A Layered Blimage Challenge

blimage_onionAs those who read me know, I have been participating in a recent blogging challenge that has emerged called blimage – a “blog image” challenge: You must use an image sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge.” Read about the original idea here and see a continually updated list of blimage posts here.

Enoch Hale and I have been challenging each other, with his latest thoughtful post here.  Now he has challenged me with this image of a cut onion.

My first thought was staff meetings in the past where my colleague Bud Deihl would get thoughtful and say, “My mind is reeling…so many layers suggested by this…”.  He used the onion metaphor frequently.

The onion metaphor is useful because it brings to mind surface issues and underlying deeper issues.  Thirty years ago, I learned about quality principles while still in the Navy, as DoD (and much of America) rediscovered Dr. Edwards Deming.  Deming was a engineer, statistician and quality expert who helped turn around Japanese industry after World War II.  A NBC documentary in 1980 entitled “If Japan Can…Why Can’t We?” helped bring Deming to the attention of American industry, and he consulted with government and industry until his death in 1993.  His quality principles were an integral part of my dissertation study on middle management in community colleges.  Deming regularly admonished management to focus on systems rather than people as the causes of problems (and opportunities for improvement).

Having moved into faculty development for the last decade, I see the work that we do in many ways as problem solving.  Whether moving a class online or incorporating a new technology into the classroom, we focus on working with faculty to improve the learning process.

The danger in problem solving is to focus on symptoms rather than underlying root causes. Toyota instituted the “Five Whys” process to try and get at causal issues rather than band-aiding surface issues.  In “The Five Whys Technique” by Olivier Serrat, an example is provided of Jeff Bezos of Amazon using Root Cause Analysis to get at the underlying cause of a safety issue.  During a visit the Amazon.com Fulfillment Centers, Bezos learned of a safety incident during which an associate had damaged his finger.

root-cause“…He walked to the whiteboard and began to use the Five Whys technique.

  • Why did the associate damage his thumb?
    • Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.
  • Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?
    • Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor.
  • Why did he chase his bag?
    • Because he had placed his bag on the conveyor, which had then started unexpectedly.
  • Why was his bag on the conveyor?
    • Because he was using the conveyor as a table.

And so, the root cause of the associate’s damaged thumb is that he simply needed a table. There wasn’t one around and he had used the conveyor as a table. To eliminate further safety incidences, Amazon.com needs to provide tables at the appropriate stations and update safety training…”

So when I gazed at the onion, I was wondering how often I and fellow faculty (and students) jump on the top layer (issue) and do not push to the underlying cause?  Deming noted that there are common cause problems (part of normal variation) and special cause problems (unique events).  Treating and fixing common cause issues as if they were special cause problems inevitably leads to worse issues, not improvement.

Maybe asking “why” five times might lead to more insight into issues facing us today.  In this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, there is an article by Mary Ellen McIntire entitled “‘Machine Teaching’ Is Seen as Way to Develop Personalized Curricula.”  Some faculty might see this as an attack on teaching…one comment in the article states: “Ah, get rid of the human teacher to make the learning experience more personal… and profitable for ed tech…”

I would disagree.  I think that integration of technology into lessons (and personalization) is part of the unfolding evolution of teaching.  Perhaps we first need to identify the root cause that machine teaching could help improve.  Focusing on the threat implied by machine learning is only peeling back the first layer of the onion.

{Graphics: Onion, Root Cause}

The Risk of Not Engaging

Tom_Fletcher_British_Ambassador_to_Lebanon_640_001As I was driving in this morning, I was listening to NPR Morning Edition, and they aired a story about British Ambassador Tom Fletcher‘s farewell letter to Lebanon.  Ambassador Fletcher has been at his post for the past three years, a time of tremendous strife with the Syrian conflict so close.

As moving as the story was, it was 5:30 into his interview that I heard something that really resonated with me as an educator.  He was talking about how the British Foreign Office encouraged its members to take risks, and he noted:

“…particularly with social media, the biggest risk is not to be engaged…”

He went on to note that of course there was the risk of saying something stupid, or of saying something that might inflame the wrong party, but that in many ways, the “best use of Twitter” is to use it for discourse and debate.  He noted that diplomacy is full of difficult issues, and Twitter provides a vehicle for “picking arguments and challenging people.”

