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}

What Does Quality Mean in the Classroom?

qual01Last Friday, I facilitated a brown bag lunch session on “World Class Quality in University Coursework.”  If interested in listening to the conversation, I am linking to an Echo360 recording of this session.

Government officials, employers, accrediting agencies, university administrators, institutional researchers, faculty, faculty development specialists, and even students all have something to share concerning quality in higher education, but what really defines it?  One standard that I believe ranks above the rest is the Malcolm Baldrige Nation Quality Award.

Of course, I am biased.  I have been involved with the quality movement since the 1980’s.  I had the opportunity to brainstorm with John Jasinski in 1995 when the Education Criteria was being developed by NIST for the Baldrige Award.  I have used the Baldrige at three institutions as a framework for assessment.  I was on the Board of Examiners for the Georgia quality award modeled off the Baldrige.  Last year nationally, more than 1.75 million copies of the Baldrige Criteria were downloaded by organizations.  While only three colleges and universities have actually won the award in the past decade, this has not deterred many campuses from exploring how the criteria could be applied at a local level.  How would the application of high standards and expectations of excellence impact classroom instruction and student success?  Are these standards aligned with our vision of the University as espoused in VCU 2020?  These were the questions I posed in this brown bag session.

qual04Our conversation began with an attempt to define quality by those in the room.  Their definitions ranged from “goodness” to value to meeting outcomes or meeting standards.  Some talked about higher levels, such as hitting a level of prestige.  I gave a little background on the evolution of the quality movement, from Shewhart in the 1930’s through today’s Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing initiatives.  We looked at why 99% effective might not actually be very good (apply that to the airlines and you would have two crashes a day at most major airports), and that led to some discussion about what “99 percent defect free” might mean for student learning.  In past classes that I have taught, I have had discussions with my students on flipping the customer perspective.  Rather than seeing my students as my customers (s0mething many in education have a hard time conceptualizing), I suggest to my students that I am their customer.  They are producing a product and sending it to me.  I therefore am in a position to judge the quality of that product, just as any customer judges the quality of products she or he receives.  If students take responsibility for providing high quality products and service to me, then expectations will have been raised…and I have found that higher outcomes are achieved.

I used Charles Sorensen‘s 2005 book Quality and Performance Excellence in Higher Education to provide some examples of how five universities that have used the Baldrige to assess quality.

qual03We wrestled with the concept of a “defect” as applied to learning.  Our chemistry professor noted that in his discipline, standards are set by national chemical associations, so he has norms from which to benchmark.  Others in more social sciences had a more difficult time determining what a defect might be.  As one noted, we appeared to be looking for an objective measure in a subjective world.

We also discussed the difficulty of attempting to address quality at the individual instructor level.  If our courses are part of a process of learning within our disciplines, then it makes sense to have common language and measures associated with quality as students progress through our program of study.  Bud Deihl noted that he liked the term “world class” because it not only forced him to think outside the norm, but also think outside the USA-centric approach that we tend to use.

So what does quality mean in our classrooms?  This is a question best answered by each higher education faculty member or K-12 teacher, but the answers will be better informed if faculty and teachers view the question through the lens of the Malcomb Baldrige Criteria.

What are your thoughts?  Do you discuss quality with your students?  With your fellow faculty?  I would be interested in your comments.

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The Only Thing to Fear

I was in an interesting exchange today across multiple levels of the web on which I would like to reflect further.

It started when my friend Eduardo Peirano tweeted a link to me and two others about an article in the May 29th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education.  In “I’ll Never Do It Again,” Elayne Clift laid out her reasons for never teaching online again.  Her five reasons included:

  1. “Virtual community” is the ultimate oxymoron.
  2. The lack of immediacy in communication is maddening.
  3. The quality of education is compromised in online learning.
  4. Show the money (more work for the same pay)
  5. Online teaching can be very punishing (requires more time)

She wrapped up her comments with:

“Weary and obsessed, I began to feel that, despite my best efforts, I was not up to the task, not in control, not meeting my own standards. On top of that, I suspected my students didn’t like me very much. That hurt. I began to break out in rashes and suffer sleepless nights.

