Still More Rules of Thumb

Earlier this week, I posted the first two posts reviewing Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb.: 52 Truths For Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self (2009).  I got a nice note from Alan at his website:

“I just read your blog on Rules and I can’t thank you enough! Taking Rules and applying it to the concept of achieving excellence in teaching is a terrific way to migrate my (mostly) general rules to a very specific (and very important) context. As you say at the end of your blog post: do they hit the target, or are they off the mark? It’s good learning for me, by the way, to watch you port the rules into your own work/life and test them to see if they actually offer practical, useful, helpful guidance. Thanks for the posting here and the serious application on your own site!”

I agree that it is useful to take books like Alan’s and reflect on their merit in the context of one’s own work.  So with that in mind, here are the next thirteen rules:

Rule #27 – If you want to be like Google, learn Megan Smith’s three rules.

Megan Smith is Google’s VP of new business development and strategy.  Her three rules that got Alan’s attention:

  • The customer participates.
  • The customer drives,
  • Open systems beat closed systems.

These relate directly to online teaching.  Even more so than in the classroom, the role of faculty shifts online to facilitation of a learning journey in which the students are participants and co-developers of knowledge.  As Michael Wesch has pointed out, no one knows as much as all of us, so let your students drive and see where it takes you!  And of course, to let them drive, you need to leave the walled gardens of course management systems and venture out into the open web, taking advantage of open systems like Twitter, Ning, and even Wikipedia.

Rule #28 – Good design is table stakes.  Great design wins.

Webber noted that today design is what differentiates companies.  The same can be said for online courses.  Good design should be the norm.  Great design differentiates courses.  To me, design means a lot more than just loading content.  It means you have thought through your course objectives and designed the content, interactions, formative feedback, and assessments to clearly deliver the learning objectives.

Rule #29 – Words matter.

Webber quoted Mark Twain who said “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.”  When faculty move their courses online, they have created an environment for online learning, but have they created an environment where learning occurs online?  Look at how you communicate to your online students.  How are your expectations communicated?  How are the students’ voices communicated?

Rule #30 – The likeliest sources of great ideas are in the most unlikely places.

In business, great ideas do not necessarily emerge from R&D centers, but rather from the trenches or the fringes.  Tom Peters quoted Jack Welsch on this, who said, “You can’t behave in a calm, rational manner.  You’ve got to be out there on the lunatic fringe.” In teaching online, do you see yourself as the only source of ideas, or do you set your students free to seek new ideas from unlikely sources?

Rule #31 – Everything communicates.

Your online design, your “Faculty Information”, your syllabus, your communications in discussion boards, blog comments, and wikis…they all send messages about you, your passion for teaching and the subject matter, and your openness to connecting with your students.  Equally important, what you decide not to use or do also communicates.  How do you brand yourself?

Rule #32 – Content isn’t king. Context is king.

I love the quote by Walter Wriston that every day “I’m presented with three types of information.  Facts, wrong facts, and damned lies.  My job is to know which is which.”  That same rule can apply to online teaching.  The internet is awash in facts, wrong facts and damned lies.  Teaching our students how to navigate and analyze this massive pool of data is a key literacy for this age.  As Webber noted, context is how we add value.

Rule #33 – Everything is a performance.

We faculty know this from teaching in the classroom, but have you considered your “performance” in an online class?  How do you come across to your students?  Do you have an authentic voice and social presence online?  Great teachers are known for their delivery, and that is as true online as in the classroom.

Rule #34 – Simplicity is the new currency.

In the Center for Teaching Excellence, we spend a lot of time examining new Web 2.0 applications.  Some are just cool, but at the end of the day, we always need to ask ourselves – Do they make our life easier or more complicated?  Would it solve problems for me or make problems for me?  The same can be said for your online course design?  Do you make it simple for students to figure out the flow, or is finding assignments a problem?  Is your course flow consistent week to week?

Rule #35 – The Red Auerbach management principle: loyalty is a two-way street.

Arnold “Red” Auerbach was the coach of the Boston Celtics who won 938 games.    When talking about why the Celtics were successful, he stated that you should not reward players on statistics but on contributions to the team; don’t con the players and they will not con you; and remember that loyalty is a two-way street.  Trust and loyalty go hand in hand.  In business, Webber talks about how many managers demand loyalty from employees but do not give loyalty back, preferring instead to use fear and intimidation over leadership.  It makes me wonder about how we as faculty come across to our students?  Do our online policies make it clear that we mistrust our students, or do our policies show respect and trust as their foundation?  To me, this goes hand in hand with high expectations.  Expect much of your students, trust them, and they will rise above your expectations.

Rule #36 – Message to entrepreneurs: managing your emotional flow is more critical than managing your cash flow.

Webber’s message to entrepreneurs is that one should not get so focused on making money that one loses one’s mind.  His solution – great partners, lots of laughs, loud music, and comfort food.  This is a tough one to map to online learning….and yet, it resonates with me on several levels.  I work hard to make my courses meaningful…but fun nonetheless.  I tend to have Pandora playing when I am working online.  In other words, if I continue to have fun teaching online, my students will enjoy the experience more as well.

Rule #37 – All money is not created equal.

Webber is focused in this rule on not just raising capital to start a new business, but in also creating relationships as part of that process.  While we do not necessarily raise money in our online teaching, we do need to raise social capital.  Our students will relate to us and our content much more if they have connected with us.  This relationship stuff is very important – it underlies any community of learners.

Rule #38 – If you want to think big, start small.

Webber interviewed Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus about his work with microcredit.  In answer to the question on how to pick problems to work on, given so many problems in the world, he said, “Start with what ever is right in front of you.”  Many faculty are intimidated about moving their courses online, as the issues seem too numerous.  This advice works equally well for them.  Start small.  Create simple interactions to connect with your students initially, and then build on the experience over time.  I am currently thoroughly enjoying the graduate course I teach in School Leadership, but this course evolved over the four semesters in which I have taught.