It would be foolish to equate the rsocialmediatreeisks that Ambassador Fletcher faced with the risks that educators face in their classrooms, but I do like his take on social media and the opportunity it affords to take discourse and debate and move it outside the classroom.  Social media gives faculty the ability to engage with each other, with their discipline in and out of academe, and with their students, in ways we never had a decade ago.  One could “argue” that the heart and soul of scholarship and research involve picking arguments and challenging people (and ideas).

So what is your take?  Is there a risk for faculty in higher education to not engage with social media?

{Graphics: Najib, geralt}

A Dam Blimage Challenge

As I noted in my last post, a new blogging challenge has emerged called blimage – a “blog image” challenge: You must use an image sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge.” Read about the original idea here.

I so far have twice challenged my colleague Enoch Hale (who last year challenged me to a 30-Day Challenge with wicked fun results) and he responded with excellent posts here and here.  He in turn challenged me which resulted in my last post.  Now I have received another challenge from Enoch with this image of Ross Dam:


Ross Dam by werner22brigitte

Great image!

Do I focus on what is held back or what is released?

Holding back brings to mind fear, which brings to mind faculty discomfort with social media.  Behind the dam, the waters appear pretty calm.  The status quo is working, so why would faculty want to bring the disruption of social media into their classrooms?

Melissa Venable provides some thoughts in her post last year entitled “Face Your Social Media Fears“.  She noted that perhaps the importance of social media stems from the fact that is so widely used:

She suggested that faculty were concerned about privacy, looking unprofessional, going public in a traditionally private world, and managing the time investment social media seemed to require.  She gave practical suggestions on each of these concerns, and ended with two suggestions to keep it all manageable:

  • Find a good role model. Where are professionals in your career field or field of study engaging via social media? Spend some time on those platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest) first, and look for one or two people whose style and approach you can emulate and make your own.
  • Stay positive. Build your reputation, through your approach and the messages you send, as someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also helpful to others in the community.

Good suggestions.

So what can happen when you release the potential of social media in your classroom?


Marie Owens suggested in a post in Faculty Focus that faculty should view social media not as a concern but as an opportunity to connect with students. “By approaching the nearly constant online interaction of their students as a chance to connect, teachers might find a new context to do what they love to do: teach. ”

Like all aspects of teaching, the use of social media does not in and of itself lead to learning.  Knight and Kaye in their 2014 published study “To Tweet or Not To Tweet” found that students made greater use of Twitter for the passive reception of information rather than participation in learning activities.  Kelli Marshall had similar results until she made some mindful changes in how she used Twitter (and communicated that use).  Likewise, Mark Ferris used Twitter to add engagement to his statistics course.

Lisa Blaschke conducted research using questionnaires and interviews and incorporating the perspectives of both students and instructors on the use of social media in the online classroom, looking to explore how media influenced interaction and learner development. The results indicated that students perceived specific social media (Google Docs, mind mapping and e-portfolio software) in conjunction with specific learning activities as influencing specific cognitive and meta-cognitive skills (constructing new knowledge, reflecting on course content, understanding individual learning process). Her research also indicated an increase in student familiarity with using social media and student research skills.  She noted that “…it is evident that social media alone is not the exclusive factor in influencing cognitive and meta-cognitive development in learners. Rather, it is the combination of the pedagogy in the course design and delivery, together with the technology, that creates the kind of nurturing environment for this development to occur.”

In their book Teaching Crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson quote John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid from The Social Life of Information:

“Learning is a remarkably social process. Social groups provide the resources for their members to learn.”

We are only beginning to research the opportunities that social media bring to classrooms – motivation, engagement, ability to surface prior knowledge, and self-directed learning.  Yet I find the potential that can be released exciting!

My thanks to Enoch Hale for his challenge.  Back at you next week, buddy!