That’s when I knew that I would not do it again and would chalk it up to experience — even if that decision meant hanging up my chalk altogether. Try to talk me down. Tell me I didn’t give it enough time. Call me old-fashioned and out-of-date. Just don’t call me to teach online.

I’ll leave that to (younger?) teachers who like living in a virtual world of virtual students with virtual goals, capacities, and ideas. Me? I’ll stick to the virtues of live human interaction — in the classroom and elsewhere — in a world rapidly becoming, as some of my students might say, “totally unreal!”

Eduardo knew that this 59-year-old (younger?) faculty would rise to the bait!  He had started a discussion forum around this article in his Ning site for Higher Education – College 2.0.  In his post, he noted:

“Aren’t online teachers complicating themselves. At the face to face classes there is nothing similar to forum discussions. So the discussions between the students should be very important for their grade!! They should be allowed to help each other and the teacher’s role is to point them to good resources and to support and facilitate the discussions and learning. If the homework is a collaborative paper each student should be responsible to contribute with some paragraphs (Michael Wesch: A Cultural Anthropologist Looks at Digital Technolog…) or presentation.”

I posted a reply on the College 2.0 forum, but I was fairly certain that Elayne Clift or folks that agreed with her would never see it there.  So I posted the same comments in a Chronicle Forum for article discussion (as well as linking this comment out on Twitter).  Jon Becker was more eloquent in 140 characters but summed up my feelings pretty well:

My more lengthy comment was:

Elayne Clift certainly had issues with teaching online, but it appeared to me that she attempted this course without changing any of her practices, and teaching online is fundamentally different than teaching face-to-face.  I am as old-dog as Clift, but I also have been teaching online for 14 years at a variety of institutions, and see things a little different than she does.

A “virtual community” is only an oxymoron if the faculty does not instill a sense of community through her or his own social presence in the class.  Using social media and collaborative activities, a community can not only form but be very strong.  Social networking tools can lead to a rich communication not only within just the course but with discipline experts worldwide.  We recently held a webconference with our class and guest speakers, and we also opened it up to the world through Twitter.  Others in the field from around the country joined the webconference and began interacting with our students in the chat box.  You could not duplicate that in a physical classroom.

As to lack of quality, that is more an indictment on the institution and the faculty than on online learning.  In my most recent class that I co-taught with another, several students used the term “life-altering” to express their appreciation for the quality of learning they found in our class.

The comments about money and time suggest to me again that Clift attempted to be the single expert on the stage rather than co-opting her students into the learning process.  I find the time distributed nature of online learning works well for me, but much of my focus is on helping students learn how to learn and teach each other.

I was lead author of a white paper published by our Center for Teaching Excellence on online teaching> http://bit.ly/11DBMx. It focuses on the practice of teaching online, and may offer an alternative view to the one espoused by Clift.  Please add to the conversation – we would be interested in your thoughts.

Danger Students Working Online

That was near 1pm today.  Another person had started a similar forum called “Teaching Online.”  By dinner time, these two comments had been read over three hundred and two-fifty times respectively, and a lengthy exchange was developing in the forum.  What I found fascinating was that our comments evoked such strong reaction from two faculty who had never taught online. I respect more the comments from those who had taught online.  My Twitter network is biased towards technology but was much more aligned with my own comments.

In several Chronicle comments, there was a note of fear that the “good old days” were gone and that because of online learning, higher education was going to hell in a handbasket.  “Beatitude” noted “I hope to God this isn’t the future for all of higher education…”

“Beatitude” raised a number of interesting points.  He or she noted that online courses were fine in the summer as long as they did not take resources away from [real] courses in the academic year.  (My interpretation).  There was a bit of fear about potential loss of jobs due to outsourcing.  And a note that many students currently taking online courses live on campus and take these courses from their dorms.

All true.

Yet, there is no real discussion about “learning” or academic success.  My simplistic view is that online is simply a mode of delivery, as are large lectures, small classrooms, and even tele-delivery to remote satellite settings.  We do not burn down large lecture halls because significant numbers of students fail those classes.  We instead look at best means of delivery given the context of large lecture halls.  Online should be no different.  Castigating online as something to fear for the future seems narrow-sighted.

