About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Understanding a culture through its sports

Over the last few months I have justified my children's participation in sports as a good introduction to office politics. There are days when I just want to stop the fight. But then I think they will be better prepared for the real world if they learn how to handle the social relationships, politics, and yes, down right unfairness of organized sports.

A few months ago, Karyn Romeis wrote about her son's participation in athletics in Britain. Having "foreign" parents (South Africa and Sweden), her son was labeled by his classmates as being "too competitive." This reminded me of a documentary I had seen on Japanese baseball and doing business in Japan. In Japan, a professional baseball team will not have a "blowout" of a game in which they beat an opponant by a large amount. Likewise, the purpose of a business is not to put their competition out of business, but to do better than them. Karyn mentioned that secondary sports teams will play for the "game", not necessarily to win. To which her son asked, "Then why play?" I think the same is true for many in the US. I have always had the philosophy that a team is only as strong as their weakest player, so it is important that the team supports the weakest player. But in the US, most teams cut or do not play the weakest player (they are simply a spare, just in case). As a result, team members, while they are supposed to act like a team, will do anything not to be perceived as the weakest player.

So how does this play out in business? Many businesses have "teams" that in fact will look at the individual effort. Team members will want to be on teams where the other members will make them look good. In some cases, the team member is just a "spare". I am sure many have been on those teams where a worker can't be fired, but needs some "work." Usually what happens is they are given the job the least likely to effect the team adversely if it is done poorly. The team "leader" is the star of the team whether it is warrented or not. However, just like in sports, if the final outcome is negative, the "star" takes the heat for it.

My own philosophy of team work, I think was greatly influenced by my own work in Costa Rica. In work, we often worked in teams (I was an English teacher for business professionals). It was important to coordinate lessons and to ensure that the weakest teacher was given help in preparing lessons so the rest of the instruction would be at an appropriate level. Sometimes this meant taking up the slack in another class; sometimes it meant helping the teacher to prepare; other times it meant just giving a team member moral support and encouragement. It is interesting to see a Latin American soccer game as this team work is evident in the way the game is played. Those that appear the weakest become the strongest given different conditions.

What does this all mean? I think anyone working with international groups should use sports to analyze how a team will work. Not only is this a good team building activity, it is also a good way to develop team communication skills, processes, and identify team roles and how team members will work together.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Defining diversity

Karyn Romeis had an interesting post on a "diversity" screening questionnaire she had to take before she would qualify to bid on a job. The problem was that she is a one-person show without any plans of hiring in the future. As a result, she didn't fit the "minority" profile or "diversity" policy need to bid on the job.

This reminded me of my favorite activity I use in all of my classes--the diversity interview. The assignment in in several parts as follows:

. Step I:

Imagine that you want to find a pen pal on the internet. Write a description of yourself in 30 words or less in the space below:

Step II

Locate someone outside of the class to interview that does not match the characteristics you used to describe yourself in step I.

Before interviewing them, reflect on the following questions:

What is your culture? Which groups do you identify with? How does that affect your communication? How does this affect who you speak to and how?
What assumptions do you make about the other person’s culture?
What assumptions do you make about the other person based on their culture?

Step III

Find out the following information in your interview:

What are the perceived similarities between the two cultures?
What are the perceived differences?
How can you tell the difference between a personal belief and a group’s belief?
What is the best way to find out about the culture?
What is the most unfamiliar part of your culture to the person being interviewed? (What do they have trouble understanding about your culture?)
What is the best part of your culture according to the person being interviewed? Why?
Can they give an example of conflict between your culture and their culture? How do they handle that situation?

Step IV

After you have interviewed this person, I want you to reflect on the following questions:

How did your assumptions affect your interview?
Were you able to learn anything new about that person?
What (if anything) surprised you about their answers?

Defining Diversity

In the US (and it appears this might be the case in other countries based on Karyn's post), we define "diversity" as race and gender. I refuse to fill out the little tick boxes about my race and gender that I am asked to fill out when I apply for a job.

What I have found that most of my students identify as their "culture" (which differs from many European and Latin American countries) is based on religion, sexual orientation, generation (age group), socio-economic group (middle class, professional, upper middle class, working class) or ethnic group (i.e. Italian American, Irish American, Latino/a). I found it odd that "white" students were more apt to state their race. In addition to these factors, in our state, location was important. In New York state, there is a definite distinction between the downstate, Long Island, upstate, and Central/western New York cultures. This is played out at the state universities as a large percentage of the upstate colleges are attended by "downstaters".

Also, the campus has a large population of Jews, Muslims, as well as Catholics, East Orthodox, and various christian religions. Sometimes these religious differences do erupt in classes; more so than racial differences. Another source of conflict are differences in urban, suburban, and rural cultures. This is often manifested in divisions between "resident" and "commuter" students. Finally, at the graduate level, there is a divide between international students and "local" students, especially in competition for assistantships.