Graphics: {Brigette Werner, Wikipedia}

Blimage Challenge: The Rock Arch


A new blogging challenge has emerged called blimage – a “blog image” challenge: You must use an image sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge.” Read about the original idea here.

I challenged my colleague Enoch Hale with an image of a hand holding chalk that was about to write on a blank blackboard…and he responded with this wonderful post.  Now I get to try it with the image above that he sent me and others via Twitter.

What a great image!  My wife and I just returned from a week spent on the Carolina coast, so seeing the ocean in the background really resonated with me.  But in the spirit of #blimage, let me concentrate on the rocks in the foreground.

The first obvious point for me is “balance.”  We know from the learning sciences that students (and faculty) are not only intellectual beings, but social and emotional ones as well.  In How Learning Works, Susan Ambrose states that students’ level of development interacts with the social, emotional and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.  As one who teaches online, I strive to build relationships with my students, to understand better their unique social, emotional, and intellectual drives.  I also work to balance the passion I bring to the course with realistic and practice-based applications that student can take away from the course.

Keeping with principles from Susan Ambrose’s book, the image also suggests to me a knowledge organization.  As faculty, we work with students to help them make connections between topics and see the “big picture”.  Focusing only on the top rock…or the yellow one…misses the conceptual knowledge one can take away from the whole.

Connections also raises the methodology of connectivism as a learning process.  Learning is an active, social process that involves change in knowledge, beliefs and behaviors, done not “to” students…but done by students. The online environment supports a learning-centered approach, providing a vehicle by which interested scholars can exchange and refine ideas via discussions and/or reports. That is the premise upon which my courses are constructed, and it aligns with the evolving digital world.  A constructivist and connectivist approach can be used to guide participants on a journey of discovery, sharing of learning, and building of community. Constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences. Connectivism looks at how individual knowledge is shared in a social environment. Learning, especially learning in a fully online “course” in the digital information age can look very different from learning face-to-face in earlier days. George Siemens suggested that connectivism is relevant to online learning.

The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed (Siemens, 2004).

Finally, the image brought to mind Garr Reynold’s book Presentation Zen – as he has similar stacked rocks on his cover.  Garr quotes Leonardo DaVinci:

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

A lot to pull from one image – but at its core: Balance, Connections, and Simplicity.

Thanks, Enoch, for the challenge.  I’ll have another image shooting your way tomorrow!

{Graphic: Mary Roy}

Direct Instruction and Learning Science

icon-e-learningKristi Bronkey had a nice article in Faculty Focus yesterday entitled “Re-Thinking Direct Instruction in Online Learning.” She noted that while direct instruction had a bad reputation associated with passive learning, it did not have to reflect passivity. She suggested a model framed around the notions of “I Do, We Do, and You Do.”

  • I Do – Direct instruction by faculty using screencasts
  • We Do – Faculty guided student processes with frequent feedback
  • You Do – Students working together in authentic group processes

Kristi noted:

“Direct Instruction should be an ongoing exchange between professor and students. With effort, creativity, and the intentional use of the I Do, We Do, You Do structure, we can present new information in engaging ways, provide guided feedback as students strive to draw meaning from their new learning, and allow students the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues before independently reflecting on their own learning.”

How Learning WorksI was struck by the parallels between Kristi’s article and the research Susan Ambrose and her colleagues published (2010) in How Learning Works: Seven Researched-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.

Kristi noted that for “I Do”, faculty could use short screencasts to help students make connections between the reading assignments and bigger picture aspects of the topic being discussed. She noted that this allowed students to “hear our thought processes.” This aligns nicely with the Knowledge Organization principle:

“How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.”

Students do not have the rich knowledge structure and associated connections of facts that faculty experts draw on when conceptualizing a topic. Articulating these connections can aid student learning.

Faculty screencasts can also help guide the students in both procedural knowledge and the knowledge of how to employ them – steps towards mastery. Developing a concise screencast can help faculty push past their own “expert blind spot” by clearly identifying skills needed and steps for applying these skills.  This aligns with another principle noted by Ambrose:

“To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply them.”