Recent polls suggest almost 100% of entering students already own a laptop.  Given wireless connectivity, there really is no course anymore in which some online learning does not occur.  Our students are using Google and Wikipedia, either in class or outside it (not to mention Facebook!).  The question is not whether students are online or not but rather whether we faculty are guiding their online lives towards learning that matters.

Lisa Lane had a more positive note in her posting in College 2.0 on this matter:

“Faculty who’ve been teaching online awhile have a responsibility to share their experiences, tips and tricks with those just starting out. Mechanisms need to be in place for them to do that, whether it’s professional development programs, training seminars, or social interaction (online or in person). I could, and have, provided many, many solutions to the overload so many new online instructors experience trying to make their online class as much like their on-site classes as possible. There are indeed ways to design the experience to be easier and better for all.”

I agree with Lisa (and I think our White Paper was an attempt to do just the type of sharing she suggests).

Eduardo hit my hot button today (or more correctly, Elayne did).  What are your thoughts?  Have we not reached the point where the debate over the efficacy of online learning is past and where we should instead be focusing on the new practices needed to make online learning the success many of us have already seen it to be?  As always, I would be interested in your comments and reaction.

{Photo Remixed from Gill Wildman}

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Excellence in E-Learning

Yesterday, Tom Peters, one of my heroes, listed The 19E’s of Excellence on his business management blog:

If Not Excellence, What?
If Not Excellence Now, When?
The “19 Es” of Excellence:

Enthusiasm. (Be an irresistible force of nature!)
Energy. (Be fire! Light fires!)
Exuberance. (Vibrate—cause earthquakes!)
Execution. (Do it! Now! Get it done! Barriers are baloney! Excuses are for wimps! Accountability is gospel! Adhere to the Bill Parcells doctrine: “Blame nobody! Expect nothing! Do something!”)
Empowerment. (Respect and appreciation rule! Always ask, “What do you think?” Then listen! Then let go and liberate! Then celebrate!)
Edginess. (Perpetually dancing at the frontier, and a little or a lot beyond.)
Enraged. (Determined to challenge & change the status quo!)
Engaged. (Addicted to MBWA/Managing By Wandering Around. In touch. Always.)
Electronic. (Partners with the world 60/60/24/7 via electronic community building and entanglement of every sort. Crowdsourcing rules!)
Encompassing. (Relentlessly pursue diverse opinions—the more diversity the merrier! Diversity per se “works”!)
Emotion. (The alpha. The omega. The essence of leadership. The essence of sales. The essence of marketing. The essence. Period. Acknowledge it.)
Empathy. (Connect, connect, connect with others’ reality and aspirations! “Walk in the other person’s shoes”—until the soles have holes!)
Experience. (Life is theater! Make every activity-contact memorable! Standard: “Insanely Great”/Steve Jobs; “Radically Thrilling”/BMW.)
Eliminate. (Keep it simple!)
Errorprone. (Ready! Fire! Aim! Try a lot of stuff and make a lot of booboos and then try some more stuff and make some more booboos—all of it at the speed of light!)
Evenhanded. (Straight as an arrow! Fair to a fault! Honest as Abe!)
Expectations. (Michelangelo: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Amen!)
Eudaimonia. (Pursue the highest of human moral purpose—the core of Aristotle’s philosophy. Be of service. Always.)
Excellence. (The only standard! Never an exception! Start now! No excuses! If not Excellence, what? If not Excellence now, when?)

I have always loved Tom’s passion about leadership, which comes through loud and clear above.  I immediately saw a connection between his values for the business world and the values I believe online faculty should have in place for elearning.  So let me borrow liberally and with passion for my world:

The “19 Es” of E-Learning Excellence:

