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}

The Leaky Social Media Question

There is supposedly an old Chinese curse that states, “May You Live in Interesting Times.”  I would think that this last week – the first week of President Trump’s administration – qualifies as interesting times.

As someone who teaches about social media in both leadership and education classes, it was fascinating to watch unfolding events around social media in the federal government…which has lessons for those of us anywhere in leadership.

On Tuesday, the new administration attempted to control any communication with the public, ordering employees at multiple agencies to cease communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and correspondence.  This raised a firestorm of reaction, with the Department of Agriculture amending its policy:

“Yesterday, we sent an email message about Agency informational products like news releases and social media contact,” another email to employees said. “This internal email was released prior to receiving official Departmental guidance and is hereby rescinded.”

Not all agencies quietly complied. A series of tweets that went viral appeared to come from one of the National Park Services, quickly generating the hashtag #badasslands:

Officially, the Park Service reported that the tweets came from a former employee who still had access to their account.  The Park pulled down the tweets…but by then, many copies were circulating (as I am doing here).  A number of “rogue” Twitter accounts surfaced to continue pushing back against the perceived attack on science by this administration.

So one of the lessons is, in a digital age with multiple channels of communication – and the ability of anyone to communicate – “controlling” the message, whether from a federal department, a business, or an educational institution, is problematic.

Eighteen years ago, Jon Husband coined the term “wirearchy” – “a dynamic flow of power and authority, based on information, trust, credibility, and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected technology and people”.

Unlike a hierarchy, a wirearchy assumes openness and transparency.  In a digitally connected world, information is going to flow…control is no longer possible.  A 2014 Gartner report suggested:

“…Digital business is not just about expanding the use of technology. Digital business leaders must think about technology in a fundamentally different way than in the past…”

Westerman, Bonnett, and McAfee, in their 2014 book Leading Digital, noted that in the past, standardizing limited empowerment.  Controlling impacted innovation.  The desire to orchestrate action suggested “leashing” rather than unleashing employees. The wirearchial world in which we lead today requires the opposite – empowerment, innovation, and the unleashing of employees (or students).

My students in ILD 831 next week will be grappling with the implications of leadership in a hyperlinked world.   I look forward to seeing their thoughts on our class Netvibes site.

{Graphic: Hugh McLeod}

 

Leader Strength is the Pack

As ILD 831 was wrapping up this week, I was down in Rhode Island spending spring vacation with my grandkids.  That meant a trip to the movies to see the latest Disney Movie, The Jungle Book.

pack_The-Jungle-Book-2016

Great movie for adults and kids alike!  A key feature of the movie which is repeated throughout is “The Law of the Jungle”, dutifully true to Kipling’s original:

lawofjungle

As the picture above showed, the “pack” morphed into a diverse group binding together to overcome the danger that the tiger Shere Khan represented.  I was thinking about the line “…the strength of the Wolf is the Pack” as I read through the final blog posts for this term of ILD 831 – Technology and Leadership.  It is clear that one of the readings I shared, Michele Martin’s “A Deep Dive into Thinking about 21st Century Leadership” really resonated with the class.  Michele wrote about moving from leader as hero to leader as host – “hosting the space for people to come together to discover solutions through meaningful conversations and structured exploration and action.”  Sounds a lot like networked leadership…and on depending on the strength of the pack!  Here are some quotes from my students’ final reflections as they came online this week:

“…What has changed the most in my leadership style through this course is my understanding that I must be an adaptable leader … and wiling to be more flexible if I want to succeed and lead successfully for many years to come. Being more adaptable means far more than embracing technology, which is important, but more importantly is the growth that I experienced knowing that in order to be successful as a leader I must lead through areas that I know little about, such as technology and be willing to learn about them and embrace the changes in the digital age…” LeadershipandTechnologyBlog

“…The amount of information available to any employee connected to the Net provides seemingly endless opportunities for creative and free thinking. Therefore, leaders must create, or host, work environments that welcome individuals to meet, share ideas, and create solutions…” ILD831BlogChris