Facts can be dry…but rarely come across as dry when a passionate expert discusses them. Screencasts can provide avenues in which this passion of the faculty becomes evident, and that links to student motivation for learning. As Ambrose noted:

“Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.”

Two more principles can surface in the We Do area of learning processes. Students come to our courses with a wealth of knowledge already, and helping students surface that prior knowledge influences how they filter and process what they are learning. If they lack sufficient prior knowledge, learning can be negatively impacted. The facilitative nature of We Do can help engage prior knowledge.

“Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.”

Kristi’s article also discusses the use of frequent feedback. Ambrose noted that learning is best fostered when students engage in practice that is directly linked to learning outcomes, set at an appropriate level of challenge, and is linked to specific and explicit feedback.  As Kristi noted, feedback does not simply have to summative – it can be used formatively during learning processes to guide students to higher levels of achievement.

Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.”

In the final section of Kristi’s post, she discusses the independent nature of You Do in online learning, but advocates for a mix of group activities and independent metacognitive reflection.  Tackling the potential for isolation addresses another principle noted by Ambrose:

“Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.”

The reflection on their own contribution to the progress of learning also aligns with the final principle noted by Ambrose:

“To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.”

learning_graphicI like Kristi’s call to action for online professors.  We would not want passivity in our students, and we should not allow our delivery to be passive.  Incorporating the concepts of I Do / We Do / You Do as a mindful approach to course design can not only help keep students engaged, but also better incorporate aspects of learning science that we know from research lead to more effective learning.

{Graphics: EuroMedia, Jossey-Bass, John Hopkins University}

My Evolving Top Tools

Jane Hart has issued her call for voting for the top tools we as professionals use for learning. I have voted in the past, as I noted in 2014 (here) and 2o12 (here), and I have always enjoyed the resulting Top One Hundred Tools list that Jane curates from the votes.  Her list from last year is embedded below:

My list for this year is similar to previous years…but I found my order was different:


As some may have noticed, I have been blogging less as I concentrated on settling into my new job.  However, I feel the urge to reconnect, so hope to do more blogging in the future.  I continue to use the distributed network of Twitter, LinkedIn, Feedly feeds, and to a lesser degree, Facebook, as my go to sources for my personal learning network.

A related post from LinkedIn announced that they have passed one million “publishers”.  They note:

Our over 1 million unique publishers publish more than 130,000 posts a week on LinkedIn. About 45% of readers are in the upper ranks of their industries: managers, VPs, CEOs, etc. The top content-demanding industries are tech, financial services and higher education. The average post now reaches professionals in 21 industries and 9 countries.

What was not mentioned … but is no small leap to assume … is that many of these posts were made on mobile devices.  I had lunch today with colleagues from Creighton University, and they described their use of smartphones in Europe to plan on the fly and connect with colleagues worldwide.  Then one thought back 30 years ago and wondered how we got along.

A great question!  Thirty years ago, none of the tools listed above (or indeed any of the Top 100) even existed.  As the web evolved, and our tools evolved, so too did our practices.

Over the past five years, I have taught a doctoral course on technology and leadership for Creighton University in their Ed.D program.  Originally, the “textbook” was Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat.  That evolved two years later to Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, and then in the last year to David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know.  It is not that Friedman or Shirky (or now Weinberger) had lost relevance, but the web was evolving at an increasingly rapid rate.

It makes you wonder what is coming in the next thirty years…in terms of tools and in terms of practice!

Digital Leadership

westermanbookI have read about half of a recent book from George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfeeLeading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation (2014).  Their premise is that the innovations of the past decade have been nothing short of astonishing – yet they are just the warm up acts for what is to come.  They suggest that those that master the digital playing field will be able to combine big data, machine learning, and visualizations such that their organizations will make smarter decisions, see the future more clearly, drive out inefficiencies, and better understand their customers.

This book was published by Harvard Business Review Press…and is certainly geared towards business professionals.  They note that the elements of the digital world – software, hardware, networks, and data – are “pervading the business world, and they’re doing so quickly, broadly, and deeply” (p. 5).  The first half of the book focuses on two driving capabilities – digital capability (customer engagement, operational processes, and business models) and leadership capability (vision, governance, and infrastructure).

