The Pause Button

The Pause Button…

If you have used technology as long as I have, you really do not think about the symbology associated with certain actions.  We all have grown accustomed to the two vertical bars that indicate PAUSE:

I have started reading Tom Friedman’s new book Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  In many ways, Friedman helped solidify my thinking about the digital world in his previous book The World is Flat.  I considered that 2005 book then (and still do) to be paradigm shifting.  Friedman’s latest book seems on target and just as insightful.

A premise that he lays out in the first chapter (and will expand as the book unfolds) is that the three largest forces on Earth – technology, globalization, and climate change – are all accelerating at once…and this state of constant acceleration is difficult for our brains – instruments that John Medina in Brain Rules would suggest are geared for linear thought – to wrap around and make sense.  Friedman would suggest one way to deal with this constant acceleration would be to hit the pause button.

For 20 years, I smoked a pipe.  If someone asked me a difficult question, my reaction would be to take my pipe out and go through the ritual of cleaning it out, filling it with fresh tobacco, and lighting it.  I quit smoking in 1988 and would not suggest anyone start … but I miss that reflective time I took filling my pipe before answering the question.

Friedman takes his title from the response he gives people who show up late for an interview.  Rather than being mad, he is delighted to have had some “found time” to reflect … and so he says “Thank You For Being Late.”

One chapter down and many to go … but I am feeling an excitement I have not felt in awhile (thought Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable was almost as exhilarating!).

So I paused today to explore where this icon came from.  According to Wikipedia, the main symbols for digital electronics date back to the 1960s, with the Pause symbol having reportedly been invented at Ampex for use on reel-to-reel audio recorder controls (and I had a reel-to-reel tape player when I was at the Academy), due to the difficulty of translating the word “pause” into some languages used in foreign markets. The Pause symbol was designed as a variation on the existing square Stop symbol and was intended to evoke the concept of an interruption or “stutter stop”.

Who knew?

This balance between constant acceleration and pausing was in my mind as I continued exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals. I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  I discussed the first three trends last week, and looked at the fourth trend yesterday.

The fifth trend involved performance management.  The report noted that organizations have radically changed the way they measure, evaluate, and recognize employees.  It noted that much of what employees do today involves teams …and I would add digital teams, and so annual evaluation processes focused on individuals seem outdated.  The report noted the employees:

  • Want more regular feedback
  • Expect continuous learning
  • Expect decisions on promotions and raises to be based on data

The report suggested that rather than talk about people once a year, organizations should talk with people routinely…and work to strengthen aspects of team productivity, such as trust, inclusion, and clarity of roles.

I had lunch today with a former student who now works with businesses…and the word “trust” came up in our conversation.  Another conversation I had today with a colleague revolved around the use of term faculty rather than tenure-track faculty.  Academia is going through these same accelerations of change, and the old rules need changing.  Of course, that may be difficult, as the ones now in charge came up through the old rules.

Definitely issues to pause and reflect on…

{Graphics: Deloitte Press, SmokingPipes.Com}

The Metaphor of Sloths


Thinking Outside Box

Back in 2014, one of my colleagues, Enoch Hale, posted the following blogging challenge:

“I want to pose an open challenge: Post an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for 30 days.

What followed was an amazing six weeks (we decided to do 30 work days) of out-of-the-box brainstorming.  Our collective questions were captured here.

Yet, while it was fun and intellectually stimulating, did it change me?  Maybe…it certainly flavored my teaching.

I thought of this thought-exercise as I was reading Joe Brewer’s Medium post “The Look and Feel of 21st Century Science.”

Brewer noted that humanity is going through unprecedented global change.  And while some processes adapt to change very quickly (our use of smartphones for instance), other things move more slowly.  He noted historical sloths such as academic disciplines at universities and libraries.

His point about libraries reminded me of Dave Weinberger’s earlier book, Everything is Miscellaneous.  Weinberger noted that in a digital age, there is no one way to classify information.  Rather than trying to put books in one place (like the Dewey Decimal System does), he suggested that information can live in multiple places.  This premise of information and knowledge living in multiple nodes and the concept of networked knowledge was expanded in his book Too Big To Know, which is the textbook for my ILD-831 classJoe BrewerBrewer noted that “…libraries are “going digital” and building up a network ecology framework for organizing the knowledge of societies.”

Brewer suggested that science is currently in crisis alongside the political and economic systems of the world.  He points out:

“So we must envision a look and feel for science in the future that is networked, agile and ever-evolving, relevant to the pressing issues of the day, and deeply, DEEPLY ecologically human.”

Brewer suggested that part of the problem lies in our adoption of systems thinking…the “illusion of separation between machines and living things.”  He pointed to the need to adopt instead ecological networks.