“…The greatest message within this lesson that I have learned is you will get back what you as a leader put in. I may be able to do an adequate job as a leader without embracing some of the opportunities the internet and collaborative discussion allows. However, if I put myself out there as a leader, sharing what I know, and opening my mind up to the knowledge that is out there from others, I have more of a chance for success…” AdventuresInTeachnologyandLeadership

“…If the public’s romanticism of technology is accurate, and the future is about creating tools making work easier for individuals and the organizations they work for, each must learn and adapt to evolving technology in order to remain competitive. For myself, beyond the discussion about specific technologies and our networked world, this course has reinforced a number of thoughts or forced me to consider the following as action we need to take today in creating an appropriate culture moving forward…” TechLeadershipCanada

“…As individuals, we are compelled to participate in using technology if we want to be socially connected, knowledgeable, or contemporary in our relationship practices. As organizations, technology can empower and enable services, increase productivity, improve efficiency, advance quality, and take over mundane or routine tasks.  The most significant challenge, however, is the nexus between man and machine.  The creation and application of technology happens because humans use their divine talents and gifts to create and the result has been breakthrough innovation and advancement of technologies that can change lives…” Raven765

“…Traditional hierarchies that operate from principles of command and control, the chain of command, and unity of command are a threat to increasing organizational adaptability and diffusion of technology.  In many government, tenured organizations, and institutions, much of its talent in information technology exists in lower ranking positions in the organizational structure. The percentage of personnel competent in the internet, technological tools, and social media platforms generally diminish the closer you get to the top of the pyramid.  The emerging principles of wirearchy (Husband, 2000) and leaders as social artists (Martin, 2015) offer non-traditional solutions to organizational management which maximizes idea management and diffusion of technology…”  CochranCreighton

“…Leading from the middle moves the sole liability of the organization from one person or a small group of individuals towards the entire community as a whole.  The idea of leading from within or the middle sets the named leader to become a host or guide rather than the hero (Martin, 2015). Maxwell (2010) discusses leading from where you are as being a way to share the responsibility and allow others to find their inner leadership strength and lead as well as the named leader…”  TechRyuu

“…With the rapid development of technology, trying to keep up with it is going to be not only a personal project but an organizational one also. Organizations will have to navigate the digital world in order to maximize the benefits it can yield…”  CupOfTeaWordpressom

“…I begin to conceptualize the notion that each of us could possibly be living within our own paradigm(s), which are defined by our own unique experiences, both formal and informal, and that that may also be influenced by other paradigms espoused by others. For example, if it is one’s practice to typically use or rely upon a certain type of technology or preferred leadership approach, this might be inferred as living within a particular paradigm that may or may not be shared, or completely shared, by others. However, if one were to discover, or unearth, new knowledge or ideas that would challenge and consequently cause one to question one’s current paradigm(s); and thus prompt one to remodel it—a shift would or might occur. This could be a shift in one’s thinking or practice that would cause one to act or operate differently. After reading Michele Martin’s article, A Deep Dive Into Thinking About 21st Century leadership, the idea of living within one’s own paradigm seemed to emerge as well…” SitiSnyder

“…Stephen Covey’s, author of The 7Habits of Highly Effective of People, noted that people who were able to use synergic communication, that is, the ability to open their minds and hearts to new possibilities, alternatives, and options are leaders (cited in Sprung, 2012). To be a leader in the digital age, we need to be open to innovation and welcome any and all ideas that may impact the learning outcomes for our students…” AlohaILD831

“…I continue to appreciate the importance of recognizing that successful leadership starts at the top, but it does not mean “top” in the traditional sense of hierarchy (or in this wirearchy). Instead, as a result of this course (and my Ed.D program) is that leadership is an intentional, interactive and based in relationships. While this particular posts focuses on leadership in the digital age, the core values and characteristics learned are applicable regardless if it is in person or online. Leaders and follows are connected and bond by the work we are doing…” lrILD831

Some have suggested that “it is a jungle out there” in referring to the world in which these leaders work and lead…perhaps it is time to update the Law of the Jungle:

For the strength of the Network is the Leader,
And the strength of the Leader is the Network.

I have really enjoyed our 8-week journey together exploring the intersection of technology and leadership.  I look forward to this cohort doing amazing things in the days to come!

