Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Balancing Act

Could this be a morality play for future difficulties in the corporate world as the push continues to institute blogs and wikis?

Qu's Marsh

For those who haven't heard,, and its corporate parent, Six Apart, have permanently suspended hundreds of accounts without warning or explanation. Investigation from sleuthy LiveJournal users has determined that this was apparently done to delete accounts allegedly promoting incest, but many of the suspended accounts include users discussing Vladminir Nabokov's novel Lolita and support communities for survivors of abuse, LiveJournal obviousy did a pretty crappy job. It's obvious that they didn't make even the slightest attempt to investigate the accounts before deleting them, nor did they contact the users to let them know what the problem was or how they could remedy it. The accounts were simply wiped without warning, contrary to LiveJournal's own Terms of Service (see Section XIV, 2).

Corporations will be under pressure to maintain a level of decorum in the information marketplace and it is inevitable that incidents like this can happen. It is already happening as corporations

  • try to block employees from accessing improper web sites and end up blocking appropriate sites as well.
  • Use spam filters to block spammers and catch legitimate client emails as well.

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Is this an indication that electronic communications has jumped the shark? Or is it just the fact that we still crave face-to-face communication over the rather sterile computerized communication? E-Mail Reply to All: 'Leave Me Alone' -
The supposed convenience of electronic mail, like so many other innovations of technology, has become too much for some people. Swamped by an unmanageable number of messages -- the volume of e-mail traffic has nearly doubled in the past two years, according to research firm DYS Analytics -- and plagued by annoying spam and viruses, some users are saying "Enough!"

Those declaring bankruptcy are swearing off e-mail entirely or, more commonly, deleting all old messages and starting fresh.
What happens when we can instantly communicate with everyone via camera and microphone? And spam follows suit...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's a Twitter world

This is totally off subject, but I can't help but post about this: Twittervision. Twittervision displays every twitter post on a map of the world so you can see where the poster is located. It's kind of like being a voyeur except people are volunteering this information.
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Wikis as a Pedagogical tool

I was catching up on my blog reading when I came across a short entry at elearningpost about the use of wikis in education. It is a rather indepth paper published by Renée Fountain of the Université Laval School of Education that explores the potential and hurdles of implementing wikis as a pedagogical tool in the classroom.

While Renée's work focuses on the wiki's use in the university setting as a read through it many of the points seemed applicable in the workplace training site as well. What really hit me was this point made early in the piece:
In this model students will not simply pass through a course like water through a sieve but instead leave their own imprint in the development of the course, their school or university, and ideally the discipline."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Learning Circuits Blog: Dear Hollywood (a heads up from the training world),

So with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Clark Aldrich fires a volley across the bow of the rapid-development, just-in-time learning crowd. The Learning Circuits Blog: Dear Hollywood (a heads up from the training world). My favorite part:

I can tell as a fact that no one has 3 hours anymore. No one. It is IMPOSSIBLE to find 3 hours in people's schedules. People are just too busy.

Learn from me. If I propose any program, I make sure it takes less than 30 minutes, and maybe even less than 15 minutes of a person's time. My motto is deliver a bit of information exactly when they need it and move on. My ultimate goal is to be a faint, useful smell wafting through the corridors. That is, after all, the easiest conversation to have with my business colleagues.

Read it all.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why minimal guidance doesn't work for novices