“…The look and feel of 21st Century science will be human through and through. There will be holism and integration; emotion and reason recombined in resonance with findings from the cognitive and behavioral sciences. And it will be ecological; embedded in human networks which are themselves embedded within physical and social geographies.”

Weinberger in Too Big To Know captured some of that library thinking when he concluded:

“…We thought that knowledge was scarce, when in fact it was just that our shelves were small.  Our new knowledge is not even a set of works.  It is an infrastructure of connection…”

Coming back to our 30-Day Challenge, Enoch had us questioning our teaching in ways that surfaced holism and integration…that surfaced integration of human and technology.  I have tried to bring aspects of that thinking into my current courses – Creighton University’s ILD-831 – Technology and Leadership – and Northeastern University’s EDU-6323 – Technology as a Medium for Learning.  In both classes, I struggle to move past the sloths of old…of hierarchical thinking in leadership…of classrooms based on scarcity of knowledge.  Yet, I am encouraged and even buoyed by ideas surfacing from my students in our blog aggregation for ILD-831 and our Twitter hashtag discussions in #edu6323.  The first stirrings of ecological networks appear to be developing!

I would be interested in your thoughts.  How do we move the sloths of academia and leadership in our digital age?

{Graphics: Bud Deihl, Brewer}

Two Weeks, Three Books, and A New Role

In that short period between end of Spring semester, our Online Course Development Initiative, and the start of my summer teaching, I dove into some books:


The first was assigned reading.  The VCU Center for Teaching Excellence in which I have been a member for the past 8 years is merging with our Online@VCU staff to form the Learning INnovation Center – LINC.  Our new tag line for LINC is “Connected Learning For a Networked World.”  It is not coincidence that LINC was the forerunner of the modern personal computer.  🙂

So last week, our new LINC staff held a retreat with our Vice Provost for Learning Innovation – Gardner Campbell, to begin the process of growing our new organization.  It was a good day to help align each of us with Gardner’s vision for LINC.  As part of the retreat, each of us completed the Clifton Strengths Finder online assessment to find our top five strengths out of a possible thirty-four that we each brought to LINC.

As might be expected, we were a diverse group…though ten people shared the strength of “strategic”:

Strengths List

My own top five strengths – which did not surprise those who knew me – were:

  • Responsibility – one who, inexplicably, must follow through on commitments
  • Learner – one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful
  • Input – one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use
  • Belief – one who strives to find some ultimate meaning behind everything they do
  • Futuristic – one who has a keen sense of using an eye towards the future to drive today’s success

LINC themesSo I had no unique strengths…but rather shared my strengths with at least two others…though no one had my combination.

LINC will have four areas of focus – Faculty Development, Student Engagement, Communities of Practice, and Technology Enhanced Active Learning.  Jeff Nugent and I will be acting as the research arm of LINC.

Moving from a role of faculty consultant to one of active research is quite a change!  It was with this change in mind that I read the other two books noted above.

The late Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace (1998) was the right book to set a frame of reference for this change.

As Anna Muoio of FastCompany magazine explained:

“…A hairball is an entangled pattern of behavior. It’s bureaucracy, which doesn’t allow much space for original thinking and creativity. It’s the corporate tendency to rely on past policies, decisions, and processes as a formula for future success.

All of this creates a Gordian knot of corporate normalcy — an entanglement that grows over time. As its mass increases, so does its gravitational pull. And what does gravity do? It drags things down. But hairballs can be effective. They provide a necessary stability. It’s not the job of the hairball to be vibrant, alive, and creative…”

By this definition, higher education is as clearly a hairball as the corporation MacKenzie worked at – Hallmark.  MacKenzie suggests that the path to creativity and innovation is to orbit the hairball – benefiting from what it has to offer in terms of stability and resources without being sucked in to its gravitational pull.  As Muoio noted, “…It’s a symbiotic relationship: without the hairball, the orbiter would spiral into space; without the orbiter’s creativity and originality, the hairball would be a mass of nothing.”

Or as MacKenzie puts it – The Hairball is a twisted mass of “policy, procedure, conformity, compliance, rigidity and submission to status quo, while Orbiting is originality, rules-breaking, non-conformity, experimentation, and innovation”.

paradoxOver the coming month, we will all be developing our new job descriptions within LINC.  I loved MacKenzie’s approach when told to develop a job description.  The word “paradox” came to mind, and he looked up the definition.  He turned it in and said, “These are the definitions of the word I would like as my job title.”  MacKenzie thus became the Director of Creative Paradox.

Now, no one knew what a director of creative paradox actually did, but they assumed it was something meaningful.  So people at Hallmark would take ideas to him … and he would validate them.  With that validation, they would then make it happen!

