Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bye Petty! Good Luck in Vancouver!

So the star of an early blog post has been traded to the Canucks.

However, I think we brought in some FANTASTIC people during Trade day. Can't wait to see them play!


I'm starting to see some interesting feedback on my last post. Please go to The Death of Lectures and read the comments. Please feel free to chime in - especially you professorial types since you all are better able to respond to the comments than I am. I'm already seeing some interesting national differences.

I hope to chime in and add more to the conversation later this week when I get a chance to take in the comments.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Death of Lectures

Interesting comment by Dr. Bob on my last post:

Students arent what they used to be.....

We seem to be seeing what Americ Azevedo at Berkeley saw a few years back - look up his podcast, "Time, technology and disappearing students"

Even highly motivated students in Ivy league institutions make value judgments about the merit of attendance at lectures. Those judgments might cause "lecturers" to redefine themselves

I should have 179 students in my lectures. I am, by some accounts, an OK lecturer; evals are good, unit average is 60% etc.. I even smash mobile phones with a hammer to liven things up!

I teach the internet and I'm "where it's at" - so the material tunes in.
Out of 180 students - I'm lucky to get 30 by mid semester...

Many of my lectures are supplemented (not replaced) by screencasts.. quizzes outside (on a Moodle) check engagement. The notes on the Moodle are digested during the lectures. I require the students to mindmap the ideas I talk through during the lectures. The poor things aren't good with pens...

I talk well, present with energy and enthusiasm and scatter my lectures with personal insight, humor and memorable anecdotes. I even dress well -I like sharp Italian suits)...

Check my Facebook.. they love me..


In truth I don't think the bulk of staff are adapting. The difference between a good unit average and a bad one - is no longer attendance - but the quality of e-learning provision..

These students are different in the way they collect, assimilate and digest information. I challenge you to find an 18 year old who does complain of writers cramp/RSI after having been detached from his keyboard and forced to write out a single page of A4 long hand...;)

I'm wondering if we need to rethink not just lectures but the entire structure of higher education.

Do we need large lecture halls? Would we be better served with smaller classrooms and more laboratories?

Do we need to have "facilitators" leading classes rather than the professors? Focus the in-person time on the things in-person does best - discussions, labs, and other activities where physical proximity is useful. Many of the professors I know would be perfectly happy focusing on research and being subject matter experts rather than teaching.

Can we use the tenured professors for online discussion and oversight of content? This may take care of the issue of students expecting interaction with top experts.

Should we develop 2 tracks for tenure? One facilitator-focused and the traditional research track? What do we need to do to establish equitable "respect levels" for the excellent facilitators as for the researchers?

What type of support personnel would we need?

I know our university's increasing focus on 24/7 access of information and seamless wireless access is just one indicator of an attempt to adapt to student expectations. But what else do we need to think about? What should higher education look like? Should the face-to-face lecture die?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Day in a Life of a College Student

Yesterday I sat through a divisional orientation for all of the employees who joined the university in the past 6 months.

The organizers had Gina, one of the Seniors, give us an example of a day in her life - illustrating how our job directly impacts their experience.

I go to my Vietnam War class at 10:40am. Today's topic - the Japanese experience during World War II. The professor has put the PowerPoint slides in Blackboard. I like that he's done that so I can follow along and take notes directly on the slides.

At 2:30pm I go to my Korean War class. We talk about the Japanese experience during World War II. This classroom doesn't have wireless and the professor doesn't use Blackboard, so I enter my notes in Word so I can access them later.

At 4:05pm, I go to my World War II class. This professor doesn't put his slides either - but he does mention some web sites. I am able to bring up the sites he mentions while taking notes in my computer and adding the links. That day's topic....the Japanese during World War II.

I like the way my teachers talk about the same topic.

I last set foot in a university classroom in 2002. I remember seeing maybe 1 student with a laptop during class - though that was usually because the student was about to give a PowerPoint presentation. Most students still took notes with pen and paper.

I asked Gina whether what she described was common practice among her peers.

You see a lot more laptops among the students in the classroom now than 4 years ago. A few still use pen and paper, but most of us find that being able to look at sites as the professor talks about them, take notes on the slides provided in Blackboard, and do some side research during lecture to be incredibly useful. I know I get a lot more out of the class when I have a wireless connection.

As predicted, one of the Senior VPs then asked her how the professor can prevent students from looking at e-mail and non-related sites.

The professors really haven't addressed that. If you don't pay attention, it shows up in your grade. We're adults, so we have to be responsible for our own education.

I know that this is not news to those of you who have worked in universities for awhile - but for those of us new to the university setting (and those who haven't set foot in a classroom for more years than we care to think about), this was a revelation.

These are the people who will be our employees and co-workers.

Are you ready?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Off on a Long Redneck Weekend

I'm leaving tomorrow for Daytona.

NASCAR, Fishin' and (prolly) Beer Drinkin'

I reckoned it was time to put my suthern edukayshun to good use. Benn hangin' out in th' big city too long.

Hope to have some edukayshunal pikturs of cars and fish for you when I return.

Have a fantastic weekend!!!!!