Last week my coworkers had an extensive back-and-forth email exchange regarding the article on current research on PowerPoint published by the Sydney Morning HeraldIt began when a coworker emailed the hyperlink to the news article ( highlighted two key findings:
  1. It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time. (So don't read the bullets on a slide).
  2. Teachers should focus more on giving students the answers, instead of asking them to solve problems on their own
We all agreed that PowerPoint can be deadly as I noted in a previous posting. There was some confusion over that second finding, and since the news article was vague I volunteered to contact Dr. Sweller regarding that item. I specifically asked him:
Specifically I am interested in a paraphrased statement in the article that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald that states the following:
"The findings that challenge common teaching methods suggest that instead of asking students to solve problems on their own, teachers helped students more if they presented already solved problems."
Am I correct in interpreting this to mean you think learners should be shown a solved problem with the instructor showing them how it is to be solved? Would you then follow up with additional problem which would allow the learner to practice what they were shown?
Dr. Sweller's replied:
In answer to your specific question, when we use worked examples, we normally follow them immediately with an appropriate practice problem.
To summarize, I was correct in my assumption that Dr. Sweller was not advocating just giving learners the answers, but rather he argues that teachers should demonstrate how a solution to a problem is resolved so that learners can determine the logic behind it AND THEN follow up with an appropriate practice problem.
What Dr. Sweller has issue with, as argued in a paper he coauthored with Paul Kirschner and Richard Clark, is the practice of "minimally guided instruction," also known as discovery learning, problem-based learning, etc. They argue that minimally guided instruction "generates a heavy working memory load that is detrimental to learning." (Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006). The paper, Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, analyzes a host of prior research and draws the conclusion that minimally guided instruction does not work to alter long-term memory because the focus is on problem solving not building appropriate schema which can be applied to solving a host of problems.
In that paper (which is attached) it is argued that novice learners benefit greatly from a more structured learning approach in which "worked examples" are demonstrated by the instructors so that the learners understand the processes involved before they are given an opportunity to solve a similar problem on their own. A co-worker summarized this extremely well during our exchange last week when she pointed to her own empirical observations:
Having worked extensively with training teaching assistants in mathematics, I can agree with the research:  Showing the students how to work a problem—and continually taking them back to the point in the solution at which they begin not to understand—is much more effective than demonstrating and then saying “Now you do it.” 
The attached article and others authored or coauthored by Dr. Sweller can be found at:


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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Chicken, chicken, chicken...

Okay, just a little light humor regarding PowerPoint presentations. This presentation was made by Doug Zongker at the recent AAAS presentation. There is nothing I can really add to this, but it truly captures the essence of most PowerPoint presentations today.

Cognitive Load and PowerPoint

So the big question posted over at the Learning Circuits Blog is about PowerPoint when is it appropriate, what is appropriate for inclusion, what about bullet points, etc.

My feeling is that PowerPoint is appropriate in moderation. I had a training manager at a previous job who always limited his PowerPoint slides to four slides or less. He was from the school that believed that PowerPoint slides should only be used to reinforce critical points in the speaker's presentation.

I'm writing this on the fly, but I think Seth Godin's free booklet Really Bad PowerPoint (and how to avoid it) sums it up best. The three wrong reasons people use PowerPoint are:

  1. To serve as a teleprompter.
  2. Create a report of their presentation
  3. As a handout to the audience.
The appropriate use of PowerPoint, Godin says, is to help tap into the emotional right side of your audience's brain. He states that four components of a great presentation are:

  1. Have cue cards that cover the material you wish to discuss so that you do not put all of your talking points on to the PowerPoint slide and read from it.
  2. As a corollary,  PowerPoint slides should reinforce your words, not repeat them. "Create slides that demonstrate, with emotional proof, that what you're saying is true not just accurate. This is created with pictures not bullet points.

  3. Create a written document to hand out after the presentation, and make the audience aware that you have the handout so that they don't think they have to write everything down.
  4. Create  a feedback cycle. To be honest, I have to think about this one, Mr. Godin's example is if the presentation is for a project approval provide a project approval form explicitly spelling out what is being approved. The people making the decision should sign the approval form at the end of the presentation.
My biggest pet peeve (besides overall boredom of PowerPoint presentations) is the misuse of bullet points. They should only be used if you have a series of two or more related items. I truly grind my teeth when I see a bullet on a single topic. Unfortunately I'm as guilty as the next. Here's an example of a PowerPoint slide I created for a team presentation that meets all of Seth Godin's points (I think), but violate the bullet point issue:

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Social Networking and Responsibility.

It's Sunday morning and I guess I feel like preaching.

Two items on The Chronicle of Higher Education's The Wired Campus new site once again had me pondering how society constantly must reshape its mores to meet the needs of the world around them. The first article is about how the University of Minnesota at Duluth has forbidden its student athletes from posting to any social networking site.