So as part of the research arm of LINC, I see a bit of creative paradox playing out here at VCU.

As I was reading Orbiting the Giant Hairball, I spotted Levitt and Dubner’s latest book at Barnes and Noble – Think Like a Freak.  It was also a fun read, though not as relevant (for me) as MacKenzie’s book.  As noted in their Freakonomic’s website, thinking like a freak means:

  • First, put away your moral compass—because it’s hard to see a problem clearly if you’ve already decided what to do about it.
  • Learn to say “I don’t know”—for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
  • Think like a child—because you’ll come up with better ideas and ask better questions.
  • Find the root cause of a problem—because attacking the symptoms, as often happens, rarely fixes the underlying issue.
  • Take a master class in incentives—because for better or worse, incentives rule our world.
  • Learn to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded—because being right is rarely enough to carry the day.
  • Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting—because you can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud.

Good lessons…but not as captivating (or innovative) as MacKenszie.  As I move in to my new role, I will hope to orbit the giant hairball, being more of a creative paradox and less a freaky sideshow!

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Re-Imagination of Everything

Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, recently presented at Stanford University on web trends.  Her presentation contains eighty-eight slides full of interesting and thought-provoking information.  Her message is that the evolving web forces us to re-imagine everything.  For those of us in faculty development, it is suggestive of changes that will impact our classrooms – however “classrooms” are defined in the coming years.

Several trends stand out to me:

  • USA adults who own tablets or eReaders has grown from 2% to 29% in three years
  • Mobile internet traffic has surpassed desktop internet traffic in India.  When will that happen in USA?
  • During the recent Black Friday shopping, one-quarter of shopping traffic was on mobile devices rather than desktops, up from only 6 percent two years ago.

This presentation focuses on business, but if the world is moving to “beautiful, relevant, personalized, curated content for consumers,” will not the same be expected in higher education for students?

Meeker has some interesting before and now visualizations in her “Re-Imagine” section.  I do not know that any by themselves are earth-shattering, but taken together, they certainly suggest a world that is evolving at an ever increasing pace, which raises questions on how we adapt.

As always, I would be interested in your views.  What stands out for you?


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The School of Me

nookbookI just finished reading my first ebook on my new NookColor: Nick Bilton‘s I Live in the Future and Here’s How It Works.  It was an interesting experience, done primarily on the Nook, but thanks to the B&N apps, I also could read it on my PC and on my Droid phone, which I did.  I will definitely be reading more books this way.

Bilton’s book continues themes surfaced by Shirky and others that I have discussed in this blog, but he had some interesting nuances.  One of the fascinating glimpses of the not-too-distant future in his book was that every chapter had a QR code under the chapter title.  Using my Droid, I could snap from the chapter code to supplemental websites that provided additional background information for the chapter as well as videos of Bilton discussing the chapter.  I could easily visualize the future textbooks having similar functionality,qr01 with our students actually using their smartphones for learning!

After reading a book, I like to go back and thumb through it.  Having it now on my PC makes this just as easy to do, and I found that areas I highlighted either on the Nook or on my Droid showed up highlighted on my PC … so the three screens were sync’ed.  Bilton talks about the three screens in Chapter 8, where he discusses the concept of 1:2:10.  You tend to hold your smartphone one foot from your eyes, look at a desktop or laptop screen two feet away, and watch your TV from about ten feet.  Bilton suggests that in the future, we will engage with content seamlessly across all three screens, though designing content to do so raises interesting challenges.  For instance, Bilton imagines a scenario where I could be watching this weekend’s Army-Navy game (GO NAVY!) on TV and have to leave at half-time for an engagement.  Under his scenario, my phone would know that I was leaving my TV and begin automatically providing updates on my phone until I got to my destination and fired up my laptop, where the information would shift over seamlessly to that screen.  I cannot automatically do this now…but Bilton suggests this will be the norm before too long.

In other words, my view of the Army-Navy game would be customized for me and delivered as an experience, not just content.  This individualization and customization theme permeated the book.

One of the most intriguing concepts in this book was in Chapter 6.  Bilton notes that when you take out your smartphone and click “locate me”, a map appears with you in the center.  Maps and charts (maps used at sea) have been part of my life for years.  Mercator came up with the projection used by most map makers over 400 years ago, but maps always were based on places and landmarks.  You would go into a store and buy a map of Richmond VA or Nebraska or the subway system.  You would never go in as Bilton suggests and ask, “Oh, excuse me, can I buy a map of me?”

Yet, when ever I use FourSquare on Facebook, that is precisely what appears, a map of me!


