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}

SLOAN Online Conference Day One

SLOAN Conference logo
The 19th Annual SLOAN Consortium International Conference on Online Learning (did you notice…I said NINETEENTH) kicked off today.  Our keynoter this afternoon brought our attention to the fact that SLOAN has been fostering a conversation about online learning for 19 years.  With the Year of the MOOC last year notwithstanding, online learning was not discovered last year!  But more on that in a moment.

Today, I attended three information sessions and the keynote address.  As usual, I was active on Twitter using the hashtag #aln13, so one can get a sense of the proceedings by following the very active tweet stream.

My first session was with Melissa Venable (OnlineColleges.net) and Amy Hilbelink (Ultimate Medical Academy): “Can Existing Quality Guidelines Inform Faculty Participation in Online Course Design.”  Check out their slides.  My take away was that quality is and should be a faculty initiative.  Administrative drivers do not always work well.  They discussed both the QM rubric and the Quality Scorecard, emphasizing that the first was course-based while the second was program-based.  Given my past blog posts on Community of Inquiry, I noted with interest this tweet from Phylise Banner:

I hope to connect with Phylise later to learn more!

My second session was with Steve Ehrmann and others from George Washington University, on Six Design Features of Distinguished Online Programs.  At VCU, we are committed to creating online courses and programs that are “distinctive”, so I wondered how Steve approached this.  He noted that the proliferation of online offerings nationally has led to commodity online education.  Learners have access to dozens of programs that are indistinguishable from each other.  They end up competing on size and sizzle.  Like any technological advance, there are positives and negatives.  Depending on audience, online education has increased quality in some programs and seen it decreases in others.  For some, online education has increased access while potentially denying it to the poor, disabled, or remote populations. Steve suggested that new programs need to be both exceptionally good and perceived by constituents as exceptionally good.

Steve suggested six features for programs that might meet these two requirements:

  1. Recruit a dream team to develop and teach the program.
  2. With a hybrid approach, exploit “place” in online programs (though place does not necessarily mean on campus).
  3. Find corporate partners to help make the program distinctive.
  4. Take advantage of scale to create customized learning for each student.
  5. Use small group synchronous activities to create tight bonds with students.
  6. Educate students to thrive in a hybrid digital workforce.

Our excitement of the day came just as Steve’s session was ending, when the hotel fire alarm sounded.  Luckily for those presenting, it was a short lived false alarm, but it cut a few minutes into my third session. Shanna Jaggars discussed recent research into online learning.  She noted that many reference the DoE Meta-analysis study published in 2009, that that study really only looked at 7 research studies of full online courses at four-year institutions.  These studies tended to research small class-size courses at elite institutions.  Her Center for Community College Research attempted to dig deeper at more traditional online students by exploring success in two-year college online courses in Virginia and Washington states.  Her study of 23 courses at two Virginia community colleges using student interviews raised an unexpected issue of students complaining that they really did not know their teachers nor feel their presence in class.  For me, I would question whether this is a factor of “online learning” or one of how teachers are selected, assigned, and supported in teaching online.

Shanna ended her session by suggesting that online teaching and learning could be improved through the conscious use of faculty inquiry and the scholarship of teaching online.  One-oft workshops were not the answer.  Totally agree here, and our CTE Online programs do attempt to integrate the research and the practical aspects of teaching online.

Hal Plotkin of the U.S. Department of Education was our keynoter.  He discussed how online learning aligned with President Obama’s goals for improving education in America. In a somewhat rags to riches story, he discussed his own background and how one event changed his life and led to a career in newspapers after first dropping out of (or as he noted, being pushed out of) high school, then eventually obtaining an Associates degree and Bachelors degree.  He noted that currently, only 7% of the world’s population go on to some college, and that meant the 93% were a hugely untapped potential.  His admonition to us was not to further prop open the door of access to higher education, but to blow the hinges off that door!

Sketch of Keynoter

As Plotkin was talking, Josh Murdock tweeted the above sketch on Twitter. I thought it was pretty cool and wondered if he had done this on an iPad?

Some tweets were pretty snarky regarding Plotkin’s message, but it resonated with me that he called for more open access, more sharing of resources, and less judging of current experiments.  He noted that the current set of MOOCs were the Model T’s of online learning…with better cars on the way.  He also noted that in the rush to develop online programs, we needed to keep the law of the land regarding ADA and accessibility front and center.