Enthusiasm. Students quickly spot enthusiasm online, and just as quickly note when it is lacking.  Online learning is always more than content…it is facilitated learning led by an enthusiastic subject-matter expert.
(Be involved, present, and active in your class)
(Use social media to connect with students and let your personality come through)
(Online learning does not just happen…it has to be designed in and managed.)
(Students empowered to co-learn and become researchers of their own personal knowledge are learning gifts that will live long beyond your course.)
(Add some Edupunk to your course.)
(Don’t accept mediocrity in yourself or your students.  Get them to stretch beyond normal expectations)
(To me, engagement is the key to effective online learning.  Students need to see the relevance of what they are doing online and its impact on their world.)
(Partners with the world 60/60/24/7 via electronic community building and entanglement of every sort. Crowdsourcing rules! {Same statement Tom made applies to elearning.  Think outside the four walls of the classroom and connect your class with their global peers})
(Borrowing from an old cartoon, no one may know you are a dog online, but online every dog can be a top dog)
(Be passionate about what you teach and let that passion show.)
(The power of elearning is the ability to make the learning customizable to each student in your class.  That requires real connections between faculty and students beyond the normal hierarchical establishment.)
(Students should come away from online classes with a WOW experience.  You have the tools to transform their lives through social media.)
(What works in face-to-face settings rarely transfers easily online.  It is not a matter of throwing your powerpoints, notes, or even class lecture videos online and saying you have online classes.  It is a different medium and therefore requires much to be tossed out and re-engineered.)
(Ready! Fire! Aim! Try a lot of stuff and make a lot of booboos and then try some more stuff and make some more booboos—all of it at the speed of light!  {Okay, maybe not at the speed of light, but don’t be afraid of messing up online.  The online environment remains pretty messy, but in that mess is opportunity!})
(The online environment has the tools for the democratization of education.  You will have superstar students and those who learn at slower paces, but treat every online student equitably.)
(One of Chickering and Gamon’s Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education was for faculty to communicate high expectations.  It hold true equally in online classes – expect much and you will get it.)
(Pursue the highest of human moral purpose—the core of Aristotle’s philosophy. Be of service. Always. {Equally true in education as in business, if not more so!})
(The only standard! Never an exception! Start now! No excuses! If not Excellence, what? If not Excellence now, when?  As Tom said, Amen!)

Now, I admit that I love how Tom Peters states things….but have I translated them correctly for online teaching and learning?  What are your thoughts?

{Photo Credits:  Untitled Projects, CogDog}

Some Good Questions – Blogs as Scholarship

I am a product of the quality movement of the Eighties. I was a Deming Disciple and in the Nineties was a Baldrige-trained examiner for the State of Georgia’s Board of Examiners for their state quality award. I have taught courses on quality management in both Schools of Education and Business. I still believe that one of the best ways a school or department can assess itself is to download the latest Baldrige Criteria and examine their own processes and results based on the questions and metrics noted in the seven different criteria.

All that is background to suggest that my ears perked up when my colleague Jeff Nugent suggested that I look at metrics associated with the scholarship of blogging as part of my goals for the next academic year.

So I started looking around. I found that there are many anecdotal pieces written in both blogs and journals that suggest that many in the edublogosphere view what they do as scholarship, but not many true SoTL-class research studies on blogging. (If you know of some, please place a link in the comments below!) This suggests that the timing is good to explore suitable metrics that could measure the value of a blog posting in terms of its scholarship, potentially allowing its use in promotion and tenure decisions.

Michael Jensen, in a Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority,” noted that most current metrics of scholarship are associated with the old model of information scarcity when thanks to the Internet and Web 2.0, we now live in an age of abundance. Peer-review potentially takes on a new meaning in a “hive mind” or “wisdom of the crowds” environment. Jensen noted that in Wikipedia, the more an article is edited, the more authority is is deemed to have. He also suggested that machine intelligence will begin to sort material on a variety of metrics, including raw links, valued links from others in authority, commenters, nature of comments, tags, and an assortment of subjective values associated with who one is, where one works, and who one associates with. Jensen suggested that it make take 10 to 15 years for these metrics to take hold, but that they are coming.

I also stumbled across a work in progress by Georgia Harper, who contemplated writing her dissertation on whether legal blogs are a form of scholarly communication. In a series of six blog posts, she detailed her development of her research project on blogs as scholarship. I recommend the whole series, but found fascinating her concept map below and linked here.

{Credit: Georgia Harper: http://tinyurl.com/6bexor}

Georgia asked:

– What are the existing forms of scholarship with which blogs compete or are complementary?

– How do blogs fit in the existing array of scholar’s academic duties?