(Image courtesy of apophenia :: making connections where none previously existed)

University officials say they will lift the social networking ban next year, after they've had a chance to discuss online discretion with student -athletes But if the institution does reinstate social networking, students may
still feel that they’re just one embarrassing photo post away from
losing their privileges once more. Of course, that could be exactly
what the university wants.

The second item, entitled, Threat on MySpace Leads to Expulsion, talks about a student expelled from a community college for suggesting that other students in his dormitory "needed to be shot." In hindsight the student agrees his comments were "ill-considered", but he insists he meant no harm.

What strikes me about these two articles is twofold: on one hand I am appreciating the human drive to socialize even as we spread ourselves afar. Social networking sites are the equivalent of the city apartment building with the too-thin walls where everyone can hear what everyone else is saying. For too long everyone believed we were becoming too distant from each other, too aloof. But the current generations of social networkers are redefining what communal life is all about. We decried that too many people don't know their neighbors next door and are aghast when something awful happens. Its always, "I didn't know them that well. They kept to themselves. They were very private." The people who use social networking sites eschew that kind of privateness and let all of the world see who they are, warts and all.

Which leads me to my second insight, the older generations who are now in positions of power are not comfortable with this kind of openness and are trying to hard to protect these people from themselves. As one commenter on the community college expulsion article stated:

People who state that they want to harm others should be taken seriously and should receive counseling. These people are trying to tell us something is wrong. Arrest and/or expulsion doesn't address the problem. There are time bombs ticking out there and we need to diffuse them BEFORE they explode.

This comment is overkill on so many different levels its ridiculous. We don't have enough qualified counselors to handle the workload if we placed everyone who stated they wanted to "shoot you" or "knock your block off" into counseling. Statements like that are brought about out of passing frustration. The number of people who act on these statements are minuscule, and if they are going to act on these statements then no amount of counseling is going to help.

As the means of communication shift more into the hands of the people we are going to have to rethink our expectations and responses to instances such as these. We have, for a long time, been teaching our children about their "rights," the right to express yourself as you see fit; the right to listen to whatever music you choose; the right to follow your dream and become what you want. What is often missed both in the home and in schools is the other side of the coin, the commensurate responsibility to use those rights sensibly with the understanding that we are all held accountable for our actions.

That's my sermon for this morning. Have a wonderful rest of the day.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

The Learning Circuits Blog: The New Hierarchy: First, learning to BE; second, learning to DO; and only then, learning to KNOW

Fresh off of my presentation yesterday on Web 2.0, I read this post by Clark Aldrich titled: The New Hierarchy: First, learning to BE; second, learning to DO; and only then, learning to KNOW. It's a fascinating post in which he posits that people:
  1. first have to become aware of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and their surroundings, which is the realm of dabbling in Web 2.0 social networking.

  2. This is followed by learning how to influence and change their surroundings.

  3. Finally, we learn about our place in the larger space-time continuum.
But he saves the best for last with the following:
"I say again that what we teach is limited by what we can teach. The exciting thing about this new media order is that we have more power at our fingertips for development than ever before."
Great point.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Presentation debrief

So, I've finished my presentation on Web 2.0 and I'm not really satisfied with my delivery. Being a geek I think I got caught up in the technology. Here's my presentation should you wish to view it.

I think that the critical issue I missed was the effect of web 2.0 on learning provider. We need to think of learning not solely as web-based or instructor-based that last an hour or more. Learning will be in micro-elements offered in synchronous lectures, videos, podcasts, and job aids. It's a concept I'm still fleshing out, but my first thoughts were posted here.

Update: I realized this morning what I forgot in my presentation. I never presented the WIFM. I never explained that we need to understand these various tools as alternative means of delivering training. I have seen how customers are increasingly looking to leverage additional value from the training they contract to have developed. But most elearning or training materials are either long (one or more hours) or designed to encourage participation by limiting the amount of information provided in writing.

