Monday, March 31, 2008


Doing the Laing Dive

Pardon me....for I have hockey on the brain.....

Watching the Washington Capitals this season, it dawned on me how important tinkering can be.

Washington Capitals - Taking a long-term, well-loved fan favorite (Matt Pettinger) and replacing him with an unknown (to us) veteran from Vancouver(Matt Cooke). Both players had been on their respective teams for their entire career.

Professional Me - Replacing my voice with the voice of someone else in my tutorials. In my recent projects, I've been using the voices of end-user audience peers.

Whenever you are replacing something that is a predictable part of a project, there is always a level of uncertainty as to whether that replacement will actually improve the product. In both instances, the final product has been improved dramatically with the variety.

And the players have also benefited as a result. Petty and Cooke have had significantly better seasons since they changed teams (especially Cooke). In the tutorials, I get to rest my voice and others get an opportunity to live their Radio DJ fantasies.


Washington Capitals - Adding a legendary veteran to the mix for a short period(Sergei Federov).

Professional Me - Working with trainers more experienced than I am (my new team).

Even if we can't keep Sergei Federov for more than a few months, he's had an enormous impact on the Caps that will last for a long time. Especially his mentorship of Alexander Semin (my god - he almost played a 2 way game at Florida last week!!!!!) and the other guys on a very young team. The change of pace also seems to have helped Federov a lot as well. The man looks like he's having more fun playing hockey than he has in a very long time. What a fantastic way to end a career.

For me - it is so refreshing to not have to be the "senior" person on a team (or, often, the ONLY person on a team). Having more direct feedback from folks as experienced (or more experienced) has been invaluable. The quality of my work has improved dramatically. And I'm finding that I'm having more fun with my job than I've had in a long time (or, maybe, ever).


Washington Capitals - Bringing up a minor league lifer (Quintin Laing)

Professional Me - Working with students.

You don't know what impact new people will have on a team or a product. Sometimes, that impact is significantly greater than expected.

Take Quintin Laing, for instance. 28. A minor league lifer. Never thought he'd get a chance to skate in the NHL. Called up in December. And shows the vets a thing or two about hockey.

Now - anytime I see Viktor Kozlov or any of the other Caps do what I am calling the "Laing Dive," I know Laing's had an influence on the team far beyond stats or past. I hope he's with the team for a long time to come.

Working with students has helped a lot. Fresh perspective, more drive. It remains to be seen what impact working with students will have in the long term on my work. So far, it's been promising.


Washington Capitals - Replacing Glen Hanlon with Bruce Boudreau.

Professional Me - Changing The Boss with The Director.

Sometimes, a change in leadership is sorely needed. Even when you are in the middle of something. Even if you are (reasonably) content with where you sit.

The smartest thing Ted Leonsis did was to replace Glen Hanlon with Bruce Boudreau. Hanlon was a great guy, a decent coach, well liked by the players and the management. But something just wasn't working quite right. Whatever Boudreau is doing is working. Oh yeah - and he's another one who was a minor league lifer and is now taking his opportunity to shine in the big leagues.

The smartest thing I've done was to change bosses. I still think my last boss was one of the best bosses I've ever had. But it was time for a change. Thankfully, I went from good boss to good boss. And I think my career is better for it.


Little bits of tinkering eventually results in a complete change of direction. You are never quite sure whether those little steps will point you the right way. But tinkering, for both the Washington Caps and the Professional Me, seems to have worked so far.

Something So Simple.....

From today's Washington Post.

Mickelson, an audiologist in Prince George's for 38 years, lives by what she calls the signal-to-noise ratio. For teachers to be effective, their words have to be about 10 decibels louder than the ambient noise in the room. That is difficult to attain consistently with the unaided human voice, given the resistance to making classrooms as quiet as possible, she said.

But about a decade ago, Mickelson said, research began to show that the microphone and speaker systems would aid the learning of most students, not just those with hearing impairments. Mickelson noticed that in college lecture halls, teachers often had microphones. "So we were doing it for adults but not for children," she said. "It didn't make sense."

Friday, March 28, 2008

One at a Time

After my trip to Florida, my bowling went downhill. Not that I was particularly good to begin with, but I at least wanted to help, not hinder my team.

Practices did little. I couldn't tell what I was doing right when I would put the ball where I wanted to (5% of the time). More advice and junk wound up in my head. I got more frustrated.

Last week, something clicked.

One ball at a time. Damn the score.

I got the highest scores I've seen in weeks.

I'm seeing the same approach working with the Washington Capitals.

One game at a time. The past doesn't matter. The future ain't worth worrying about until we get this thing in front of us taken care of. Yeah - there's a goal, but one step at a time to get there. (Go to the site and listen to any of Coach Boudreau's daily dialogs to get a feel for where the team's head is at).

We saw the same approach work for the New England Patriots. One game at a time. They wind up winning 18 in a row (no comments on the Super Bowl please - I was rooting against them too).

Big accomplishments happen with tiny steps. An eye towards the goal, but a focus on the current step.

My current goal - 3 100+ games in a row.
One ball at a time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More Food for Thought

Jason Fried (Signal vs. Noise) provides a list of important questions they ask at all points during a project.

Why are we doing this?
What problem are we solving?
Is this actually useful?
Are we adding value?
Will this change behavior?
Is there an easier way?
What's the opportunity cost?
Is it really worth it?