– Is blogging synergistic with other academic duties?

– What are the essential features of blogs with respect to post length, temporality, style, and audience size?

– Do blogs build community?

– Are blogs useful in soliciting comments on early drafts or rough ideas?

– Do blogs harm scholarship or scholars?

– Are blogs part of an emerging web-based system for establishing scholarly authority?

– Are blogs only one part in a shift within academia towards shorter, more open forms of disintermediated communication?

– What perspectives and viewpoints do current forms of scholarship mediate, and are they different from those mediated by blogs?

Great questions – and a baseline from which one could develop metrics.

So what do you think? Is this worth doing? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments as I begin work on crafting a model of blog metrics associated with scholarship.

The Trust Factor


Events this week have had me thinking about “trust” as it applies to our craft. My last post was a bit of a knee jerk reaction to Stephen Downes knee jerk reaction, when he said “I can’t trust anything Sue Waters and Steve Dembo write – and that’s an unhappy state to be in.” What transpired over the last couple of days around the edublogosphere was some interesting commentary about trust. Sue Waters blogged about transparency and maintaining trust, and in the comments there, Darren Draper made the point that he could sign in AS Stephen Downes and leave a comment and potentially get away with it. Darren then went on to confess to what he had done in his own blog and point out how easily one can forge another’s identity.

The word “trust” is too easily tossed about. Wikipedia noted that trust is a belief in the honesty, benevolence, and competence of another party. We are increasingly dependent on our virtual connections, yet yesterday I could not email my wife at her Comcast account because two punks (my term) hacked in and hijacked Comcast’s DNS for over five hours. All week long, many have joked about how untrustworthy Twitter has become. In fact, Hugh MacLeod had several hilarious cartoons lampooning Twitter. As Wikipedia noted, one is apt to forgive trust issues in competence areas such as these much more readily than in honesty or benevolence, and I guess I took Stephen’s questioning of trust as a deeper and more personal level.

Many have pointed out the Dark Side of trust and how easily one can be duped, but it leads me to question if this is the world I wish to live in or not. One can be cynical and assume the worst of everyone, or one can model trust and be trusting. As educators, we impact the world daily. If our actions (and our syllabi) reflects distrust, we will find it returned in multiple levels.

Yesterday, Cathy Mosca posted an interesting note on Tom Peters blog about a Trust Assessment. This is a self-diagnostic test to measure one’s Trust Quotient, developed by Charles Green. I asked myself the same question Sue did and view my integrity as one of my strengths. So I was a little shocked at how “poorly” I scored on the Trust Quotient.

Trust Quotient

My score is in the normal mid-range of the2119 who have taken the instrument so far, though at the lower end of that range. I got a 4.7 out a a range that runs from 0.6 (low) to 15 (high). According to this instrument, my strength is my credibility, and I need to work on showing others that I care about them more than me. In other words, stop trying to control others and start trying to help others.

Maybe this instrument knows me and my role as a faculty developer better than I like!

But to return to my theme, much of my value system on trust comes from my work in the quality field. I was deeply influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who said that once one understands about quality, one will:

“…apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to. The individual, once transformed, will:

  • Set an example;
  • Be a good listener, but will not compromise;
  • Continually teach other people; and
  • Help people to pull away from their current practices and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.”


That has guided me for a quarter-century, and has guided my craft as a teacher. I start my classes with a discussion of what does quality mean in that class. If students see themselves as active deliverers of quality instead of passive students, then they typically will rise to meet the high expectations I set. In the same light, if they internalize that they are responsible for the quality of the learning and are working with me to achieve that learning, then high levels of trust can exist between the teacher and the students. I attempt to model honesty, benevolence and competence and seek the same from my students and colleagues. I may be disappointed from time to time, but those are the minorities. Most of my students and most of my colleagues rise to my expectations, and so I am a trusting individual and hope to stay that way.

