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}

A Dam Blimage Challenge

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

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

ross-dam

Ross Dam by werner22brigitte

Great image!

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

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

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

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

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

Good suggestions.

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

Ross_Dam_USACE_20031022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphics: {Brigette Werner, Wikipedia}

Blimage Challenge: The Rock Arch

Bending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

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

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

{Graphic: Mary Roy}