(Jeff Foxworthy) You Might Be A NASCAR Redneck If. . . . . .

You think the last four words of the National Anthem are "Gentleman
start your engines!"....

You think heaven looks a lot like Daytona Beach, Florida....

You’ve ever written Richard Petty’s name on a presidential ballot....

You’re not actually able to read The Richard Petty Story, but you sure
do like to look at the pictures....

You go to a stock car race and don’t need a program....

Your favorite NASCAR souvenir was a direct result of a crash in turn

You spell out NASCAR in Christmas lights....

You can remember the entire NASCAR series schedule but can’t remember
your wifes birthday, kids birthday, or anniversary....

You can remember every NASCAR driver and their car number but can’t
remember how old your children are....

You think the most effective form of advertising is on the side of a car
going 200 mph.....round and round and round....

The word "Bank" makes you think of turn three at Daytona....

You’ve spent more time on the top of a Winnebago than in one....

You know the "Back way" to Talledega....

You can change a tire faster than you can change a diaper....

An Ex-Stagehands View of Organizational Leadership

An interesting conversation is happening in the comments of Karyn's Calvinball post. I'm remembering that I have some pretty set biases regarding what I am looking for in an organization and in leadership. Many of these biases stem from my control-freak personality and my "stagehand past".


Greg is an old high school buddy of mine and the person responsible for introducing me to the small local fraternity of which I am a member. I met him through stage work my sophmore year of high school. For over 20 years, we have shared war stories. Since I left the industry 6 odd years ago, he's been keeping me up to date with all of the cool shows he's worked and some of the changes he's seen in the industry (hint - not many).

We occasionally scheme about how we could build an entire consultancy based on a theory of "stagehand teamwork."

1) Have a concrete objective. A stagehand knows that the prime objective is to get a show up and running on time. Period. There is no waffling on what the purpose of the organization is.

2) Have a concrete deadline. One of the first questions a stagehand asks when arriving on the job site - what are the benchmark deadlines? When is sound check/dress rehersal? When is the show scheduled to start? That start time is non-negotiable. If you are not done by then - it better be for a DAMN good reason (i.e. a tornado came through the city and destroyed everything within a 5 mile radius)).

3) Allow for significant flexibility in how the objective and deadline are met. A group of stagehands will get a show up and running on time 99% of the time. This may mean that everything is held together by duct tape, bubblegum and J.B.'s sweaty t-shirt but as long as the audience doesn't notice it's OK. If it's a show that is put together over a course of days or weeks, you can put together quality standards.

4) Don't be afraid to ask questions. Each show is set up differently. Resources vary dramatically. Most of the stagehands I know will ask the following questions when they first get on site (Greg and I both worked as local crew so our questions reflect that bias):

- What time is the truck(s) coming? What time is sound check? What time does the house open? (Time resources)

- Who answers questions? Who is the final decision-maker? (Leadership)

- Who's here from the local crew? (Personnel resources and available skill set. If you've been around for a couple of months, you learn the players pretty quick.)

- Where is the staging plan and where will that be kept? (Objective and project scope. The staging plan is a guideline that is often modified during the course of set-up to meet the requirements of the particular facility or to address resource problems.)

- Anything we need to be aware of? (Potential gotchas. Stagehands are pretty honest about answering that question, whether they are on the road crew or the locals. They usually ask this question a couple times during the course of set-up, just on the off chance something has changed or the first person wasn't completely forthright.)

The most successful projects I've been on in corporate environments also follow large chunks of that model. A concrete goal, concrete deadlines, significant flexibility in how to meet the goal and deadlines and regular communication about resources, scope and risk.

Admittedly, the short-term and somewhat repetitive nature of most stagework does not take into account the political scope creep, funding changes and external influences that dog large-scale corporate projects.

But part of me still wonders (even after many years working in professional environments) how much of that complexity is "necessary" or if it is just a cover-up for bad planning and indecision on the part of leadership.....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"I Need to Learn Adobe!"

Rough transcript of a phone call received today.

I talked to you a while back. Our office needs to learn Adobe.

What application?

You know - Adobe!

What are you trying to do with "Adobe"?

We use it for pictures and stuff. You know - adding text to pictures, that sort of thing. I know The Desktop Ap trainer doesn't teach it and the online tutorials are not available.

OK - so you are using it for editing pictures. Photoshop, right.

Yeah - Adobe. We want to start using that.

You have a project in mind?

Well - we need to learn how to use lots of these desktop applications. Our manager is trying to get us more computer savvy.


I have learned from hard experience that if I try to learn a new application without having some sort of use in mind for it - I've wasted my time. The application goes into a mental library of "things I might use one day." I think I've pulled 2 items out of that library in the 5 years I've been doing the "Instructional Technology" thing.

Case in point - Microsoft Access. I figured it would be useful to know how to use Access and put together a database. Mind you, I didn't actually have anything I needed to database at the time. 4 years later - I STILL don't have anything I need Microsoft Access for. I know its available. I also know I will have to re-learn Access. I think it's gone through 3 or 4 major versions since I last looked at it.