Bilton uses this image of being in the center as a metaphor for life today.  Rather than getting news from mainstream sources, we now use Twitter and Google Reader to customize our news experience.  For many of our students, their main source of news is the “news feed” from Facebook (an application correctly named from their perspective!).  We listen to our own collections of songs on our iPods or customized channels on Pandora rather than using CD’s or radios.  As Bilton describes it, digital will more and more mean “immediate” and “infinite” and “extremely personalized” in the digitally narcissistic world where the customer is always at the center of the map.

It should not be too great a leap to take this shift from content or subject base to personal base and visualize it in the classroom of the future.  Our students are growing up in a world where they are always at the center of the map…everywhere except in the classroom.  In listening to some of the frustrations expressed by my students, I hear of too many teachers continuing to try and keep this personalization out of teaching.  A doctoral student last week defended her dissertation (and did a nice job), but her study of eighteen high school teachers who had been in a 1:1 laptop initiative for EIGHT YEARS found that 15 of the 18 continued to teach as they always had with no demonstration that they had integrated technology into their teaching.  Sad but not surprising.  My students want to change as well, but express concerns that too many administrators and fellow teachers continue to view digital media as simply new ways to do the same old things.

Outside the classroom, our students are experiencing a rich world centered around themselves.  When they buy applications, they do not buy content, they buy experiences.  Driving around town, they can use their phone now to locate local shops or restaurants on the fly..or with Foursquare, locate their friends.  Some are now suggesting that the majority of our access to the internet will be via our smartphones, and when you couple access to information with yourself in the center of the map, all sorts of possibilities explode.

What if we took this concept to education?  What would a school of me look like?

If the student was at the center of the learning process, then instruction would be personalized based on that student’s prior knowledge and abilities.  Personal learning networks would be more the norm, and through networked learning, students would create their own knowledge base (and content).  Students could access not only facts off the internet, but connect to others with similar interests and passions about the learning topic they are studying.  I have used her before, but Wendy comes to mind when looking at a school of me.

One also gets a glimpse if one looks at the nominees for this year’s Edublog Awards. The nominees across the 23 categories are out on the cutting edge when it comes to using digital media for learning (and be sure to vote for this year’s winners).

What would it take to move schools towards a school of me?  Leadership.  Vision.  Risk.  Yet, could a “school of me” be an answer to the challenges facing education…particularly the challenges in which we seem to be falling behind much of the world.  The Asian dominance in this year’s PISA test scores suggests that continuing to educate as we have is a prescription for further failure.

Bilton’s final chapter says “they’re not coming back.” He is talking about traditional consumers, traditional media, and traditional brands.  Yet, while our students have evolved and continue to change, education has for the most part not changed.  How can you worry about going back if you never left?

What are your thoughts?  Can technology deliver a School of Me?  Is it the right direction to take?  I would be interested in your thoughts.

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Learning Swarms?

coverWired Magazine in the August issue has a cute article discussing the future that never happened.  When I was growing up, I watched the Jetsons and Johnny Quest every week, but the cold reality is that my flying car and jet packs just have not materialized.  But while that is true, the world has changed in ways George Jetson would never have imagined.

I was thinking about that as I read a new article from the Gartner ResearchTom Austin gives his predictions in “Gartner Says the World of Work Will Witness 10 Changes During the Next 10 Years”.  I am not saying that I disagree with Tom when I said I thought about the future never happening.  Tom is a group VP, Gartner Fellow, and research area lead for applications that augment how people work.  A smart guy who I think is on target.  My concern is with higher education.  I am worried that higher education will continue to assume the future looks like the past and will not readily adapt to these coming changes.

Given that I spent twelve years in community and technical colleges, it should not be surprising that I see a strong role for higher education in preparing our students for the world of work that Austin discusses.  One could argue that higher education has a mixed record when it comes to the efficacy with which it has performed that role in the past, but with the world changing so radically, it is becoming more of an imperative.

In the article, Austin notes the following changes that are coming:

1. De-routinization of Work
Every job can be described in terms of skills required. Austin suggests that routine skills will be automated, and increasingly, jobs will be marked by the non-routine; areas like “discovery, innovation, teaming, leading, selling and learning.”

2. Work Swarms
Austin labels a new form of teaming “swarming”, which form swiftly to meet a specific need, often with individuals outside the organization. David Weinberger might label this crowdsourcing.

3. Weak Links
With swarms, the strong ties of typical networks give way to looser ties.  I tend to visualize the nearly 500 people I follow on Twitter that way.  I would not be following them if there was not some connection to me and my work, yet I could not say those are strong links.