The day ended with the awarding of this year’s SLOAN-C Fellow Awards.  It was most gratifying to see my good friend and colleague Bill Pelz of Herkimer County Community College recognized with this national award!

We closed the night with dinner with VCU colleagues at Cat Cora’s restaurant on the Boardwalk.  My presentation is tomorrow.  I hope the internet gods are kind!  🙂



Final Week of BlendKit2012

Five weeks pass pretty rapidly!

BlendKit banner

In this final week of BlendKit2012, we focused on quality assurance.  Kelvin Thompson suggested the following questions to ponder:

  • How will you know whether your blended learning course is sound prior to teaching it? How will you know whether your teaching of the course was effective once it has concluded?
  • With which of your trusted colleagues might you discuss effective teaching of blended learning courses? Is there someone you might ask to review your course materials prior to teaching your blended course? How will you make it easy for this colleague to provide helpful feedback?
  • How are “quality” and “success” in blended learning operationally defined by those whose opinions matter to you? Has your institution adopted standards to guide formal/informal evaluation?
  • Which articulations of quality from existing course standards and course review forms might prove helpful to you and your colleagues as you prepare to teach blended learning courses?

These are interesting questions, because as Kelvin noted in the reading, there are no universal standards for blended course quality.  One could go further and say that there are no national standards, no state standards, and I would be hard pressed to say that there are institutional standards across our multiple schools and colleges.  While I like the SLOAN-C definition of blended courses (page 7), there really is not even a standard to what constitutes blended learning.  Given that, Kelvin shifted to look at how different institutions have addressed quality in online courses.  While these in many cases are minimum standards, Kelvin suggests in this week’s readings that these “…provide the closest analogue to articulations of quality for blended learning courses.”  Here at VCU, we have used both CSU Chico State’s rubric and the Quality Matters rubric as informal guides to quality, so the resources Kelvin provided in Table 1 below help round these out:

Table 1. Selected examples of online course standards

Title URL
Quality Matters http://www.qmprogram.org/rubric
Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Program http://www.blackboard.com/Platforms/Learn/Resources/Community-Programs/Meet-Your-Peers/Exemplary-Courses.aspx
Online Course Evaluation Project http://www.montereyinstitute.org/ocep
CSU Chico’s Rubric for Online Instruction http://www.csuchico.edu/celt/roi
Michigan Virtual University’s Standards for Quality Online Courses http://standards.mivu.org/standards
(Best viewed in Internet Explorer)
Texas Virtual School Network’s Scoring Rubric for Online Courses http://www.txvsn.org/AboutTxVSN/CourseReview/ReviewProcess/iNACOLStandards.aspx
Mountain Empire Community College’s Online Course Quality Review Form http://www.me.vccs.edu/forms/peer-review.pdf
Florida Gulfcoast University’s Principles of Online Design http://www.fgcu.edu/onlinedesign

I really like the direction Kelvin took in the second half of the reading.  His (and my) issue with most “standards” is their one-size-fits-all prescriptive nature of the beast.  They also tend to focus heavily on the design of a course without considering the effectiveness of the teaching done with the design.  I would prefer that they be used as a self-assessment instrument rather than as an administratively required one.

Kelvin suggests finding allies to help improve the effectiveness of blended courses.  I agree.  Allies can be peers, but they can also be your own students.  A tip I picked up from Jeff Nugent and have used in my courses is a simple embedded Google Form in the LMS that allows students to provide quick feedback or questions during the online portion of a class.

Kelvin provided two forms this week.  The first is a Before/During/After Checklist with common to-do items based on best practice.  The second is a Blended Course Peer Review form that aggregates good practice from the standards above and provides an instrument for discussion between the teaching faculty and the peer reviewers.  Unlike QM or others, it has distinct “blended” aspects covered.

I again want to thank Kelvin Thompson and the good folks at UCF for providing this thoughtful exercise.  The lessons were well paced, not overwhelming, and integrated with a community of practice.  I used the blogging option rather than the Canvas discussion forum option, so when the dust settles, I would like to go back and see what I missed on that side of the course.