I know that the Desktop Ap trainer has been out to this site multiple times since I've been here - teaching various applications to this group. And that conversation set alarms off in my head - was that time actually well spent?

Here's what I did in my attempts to help.

- Since I know the online tutorials won't be available for another month or 2 (and I'm not sure this would be the best approach), I sent them a link to the Visual Quickstart guides. I found these to be very well written, easy to follow, and serve as a useful reference for when they need information on particular items. My argument to them was that they could work on their own projects while they followed the book - essentially killing 2birds with 1 stone.

- I informed them (both during that phone conversation and in e-mail) that they really need to think about the types of things they wish to accomplish with these tools and to focus their training on mastering the applications they need right now for the projects currently on their plate. I offered our assistance if they needed advice on accomplishing particular tasks and possible tools available within the organization.

I'm not feeling entirely confident about that 2nd piece of advice. First, I don't want to discourage anyone from learning something new. Second, I'm afraid it sounded like I didn't want to help them (the Desktop Ap trainer has them very spoiled, but that is a whole 'nother issue).

Should I have handled this differently? Is there a better way?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Watching Practice

I live within walking distance of the Washington Capitals' practice rink. I was there in search of a romantic present for the Boyfriend and to give blood. (Hey, a Rod Langway bobblehead, Langway's autograph on the Boyfriend's Caps jersey and tickets to a game IS romantic....).

I happened to be there during the morning skate on Saturday. It's quite informative to see how these boys interact with each other during practice.

The main takeaway - these people really enjoy playing together. Watching Laich, Bradley and Pettinger harass "Old Man Olie" during practice. Seeing Olie get back at them with his stick (almost got one). Watching Backstrom and Ovechkin joke with each other between practice exercises.

Despite the horseplay, the players take practice VERY seriously. They practiced at full speed without the checks and it was all business during the exercises. But I think that they are all taking the time to cultivate personal relationships with each other both on and off the ice. That effort is beginning to pay dividends during games.

Bruce Boudreau's practices seem to be quite focused. For example, much of Saturday's practice was spent practicing the power play. I never realized how much choreography was involved. And the power play line worked on those plays repeatedly over 45 minutes. The focus paid off. Find something that needs work, work on it, apply it. It was a pleasure to watch.


Oh yeah - catch me in this spiffy fan video. I'm the one with the signatures all over my shirt.


Side Note: Last night, a former Cap was seriously injured during the Panthers / Sabers game. Thankfully, it looks like he'll be OK. Richard Zednik, my thoughts are with you, your family and the Panthers. Get well soon!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Waiting for Mikey

I just spent the day watching 2 departments argue over who is supposed to help us on the LMS implementation.

One of the requirements for go-live in our organization is the ability to use our enterprise system to generate user IDs and provide invisible sign-on from within our Intranet. To do this, someone needs to write a query to pull that information from our enterprise system and port that information into our new LMS. Right now, this is the only thing stopping us from moving forward.

The Enterprise group - Writing queries to port to web sites ain't our job.

The Web group - Writing queries for sites outside of the ones we are responsible for ain't our job.

Repeat ad nauseum until A) The project fails. B) A senior executive busts some heads (the project has caught the attention of our compliance group - so the university is VERY interested in this succeeding). c) Mikey comes and takes care of the issue.

a isn't an option. And I don't know Mikey (it sure ain't gonna be anyone in the Training groups).

Our director is about to bring in the big guns. Can't wait to see what happens next.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What I Wish I Could Build - But I LIKE My Job....

I have spent the majority of my checkered eLearning career building online tutorials for applications.

I don't think they would allow me to build something along these lines....

Oh yeah - the videos teach you Photoshop too

(BTW - make sure you have headphones on if you are at work)

Link from the nice folks at Signal v Noise

So Are We Adding Value?

We had the 2nd Legal Training for Staff meeting last week. Please see the linked post for the description of the characters....

During the interim, the Mucky Muck's Right Hand did a little reworking of the large, unwieldy PowerPoint. Sid and I sent him some recommendations for moving forward and organizing their material.

1) We broke the project down into 2 separate projects - the introduction (Why this is important) and the examples.

2) We encouraged the subject matter experts (The Mucky Muck and the Mucky Muck's Right Hand) to think in terms of very general examples that any employee might potentially run into. That simple instruction weeded quite a bit of dross out of the PowerPoint.

He seemed to take our recommendations to heart. Sid was shocked at how much the Mucky Muck's Right Hand accomplished with the PowerPoint. But there is still quite a bit of outlying information - and the Mucky Muck enjoys storytelling (occasionally to the detriment of understanding).

So Sid and I sent them off on another assignment - come up with Objectives for what they want to accomplish - both overall and within each section of the tutorial. The logic is that these objectives can then drive whether something stays or goes and how the final product is organized.

We told them to focus on ACTIONABLE ITEMS. What is it that the student should be able to DO at the end of it all. Oh - and they are allowed 3-5 objectives. Any more than that will overwhelm the student.

The Mucky Muck and the Mucky Muck's Right Hand liked this approach. And it was not something they had thought of themselves.

So do you think Sid and I added value?