4. Working With the Collective
Austin calls the informal organizations that exist outside direct control of an enterprise, but groups that can impact the success or failure of that enterprise, “the collective.”  Increasingly, businesses will have to tap in to the chatter in Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to ferret out business intelligence. An example of that occurred to me this past weekend, when Sears replaced my home air conditioner.  The work did not complete on time, requiring an unexpected motel stay.  When I tweeted my frustration to no one in particular, I was contacted by Sears social media group, who are now negotiating some compensation for my troubles.  Good on Sears for doing that…it is an example of a business tapping in to the collective.

5. Work Sketch-Ups
If work is becoming more non-routine and crowdsourced, then detailed plans will be a luxury.  Many plans will be done using informal sketch-ups and fly-by-the-seat-of-ones-pants.  Messy but agile, which will probably be the competitive mark of the future.

6. Spontaneous Work
Spontaneous does not mean reactive, rather it is a proactive attempt to identify new opportunities. Sounds like the work we do in our Center for Teaching Excellence!

7. Simulation and Experimentation
Austin suggests that the film Minority Report will illustrate the future of work, where individuals will seamlessly shift through a hyperlinked world to examine the analytics and look for new patterns.

8. Pattern Sensitivity
Spotting and adapting to new patterns will become increasingly important, because much that happens in the world can no longer be predicted by a linear model.

9. Hyperconnected
Hyperconnectedness not only applies to the ubiquitous nature of the web and its impact, but also to the multiple connections businesses will have with both formal and informal groups of people.  Relationships will therefore increase in importance.

10. My Place
People will still have a “place” that they think of in conjunction with work, but that place may or may not be affiliated with a formal organization.  The nine-to-five job will fade in favor of the 24/7 virtual worker.

So what do these ten changes suggest for higher education?  Some degree program seem to look to the past to predict the future.  Austin would suggest that is foolish.  Having said that, let me be quick to note that not all institutions of higher education think this way.  I love the  Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver advertisement campaign that ran last year, which they called The Top Ten Jobs of 2015 Don’t Exist Today.  They get it.  If one agrees that higher education should prepare students for the future, then we need to prepare students for jobs that do not currently exist.  Memorizing facts alone will not help these students…but learning how to learn and how to think critically will.

swarm2I like the concept of work swarms.  I can see a parallel with the Massive Open Online Course that George Siemens and Stephen Downes conducted last fall. With 12,000 learners in a single course, George and Stephen could not “teach” in the classic sense.  Instead, they facilitated and developed an environment in which the learners could take ownership of their own learning.  In the near future, I can see faculty members listing the facilitation of learning swarms on their CVs.

This fall, I will be having my grad students blog rather than use the safe discussion board inside the walled garden of Blackboard.  I have always enjoyed facilitating discussions in online classes and have done so for a dozen years.  But I increasingly feel that I am not preparing my students for life in the hyperconnected world…and if I do not prepare my students (who are all K-12 teachers), will they be equipped to prepare the next generation that is rising through our school system.  If my personal learning network is any indication, there is power in the swarm.  Our students need to experience that power.

I do not have the answers, but I feel that I have to start adapting and reaching out to others who are adapting, so that we can prepare our students.  What is your take?  Is your school system or college or university on top of these changes, beginning to react, or not even aware they are coming?  I would be interested in your views.

{Photo Credit: Wired Magazine, Chris Rudge}

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What Walls Need Tearing Down?


Michael Bugeja’s opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Reduce the Technology, Rescue Your Job,” struck a nerve today.  He started by noting that for “most of this decade, professors embraced the pedagogy of engagement, wooing students via technology and ignoring the costs because traditional methods, from textbooks to lectures, purportedly bored students who multitasked in the wireless classroom.”  He then noted the massive cuts occurring across higher education, and suggested that these “facts alone merit an immediate technological and curricular assessment, or else hundreds more professors and staff members could lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months. You may lose your job.”

Bugeja raised the valid point that too often technology decisions are made without factoring in true costs, but he then suggests that teaching centers (like the one at which I work) are part of the problem for pushing the use of technology for teaching and learning.  His final paragraph reads:

  • “I challenge anyone objecting to these arguments to look in the eye of secretaries, janitors, adjuncts, advisers, and professors of eliminated programs and say that avatars, clickers, social networks, and tweets—and the pedagogies, IT expenses, and teaching centers supporting them—are more important than feeding their families. To believe we can afford both indicates how incapable many of us are of making the difficult choices that the times require.”

It would be easy to dismiss this article if I did not think that his way of thinking was not reflective of many in mainstream faculty.  I have seen a number of faculty in higher education, as well as teachers in K-12, who see technology as an evil.  In many ways, they want to wall off their classes from the outside world.

That image of a wall is particularly relevant today, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  President Reagan has always been one of my favorites, and one cannot think of him without hearing his exhortation:

“Mr. Gorbachev…tear down this wall!”