{Graphics: RogerEbert.Com}

Exploring the Intersection of Leadership and Technology

I am always stoked when I get a chance to teach ILD 831 for Creighton University.  This course in their Interdisciplinary Doctorate in Leadership Program has an eclectic group of leaders from around the world exploring the impact of technology in general and the internet in particular on leadership in organizations. Through this examination, these students struggle with how leadership does (or should) adapt to a changing world. In the past decade, the internet has certainly become a part of life and work. The internet has moved from a virtual space where people went to find information to an active place that is open, social and participatory. This shift has profound implications on leadership. How does a leader manage information (and knowledge) when the sum of all human knowledge is available to anyone in her or his organization from their smartphone? How is communication evolving? What are ethical issues associated with networked employees, students, or patients? What is on the horizon? This course gives students the opportunity to explore leadership mediated by a digital world.

My course map shows the flow of this 8-week course, which is starting this week:

coursemapILD831

This Spring class has teachers in K-12 and higher education, technologists, industry managers, a fire chief, and the CEO of a health system.  I always love the mix of experiences these students bring to this examination.  As we move through these eight weeks, they will all be blogging.  You can see their posts – and interact with the class – at our Netvibes site.

ford_riseofrobotsThese are interesting times to examine this intersection.  I am currently reading Martin Ford’s 2015 book, The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.  It paints a rather bleak picture around the idea that technology – and in particulary artificial intelligence – is creating a future where lots of jobs are eliminated but few jobs are created in their place.  In other words, according to Ford, we face a future where unemployment and inequality will reach catastrophic levels.  Scott Santens in an article in the Boston Globe last week mirrored similar thoughts.

Last week in Medium, danah boyd discussed “What is the Value of a Bot?”  She noted that as systems get more complex, it becomes harder for developers to come together and develop “politeness policies” or guidelines for bots. She noted that it is getting increasingly difficult to discern between bots that are being helpful and bots that are a burden and not beneficial.  One of the key points she made:

Bots are first and foremost technical systems, but they are derived from social values and exert power into social systems. How can we create the right social norms to regulate them? What do the norms look like in a highly networked ecosystem where many pieces of the pie are often glued together by digital duct tape?”

This is the world these leaders are and will be leading in…and there are no easy answers.  I am looking forward to our dialogue on the open web over the next two months!

 

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:

summerbooks

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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Evangelizing Teaching

As we approach the end of Spring semester in GRAD-602, our students are beginning to submit their reflections on the book they read for the course.  They had a choice of five books:

books

It is interesting to see these books through the reflections of upcoming PhD’s and post-docs.  They are just starting the transition from expert student to novice teacher…and the future is both exciting and uncertain.  They have been grappling with their own identity as a teacher through our course.

Our identity as teachers continues to surface in my thoughts…given the interesting times in which we live.  In the last month, as Enoch Hale and I explored his 30-Day Challenge, we surfaced some radical ideas about teaching and learning.  In many ways, we aligned with what Tony Bates noted:

“Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine.”

Here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU, we spend a lot of time discussing both the evolutionary and the revolutionary changes for teaching and learning in higher education.  Our evolutionary ideas probably might make some faculty uncomfortable…and our revolutionary ideas might cause sweat to break out.  At the end of the day, though, I come back to the foundation – what does it mean to “teach”?

Jen Ross, Christine Sinclair, Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne and Hamish Macleod – my professors in the Coursera MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures – explored this question in an article this month in the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: “Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy.”  They note that the literature on open courses has focused so far on students or the technology, but has been silent on the “matter of the teacher.”  They note that teacher identity is influenced by discipline, the institution and personal contexts:

“…The lecturer will both feel and project a teaching identity through negotiation of disciplinary, institutional, theoretical, professional, and personal stances. Diminishing or mischaracterizing the teacher role could result in a lack of appropriate attention to the ways in which complex negotiations of people, space, objects, and discourse constitute any educational setting, including MOOCs.”

In other words, it is complex!