[Photo Credit: Thorinside, doctor paradox]

Wis-Dumb of the Crowds

I subscribe to Stephen Downes’ email newsletter “OLDaily” because I find interesting and relevant items there that complement the other blogs I read. However, I feel he stepped way over bounds yesterday. One of his items was as follows:

Quick Quiz: What New Web Tool Can You Use and Get an ASUS? How about a little disclosure here? Are Steve Dembo and Sue Waters getting paid to promote a commercial product (I assume Alan Levine’s rah rah post is unpaid, though you’d never know from the tenor)? Was Dembo being paid when he started plugging it on his site back in early April? I don’t care if people want to make a little money, but let’s keep the advertising content in the edublogosphere clearly labeled as such, OK? Because, as it stands now, I can’t trust anything Sue Waters and Steve Dembo write – and that’s an unhappy state to be in. Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, May 27, 2008.

In fairly quick fashion, Al Levine, Steve Dembo and Sue Waters all stated in the “Comment” area of Stephen’s newsletter that none of them were being paid. Several others joined in the discussion as well, and Sue added a response in her blog.

It is worth reading the string of responses, and as Alan Levine noted, it is good to have pot stirrers shake things up from time to time. But I would suggest that there is a difference between stirring pots and making personal attacks, and attacking the trust of fellow educators is just a low blow. In a Web 2.0 world, one’s validity is about all the currency one has, so a very public attack on someone’s credibility online is extremely damning.

Trust is a slippery fellow, hard to gain and easy to lose. I have been honored to have Sue help me in my blogging – as she has helped many others, and I see the trust that other “trusted” educators have in her. When someone with the street cred of a Stephen Downes slams a fellow educator, a lot of people will take notice. I checked the Technorati stats and Stephen has an authority of 708, WAY above my 33. (I am happy to finally rank in the 6-digits instead of 7!!!) So a ton of people check out Stephen’s blog and listen to what he has to say – many more than me. Unfortunately, given the skimming practice of many on the web, a lot of people may see Stephen’s slam but not go in to the comments and see the responses from those individuals he incorrectly slammed.

The wisdom of the crowds is normally fairly good, but vocal minorities can unduly influence it. I would hope that Stephen Downes does the right thing and apologizes so the the crowd can learn from his error. We have enough people worldwide who try to build themselves up by putting others down. Darren Draper recently did a blog series on blogging etiquette. After watching this personal attack, I would agree that we in the edublog world need to step up to a code of ethics that rises above what transpired here.

[Photo Credit: Alexandralee]

Truth 2.0?

There was a very interesting article by Monica Hesse in the Washington Post this past Sunday entitled “Truth: Can You Handle It?” The article starts with a well-known witty saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

“How many legs does a dog have, if you call a tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

Monica points out that while you can find this quote in some 11,000 different web pages – including Brainy Quote and World of Quotes – Abraham Lincoln never said this. Lincoln’s quote was about a cow, not a dog. Her question – what happens to the concepts of truth and knowledge in a user-generated world of information saturation?


She goes on to talk about how students today rely on Wikipedia and Google searches without validating the information. They count on the wisdom of the crowds, and that wisdom is typically pretty good. If, however, they never question the “facts,” then pretty good will eventually fail them. For instance, a Google search for “smoking does not cause cancer” returns 4,530 webwsites. One of the key points of this article is that students today are increasingly passive and want their information fast….not necessarily accurate. Watching my emersion into Web 2.0 world of blogging and twittering, I wonder increasingly if the same can be said about us early adopters?

This was on my mind this weekend as I graded papers from my graduate students. These are all K-12 teachers working on their masters degree, and I had asked them to draft a paper describing the challenges school administrators face in implementing change in school systems. I had suggested to them that they might review some blogs written by school administrators in researching their papers, and was pleased to see that several did in fact quote from blogs. I mentioned my pleasure on Twitter and got an email back from Jeff Nugent framing questions that immediately connected my tasking to Hesse’s article. The email asked:

  • Can blog postings be used to support / refute arguments in academic papers?
  • How is the authenticity / authority of blogs determined?
  • Does collective intelligence approximate a form of peer review?

This obviously goes to the question of the validity of blog posts as a form of scholarship…but I had not dropped that conceptual thought down to the homework level. I can not find the percentage of school administrators who blog, but I would suspect that it is relatively small. If administrators who blog are on the fringes, can their views on implementing change be generalized to school systems nationwide? I really do not know, but it is troubling that I had not thought about this before making my suggestion to my students.