Many of my students have not looked past the labels used to identify diversity. Often when they report on their interviews, they are surprised to know things about others that they thought they had known already. The most valuable lesson the students identify is not to make assumptions about someone because they are a)known in a social circumstance, b) have similar backgrounds so it is assumed they have similar values or have different backgrounds so it is assumed they will have different values, and 3) it is important to talk to people and ask about their values and beliefs. Not only is this an interesting assignment for me to grade, but many have indicated it is their favorite assignment to conduct.

While a visiting professor at another college, I pushed for the definition of diversity to be expanded. Even though the school was able to recruit faculty of color or those that fell into the traditional categories of race and gender, most had the same philosophy within the departments and were trained at the same 2-3 schools. This led to a myopic or dogmatic approach within each of the departments, making it difficult for others with opposing views to succeed. The expansion of the definition made it possible to recruit those that may have had provocative research or research and teaching that would address the issues for underrepresented populations. The student population began to change as the new professors, regardless of race or gender, gave a broader view that supported many groups.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Training, Knowledge, and assessment

As I do research on knowledge creation, organizational learning, and culture, I also am in the midst of my children taking their year end standardized tests. Putting the two together, I began to realize that very little has been written on perception of knowledge and assessment measures within a business learning context.

Current Forms of Assessment

Most training programs use some form of standardized test to measure individual and organizational learning. Cook and Brown (1999) point out that the basis for our belief in what knowledge is for the last 3 centuries has been the Cartesian view in which "knowledge, particularly anything that might pass as rigorous knowledge, is something that is held in the head of an individual and is acquired, modeled, and expressed most accurately in the most objective and explicit terms possible.(p. 384)"

The implications of this, as Cook and Brown point out, is that most in our culture believe that a person possesses knowledge and that knowledge only exists in the individual. However, as organizations try to harness individual knowledge, isn't there some level of collective knowledge that may exist outside of the individual?

Types of knowledge

In addition to the traditional view of knowledge (the scientific method), many researchers have divided knowledge into tacit and explicit (Cook and Brown, 1999), individual and collective (Ashton, 2004, Yakhlef, 2002), information and know-how (Conceicao et al., 1998; Conceicao et al., 2003; Yakhlef, 2002).

Kolb (1984) also distinguished between two types of knowledge: apprehension and comprehension. Apprehensive knowledge is the intuitive process that happens as we experience the world. Apprehensive knowledge makes us aware of what we are experiencing and perceive our world, although it may not have meaning. Comprehensive knowledge is the abstract ideas and understanding we create based on our experience.

The problem, then, is if knowledge is outside of the individual and/or can exist in a "non-coded" manner (as in tacit or apprehensive knowledge) how can we measure the level of knowledge that an individual or group might have? How do we assess "learning" or the acquisition of new knowledge when the knowledge is tacit, know-how, or a level of "knowing" or deeper understanding of the knowledge an individual might possess?

Learning in Action

Cook and Brown, Kolb, and Dewey all addressed the issue of being able to put knowledge into action. This is what Cook and Brown call "knowing". A person does not "possess" all of the knowledge needed for action, although they might be able to access some of the knowledge they have in order to put what they know into action.

For example, my kids are currently preparing to take their state tests. My son does well on these tests as he "knows" how to take them. He can read a question and "know" what they are asking for. My daughter will have the knowledge of the subject, but often gets hung up on what "they" are asking for. She can read each multiple choice response and depending on her focus within the wording of the question, she can explain why each response is appropriate. While she possesses the knowledge to answer the questions, she doesn't know the answer. These standardized multiple choice assessments are not testing her knowledge but rather whether she knows how to take the test.

Likewise, my son can apply the mathmatical processes needed to get the correct answer in trigonometry, but he doesn't understand the mathmatical concepts behind the process. This means he has a difficult time when he needs to use problem solving skills and determine which tool to use in a Math problem. For the most part, he has learned to use certain tools when there are correlating words. But when those words are missing or when he needs to use determine which tools to use during a science lab, for example, he is lost. Multiple choice or even essay questions don't measure the level of understanding, tacit knowledge, and/or "knowing" something.

This is an especially important distinction to make in the work environment.

Assessing Learning

So how do we assess this aspect of learning that is difficult to measure? This is an area that Medicine and Aeronautics have been working on over the last decade. Simulations, portfolio of work, practicums, and a certain number of hours of "practice" all are means of assessing individuals and group levels of "knowing."