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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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Some Rules of Thumb

My day job is faculty development at the Center for Teaching Excellence at VCU, but my doctorate is in Education Leadership, and with 22 years in the Navy, graduate hours in management beyond the Ed.D., and a half dozen business courses taught over the years, leadership remains a strong interest area of mine.  So when Tom Peters in his blog suggested a new book by the co-founder of one of my favorite business magazines, FastCompany, it caught my attention.

I have just finished Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb.: 52 Truths For Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self (2009).  It is a quick read and yet deserves reflection and discussion.  Webber previously took the traditional business magazine in exciting and rule-breaking directions with FastCompany, and his reason for writing this book is that these amazing times require one to rethink, reimagine, and recalibrate what is possible.  In other words, it is time to rewrite the rules.

The 52 chapters each cover a “rule” with typically a story from Alan’s past coupled with a “So What?” reflection on what the rule means.  As Tom Peters noted:

In short, Rules of Thumb, featuring 52 “rules,” is a marvel. Practical. Philosophical. Fun. And, above all, wise. Ever so wise.

Here is a sample:

#10 A Good Question Beats a Good Answer. #14 You Don’t Know if You Don’t Go. #16 Facts Are Facts; Stories Are How We Learn. #20 Speed = Strategy. #23 Keep Two Lists: What Gets You Up in the Morning? What Keeps You Up at Night? #26 The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff. #28 Good Design Is Table Stakes. Great Design Wins. #29 Words Matter. #33 Everything Is a Performance. #42 The Survival of the Fittest Is the Business Case for Diversity. #45 Failure Isn’t Failing. Failure Is Failing to Try. #46 Tough Leaders Wear Their Hearts on Their Sleeves. #49 If You Want to Grow as a Leader, You Have to Disarm Your Border Guards. #50 On the Way Up Pay Attention to Your Strengths; They’ll Be Your Weaknesses on the Way Down. #52 Stay Alert! There Are Teachers Everywhere.

I would like to have listed all 52—there are no losers in this set. (In fact, I believe Alan’s idiot editor sliced about half of them from the first draft, which I saw; damn shame.)

Fact is, I love Alan, and I love his book. Yes, he truly is a wise man.

Ahhhh…as only Tom Peters can write!

But I agree with him.  In fact, what struck me was how many of the rules fit our current initiative to help faculty move their teaching and learning online.  So I thought I would spend a few blog posts examining Webber’s rules and their fit with our initiative.

Rule#1 – When the going gets tough, the tough relax.

Webber noted that one of my heroes, Edwards Deming, was famous for his eighth point in creating quality in an organization – Drive Out Fear.  Webber suggested that you not let fear undermine your chance to do what you want to do.  I could suggest that this equally applies to faculty considering teaching online, but for me, it suggests a deeper truth – No course will ever have learning at its core if fear rules the students.  Webber suggests that one should smile and enjoy the trip.  I would say that works equally well for faculty and students in an online class.

Rule #2 – Every company is running for office.  To win, give the voters what they want.

Webber noted that every day you are running for office, and that every vote counts!  He states that you have to prove to your customers that you get them and care about them.  While I would not necessarily equate students with customers, I do believe that it is important that online students “see” you as a real person that cares about them and their learning.  Giving students what they want does not mean watering down a course, it means giving students clear organization, clear directions, and the respect to allow them to be co-explorers in the learning process.

Rule #3 – Ask the last question first.

Webber noted that when one starts with “Do you know the point of the exercise?”, it becomes a way to reverse-engineer the project.  In a similar manner, students will understand their online work better if they understand what the point of any assignment is…how it relates to the learning objectives of the course and ultimately to why your particular course is important and relevant to their lives.

Rule #4 – Don’t implement solutions.  Prevent problems.

I was always impressed that the first time a Sony Trinitron TV was plugged in and turned on was when a customer pulled it out of the box.  Sony did not wait until a TV was built to test it, it incrementally tested each component along the manufacturing process such that the assembled TV worked, period.  That makes sense in manufacturing, yet too many faculty use only a mid-term and final to assess the learning that takes place in their classes.  Building in formative assessment and shifting the responsibility for learning equally to the students makes as much sense in online learning as it does for Sony.

Rule #5 – Change is a math formula.