We are swimming in Web 2.0 rapids where information washes over us 24/7. My personal learning network consists of RSS feeds into Google Reader, network feeds into delicious, and Twitter feeds round the clock. However, as Michele Martin noted so eloquently in “Understanding Homophily on the Web,” we tend to associate online primarily with those people who think as we do, which in turn can cause us tune out the possibilities that there are other ways to think.”

She says:

“One of the things that I think we easily forget online is that there are a lot of people who are NOT represented there. Zuckerman, for example, argues that there’s a very real digital divide between developing nations and the developed world when it comes to using social media. We also have continuing divides within our own nations. In the US, only 56% of African Americans are online. I was unable to find the percentages of them who are blogging, but I would assume that it’s even less than what we see with white Americans because there are fewer African-Americans online. And Danah Boyd has done a nice job of raising the issue of socioeconomic class in MySpace and Facebook, pointing to another kind of digital divide. My point here is that if we are getting a lot of information from and engaging in dialogues with other bloggers (as many of us are), it’s easy for us to forget who is NOT part of the conversations. We end up operating in siloes without even knowing it. ”

Dog Leg

Abraham Lincoln talked about cows, not dogs. I point my students to blogs as sources of information, but do those sources have a leg to stand on? In posting this question here on the web, I am posting it to the community I identify with and feel comfortable with…so one wonders if I will hear alternate opinions?

What do YOU think?

[Photo Credits: Jean-Francois Chenier, Stella Dauer]

Twitter and Muda

At the turn of the century (this past one, not the one in 1900), I had the opportunity to undergo Baldrige Examiner training and participate for two years on the Georgia Board of Examiners for the state quality award, the Oglethorpe. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is the highest honor in this nation in the area of corporate, health, or educational quality. The Baldrige Criteria lay out a framework for assessing the quality of an organization. While at the University of Nebraska, I successfully used these criteria for our departmental reaccreditation rather than the existing university guidelines. Last night, I was invited to give a presentation on the Baldrige Criteria and on Lean Six Sigma to a group of bioengineering graduate students. It was a lot of fun, but it also brought to the forefront of my focus some quality principles that I have been ignoring lately as I immersed myself into the Twitterverse.

I was trying to describe to these students the differences between using Six Sigma for quality and using Lean processes for quality. In a nutshell, Six Sigma focuses on effectiveness and reducing defects while Lean looks at efficiency and reducing waste.

Most American corporations operate at around Four Sigma, which means they will have around 6,000 defects per million (or about the quality of the old Ivory Snow commercials at 99 and 44-one-hundred’s pure). A Six Sigma company reduces that defect rate to an almost impossible 3.4 defect per million. To a degree, it is somewhat funny (in a non-funny way) to think about the Sigma number associated with K-12 systems that have drop-out rates at 50% or university systems that have graduates after 5 years of only 60%, but it would be between one and two Sigma.

But I am not going to go there…my thoughts revolved around my recent introduction to Twitter and what I know about Lean processes. Toyota first pushed the Lean Manufacturing method and moved to number two in the USA car market. A Lean company understands that waste, or “muda” in Japanese, comes in many forms. There is the waste of overproduction, excess inventory, non-value-added processing, product defects during manufacturing and the associated rework to correct defects, dead time, underutilized employees, and wasted motion.

For the last few weeks, I have immersed myself in Twitter…and in so doing, have made some wonderful connections. I was already reading blogs of some now in my network, but I feel that I have gotten to know them even better. I see real interconnections between Twitter, blogs, and social bookmarking (whether delicious or diigo). In other words, I think that my effectiveness as a faculty developer has increased through my ability to tap into the voice of the crowd.

At the same time, there is NO…let me repeat…NO doubt that Twitter is the time-sucker from hell. Or at least, it is when you first start. It is seductive for the very reasons it is valuable. It is just so darn interesting to see what your colleagues are doing, what they are reading, and what they are thinking. I actually have a laptop next to my desktop with Twhirl running so that I can see the tweets as they arrive and if so moved, immediately respond. As Joe Kissel noted, this is a constant interruption to my train of thought and my work process. I am not sure how many forms of muda are encompassed by Twitter, but I do know that my efficiency has dropped.