Focusing on teaching has been central to what I think we have done for the past 7 years at the Center for Teaching Excellence…but I am not sure we have ever “evangelized” teaching.  I started considering that this morning when I read “The Art of Evangelism” by Guy Kawasaki.  Guy noted that years ago at Apple, his job title was “software evangelist,” and then went on to discuss his involvement with a new design company called Canva (which does look pretty cool by the way!).  What I found interesting, however, was his explanation of how to evangelize a product, which I quote in part below:

  1. Make it great. It’s very hard to evangelize crap. It’s much easier to evangelize great stuff. …Great stuff embodies five qualities:
    • Deep.
    • Intelligent.
    • Complete.
    • Empowering.
    • Elegant.
  2. Position it as a “cause.” A product or service, no matter how great, is a collection of parts or snippets of code. A “cause,” by contrast, changes lives.
  3. Love the cause. “Evangelist” isn’t a job title. It’s a way of life.
  4. Localize the pitch. Don’t describe your product using lofty, flowery terms …People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives, so localize the pitch and keep it simple.
  5. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists. It is very hard to convert someone to a new religion when he worships another god. The hardest person to convert to Macintosh was someone who worshipped MS-DOS. The easiest person was someone who never used a personal computer before. If a person doesn’t “get” your product or service after fifteen minutes, cut your losses and move on.
  6. Let people test drive the cause. Evangelists believe that their potential customers are smart. Therefore, they don’t bludgeon them with ads and promotions. Instead they provide ways for people to “test drive” their products and then decide for themselves. Evangelists believe that their products are good—so good that they’re not afraid of enabling people to try before they buy.
  7. Learn to give a demo. “Evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron.
  8. Provide a safe, easy first step. The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope, so remove all the barriers.
  9. Ignore titles and pedigrees. Elitism is the enemy of evangelism. If you want to succeed as an evangelist, ignore people’s titles and pedigrees, accept people as they are, and treat everyone with respect and kindness.
  10. Never lie. Lying is morally and ethically wrong. It also takes more energy because when you lie, it’s necessary to keep track of what you said. If you always tell the truth, then there’s nothing to keep track of.
  11. Remember your friends. Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down.

Guy explained the difference between an evangelist and a salesperson:

“A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart: “Try this because it will help you.””

As I reflect on our graduate students and the world of teaching into which they soon will go…I hope that part of their identity involves evangelism.  I hope that they create great teaching and learning opportunities.  I hope that they see their teaching as “a cause”…and love that cause.  I hope that they remember that they are in the business of changing lives, not delivering content.

I hope they teach “Try this because it will help you…”

Peanuts Evangelist

Thoughts?

{Graphic – Charles Schulz}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 30 – The Questions I Did Not Ask

Back on March 5th, my colleague Enoch Hale posted a challenge on his blog:

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

3 month statsI took him up on his challenge…though I suggested “thirty work days”…to which he agreed.  Over the past six weeks, we have each posted 58 questions – 29 each.  In the process, we have both improved in our blogging.  The biggest “challenge” in a 30-Day Challenge is blogging consistently each work day.  It stretched me time wise and intellectually…but it also was a lot of fun.  Enoch and I fed off of each other.  And…not surprisingly, when one blogs daily, one’s readership increases.  I topped a hundred page views for Day 20 (The New Nomads) and Day 25 (The Training Wheel Question).

Enoch noted on his first day that questions can drive thinking forward.  Answers stop thinking, but questions keep thinking moving.  Over the past six weeks, I have paid more attention to questions being asked.  I have started following Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question.  Maryellen Weimer blogged last month about “The Art of Asking Question,” suggesting that if we want students to ask thoughtful questions, we have to model that ourselves.

Tony Bates in his studyTony Bates out of Canada has been asking thoughtful questions for 45 years about distance and online learning.  His post yesterday took me by surprise – “Time to retire from online learning?

First, Tony turned 75 this week (congratulations!). He has decided he has reached the point in his life to stop nearly all professional activities.  At 75, he feels he has reached the right to stop (…which could mean I now have 11 years to continue, since I will soon turn 64…).  He wants to stop when he is still at his best.  He has not taught a full course in ten years, and:

“Given the pace of change, it is dangerous for a consultant to become adrift from the reality of teaching and management. It’s time to hang up my boots before I get really hurt (or more importantly, really hurt others).”

