Friday, July 22, 2016

From the Archives: Working with No Information

8 years later - I am astonished by how familiar this scenario still is.

March 5, 2008

In a stuffy meeting room, the manager(M) and the director(D) attempt to get some information out of the assigned subject matter expert.

The upper management has decreed that a department will be switching over to a new email system as a pilot for the rest of the university. However, the group within the university that is already using the new email system is not to be consulted in any way shape or form on this project. And no other resources are to be used.

The below scenario is a rough idea of what happened when the Manager and Director attempted to get information from the Subject Matter Expert for the pilot group.

M&D: So - what would you like to know about this application at the end of the training?

SME: I dunno

M&D: Well, how do you use the current email system?

SME: Well, we use it for email and stuff.

M&D: Just amongst yourselves? With outside groups? Other departments? Is this going to be your primary form of communication or an alternate form.

SME: I dunno

M&D have realized that they do not have the right subject matter expert and that they have no other folks that they are allowed to work with for the project. They plow forward.

M&D: Most of your folks are mobile and don't have a designated PC - how did you want them to access this email system?

SME: I guess they could find an open computer and look at it .(Note: there ARE no open computers the end users have access to. All computers require the person to log in and the majority of this end user population do not have network logins.)

M&D: Uh, 99.5% of the computers they have access to require a network login. Did you want to have your end users get a network login?

SME: No.

M&D: Are they going to use mobile devices?

SME: Nah - they should find a computer (Note: Though we are not sure what they are using, from observation we know that the majority of the end users have a mobile device of some sort.)

The Manager takes a note to find out what mobile device the end users are supposed to have assigned to them.

M&D: Are you going to use the calendar?

SME: I dunno

M&D: How many people are we going to need to train?

SME: Not sure. We haven't decided who is going to use this yet.

M&D restrain themselves from banging heads on table and/or strangling the SME.


Meanwhile, in a corner of the cube farm, the Instructional Designer stares at her monitor.

She knows that M&D have hit a brick wall. They cannot get the answers the team needs to develop useful training. The upper management has given a deadline of the end of the month to get this new email system "live" with the group they have selected for the pilot.

She also knows that this particular group of end users are not a tech-savvy bunch.

Thankfully - the Instructional Designer has used this email system before at another organization.

She takes a sip of her 3rd cup of coffee.

What did I want to know when I first looked at this system?

She stares at the monitor for a few more moments, then begins to scribble things on the steno pad by her left hand.
- Send email
- Find people
- Receive email
- Forward and Reply
- Delete
- Add attachments

She takes another sip of her coffee, grabs a Jolly Rancher Soft Chew (Cherry) from her desk, unwraps the candy and pops it in her mouth.
- If calendar then:
- Add appointments
- Move appointments
- Delete appointments

Satisfied that this is a reasonable start - she swallows the plasticine candy, opens Captivate, opens the email application and begins building the tutorials.

She'll make notes identifying knowledge gaps as she works.

The Instructional Designer knows that whatever she builds using these cursory guidelines may not be terribly useful for the project at hand. The tutorials will probably not be an example of textbook instructional design. But she know that the tutorials can serve as reference later and for other projects.

And, if nothing else, it looks like she's doing something proactive and useful.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

From the Archives: Watching Surfers

Now that I have had a a chance to actually GO surfing (and live a little more) - the "wait for the big ones" strategy seems like a more productive one.

November 7, 2007

Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon on the Cocoa Beach Pier watching the surfers.

The surf is not particularly high at Cocoa Beach on a normal day. Maybe a couple of feet. With Hurricane Noel spinning in the Atlantic this weekend, the surf was 8-10 feet with higher swells. Surfer's dream.

The Cocoa Beach surfers were out in force on Saturday - many of them hovering around the pier, where the sand bars created the best swells. Watching the surfers, I spied a couple of strategies:

Catch every wave you can

These surfers would swim out to the end of the pier, sit for 2 waves to catch their breath, then attempt to catch the next wave. Once successfully caught - they would swim back out to the end of the pier and repeat the process.

These kids do more actual "surfing". But it's not always quality. Often, they are trying to make their way back to the pier when the big ones come. And they tire out early - especially if they are getting hit by the big ones while they are trying to swim out. I noticed these kids are out of the water after an hour.

Wait for the big ones

These surfers would swim out, and wait. It looks like they are not doing much. Just sitting on their boards....waiting....watching....looking for patterns. When the situation looks just right, they surf.