Likewise, the bar exam and the CPA certification exam use a more complex method of assessing both knowledge and knowing. Now it is important that "standardized" tests become more complex to capture the true state of learning. Training organizations need to spend time on developing different ways to measure learning to report to management. Management needs to realize that numbers are not going to capture the real level of learning, knowledge and knowing within the organization in the 21st Century. To acheive this, new management theories need to be developed that include the organization, individuals, groups, and distributed work groups.


Ashton, D. (2004). The impact of organisational structure and practices on learning in the workplace. International Journal of Training and Development, 8(1), 43-53.

Conceicao, P., Heitor, M., Gibson, D., & Shariq, S. (1998). The emergining importance of knowledge for development: Implications for technology policy and innovation. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 58, 181-202.

Conceicao, P., Heitor, M., & Veloso, F. (2003). Infrastructures, incentives, and institutions: Fostering distributed knowledge bases for the learning society. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 70, 583-617.

Cook, S. and Brown, J. (1999)Bridging Epistemologies: The Generative Dance Between Organizational Knowledge and Organizational Knowing. Organization Science, 10 (4) 381-400.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as a the source of learning and development. Englewood-Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Yakhlef, A. (2002). Towards a discursive approach to organisational knowledge formation. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 18, 319-339.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why I don't twitter

I have read and heard more and more about twitter these days. I don't twitter for the following reasons:

1. I can't write short sentences and not expand on them.
2. I can't imagine that anyone would be so interested in my every thought and movement. And if they were, that's a bit creepy (as my kids would say).
3. I think twitter is great for celebrities, the media, or school officials where there is a need to get information out to a large volume of people. Perhaps I'll think about twittering for my classes in the future to remind students of assignments, etc... However, I think that students should take the responsibility for their own learning and course work. I have other tools that address this need in my class (Ning) where there is more dialogue rather than one way communication.
4. Twitter seems too directive (do this or look at that). I'm more of a dialogue type of person.
5. Most of my students don't use twitter as they have their preferred tools for interaction.
6. I think it would boom me out to only have 5 or 6 followers on twitter!

Truthfully, I don't see the need to follow anyone nor do I see the need for anyone to follow me other than by blog or even IM. I have trouble keeping up the "what I am doing" on LinkedIn. Why start using another tool?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Elearning of the future: Mobile technology

I've been wanting to write this post for a while, but just did not have the time. As I commented on Michele Martin's blog

Each generation creates their own tools aside from their parents. 20 somethings have been using facebook and now others are catching up. Teens (of which I have two) are using mobile technology. My daughter was just lamenting that "Trackphone doesn't have any apps" (yes, she used apps which I am sure most 20 somethings don't use). "Can I get an itouch? They have cool apps." Did I mention that she is 13?

The media's new frenzy seems to be twitter. But many are overlooking the impact that mobile technology is having on our communication and access to information. One reason twitter is taking over is because the short messages are perfect for mobile phone access.

Ken Allen recently had a post about the impact of mobile technology on writing. Texting, in its various forms, is creeping into my student's papers. Will this mean that in the future writing conventions will include "i" and "u"? Perhaps. But the current state of truncated language in text messages do have a unique feature that will limit the extent of "texting language." Take a look at Ken's post. My initial observation is the "accented" language use. For example, my kids would never use "hiv." In fact, they would probably "translate" his title of "hiv u evr wundird wot it wiz lyk b4" as haf u evr 1Nderd wat it waz lIk B4." This leads to be believe texting will be more "regional" with some standard conventions internationally.

What does this mean for Elearning?

It would seem to me that the younger generation will use mobile technology as a means for not only communication but also learning and information sharing/gathering. However, it is likely this won't be in text form. Complex ideas will be difficult to convey in short textual spurts.

However, as my daughter pointed out, the new technology has powerful multi-media apps that will allow students to listen to lectures, watch video clips, and even post comments in a multi-media format (i.e. using a camera feature on the phone). It would appear that the current text based preference for communication among the younger generation will swing back to oral and visual communication for learning.

It is important that we begin to consider the ways we can integrate these new technologies into elearning, before it is too late. Michael Hanley has recognized this trend and posted a series of useful posts on using mobile technology for training. It is a good start. But we need to begin to recognize the importance of "place" of learning and how the portability of elearning technology will change access to education.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sense making in language (first and second)

Ken Allen has pointed out in the past that I tend to leave rather long messages. I left the following on his blog and realized that it could stand alone as a post.

Many of us second language teachers feel that, yes, there is some difference in learning a first and second language. However, the traditional way of teaching second language was not effective because, like learning a first language, vocabulary needs context for it to be understood.