By building learning with smaller incremental elements such as podcasts, videos, micro elearning, etc. with can attain the point where learning can be both formal and informal. Learners can attend a formal training session and then can go back and review the material through podcasts and video, or contact dedicated SMEs , through email, IM, or phone who can resolve their questions. There can also be dedicated forums and wikis for people to look for answers to questions.

I had a vision...

So this morning as I was rehearsing in my head my presentation on Web 2.0 I had this vision of the future of corporate learning and how it becomes unbounded by prior training constructs. (pardon me if this is poorly written and I misuse the English language, I am trying to record this before I forget it.)

In the corporate learning environment of my vision. All employees, as soon as they join the company are given a "personal learning environment" similar to the personalized google home page or a netvibes page. This page becomes the locus of all their learning. This learning environment can present streaming video, podcasts, elearning, and job aids.

It will come prepopulated with welcoming video explaining how to use the page and providing them an overview of the company. The page itself will have a sidebar that can be alternately hidden and displayed which provides a link to the company's learning library. All video, audio, elearning, etc. can be found there. It also provides a portal to registering for "formal" training that is tracked by the company's LMS.

The LMS will function only as a registrant and as an assesor; all learning content will be housed on a separate server that can be accessed at any time without prior registration. The employee will be able to customize his or her PLE anyway they wish by dragging and dropping video, audio, whatever on to their page. Like Netvibes or Google, they can have multiple tabs on their PLE to divy up content.

Their manager will be responsible for populating a portion of the PLE by assigning mentors and or subject matter experts that the employee can pose questions to about their job responsibilities. The assignments will include email, telephone numbers, and IM addresses for these individuals.

The PLE will also be prepopulated with initial formal training sessions that the new employee must complete. These training sessions may be instructor-led or web-based. Instructor-led courses will involve streaming two-way video and/or audio with white-board sessions where employees can be broken up into teams to interact with one another. Instructor-led training will be short bursts with workgroups interacting with the material.

Individual web-based learning elements will be no longer than 15 minutes with a preferred length of 5 to 10 minutes. Each element will focus on one, narrowly defined topic. It will be augmented with independent podcasts, videocasts, scripts, and jobaids. The learner will be encouraged to either save these items in their PLE or merely "tag" them for future reference. Again, all of these items would be independent of the LMS, either residing in an LCMS or a network server. All of these elements could be accessed at any time without any additional registration.

Formal learning would be provided through a course map that would designate times for presentations, completions dates, and elements to be reviewed. If Sir Tim Berner-Lee's vision of a semantic web comes true. When the learner is registered for a formal training. The LMS would then add the training schedule to both the learner's calendar and his or her boss's. The learner would be reminded of due dates and upcoming learning events such as a videocast so that they could reserve time. The network would also automatically send out notices to emailers, phone callers and IMers. that the learner is unavailable at this time because of training commitments.

I will reserve my thoughts for Wikis and blogs for another posting.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Web 2.0 run amuck?

I've been doing research on Web 2.0 for a presentation I'm making to coworkers. I thought I had it all wrapped up, when, while eating lunch, I stumbled upon a blog referencing an uproar at Digg.

It seems someone or someones had linked to a website which posted the encryption key that would allow people to pirate HD-DVDs. Initially, Digg pulled the posts down after the owners of the encryption key notified them that Digg was infringing on their intellectual property rights. When the Digg team posted the announcement they were pulling the plug on those posts, the Digg users went ballistic.

As a result, Digg stopped blogging the posts with the following announcement:

Today was an insane day. And as the founder of Digg, I just wanted to post my thoughts…

In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

This is an interesting morality tale and I will be curious to see how this resolves itself. This seems this will be an ongoing friction point between property rights and freedom of expression. I can empathize with both sides in this issue, but I tend to favor the freedom of expression.

I have an ongoing fear that if we allow intellectual property to trump all other concerns we will put a drastic halt on intellectual growth. There is a need for the cross pollinization of ideas and putting financial hurdles in the way will only hamper progress.

I don't think what is being done here is proper. There is nothing legally to be gained by breaking and publishing the encryption code, but if Digg is shut down because of this I think it creates a chilling effect for communication of all ideas.