That is the line most remember, but I like his comments later in the same speech, in which he stated “this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

Bugeja’s comments to reduce technology in order to save jobs ignores the realities of a changing world…much as the Berlin Wall did.  Technology in and of itself is not evil, and technology integrated into education is opening minds, not closing them.  The participatory web and open access to information has created freedoms that never existed in the past.  Those freedoms directly and positively impact learning.  As Derek Bruff noted in a comment to Bugeja’s piece:

“…point out that Bugeja has focused here on the cost of instructional technology, but not on the benefits to student learning. There’s plenty of research that shows that student learning is positively affected by instructional methods that involve more active student engagement before, during, and after class. Technologies that support or facilitate such instructional methods are certainly worth exploring, if our goal is student learning. When conducting a cost-benefit analysis, it’s only appropriate to spend as much time thinking through the benefits as it is thinking through the costs.”

“…if our goal is student learning…”  Well said, Derek!  If one shifts the microscope from technology to student learning, one might find many traditional classrooms in trouble!  President Reagan made his speech in 1987, and during that same period, Chickering and Gamson developed a seminal work on teaching and learning, their Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Instruction.  They synthesized fifty years of research on teaching to develop these principles:

Good practice in undergraduate education:
1. Encourages contact between students and faculty
2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
3. Encourages active learning.
4. Gives prompt feedback.
5. Emphasizes time on task.
6. Communicates high expectations.
7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Rather than cast technology as an evil, I would suggest that technology is a powerful tool that encourages contact between students and faculty, provides avenues for reciprocity and cooperation among students, creates new venues for active learning, enables more timely and prompt feedback, and gives new opportunities to keep students on task.  High expectations can now be communicated in multiple ways across social media that students are using, and these diverse and multiple paths respect the talents and new ways our students are learning.

We certainly need to be fiscally prudent with taxpayer and tuition-funded monies, but now is not the time to build walls and isolate our students from a 24/7 wired world.  Instead, we need to actively help our students create the learning networks that they will need to thrive in the 21st Century.

So to Mr. Bugeja and others who agree with him, I say “Tear down this wall!”

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Faculty Development in An Open World


I just finished reading Curtis J. Bonk’s new book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that Wiley, the publisher, emailed me after I reviewed Dan Willingham’s book in a previous post and asked if they could send me Bonk’s book for possible review (with no strings attached).

I said yes and the next week received a copy of this book at no charge.

With that said, this book has resonated with me and I found Bonk’s approach interesting.

In many ways, Bonk is as much a fan boy of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat as I am.  Just as Friedman had ten flatterners, Bonk has ten openers:

Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)

  1. Web Searching in the World of e-Books
  2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
  3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  4. Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
  5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  7. Electronic Collaboration
  8. Alternate Reality Learning
  9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
  10. Networks of Personalized Learning

WE-ALL-LEARN provides a framework for his book and the premise that anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.  Bonk  spun out chapters on each opener, illustrating each concept with stories, a bit of research and statistics, and implications for education in the future.  Working in the field, I recognized some of the people he named, but I also learned new pioneers.  Bonk continually reinforces that these openers ought to be changing education as we know it, as our world is quite different from our parent’s world.

In Bonk’s view, these openers need to viewed through three overarching trends.  First, the pipes are getting bigger allowing access to tools and infrastructure.  Second, more and more pages of content is becoming available as free and open content. Third, a participatory learning culture is evolving around social media.

One of the things I found fascinating was my own reaction to the book.  I buy the basic theme that openness ultimately improves education, and I consider myself someone who is part of a participatory learning culture.  I was pleased that Bonk provided a companion website with hyperlinked references and other resources.  But my first inclination was to begin following Curt Bonk’s Twitter account…and I could not find one for him!  Other than his blog, I did not see Bonk participating to the same degree that he discusses in his book.  I have never met him and may be way off target, but I was somewhat surprised that I could not immediately connect with him the way I did with some of the people he mentioned in his book like Stephen Downes, Vicki Davis, Clay Shirky or Dave Weinberger.

So I was thrilled with the content and miffed a bit by the author!  Weird reaction!

I also found that increasingly with books like this one, I read it with a laptop nearby, so that I can quickly go look at something new and immediately start the learning process for myself.  I had never seen Dancing Matt before, so really enjoyed viewing his Youtube video while reading that section of the book.  This bouncing between the web and the written word is a new but interesting process…and it suggests that in many ways, this should have been an e-book as opposed to a print book.

His final opener has to do with personalized learning…something we reflect on often in faculty development.  Bonk stated that we should be striving to move from where we see personalized learning as the ideal to a culture where personalized learning is the accepted norm.  With the pipes, pages, and participatory culture, anyone can establish their own learning path on any topic, whether it be improved teaching, learning a new language, or finally programming the VCR (…just kidding).  The implications for faculty development are huge!

