More Rules of Thumb

Yesterday I started an examination of Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb.: 52 Truths For Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self (2009).  As Webber noted, these amazing times require one to rethink, reimagine, and recalibrate what is possible.  In other words, it is time to rewrite the rules.

I looked at the first thirteen rules yesterday, using as a lens our initiative to help faculty move their classes online.  Continuing today:

Rule #14 – You don’t know if you don’t go.

Webber suggests that we all need to get out of our comfort zone and experience new things.  How many of us as faculty spend time in the social media that our students use?  How do we add relevance to our students’ lives if we do not understand their culture?  You don’t know if you don’t go!

Rule #15 – Every start-up needs four things: change, connections, conversation and community.

Webber noted that these four words are not just a cute mnemonic device, they represent a foundation for a new type of business plan.  They also form a nice foundation for an online course.  In moving courses online, teaching (and learning) practices have to change.  Online courses work best when students make connections with the content, the faculty, and each other.  Learning occurs through conversations (synchronous and asynchronous).  The goal in online learning is to create a community of learners.

Rule #16 – Facts are facts; stories are how we learn.

Nothing is dryer than just the facts.  Facts come alive when coupled with stories that touch us.  My colleague Bud Deihl has been working with faculty at VCU to start a digital storytelling initiative.  Technology provides some wonderful tools these days for faculty to tell their stories…and for students to tell theirs.  Learning becomes more personal when stories are used, and more learning-centered if students become involved in telling those stories.  In my classes last year, I had quite a few online students who were frankly scared of technology, and yet when I pointed them to CogDog’s 50+ Ways to Tell a Story and let them begin telling theirs, magical things began to happen in the class.

Rule #17 – Entrepreneurs choose serendipity over efficiency.

There are safe ways to teach and there are creative ways to teach, and the two rarely coincide.  Online teaching and learning has opened new creative approaches for both my students and myself.  It is work, but it is also fun, exciting, and more vibrant than recycling the old lectures I used to use.

Rule #18 – Knowing it ain’t the same as doing it.

There are a lot of “experts” who theorize about best practices for teaching online.  But the critical component for me is whether these experts have actually done it – taught online themselves.  In a like manner, faculty will learn more the first semester they actually teach online, and there are no manuals or websites that can replace that crucible of experience.

Rule #19 – Memo to leaders: focus on the signal-to-noise ratio.

The signal-to-noise ratio comes from electrical engineering – the higher the ratio, the clearer the message being transmitted.  It is also a term I heard in my Navy days.  When hunting submarines, our job was to pull their signals out of the acoustic noise in the sea.  We used technology to improve the signal to noise ratio.  Today, our job as faculty is to still improve that signal-to-noise ratio.  The internet is awash in noise and distractions.  We do have tools such as RSS feeds that can help us improve our signal strength and focus on finding those bits of information that enhance the learning process.  Webber suggested that leaders need to do self-assessments about themselves, their company, their values, and their metrics in order to improve their signal-to-noise ratio.  Good advice also for faculty and the course they teach.  Particularly online, how clear are we on goals and objectives?  What processes are we using to help students critically examine our subject matter?  Do the metrics we use map to our learning objectives, and do our students understand that?

Rule #20 – Speed = strategy.

In an age where change is happening at a dizzying pace, the winners will be those who can see the change and adapt the swiftest.  This may not be true for every course, but every course can benefit from developing students who are critical thinkers and adaptive thinkers.  It raises the question as to how we unleash our students to question old models and create new ones.

Rule #21 – Great leaders answer Tom Peters’ great question: “How can I capture the world’s imagination?”

Is your course “insanely great?”  If not, why not?  Timid approaches to learning do succeed every day, and imaginative experiments in learning do fail everyday, but which excite you and your students more?  Considering how to have one’s course capture the students’ imagination is a great exercise in keeping at bay the status quo.

Rule #22 – Learn to see the world through the eyes of your customer.

The learning is a class changes when the faculty stops being a salesperson for her or his discipline and instead becomes a partner with students in knowledge creation around the discipline.  We faculty are guilty of being so passionate about our course that we fail to examine our course through our students’ eyes.  If we want them to want more than a grade, we have to work at creating opportunities so students see the relevance of the course to their own lives, lighting their own passions about the subject matter.  Some of the social media open new opportunities for making our students’ thinking visible.  It is one of the reasons I feel I get closer to my online students than my face-to-face students.  In the 24/7 online environment, I end up spending more time seeing the world through their eyes.

Rule #23 – Keep two lists: What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up at night?

Webber noted that some people have jobs while others have something they really work at.  The first question really gets at what are you passionate about, while the second is about being honest about what works and what does not.  What would be on your two lists?

Rule #24 – If you want to change the game, change the economics of how the game is played.

I love the quote from Jerry Garcia that starts this chapter – “You do not want to merely be considered just the best of the best.  You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”  I have always considered that great advice for an online teacher as well.  Rather than looking for the same ways of doing what you used to do in the classroom in an online class, look for new ways of teaching that the online environment and social media open up.

Rule #25 – If you want to change the game, change customer expectations.

John Tagg noted in The Learning Paradigm College that students are equally guilty at low expectations (you feed me what will be on the test, I’ll regurgitate it).  But as Chickering and Gamson noted in their classic Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, high expectations lead to improved performance.

6. Communicates High Expectations – Expect more and you will get more. High expectations are important for everyone — for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts.

In the online environment, expectation management is critical.  Rubrics are an excellent means by which your expectations can be crystal clear.

Rule #26 – The soft stuff is the hard stuff.

Does your course focus on the bottom line (grades) or investing in the future?  Do students leave your course motivated to continue their learning journey or glad the course is done and the box is checked for graduation?  What do you focus on?

These rules are resonating with me.  Are they with you?  I’ll continue my examination in the next post.

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