As with all things, change requires an adjustment and realigning of priorities and routines. I definitely see value in Twitter, and that value feeds into my blogging, my work with faculty, and my own personal growth. My goal is to integrate it into my processes in such a way that my overall quality rises and both my efficiency and effectiveness increase.

Final Wrap-Up: eLearning 2008

eLrn08 logo .

Been digging out back in my office in Richmond, so did not get to this yesterday. I wanted to summarize two other sessions that I attended at the ITC eLearning 2008 conference earlier in the week.




Putting Our Stake in the Ground: Baldrige and Distance Learning
Xeturah Woodley, Distance Learning Director, Central New Mexico Community College

I was interested in this presentation because I have over twenty years in the quality movement and was a Baldrige examiner for the state of Georgia in 1999 and 2000. So this is a subject I feel passionate about!

Xeturah gave some background on her college and program. Their accrediting body has institutions submit AQIP’s (Academic Quality Improvement Programs), so the language of quality is institutionalized. She discussed the merits of using the Criteria from the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award as a way to take her program to a higher, world-class level. My only caution to her is that her focus appeared to be on winning the Baldrige rather than on improving quality….and typically those focused on the award miss the point of the process.

She went over the seven Baldrige Criteria and their relationship to her program. She used as a model work Jim Hinson has done at Presbyterian Hospital, where they used the Baldrige to improve quality and won New Mexico’s top quality award.

She faces an uphill challenge. Her campus does not have consistent policies regarding assessment or data collection. It is a unionized campus – union rules do not allow online teachers to work off-campus! I wish her well. She has the right approach, as the Baldrige Criteria can be successfully used by any institution to help focus the search for better quality. However, it appears her institutional culture will have to change as part of the process. If nothing else, Xeturah may improve the quality of her small piece of Central New Mexico Community College.


Instructional Challenges in the Mobile Education World
Peter Chepya, Professor of Digital Innovation {love that title}, Post University

I thought that Peter did a pretty innovative thing for a presenter at a technically oriented conference – he stood in front of a roomful of practitioners and used absolutely no technology – no powerpoint, no websites, nothing fancy. Instead, he helped us focus in on the cellphone each of us were wearing, and spent the hour visualizing education delivered through these devices.

Peter has authored an article in The Community College Enterprise (Fall 2007) entitled, “A short take on design challenges in the mobile education world.” He discussed the movement to use the cellphone as the Fourth Screen:

Movie Screens –> TV Screen –> Monitors –> Cellphone Screens

Most of us in the room still see the cellphone as a “device” or tool…but to our students it is more a part of the fabric of their lives. Informal learning and personal lives are intertwined with formal learning in this environment…and Peter suggests that we not try and separate them, but instead co-opt them. He noted the frustration many faculty feel when students take a text message, but he suggests in his article that such:

…a state of total immersion has enormous potential for instructional
design. In the culture of mobility, the user is not passive. The user is
reaching out, continuously making choices of what to pull in, expecting
to be engaged and to contribute.

The engagement of the cellphone might be visualized by looking at what other cultures are doing. In Japan last year, five of the top ten bestselling novels were “written” on cellphones. Commuters draft novels while going to and from work and post them to web sites where their “public” vote on the best ones…which are then published in print form. The casual use of SMS text messaging by today’s youth is in line with their comfort level with FaceBook, blogging, and other social mechanisms and networks. Rather than censuring this behavior, why not embed education into it?

Many of us in the room felt restricted by the small size of the cellphone screen, but Peter countered that the micro-screen could become wall-sized in the mind’s eye. I know personally that I have my grandson’s photos loaded into my iPod Nano…and have no problem visualizing his smiling face when I see it on the small screen! Innovations such as the iPhone suggest that the micro-screen is growing in size anyway and could be a moot point.

I suggested that those of us “chronologically-gifted” need not necessarily become “thumb-people” as Tom Friedman called them. New voice to text software and processes suggest that a website such as Jott might be able to take a voice message the teacher sends via cellphone and convert it into a text message for each of our students.

A very interesting and engaging presentation!