Tony then expressed some concerns about the future of higher education and teaching.  Four quotes hit me…and the emphasis below is mine:

“…It’s a full-time job just to keep abreast of new developments in online and distance learning, and this constant change is not going to go away. It’s tempting to say that it’s only the technology that changes; the important things – teaching and learning – don’t change much, but I don’t believe that to be true, either. Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine. This is not going to be easy; indeed it could get brutal…

…this is a field that needs full-time, professional application, and very hard work, and I just don’t have the energy any more to work at that level. To put it simply, this is not a profession where you can be half in and half out. Dabbling in online learning is very dangerous (politicians please note)…

…And then there’s MOOCs. I can’t express adequately just how pissed off I am about MOOCs – not the concept, but all the hubris and nonsense that’s been talked and written about them. At a personal level, it was as if 45 years of work was for nothing. All the research and study I and many others had done on what makes for successful learning online were totally ignored, with truly disastrous consequences in terms of effective learning for the vast majority of participants who took MOOCs from the Ivy League universities. Having ignored online learning for nearly 20 years, Stanford, MIT and Harvard had to re-invent online learning in their own image to maintain their perceived superiority in all things higher educational. And the media fell for it, hook, line and sinker. This is a battle I no longer want to fight – but it needs fighting…

…Lastly, I am concerned that the computer scientists seem to be taking over online education. Ivy League MOOCs are being driven mainly by computer scientists, not educators. Politicians are looking to computer science to automate learning in order to save money. Computer scientists have much to offer, but they need more humility and a greater willingness to work with other professionals, such as psychologists and teachers, who understand better how learning operates. This is a battle that has always existed in educational technology, but it’s one I fear the educators are losing…”

I need to reflect on Tony’s post much more, but his very personal reflection lays the groundwork for many more thoughtful questions.  It brought to my mind my final question for THIS 30-day Challenge:

Day 30 – What are the questions I did not ask but should have?

There are obviously many more than thirty good questions left to ask…so while this challenge has ended, the challenge for higher education is only getting more intense.  If more educators joined the open questioning within the blogosphere. maybe we can win some battles.  As Tony noted, this is not a field you can be half in and half out.

Thoughts?

{Graphics: Bates}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 27 – Future Proofing

A decade ago, Ernst and Young led a strategic visioning retreat for the technical college where I worked.  Over three days, a mix of college leadership and faculty met in a big room high above the Atlanta scene, looking out over both the city and Stone Mountain in the distance.  The room was reconfigured each day with moveable white board walls and comfortable furniture.  Toys and books lay scattered around the floor.  We spent time drawing our visions on the walls and then looking for common themes.

markers.
It was one of the best strategic experience in which I have ever participated…and so when I see something from Ernst and Young, I pay attention.

Their Australian branch has a study out on “The University of the Future.”  While focused on Australian universities – the study interviewed 40 Australian leaders from public and private universities as well as policy makers – I believe that the lessons are applicable to higher education worldwide.  It noted that higher education is a “…thousand year old industry on the cusp of profound change.”

In the report, they state that change will be driven by five trends:

  • Democratization of knowledge and access
  • Contestability of markets and funding
  • Digital technologies
  • Global mobility
  • Integration with industry

Any of us in higher education could probably agree that these trends are not coming…they are already here.  From the perspective of E&Y, universities will need to adapt, creating leaner business models and concentrating resources on a smaller range of programs.  They see universities transforming into three broad lines of evolution:

  • Streamlined Status Quo – broad-based public teaching and research institutions
  • Niche Dominators – tailored education, research and service for specific customer segments
  • Transformers – private providers for new markets

Ernst and Young laid out a framework for assessing and designing a “university future model.”

Ernst and Young modelI was struck by the strategic questions – “Is our current model future proof?  Where should we play?  How should we play?

The model explores higher education as a whole, but it opens up for me questions about each course and each faculty member…and their own approach to teaching.  Teaching today should not be about a steamlined status quo.  To be future-proof, I would suggest that we lean more towards the concepts behind the niche dominators or transformers.  My 30-Day Challenge question for today:

Day 26 – How do I make my course future proof?