Some of these surfers misjudge the wave and find themselves on a dud. Some of these surfers don't quite catch the wave because they start paddling a bit late. But a lucky few catch the big ones.

These surfers are able to stay out longer. And they seem more rested. If they misjudge a wave, they swim back out and wait. Eventually, they catch one of the good ones. Some of the surfers using this strategy were out the entire afternoon.

So what's your strategy?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From the Archives: Technology to Bring Back Intimacy

At the time I wrote this, I was sick with a dose of the shingles (not a recommended experience).

I think this post may be more timely now as more organizations become distributed, more people telework, and you are less likely to be able to get everyone in the same room together.

What I find interesting is the compulsion to schedule a meeting room for the 5 people who are together in a location while the other 5 people work from home and another 5 are in another meeting room.

If there is a VTC unit in the room - the 5 people in the room complain about not being able to see while staring at the 5 tiny figures in the other room on the TV, half of whom are out of camera range and the 5 folks working from home are left fighting with feedback and echo and wondering why the hell they are on the call.

Then after the meeting - the groups in the VTC rooms have their "meeting after the meeting".

Of course - this also includes the side conversations that make it even harder to hear what is going on.

I've come to believe that if you can't get everyone in a room together - we all need to be on an even playing field.

This means - everyone engages remotely. NO VTC ROOMS.

You can see the screenshare better and you reduce the us-v-them.

It's gonna be a hard sell.  Mostly because of the human compulsion for physical presence.

But the us-v-them does no one any good.  And it sure as heck isn't team-building.

Rant over.

October 27, 2007
I suspect that higher technology is bringing back the kind of intimacy we lack when we are separated from the world by visual perspective. And an intimate world seems more human. What an artist is trying to do for people is to bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing: you wouldn't want to be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought. I am constantly preoccupied with how to remove distance so that we can all come closer together, so that we can all begin to sense that we are the same, we are one. That is what I think removing distance on whatever level means, and that is why there are so many parallels, in science, in publishing, in printing, in communications generally.

- David Hockney, That's the Way I See It, 1993.

Physical locations function more like "groups and walled gardens". Stephen Downes has sensitized us to the shortcomings of restricting any of the valuable diversity of an open network. Besides there's no way with live bodies to tag, bookmark, link back or add comments 6 hours later to what got said in passing.

- Tom Haskins, 10/24/07

Both of these quotes have me thinking about the value of distance and the exercise of bridging that distance. When David Hockney saw "higher technology" as being a tool to bridge distances and, more importantly, bring back intimacy - he did this in the context of an environment where the internet was still new and used in highly isolated pockets (I was one of the few in my graduate department in 1994 to have a sendmail account). Before Web 2.0 and online social networks became buzzwords. When any online networks occurred within small groups (such as the bored engineers at VA Tech with their IBM 500s, 19.2 K modems and Procomm Plus talking on bulletin boards) and the chances of meeting the folks you talked to virtually in "real life" were practically 100%.

It has me thinking about the relative value of our physical "real world" networks (the ones we don't necessarily choose, but we are a part of simply due to proximity and circumstance) vs. the value of our "second life" networks (the ones that we choose due to shared interests and experience).

I am wondering if it is a mistake to value one network over the other. To see one as more important than the other. I find myself with a bias towards my "real world" network. Not necessarily because I get more out of my interactions with this network - often, I don't - but because of the "instantaneousness" (I suspect that's not a word) of those interactions.

Physical proximity leads to a sense of immediacy, whether the issue at hand truly has long-term importance or not. It's easier to share emotions (good or bad) when you are standing in front of an angry customer or sharing someone's excitement in person than it is when you are typing an e-mail or instant messaging or blogging. Physical proximity also has a way of making issues more urgent than they really are.

E-mailing, blogging, and instant messaging allow you to archive and reflect in a way that face-to-face conversations don't. Telephone, video conferencing and in-person conversations provide levels and layers of instantaneous feedback, adding tone and, in some instances, body language to the words. Neither are superior. And both provide various ways of establishing intimacy between people.

My recent enforced period of isolation has made me better appreciate the virtual communities I participate in. I value not having to make snap judgments. I love that I can read through ideas, categorize what I read and write for later reference and generally process my environment in a more leisurely (and frankly more meaningful) manner. And the feedback I receive from members of the virtual community is more thoughtful (thanks Tom!).