Bonk has fifteen predictions at the end.  I will leave it to you to check them out, but I liked that he is questioning the status quo.  With the availability of all the world’s knowledge in our pockets/cellphones, the typical four-year college process no longer makes sense to Bonk.  He suggests that formalized education will expand rather than contract.  But informal learning with global partners will play an equal role to the formalized higher education model.  Learning will be authentic from passionate teachers…but those “teachers” may no longer be credentialed.  Bonk also served up a dozen issues that will have to be solved for openness to succeed.

I work with faculty daily on best ways to incorporate the internet into their teaching practices.  In the past three years since I came to VCU, the access to learning on the web has exploded.  Bonk’s book is pushing me to reconceptualize how I should facilitate faculty development in an open world.  I recommend the book to you and would be interesting in your thoughts on the evolution/revolution of faculty development in these exciting times!

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The Fourth and Last Set of Rules

In the past three posts, I have covered the first 39 “rules” from Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb.: 52 Truths For Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self (2009).  I found this book to be relevant not only for entrepreneurs in business, but for those changing the paradigm of teaching by moving online.  This post will complete my review of his rules and their application to online teaching and learning.  Here are the last thirteen:

Rule #40 – Technology is about changing how we work.

Webber makes a great point that directly ties into our work in online teaching and learning – “It’s never about the technology – it’s always about what the technology makes possible.”  Technology is a moving target.  The online environment today is totally different than just five years ago due to the increased two-way interactivity now possible.  Rather than adopting “a” technology, we should be about adopting technological concepts that allow us to bring learning alive.  The question is never WordPress versus Blogger or Moveable Type, but rather whether blogging can improve dialogue and connections in your class.  This rule also suggests that it is okay to try new approaches to teaching and learning due to new affordances technology grants rather than trying to shoe-horn our old course into an online learning environment.

Rule #41 – If you want to be a real leader, first get real about leadership.

In business, leadership is not attached to a single job title.  It is also not attached to a specific gender or race.  In classes, the same can be said.  Leadership is a way of thinking and acting, and we do our students a disservice if we do not cultivate that.  Real leaders grow new leaders, and real teachers grow the next generation of leaders as well.  How is your class organized to recognize and cultivate thinking and acting as leaders?

Rule #42 – The survival of the fittest is the business case for diversity.

Webber noted that diversity is the key to adaptation and the way to tap new ideas.  It is a way of learning new ways of thinking and operating.  Much has been written about the anonymity of students online, but I would suggest that one can also create opportunities that expose the diversity of thought.  I will never forget an early online class I taught in which college leadership was being discussed.  A white American male posted a lengthy comment about authoritative leadership, and then one male student from Guam started his post with “I am a Chamorro and that is not how we think…”  Online classes open up wonderful opportunities for cross-cultural, gender, or racial discussions in a safe environment.  Exposing our students to diversity of thought equips them for success in the flat world.

Rule #43 – Don’t confuse credentials with talent.

In business today, particularly with the speed of change that is occurring, it makes sense to hire for attitude and then train for skills.  I wonder if we are guilty of the reverse in education.  We (and our students) place great value on degrees and grades.  The number one question we tend to get in class (online or F2F) is “Will this be on the test?”  If we were in the talent business rather than the credentialing business, we faculty and our students would be focused more on learning and less on grades.  Do our classes help or hurt our students’ future job prospects when it comes to attitude?

Rule #44 – When it comes to business, it helps if you actually know something about something.

The same can be said for teaching online.  Our role as faculty has definitely changed.  We now live in a world where Scantron tests are obsolete if students can enter the question into Wolfram Alpha or Google or Wikipedia and ascertain the correct answer.  But that is not learning.  Our role has evolved from knowledge giver into a knowledge guide, which does mean that we have to know something about something…so that we can guide those who only check the first five returns in Google.  We should want to move our students beyond information to knowledge.

Rule #45 – Failure isn’t failing.  Failure is failing to try.

Webber noted that the articles in FastCompany magazine that garnered the greatest reader responses were the ones where authors talked about their failures and what they learned.  One cannot take risks without having failures, but the question becomes what one does with the lessons learned.  That is true of online teachers and it is true of online students.  Regardless of the myth of the digital natives, the truth is that the online environment is still outside the comfort zone of many students (as it is for many faculty).  Yet, this new environment offers rich opportunities to try things that could never be tried face-to-face.  I recently required my graduate class of technology-frightened students to research a Web 2.0 tool and then post a multimedia presentation on that tool in a wiki to their fellow classmates in a two-week period…with no instruction on “how” to do that.  But I also told them that anyone who successfully posted a multimedia presentation passed the assignment.  They ended up amazing themselves, posting a combination of YouTube, Jing, and Camtasia videos on 25 separate tools.  They also learned that the lesson was not the presentation but the journey in preparing and posting the presentation.  After that two-week period, I no longer had a class of students scared of technology.  Almost all of them ended up applying their new skills in the K-12 classes they taught.  What excites me most is the spirit of experimentation that has suddenly erupted in these teachers.