The authors matrix these two capabilities to suggest four levels of digital mastery:

  • Beginners
  • Fashionistas
  • Conservatives
  • Digital Masters

Plotting these by industry gives the following graphic (p. 22):


Noteworthy (to me) is the absence of higher education.  Yet, as I considered this, it struck me that it is more difficult to pin down any university (or college or department within universities).  There are programs and faculty just beginning the digital journey.  There are programs and departments that jump on bandwagons but do not have a compelling vision for where they are going.  There are definitely conservative programs that are carefully considering their digital future.  And there are higher education programs that seem to have successfully made the digital transformation, and there are numerous centers for teaching nationwide that focus on facilitating this digital transformation.

My colleague Jeff Nugent over the past few years has suggested three “truths”:

  • We live in a networked world where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is literally accessible at our fingertips.
  • There are unprecedented opportunities to create, share and interact on the web.
  • We are witnessing the increased digitization of the university.

If one agrees that these are true, one would naturally cultivate both the digital capability and leadership capability necessary to succeed in this digital world.  Yet, the lack of urgency in developing these capabilities across much of higher education seems to suggest that some of our colleagues do not hold these as truths.

It brings to mind research conducted by Carol Dweck and others that has identified two distinct ways in which individuals view intelligence and learning.  Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait—they have a certain amount, and that’s that.  In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time.  One wonders if faculty – many of who achieved success in a pre-digital era – are operating from a fixed mindset when it comes to digital literacy?

It raises the question of whether one can focus on digital mastery without first tackling the issue of mindset?

The second half of the book provides strategies for framing the digital challenges, investing in actionable ways, mobilizing and motivating workforces, and sustaining the transition.  This book has me thinking … which is good.  I would be interested in your thoughts around the digitization of the university – faculty and students – and the mindset associated with that transformation.

A Look Back Six Years

Monday, Lindsey Sudbury, a member of Academic Technology Services here at Northeastern University, and I did a 90-minute interactive presentation to our English department at their End of Term Retreat.  It was a 30,000 f00t fly-over of a variety of digital tools that might add engagement in writing classes, including social media tools.  Our slides are below:

I was struck by how things had (and had not) changed in the past six years.  In 2009, I did a similar workshop at the Innovations Conference.  My slides then:

In those six years, Diigo has replaced Delicious, and Feedly has replaced Google Reader.  But the concept remains on target.

One other change … more faculty are receptive to the idea!

Wirearchy as Leadership Concept

Over the last several years, I have taught Technology and Leadership in Creighton University‘s interdisciplinary doctorate program. This program brings students with backgrounds in business, education, healthcare and non-profits together to explore issues in an interdisciplinary way. My premise in designing the course is that leaders today operate in an unprecedented environment. In the past, information was related to power – those with information had the power, and the further up the organization hierarchy one was, the more information (and power) one had. In the past decade – due almost entirely due to the rapid global adoption of the internet, organizational power dymanics have shifted to an environment in which every employee (student, patient, client) has access through web devices to all the knowledge of the world. For background, I had my students explore multiple works, including Tom Friedman‘s The World is Flat, Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, David Weinberger‘s Too Big to Know, Harold Jarche‘s Personal Knowledge Management blog, and Jon Husband‘s Wirearchy blog, among others. Husband’s concept of a wirearchy was particularly relevant.

Husband defined “wirearchy” as a:

“dynamic flow of power and authority, based on information, trust, credibility, and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected technology and people.”

Hugh MacLeod illustrated the basic concept of wirearchy as follows:


Interestingly (on several levels), one of my students recently questioned the efficacy of the wirearchy model, given that it does not appear in Wikipedia!

(…new tag line – if it is not in Wikipedia. it must not be true…)

Given that the concept continues to resonate with me … and given the fact that I have admonished my students and colleagues for years that if you find a fault in Wikipedia – FIX IT! … I worked with Jon Husband to add a draft entry to Wikipedia. Please “peer-review” my initial draft … and make it better.

{Graphic: GapingVoid}