I suspect that the time spent engaging another person is more a measure of intimacy than the "stuff done" or "things gotten" that we often do to show how much we care for another.

This isolation time has allowed me to see exactly how rushed and panicky our "real life" environments get (for no apparently good reason). People feed on the urgency. Busyness = importance right? Hate to say it, but many people are addicted to that type of rush. Or, like myself, they get used to operating at that level of anxiety.

It's been interesting to find that "real life" communities are not necessarily more intimate than their "second life" counterparts.

Yesterday, I was mentally writing off my recent blogging conversations with a dismissive

"This is fun, but I have no idea how I'm gonna use this in my real life"

And I'm realizing that these virtual conversations don't necessarily have to translate to "real life" for them to be important.

Just like scientific research does not always have to be immediately applied.

This time has been a real eye-opener.....

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

From the Archives: Things I Think I Think

And I still think these things....

October 23, 2007

1) I think that corporate culture (in general) DISCOURAGES the development of reflexive learners (platitudes to the contrary).

For those of us working in corporate environments, the stress is on DOING stuff (or, at least, APPEARING to DO stuff) rather than thinking/reflecting/planning/anything that requires NOT ACTING INSTANTANEOUSLY.

Evidence of reflective learning looks suspiciously like goofing off.... Yes, I am writing, but I'm not writing a step-by-step guide on how to schedule a patient. I'm writing about how do teach that better. Why is that important when our old way works just as well (never mind the phone calls from folks who didn't understand the material in the first place)? Therefore, I am goofing off.....

2) I think that encouraging an organization requires serious culture change for most of us.

Question for those working in corporate environments. How many times have you been faced with a student / students who say point blank "just tell me how to do it!" You tell them, then they call you back the same day accusing you of not "teaching" them because you just told them how to do it? Is it just me?!?!?!?

3) There has to be some way to nudge / cajole / wheedle / bribe an organization into at least allowing reflexive thinking practices - or, at least, not actively preventing them, at ALL levels of an organization.

Whenever I've seen reflexive thinking in an organization, it is at the highest levels and/or within individual, isolated pockets of rebellion. Hmmm...maybe if we bridge those pockets somehow......

4) The only way I can think of starting (as Tom said) is to model the behavior as best I can.

I only truly have control over my own actions, right? At least, more control over my own actions than over others (over which I may have persuasive ability, but no actual control).

5) The only other thing I can think of doing is to encourage this radical behavior one individual (or really open group) at a time. Just like we are doing amongst each other in this little corner of the blogosphere. Enough individuals and we have tipping point, right?

Monday, July 18, 2016

From the Archives: One Letter of ADDIE

This is a conversation I have had multiple times over the past 9 years.

How do we keep up?
What skills do we need to stay relevant?

Though this is in the context of Instructional Design, the single-person shops are a lot more common than when I wrote this, and the question of whether Instructional Designers NEED technology skills has been answered (yes), I think this post speaks to a larger issue.

I would argue that the most valuable skill we can cultivate is our ability to learn new things quickly.
Everything else follows from that :)
June 12, 2007

Christy Tucker asks whether Instructional Designers NEED Technology skills. (emphasis mine)

Read the comments and conversation carefully in her post. Quite eye-opening.
I occasionally envy those folks whose world is so compartmentalized. Who have the luxury of being able to focus on one letter of ADDIE. Who are able to let go after they have finished their Design piece.

Realistically, I'm probably too much of a control freak to thrive in that situation.

That said - whenever I start dreaming of a work life of relative ease where I can focus on one skill set, I think of my friend the Graphic Designer.

The Graphic Designer REALLY wants to find a new job. She's very good at the nuts and bolts of graphic design. She created beautiful things on paper and has an impressive portfolio of work.

But she continues to run into the same problem.

All of her potential employers ask about her computer skills. Does she have a web site and web development experience? What desktop publishing tools does she use? Is she skilled in Photoshop? Illustrator? Quark XPress?

The change happened slowly...imperceptibly....

She keeps arguing that her current skill set is enough.....yet she still hasn't found new work after 2 years of searching.

Her field has changed. Folks are looking for people who can design in multiple media. And our world is becoming more computer-dependent by the day.

I look at Help Wanted ads and find that more employers (especially corporate employers) expect their trainers to have baseline computer skills (mostly Office and PowerPoint) and their instructional developers to be familiar with a wide array of educational technologies.

Having the professional knowledge and experience of an instructional designer gives you a theoretical base. And, as has been documented in other educational blogs, the theoretical sands are shifting.