By future proof, I mean that I have made my course a space for connections and learning…not a three-credit credential.  My course would be relevant (a moving target) and grow in students the digital skills they will need to be competitive in their future…no matter the field or place.  My course would integrate ideas developed globally…and help students find their voice in a global world.  I do not want my students to “pass”…I want them to be so distinctive that they stand out.  My course should be an opportunity for students to brand themselves.   My students should embody what  Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead stated:

You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

To me, this suggests playing in the open…using the affordances of the digital web.  While my course might have a start date and a date in which grades are submitted, students would be welcome to stay, continue playing, and play with those that come after them.  The course would be in perpetual beta as I and my students continually updated it to keep it relevant.

Maybe it is….

Drw the Future

{Graphics: CORC, Ernst and Young, Watwood, Gogia}

 

 

 

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30-Day Challenge – Day 26 – Deeper Explorations

Submaring divingAs part of the 30-Day Question Challenge, Enoch Hale posted “Going Beneath The Surface“, where he asked “How often do we journey into the unknown?”

As a retired Navy sailor, I immediately pictured a submarine diving when I saw his title.

Enoch asked:

“When I think about teaching and learning, I have to ask: do we carve out places (a lot of them) to explore beneath the surface of things? I’d rather not carve out those places. I’d rather my course be that place. I’d rather exploration define the learning.”

…exploration define the learning…

We went exploring last night in GRAD-602.  Our topic was “Developing Learning Content: Creation and Curation.”  As the students came in, they found this Clay Shirky quote from Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization in larger than life size on the class wall (thanks Laura!):

“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race…more people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in a generation, makes the change unprecedented.”

Laura writing Shirky quote on wall

Through a series of short vignettes, we explored with the class the creation practices of screencasting, audio recordings, blogging, and slide creation, using Screencast-O-Matic, Soundcloud, WordPress, Prezi, HaikuDeck and Slideshark.  We also explored the concept of curation, using YouTube playlists, Diigo, Netvibes, Feedly, and Merlot (the free and open peer reviewed collection of online teaching and learning materials…not the wine).

This morning, Laura, Joyce Kincannon and I continued this exploration in a podcast.  The practices we covered last night were not “new”…they have been out for a few years.  Yet few in the class seemed aware of them or had played with them.  In the podcast, we riffed off of Enoch’s idea of “going deeper” to suggest that our role as academics is to explore, play and go deeper into trying new practices for learning.  We also discussed some compelling uses of digital technology that we have seen in teaching and learning.

This idea of exploration and play…and learning through exploration and play, surfaced several times.  In a hall conversation with Gardner Campbell this morning, I mentioned the conservative nature of PhD students in general, and he noted that breaking the cycle and self-perpetuation of conservative approaches to teaching is a challenge of higher education. If we are indeed “… living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race…”, should that not surface in our approaches to teaching and learning?

Which leads to my question for today:

Day 26 – How can learning in my classes move from covering content to deeper (and playful) explorations?

Give a listen…and the submarine diving alarm is for Jeff and Enoch who missed this recording:
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{Graphics: SubSeaWorld, Watwood}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 21 – Crazy Teaching Practices

trust your crazy ideasIlya Pozin, founder of Open Me and Ciplex, and a columnist for Inc, Forbes and LinkedIn, had an article  in LinkedIn called “15 Crazy Best Practices That Really Work.”

Ilya noted that for entrepreneurs, conventional wisdom does not always work, especially in the disruptive market today.  He posted 15 “crazy ideas” from fellow entrepreneurs who “….dared to blaze their own path.”

I thought it might be interesting for today’s 30-Day Challenge question to look at his ideas through the lens of teaching.  After all, our students are leaving higher education and graduating into a world where yesterday’s conventional wisdom would be suspect.

Day 21 – What “crazy” teaching practices might actually better prepare our students for the digital world in which they will live and work?

Ilya’s Crazy Ideas:

1.  Being Messy With Our Employees

Seth Talbott suggested that being involved with employees is messy but worth it.  By involved, he meant building relationships with meaningful connections.  In today’s digital environment, we need to stop being afraid of building social network connections with our students…and facilitate their building of their own learning and professional networks.  See number 2.