In other words, the meaning of a word with both first and second language learners is dependent on the context in which that word is learned. In first language learners and learners as a second language (those that are learning the language within the second language environment) the meaning of the word and the boundaries of that meaning are learned through experience. A child might call anything round "a ball". However, soon they discover that there are nuances in the language. "A ball" is not an orange or a circle.

Second language learners (learning in context) also have the first language to draw from. So they know that "Fruit" can describe an orange as can the name "orange" as long as they have been exposed to oranges in their own country. However, if that concept is not in their working vocabulary in their first language, then like a child just learning the language, they will learn the meaning of the words in context. I understand what a "resume" is in French from the context of use when I studied in Switzerland. I sometimes misuse it in English as we don't have an equivalent for how it is used in English. I understand the parameters of the word which would be difficult for me to articulate to someone who has not learned it in context. I learned this word much as an infant would learn this word.

The last group of language learners, learners of a language as a foreign language, only have their own understanding of a concept in their own language to work off of. Here, I would agree that they would need to have a working vocabulary based on their understanding of meaning of that word in their own context. In other words, they learn the words that they can translate directly, with the same meaning word for word.

However, learning language this way means a person is limited to only the ideas that have the same cultural meaning in both languages. This limits the language interaction between a native and non-native speaker to culturally shared values. This is why the traditional language teaching methods don't work in preparing language learners to COMMUNICATE in a foreign language.

When I taught English as a second language, we began with language learning strategies (how to learn a language) and non-verbal communication skills. We then taught commonly used phrases and had students generate their own list of vocabulary based on listening. Pronunciation was very important and these are the skills we worked on more than vocabulary building. In fact, my students were vary comfortable communicating with very few words and grammar, but good communication and pronunciation skills.

One group we were sending to the states for training was combined with groups from 6 other countries that had been trained using a more traditional method. While our group "tested" lower, they ended up translating for their fellow students and learning much more English while in the states (many returning quite fluent after 6 months training in the US). Did they have a wide variety of vocabulary and perfect grammar? No. Did they have the ability to make meaning from a situation even if they did not understand specific vocabulary? Yes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Teaching in the 21st Century: The discussion continues

I am swamped with getting my grades in for the end of the semester and working on my dissertation (while I have some time). However, I could not let Ken Allen's comment on my previous post go unanswered. As I composed a response, I realized it had turned into a post!

Technology for teaching vs. teaching technology

I agree with you that this is a "learning" issue, not just an elearning issue. I am sure you have had the same experience with the debate of how much science a science teacher needs to know to teach science.

I think teachers are underappreciated as the assumption is that if you know a content area, you can "teach". In New York State, secondary school teachers need to have two master's degrees, one in their content area and the other in education.

What gets dicey is what should the education degree include and in New York state the degree includes courses on writing (across the curriculum), but not necessarily technology. In other words, should high school teachers be teaching technology per se or should they be integrating the use of technology within their classes so students get the practice of using technology in multiple contexts (as happens currently with writing?) In addition, many of the new graduates are armed with new pedagogies which might integrate technology into the curriculum, but the system of assessment and the pedagogical structures within the school make it impossible for these teachers to implement these new strategies into their teaching.

An alternative school, which my daughter may be attending in the Fall, integrates these new pedagogies. The fact that they had 15 times more applications for each teaching position than most schools demonstrates how teachers would LIKE to use a more updated pedagogy in their teaching, but are not allowed to due to the curriculum and organizational culture within many schools.

Preparing Teachers for the 21st Century

So back to your original question as to how to prepare teachers for the 21st century, I would propose the following:

  1. Teachers should learn technology and how it can be used (conceptual and pedagogical) as part of their education degree. This should include the same format that writing across the curriculum course include such as technology for science, technology for communication, technology for the humanities, etc...
  2. Teachers should understand the implications of the use of technology on learning
  3. Teachers should learn how to work with technology specialists in designing activities that will help to reinforce the theoretical principles learned in "technology class" (i.e. allowing for practice in multiple contexts so students understand the affordances of technology within a certain context)
  4. There should be a push to implement "technology classes" as part of the curriculum, just as there are "writing classes." These classes focus on the conceptual and skill building needed for the 21st century. Then other classes reinforce these concepts and skills in throughout the curriculum.
  5. There should be an effort to have "technology curriculum specialists" the same way there are "writing curriculum specialists" that teachers can use as a resource. In addition, teachers should be required to integrate technology use into their class (as is currently being done with writing) with a certain % of activities using APPROPRIATE technology for that discipline. For example, the use of a graphing calculator or SPSS software for a math course would be appropriate. Concept mapping or blogging would not be appropriate as it does not teach computing which is needed in the field of Math. On the other hand, the use of excel would not be appropriate for a Language Arts course, but a Ning would as a means of improving communication skills is central to most English Language Arts curriculums.