Rule #46 – Tough leaders wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Webber noted that the kind of leaders the world needs are those who exercise tough leadership with warm hearts.  I believe that the worst mistake an online faculty can make is to be invisible.  It is okay to have a tough course but your students should “see” you as someone who is passionate about the subject matter and caring about their success in the class.  The social presence of the faculty impacts learning, retention, and ultimately student success.

Rule #47 – Everyone’s at the center of their map of the world.

I am currently in Boston visiting my daughter and grandkids.  One of the lesser known tourist attractions is the Mapparium, a three-story tall stained glass globe that you walk into and stand at the center of the world.  It certainly is a unique view of geography.  Yet, unique views are common.  I was talking with my good friend Bruce Robinson last night.  Bruce is Headmaster of the British School of Boston and was my roommate at University of Nebraska as we worked on our doctorates.  Bruce is also originally from Australia, and he had a world map that (to me) was upside down and showed Australia as center of the world.  Technology has given us all the ability to construct our own personal learning environments in which we are the center of the world, with linkages to information and knowledge being generated all around us.  This concept that not only are we at the center but also we are responsible for our own learning is a great literacy that we need to pass on to our students.  Webber makes a great point in Rule #47: ”

“It’s a big world-and getting smaller all the time. It’s not so much that the world is flat.  It’s that we are all connected…you’re in the middle, and so is everyone else.”

Rule #48 – If you want to make change, start with an iconic project.

Everyone talks about “change” yet few really believe in it of do it.  The concept of change is too nebulous for most people.  So Webber suggests that the road to change is to pick a doable project that provides proof of concept and makes change believable.  So if you would like to add online courses to your education delivery mix, don’t try to do all of them immediately.  Pick one course that has impact and do a proof of concept design and delivery.  When we started the online delivery at Gwinnett Technical College in Georgia, we started with three courses and 41 students.  Within five years, we were offering 200 courses a quarter with the largest online technical college enrollment in the state.

Rule #49 – If you want to grow as a leader, you have to disarm your border guards.

It is an unwritten law of business that the higher you rise, the more inaccessible you become.  Webber points our that business today is more than numbers and rationality; that emotional intelligence plays just as important a role.  In a similar view, faculty who teach online need to be accessible and real to their online students.  It is too easy to put up barriers to access – rigid office hours, unreturned email, no use of social media like Facebook or Twitter.  Think about how accessible you are and what barriers may be blocking students from getting to you.

Rule #50 – On the way up, pay attention to your strengths; they’ll be your weaknesses on your way down.

We are all fascinated by lists of the best…but when it comes to businesses, those in the Fortune 500 today probably will not remain there.  Take a look at the Fortune 500 from fifty years ago – the top company was General Motors!  Every strength also has the potential as a vulnerability.  There are lessons from GM that can be applied to higher education.  We need to examine our strengths today with new lens of digital connectiveness, ubiquitous access to information, and open publishing.

Rule #51 – Take your work seriously. Yourself, not so much.

Great advice…whether you run a company or a class.  I start all of my online classes with an icebreaker to get to know my students…and to let them get to know me.  There are a ton of interactive websites that can be used for ice breakers online. One I have used in the past with college-aged student is “Gone To the Dogs.” You click on GAMES (along the left side menu) and fill out the Dog Breed Calculator test to find out what breed of dog you are!  Turns out I am a “Azawakh” (or Tareg Sloughi)…a large but very skinny dog from the sub-Sahara. It is “rangy, leggy, lean, rugged, and elegant”…and my wife might suggest that I am three out of the five and leave it to me to figure out which!  My students love it – and we begin that first week making connections with each other.

Rule #52 – Stay alert!  There are teachers everywhere.

Wonderful way to end the book!  Webber suggests that we should all stay open to what we are hearing and be willing to listen and learn.  I note in my syllabus that I expect to learn as much from my students as they do from me, because I set my online classes up with the expectation that we are all co-creators of knowledge who learn from each other.

Webber ends his book by noting that the old rules no longer apply and that we need new rules of thumb.  That suggests a continuing evolution.  He asks that we all share our Rule #53, and has set up a website – – to facilitate that sharing.

So – four posts covering 52 rules.  What do you think?  What would be our Rule #53 for online teaching and learning?  Leave a comment here and let me know!