assume that they understand what happens in eLEARNING. However, it is also important not to underestimate their expertise. After many years of working with faculty, the best ITS personnel know how appease faculty who have "heard about a great technology" yet have not taken in into consideration the technological requirements, the security issues, and the type of support needed by the users.

Categories of affordances

Another useful tip in speaking with ITS is to understand the affordances that any given technology can provide. Often technology designed for one affordance, can actually have a different affordance or use. ITS may be limited in what technologies they can use due to security concerns, user patterns and traffic, lack of resources, or knowledge of the technologies within ITS.

I have had my students look at their instructional design and identify the "uses" or affordances of technology. For example, a music teacher had one of his students studying at Juliard School of Music in New York City as part of their chorus. He wanted his student's classmates to be able to interact with him about concerts and even listen to the chorus. He decided to use streaming media after he discussed with his technology person what was available. However, when I asked him how he would coordinate schedules with his student in NYC, he realized streaming might be difficult. He went back to the tech directed and asked what technology was available where the student interact with the other students. He suggested using the streaming technology, but having his student uploading the video (this was a few years ago before YouTube) on their system and then streaming the video on demand when the Music Teacher needed it.

I find elearning has basically 4 affordances: communication, sharing and storing information, filtering and connecting ideas (meaning making), and creating knowledge. In fact, even the simplest technology can be used for each of these categories. It is important as an instructional designer to establish the protocols that will allow students to use the technology for those affordances. For example, email could be used for communication through groups or individual messages. By attaching files and having prearranged subject headings, email could also be used to share information and keep a record. Some email programs, such as gmail, allow a series of correspondence to be grouped together, the accumulation being used for meaning making and connecting the same ideas through the conversation (the use of the forward and reply functions). Finally, documents that are edited by a group, thus "creating knowledge" could be done through emails. It would be important that the documents are given version numbers in addition to being grouped together.

In the example above, the instructor would need to scaffold student learning through the development of protocols either in the instructional design or by the students themselves. New technology would not be necessary, rather new uses for existing technologies would need to be developed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Integrating elearning into the classroom: the preliminaries

The first step in integrating elearning into the classroom, either as an activity, a day of training, or a semester class is to establish why you have chosen elearning in the first place.

  • What are your goals in using elearning?
  • What do you expect your students to get out of the experience?
  • Do you have the support of administrators (resource, moral, or technical)?
  • If not, where will you get the resources or technical support, and how will you motivate students to use the elearning as a way of learning?
  • How much time do you have to develop the activity, course, project? How much time do you have to implement the activity, course, project?
  • What are the expectations of stakeholders in using elearning?

Once you have answered these questions, you can begin to determine if this is really something you can implement. While I am a great supporter of elearning, nothing is worse than having very little time to train instructors on the use of technology for use in one day's time (yes, I have seen that happen before, resulting in total failure of "elearning"). Likewise, many organizations opt for elearning as a time saving mechanism or cost cutting. If time is not saved (which most of us involved in elearning know is rarely a savings in time, but rather an increase) or costs are decreased, but at the expense of effective learning, then administrators and other stakeholders will be disappointed. Sometimes it is better to POSTPONE elearning until it can be done well.

Different levels of education

I read blogs that address a wide variety of education levels. My own Introduction to Distance Learning course had instructors from pre-school to community learning to universities and secondary schools. I have worked with them all at integrating elearning into their curriculum. However, there are differences between the different levels. Therefore, some of the questions each level of education needs to address includes:

  • What skills do students have in learning, technology, and time management coming into the activity?
  • What legal, moral, educational, and technology restrictions and regulations will students and instructors need to comply with at the level?
  • How much autonomy can the student and instructor have for this elearning activity?
  • What skills will students need to develop in order to accomplish elearning (i.e. level of literacy, foreign language skills, keyboarding skills, communication skills)? How (and who) will these skills be developed?
  • What other stakeholders will need to be consulted in supporting the students' elearning? For pre-schoolers, for example, both the caregivers and support staff (if designated as disabled, this might have included physical and speech theorpists, social workers, and special education teachers). For employees, this might be supervisors or ITS to allow access to blocked sites or special software down loads.

Make it relevant to use elearning

Finally, many just integrate elearning into learning because that is what everyone else is doing. As the first set of questions indicate, it is not always relevant to use elearning.

In my experience, there are three main reasons for integrating elearning into a curriculum:

1. To reorganize time for instructors to create a better use of time (i.e. going to a conference or teaching at multiple locations at the same time) or to allow instructors to teach when they cannot physically be present with the students
2. To provide opportunities for students that might be limited by classroom space, schedules, or resources (including funding)
3. To develop technological skills and understanding of the use of technology in the 21st century society

It is always important that you choose a course, activity, or project that will be relevant for the student, the curriculum goals, and the organizational capacity to support elearning. I always recommend that my students begin with the question, "What can you NOT do now, that elearning might allow you to do?" This might be giving individualized attention, connecting students to the outside world, allow your students more time to reflect as a means of learning, provide access to information to a greater number of people, or help to develop specific skills such as communication, writing, or reading. It depends on the organization, the curriculum goals, and the level of education.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Integrating elearning into the classroom

This post is in part due to poor reading skills on my part. Ken Allen wrote a post "the loneliness of the elearner," which I read as, "the loneliness of the elevator." This got me to thinking about the metaphor of the elevator in elearning:

Interestingly enough, I thought your title read, "the loneliness of the ELEVATOR" (I guess I should get my glasses fixed). Ironically, being alone in a space like second life is probably by being alone in an elevator. Where do you look? Is someone watching you that you can't see? What if you get stuck? You only have the disembodied voice to tell you, "Help is on the way." And if you are on the elevator with someone, you feel too awkward to speak to them unless something goes wrong. What are the unspoken rules of engagement on an elevator?

At the same time, my daughter's school has decided to integrate some days of online learning into the curriculum, partly to give teachers the opportunity to meet without students for professional development, and partly to prepare students for online learning in college. I was asked to lend my experience in developing these online activities. With that in mind, I have been thinking of the components that needs to go into the design of these activities.

In my introduction to distance learning course, I break the course up into 4 components: technology, instructional design, social presence, and assessment. Over the next few posts I will look at each of these components and what I feel needs to be considered for an online activity as part of a face to face course.