Go read his post.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Little Guerrilla Research

I have worked on this campus for over 4 years, but when you work on the medical side, you don't explore much. Your building, the hospital, the med school, and food. That little quad was my world.

Now that I'm working on the academic side, I'm finding all sorts of stuff that I didn't know existed and going to buildings I never knew the name of. Is it any wonder I get lost.....

I was running late for a meeting and was looking particularly clueless when three strapping young university police officers asked me if I needed help. Pretty embarassing when your university ID is hanging around your neck in plain sight. After getting the information I needed (ie Go up one block and turn left, the building you need is on the right), I remembered that we had an upcoming application training project with the University Police.


None of the officers seemed to be in any particular rush, and I was already late for my meeting anyway. They weren't waiting for me (since only 1 person expected me to be there). What's another 5 minutes.....

So I asked a couple questions:
Do you have mobile units?
No. We wish we did. Maybe the chief gets one....

Do you all get access to PCs regularly?
We have access to a pool of computers in the office. We get a chance to use them a few times a day as part of our rotation. Check our email, that sort of thing.

Cool - that was a lot more information than I was getting using the "legitimate" paths. I always find it's good to talk to the folks actually doing the work, even if you have to do it on the sly.

The manager will tell you what is SUPPOSED to be happening. The staff will tell you what is REALLY happening.

And when developing context, that makes all the difference.

(Oh yeah - I missed very little in the meeting. Everything here works on "University time.")

Thursday, March 13, 2008

So What IS My Scope of Responsibility?

I feel particularly unqualified to answer this month's Big Question.

Why? 1) Past experience. 2) Life in Flux.

I'm going to write this in hopes of getting more personal clarity. That's why I blog anyway.....

One of the things I continue to find fasciating about education as a profession is that we continue to ask ourselves what the scope of our jobs are. How responsible SHOULD we be for other's learning? What ARE we supposed to be DOING?

I don't know about the rest of you - but I still struggle with wanting to help/control what the learner should know and keeping my hands off.

Maybe serving as the outside eye and suggesting better ways to communicate ideas is the best way to go. The learner needs an advocate, right? And it's not necessarily about the technologies of delivery. You use whatever best fits the situation. It's more being willing to ask - "Does this make sense? Will I remember it tomorrow?"

The subject matter experts WANT the control over how "training" happens and what it looks like. I figure if I'm educated enough on what's out there and can serve as the "fool," the folks who need/want the education get what they need in the most efficient way possible.

And isn't that what we are all after?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Facebook Experiment Continues (still)

Ted Leonsis is the owner of the Washington Capitals. The ex-AOL executive is very tech savvy. He prides himself on being open and available and was one of the first owners to use blogs to communicate information.

He has the same issues I find myself having with Facebook. Just on a (much) larger scale. And I don't have people asking me for venture capital.

6+ months into the Great Facebook Experiment, here's what I am finding:

- Personal friends are now slowly creeping into Facebook. Part of the upswing is a result of the pending 20 year high school reunion. This is a good thing. I think.....

- Interestingly, the majority of my personal friends are still found over at LinkedIn. My professional friends are dominantly at Facebook. Hmmmm....

- I agree with Ted - Facebook is getting way too cluttered. I still enjoy throwing the occasional chicken. But this is getting ridiculous. I have a vampire bite, an easter egg, and some other miscellany waiting for me to authorize and they all require me to add yet another ap on my profile and send my information to some group of strangers. Love you all but no thanks. Just throw me a chicken.

- Have you started to find yourself dreading yet another email from Facebook announcing something that you have to log into Facebook to deal with?

- Is it just me or is Facebook tough to navigate? 6 months in and I'm still trying to remember how to see my inbox, edit my profile and find new friends. Mostly trying to cut through the clutter. LinkedIn, to me, is much easier to navigate and find friends of friends. Maybe I just don't play in the Facebook sandbox enough.

- Ultimately, Facebook, for me, is a solution looking for a problem. I am not interested in creating new problems for myself in order to use a tool (please see Twitter....). I have enough on my plate already, thanks.

My attempts to use Facebook as a personal toolkit haven't worked all that well. I think it's because I haven't found a compelling reason to really work with it the way it probably needs to be worked with.

So how has your Facebook experiment been going?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Pretty Spinning Circles

I am currently watching 2 friends play Tiger Woods 2006 (Xbox).

Both of them have managed to get their golfers up to super-mega-Tiger level. They play this game practically blindfolded.

Within the Tiger Woods Skins game is a setting allowing them to add spinning rings. The point is to not only get to the hole in the fewest strokes - but also to try and get the ball through the rings. There are 3 - green rings are the easiest, yellow rings a bit harder (and more likely to get you out of Par range), red rings are the hardest.

They boys weren't entirely sure what to do.

On the one hand, they wanted to put the ball through the pretty rings.

On the other hand, they wanted to get their usual -20.

Because they had mastered the game the other way, they were incredibly uncomfortable and distracted by the pretty rings.

Much to my dismay (mostly because I was entertained by their struggles), they chucked the ring setting after 4 holes and went back to their old process.

Such a simple change. Yet I was amazed at how troublesome it was.

How dramatic is the change you are asking for really?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Working with No Information

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.