Rule #39 – “Serious fun” isn’t an oxymoron; it’s how you win.

Webber quoted Dan Pink, who said that “People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it.”  Yet we tend to load our courses down with the rules on what students cannot do, as opposed to the freedom to learn and learn well.  I take it as a real complement when my students tell me in course evaluations that my course was “fun.”  That meant that I got it and they got it – the subject matter is serious but the learning journey around that serious subject matter can be darn fun!

And I have to admit, it has been fun mapping Webber’s rules to the context of online teaching and learning.  I will finish up his Rules of Thumb in the next post.

Bear Scat?

A few weeks ago, Tom Peters used some recently deposited bear scat to illustrate his point about the current economic times:

A little graphic but it got Tom’s point across.  Sometimes crap is what crap is.  I was thinking about this today when I found out that Edublogs has been adding advertisements in a stealth mode to mine and other Edublogs that they host.

Two things I should state up front.  First, I do not pay for my blog.  One of the things that attracted me to Edublogs was their premise that they would host a blog for educators at no charge.  In fact, if you go to Edublogs, you see the notice at right which tells you to sign up and get started for free.  And I did almost one year ago.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this blog and the connections it has afforded.

Second, I believe in the power of blogging and the networking that occurs through blogs.  I have learned much and am indebted to Sue Waters (who is paid by Edublogs) for the superb “how-to” blog she provides at The Edublogger.  The edublogging community has definitely benefited from the hosting and support provided by Edublogs.Org.

So I was caught off guard this morning when Jim Groom tweeted this to Jeff Nugent:

I checked my own blog and there were no advertisements.  But then I cleared all Private Data including log in data from my Firefox browser and then went back in to my blog – in a manner similar to one of my students Goggling me and then checking out my blog.  Here is what I found:

Very interesting!  A blog post in which I discuss things I am thankful for brings up an ad for finding the right bar! That definitely sends a signal about who I am!!!

Of course, I played no part in selecting this ad or placing it in my post.  Those familiar with how blogs work might recognize this for a pop-up ad and not part of my content.  I would wager, however, that the vast majority of people who might read my blog are not as discerning, and since my blogs are full of links, they would not differentiate between the links “Britt” inserts and the links “Edublogs” inserts.  It is Britt’s blog and therefore representative of Britt – or worse, of the Center for Teaching Excellence where I work (my disclaimer notwithstanding).

I have several other examples, but I think the one above makes the point.  Having discovered this, I then began researching it.  If one searches the Edublogs Forum, one will find a forum on ads.  Apparently, the administrators at Edublogs began looking at ways to bring in revenue about 9 months ago, and came up with a process to embed ads that would only show to those not logged in.  If one did not keep up with the legal Terms of Service nor dutifully read their blog forum, one would not be aware of this.  The administrators stated it would be too hard to email all users with this policy.

See picture at top of post.

It also appears that several users have discovered this in the past week and some are pulling their blogs off Edublogs in protest.  The latest post noted that the administrators were re-examining the policy and would email all users soon.

I am concerned enough to start looking around at other options for my blog.  I still feel that the spirit of the Edublogs community is a worthy one, but that spirit has been soiled by the manner in which ads were added without consent to the blogs of professors, teachers, and students.  I also think that it is worth paying a fee to have no ads, and would suggest to Edublogs that they look at the process Jott used to move from a free service to a paid service, including transparency in the process.

How about those of you who also use Edublogs?  Is this an ethical issue of sufficient weight that you would consider pulling your blog?  I would be interested in your thoughts.

[Photo Credit: Tom Peters, Jim Groom]

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Brilliant or Stealing?

I am not a Twitter rock star.  I follow 140 people who I truly believe help me grow, and I have as of this morning 163 following me.   I have found Twitter to be a powerful part of my PLN.  I continually learn from my network as they post interesting comments, ideas, and links.  It appears to me to embrace the concept of the Creative Commons – a community sharing alike.

When I get an email notice that someone in now following me, I check that person out to see if I should do likewise and add this person to my network (or block if it is obvious spam).

I got a notice that Todd Gilmore from Oklahoma was now following me.  I checked out his Twitter account and see that he is following 1,776 and has 227 following him.  From Twitter, I linked to his website – Technology Story.  This is where it gets interesting.  Here is what his site says:

Executives must stay current on the happenings in the technology marketplace at this point. To do anything less is to become irrelevant as a leader. There is a fire hose of announcements, analytics, and trends getting published every day. No one with a real job could spend the time necessary to review all of this information in order to find the valuable pieces. This is what we do on your behalf. Technology Story is a filtered river of information that gets delivered every other day or so. It is reduced to easy to read bites so that you can invest as little time as possible and still be up to date on the latest. Subscribers also have the ability to search the archives in order to resurrect a piece of information they once read that has now become specifically needed. The feeds include many links to deeper resources, surveys, and recommendations. The cool Website of the day feature is alone worth the price of admission.

The price of admission is $100 a year.

Now, I am sure Todd Gilmore and who ever he works with use more than Twitter to filter the river of information flowing each day over the web, but should I facilitate this through my Twittering?  Is he brilliantly using Web 2.0 tools in a way that makes money for himself or is he using my freely given intellectual property to profit only himself?  I am not seeing this as a Share Alike relationship.

Is anyone else bothered by this?  Should I ignore it, block him from my Twitter account, or follow him to see if he shares through Twitter and helps my PLN grow?  I would be interested in what others think.

{Photo Credits: Tallent Show, ryancr}

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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]