More importantly, as organizations and universities move towards computer-based education - either as the core of their educational strategy or as a supplement - our clients will expect instructional designers to be versed in the technological tools of our trade.

Are you ready?

Friday, July 15, 2016

From the Archives: Pickett's Charge and PLEs

I think we are doing an amazing disservice to ourselves and our kids by not getting out more.

If anything, this most is more timely now than it was when I wrote it.

April 26, 2007

I've been catching up on my Google Reader and noticed the conversation about Personal Learning Environments. I'm sure I'm misunderstanding the conversation - but it seems to me that a Personal Learning Environment should encompass more than just the blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and other tools we use to gather and process information.

Clive Shepherd notes that his personal learning environment also includes people and alternate media.

I know it would be neater if these were all digitized and processed for my easy access, but I'm not so sure I don't prefer them as they are.

I wonder if we are losing something by moving everything "online". The feel of the pages, the smell of newsprint, the engagement of senses other than sight and sound.

Langston Hughes Intermediate annually took their 8th grade class to Gettysburg. As part of that trip - they split the group and recreated Pickett's Charge. Being able to experience the distance between Seminary Ridge and Culp's Hill, climb around Devil's Den, running through the woods on Cemetery Hill finding strategic locations... I learned more about Gettysburg through that field trip than I ever did in a book, movie, online tutorial or multimedia presentation.

Today, the organization I work for regularly has people from other organizations visit to see how we are using our Electronic Medical Record software. Movies, interactive video teleconferencing, online tutorials, documents, and the like will only take them so far. Our visitors say they learn more when they can immerse themselves physically in our environment. Despite some folks efforts to script the encounter, the visitors get more when they nose around, talk to people, observe patient interactions, read body language and (at the risk of sounding new-agey) sense the energy around the clinic.

I wonder if we need more field trips. More opportunities for PHYSICAL immersion - not just virtual immersion. And I wonder if this is the type of thing that should be considered when putting together our own Personal Learning Environments and providing resources for others to do the same.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

From the Archives: Ode to My Parents

My parents provided (and still provide) a case study in creating a rich learning environment.

Thanks Mom and Dad!
February 26, 2007

Stephen Downes, in his response to Steve Hargadon's post on Academic Rigor, enumerates the ways his parents celebrated "academic virtues."

Like Stephen, I was very lucky to have parents with open and curious minds. Yeah, they read newspapers and books and all that. Most importantly, they were about experiences.

- Dad made it a point to take us to festivals. Particularly the Caribbean festivals in DC. We may not have appreciated it at the time, but the exposure to the colorful costumes, calypso, and different foods made me more willing to seek small community festivals in the towns I've lived in. I learn more about food and culture at these festivals than I ever would in a book.

- Mom loved to take us to the historic homes in the area. Interestingly, she was about the homes off the beaten path. Gunston Hall, Oak Hill, Woodlawn, Claude Moore Colonial Farm, and the like.... Sully Plantation was her favorite. They would hold regular "Colonial Days" where kids could learn about life in colonial times.

- The folks dragged my brother and I to the Smithsonian on a regular basis. We are so lucky to have free, world-class museums in DC. I am still a huge fan of the Natural History Museum's bug room.

- Mom is an adventurous cook. She made it a point to cook foods from different cultures and turned these meals into cultural lessons. Many of these meals came from Time-Life's Foods of the World series. I would read the entire series cover to cover at least once a year from ages 9 - 15. During those readings, I would find myself cooking at least one of the recipes. Usually cookies :' ) It's to my mother's credit that she even let me near those books - her cookbooks are some of her most precious possessions.

- We used to celebrate at least 1 evening of Hanukkah and 1 evening of Passover each year with family friends. If my parents had friends who celebrated other faiths, we would have joined them too. As I've gotten older, I've been very fortunate to have friends from a wide range of faiths that invite me to celebrate important holidays. Again, I learn more from those experiences than from any book.

- Dad continues to be my most ardent supporter in any academic endeavor. He was the one who set the "2 master's degrees with long gaps in between" model that I have followed thus far.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have parent who implicitly understood the importance of "modeling" behaviors and providing opportunities for learning and growth without forcing the issue.

I suspect that those experiences drove me to study history (for longer than I probably should have), encouraged me to continue my education (both formally and informally), and helped to develop my fidgety mind.

Thanks Mom and Dad!!!!!!