The formula is that change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change.  Up until now, most good online faculty have been early adopters.  The status quo has worked for most faculty, who continue to teach the way they were taught.  However, in the past few years, the internet has slowly become integrated into the status quo.  From social networking to twittering, a new generation of both younger and older adults are routinely using the web as part of their lives.  Failing to integrate the web into teaching and learning risks alienating this new generation.  The tipping point is rapidly approaching where failing to provide online classes will be a marketing issue for some programs in higher education.

Rule #6 – If you want to see with fresh eyes, reframe the picture.

Webber quoted Ted Levitt who suggested that many companies suffer from a serious problem of not really understanding what business they were in.  Some business do get it.  Southwest Airlines is not in the transportation business – it is in the freedom business.  Starbucks is not in the coffee business, it is in the “home away from home” business.  Harley Davidson does not sell motorcycles, it sells a lifestyle.  It begs the question – how do your students see your online course?  Do you see your job as “teaching” or do you see yourself as someone who sets up a learning environment and builds a learning community?

Rule #7 – The system is the solution.

One could go many directions with this in higher education.  After all, our schools and our courses tend to be very siloed, acting as if each was independent of the other.  In truth, our courses are systems within systems, and our students spend four-plus years trying to figure out the interrelationships between them.  It carries over in our online classes.  We load students and content into a course management system and expect learning to occur.  Learning would be optimized if we took a more system-level approach.  I am a big believer in TPACK, which looks at the appropriate technology and the appropriate pedagogy for the specific content students are exploring.  In our online class, we use a variety of social media to enhance the course management system and connect our students with others in the discipline.  In the interconnected system, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Rule #8 – New realities demand new categories.

Webber stated that solving today’s problems means moving beyond yesterday’s outmoded categories.   The online environment is creating new categories every day – ebooks, unparallelled access to information, wikipedias, virtual worlds, open-source, crowd-sourcing, new forms of academic publishing, to name a few.  In a hyperlinked world, a seat-time approach to education using hard-bound books no longer fits.

Rule #9 – Nothing happens until money changes hands.

Okay, maybe one rule that would be a stretch applying to online teaching and learning.  After all, this book was written primarly for entrepreneurs.  And yet, there is something to be said for not only creating enthusiasm for learning in your class, but also having tangible results – the first paper or the first video or the first podcast created by your students and submitted for your (and peer) review.

Rule #10 – A good question beats a good answer.

This resonates with me as a researcher.  Good research almost always raises good questions as part of the research.  Given how knowledge continues to grow, it makes sense that we develop our students to be questioners rather than parrots who feed the “correct” answer back to us.  As history has too often shown, the correct answer only works for so long before a more correct answer comes along.

Rule #11 – We’ve moved from an either/or past to a both/and future.

Webber suggests that entrepreneurs today have to reject the old either/or choices and instead look for both/and synergies.  When Barack Obama suggested that there were no red states or blue states, just red, white and blue states, he was reframing a both/and future rather than an either/or past.  Higher education likewise needs to move past face-to-face or online classes to a both/and approach that gives both options to our students.  At a past institution where I worked, the majority of our “online” students also came to campus and took face-to-face classes.  We and our students should value building a degree around a combination of face-to-face classes and online classes.

Rule #12 – The difference between a crisis and an opportunity is when you learn about it.

I am a different teacher today than I was three-years ago.  The reason – my network who continually feeds information to me, whether through Twitter, Ning, or Google Reader.  This rapid assimilation of knowledge allows me to keep my course current and relevant.  It suggest to me that these new skills I have developed now need to be part of my classes so that my students develop similar skills.  Knowledge-sharing is now a normal part of my life, and it is a job skill my students will need.

Rule #13 – Learn to take no as a question.

While my passion is online teaching and learning, the reality currently is that most faculty who seek me out do so to web enhance their face-to-face class, and have no interest in online teaching and learning.  And yet, to me, web enhancing a class IS online teaching and learning.  I am slowly learning to take the NO about online teaching and learning as an opportunity to open a new dialogue with my colleagues.  I am a victim of my own rose-colored glasses, and I really need to better understand the reluctance others have, so that I can do a better job helping them when the time is right for them to move online.

I’ll continue with the next 13 in the next post.  My question to you – on target or off the board?  What do you think?

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]

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]

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!