2.  Valuing Our Network

Darrah Brustein said that “your network is your net worth.”  My comments to number 1 apply here as well…our role as faculty now involves helping our students cultivate their networks.  One way to do that is modelling networked behavior ourselves.

3.  Making Friends, Not Clients

Vinny Antonio noted that the clear driving factor for success was word-of-mouth advertising, so it was necessary to actually create a relationship with clients and work towards their success.  “Clients” is a loaded word in education…but the intent is spot on.  Parker Palmer, in The Courage To Teach, discussed how teaching is as much about the heart as it is about the content.  Palmer states that:

“…teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal – or keep them from learning much at all.  Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.”

4. Obsessing Over Data Analysis

Danny Boice discussed data-driven decisions.  We are just entering the age of learning analytics … yet few of us take advantage of the limited data we now have.  Do you check the analytics in your learning management system to see if any students are not engaged?  What do you do with the data when you have it?  We need to obsess more ourselves!

5.  Being Unforgettable

Dustin Lee’s company takes online learning in a unique direction, offering, in his words, well-crafted courses that are “…insanely fun as well.”  It is a great lesson for those of us in pubic education…and one we take seriously at VCU.  Online@VCU notes:

Focused on distinctiveness, high engagement, and deeper learning, VCU offers quality online programs and courses available wherever you are.

6.  Asking Provocative Questions

Erica Dhawan suggested that tough conversations and productive inquiry lead to success.  That is equally true in the classroom…doubly so if the students are asking the questions!  Enoch Hale’s 30-Day Challenge has this premise at its core.

7.  Building a Culture around Hiring

Matt Mickiewicz noted that recruiting talent can determine success or failure for a company.  We do not “recruit” our students…but a few “crazy” course trailers might attract talent to your courses.

8.  Doing One Thing Well

Ryan Buckley’s company focuses on medium-length blog posts…and that focus has made them successful.  This one is difficult to translate into teaching (other than doing teaching well…but that is a cop out).  So I might spin this to suggest that each course have an opportunity for students to do one thing well…as a capstone project for the course.  After all, is it not our job to help students finish each course with success?

9.  Drinking Our Own Kool-Aid

John Hall is in the influence business…and they leverage their own service to grow their business.  We are in the learning business, and our passion for learning should be evident to our students…and contagious.

10.  Controlling Every Step

Joshua Waldron suggested that one of the keys to his company’s success was to manufacture everything in house.  “…Be lean, be nimble, and don’t let outside vendors influence your bottom line.”  In teaching and learning, I am not for “controlling”…but I am for “scaffolding”…being adaptive so that you can support every student in their learning journey.

11. Documenting the Process

Joe Apfelbaum noted that “…It’s vital to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the step-by-step recipe you’re working with on any project.”  Many of us are in research, so applying the scientific method to our teaching for improvement should be natural.  Given the changes occurring in higher education, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is a growing opportunity.  So is the journaling that can occur through blogs.  We each have so much we can offer so that we can learn from each other.

12.  Employing Energy and Persistence

Kayvon Olomi suggested that you can do anything you put your mind to.  Are our courses designed to employ (and build) energy and scaffolded to build time on task (persistence) into the learning processes?

13.  Minimizing Distracting Conversations

Jordan Fliegel noted that focus is critical to success.  I think it is an outdated concept for faculty to complain about the use of digital devices in classes “because students will just be on Facebook.”  If students are bored and on Facebook, that may be a problem of motivation and focus rather than distraction.  Get students excited about learning…and the Facebook “problem” becomes less of a problem!

14.  Split-Testing Ideas

Nicolas Gremion suggested that rather than debating what will work, take the top ideas and split-test them.  What comes to mind in a classroom is the Think-Pair-Share technique to promote higher level thinking.  This adds engagement and focus to class sessions…and potentially surfaces misconceptions.

Gone crazy15.  Valuing the Customer

Wade Foster noted that: “Above all, we serve the customer, and we do our best to give them the tools they need to get their jobs done.”  One can debate whether students are our customers or whether our customers are employees or society itself … but in any case, we need to equip our students for success in a digital world.  We also can value what they bring to the class or program.

Crazy, right?  Thoughts?

{Graphic: Jessica Harvey, A.J. Aalto}

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