Odd-Lot Thoughts

Sabine Kirstein's home site

Critical Literacies Week 1 – my tools

Posted on | June 6, 2010 | No Comments

Ok, I’ve started the online course Critical Literacies, fondly known as CritLit2010. The facilitators are Rita Kop and Stephen Downes.

One of our tasks is to read some of the articles linked to from the course readings for the week, and to keep track of the content we’ve read. For example, we can use Delicious to bookmark the articles we’re reading, using the tag CritLit2010 (#critlit2010 if using Twitter).  I’ve done that for a few of the readings, and tried to make a note or two to help me retain something about the article I bookmarked. I use Delicious a lot, and have done so for years, but I rarely make a note. So,  if nothing else, perhaps this course will cure me of my lazy, click-and-run bookmarking habits!

However, one of the things I don’t like about reading web pages, or reading on a computer, is that it’s hard to make notes. I like to underline, or to scribble things in the margin, or on the blank section at the end of a chapter.

Since I’ve had a Kindle 2 now for over a year, I’m experimenting with putting the readings for the week on my Kindle. I use Instapaper, which is a free online service. It captures web pages as simple text and images, onto a personal folder. I can download that folder onto my Kindle, but Instapaper does some cool magic and turns the folder of captured articles or web pages into a Kindle magazine. The articles are neatly formatted, and I can highlight and annotate like crazy (except I can’t write in the margins).  Then, if I want, I can extract the notes and highlights and plop them in a blog post, or Word doc, or whatever, because they’re saved as a text file.

You can see a screenshot of my week 1 Instapaper, on Flickr, if you want.  I can’t seem to get an image on the blog since I upgraded to the latest WordPress version and I don’t have time to mess around.

Sheesh, just when I was feeling all geeky and cool!

How can we get our employees to learn?

Posted on | March 9, 2010 | 2 Comments

When I hear this question, I’m dumbfounded.  The fact is, people are learning all the time! In fact, you can’t get them to stop learning.

When they chat with their co-workers, they learn something about them, and are adjusting their opinions about them, including how best to work with them. A lot of this is unconscious — “implicit learning,” it’s called, but it’s learning all the same.

They learn how to do their job when they are trained, and they learn how their job really gets done when they start working and see what the obstacles are, and how to get around them.

When the boss asks for something, they learn about the boss’s expectations, and something about the boss, too, in the way she or he asks.

They learn how other people are doing the job and what management ignores or praises.

When something goes wrong, they learn how things are supposed to go, and maybe they learn about flaws in the process.

Maybe the question should be, how can we get our organizations to learn?

  • To learn about what tools employees need to do to do their jobs.
  • To learn about the process flaws that employees find and what possible solutions there may be.
  • To learn about the obstacles and roadblocks that slow down productivity.
  • To learn how to reward good people in ways that are meaningful to them (it’s not always about the money).
  • To learn, really learn, who the deadbeats are, and how to improve their performances or get rid of them (see “roadblocks,” above).

As Gloria Geary (one of my heros) wrote in her book Electronic Performance Systems Support,  “Organizations substantially increase the effectiveness of human endeavor.”  My only caveat is to add “… when they pay attention.”

No teacher left behind

Posted on | March 7, 2010 | No Comments

A school board in Rhode Island has voted to fire all teachers at a struggling high school, a dramatic move aimed at shoring up education in a poverty-ridden school district.

via All teachers fired at Rhode Island school – CNN.com.

Basically, the Central Falls, RI school board and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program are using the teachers as scapegoats.

Here are a few things that I don’t like about NCLB, and this situation:

  1. It encourages teaching to the test.
  2. It ignores any other factors that might be involved in students’ poor performance.
  3. It fosters a view of students as victims.

1. Teaching to the test.

This happens in every school in the U.S. for a few months prior to the standardized tests. Parents and students complain about it every year, and yet it continues. But frankly, if I were a teacher, I’d be doing it too — if keeping your job depends on someone else’s  performance on a task, it pays to focus on that task.

2. Ignoring other factors

In any situation, there can be many factors causing a problem.  For a school where students don’t do well, perhaps the school is a dump, perhaps teachers are spending too much of their own money for supplies, perhaps the principal is not managing well, perhaps parents are not involved.

The school board involved has decided that the problem is that the school day is too short. But if nothing else changes, doing the same things for longer won’t help!

3. Viewing students as victims.

Finally, what about a student’s responsibility?  There are plenty of hard-working students who manage to rise above a poor school system and get an education. (I’m not saying that it’s easy to do, or desirable to put that burden on a child.) There are plenty more students who really try, but are overcome by the obstacles and give up. And, let’s face it, there are a few who just don’t want to work, and don’t care (and there are many reasons for that, too). If you blame only teachers for a student’s failure, then, to be fair,  only teachers should get praise when a student does well!

Blaming only teachers turns students into powerless victims, which does nothing to help them learn and grow.

We can’t fire students, but some hard-working teachers, that’s ok, apparently.

What’s workplace task support?

Posted on | March 1, 2010 | No Comments

In my About page, I mention that workplace task support is one of my interests. What I mean by that is anything that helps someone get their job done in an efficient and effective manner.

One name for this is performance support, but that term seems to confuse laypeople.  No one that I know of has come up with a word or phrase that doesn’t require explanation.

By task support I mean anything — information, instructions, job aids, ergonomics, physical environment, equipment, and even training (when it’s done right) — that will help someone get a task done. in an efficient and effective manner*.

Training is a good idea, but often it’s used inappropriately — giving people too much information long before they actually need it or understand the context in which to use it.  When subjected to a huge info-dump,  the normal brain will try to forget as much as possible as soon as possible. It’s either that or forget something that you actually need to know!

Remove by the DRD**

** Department of Redundancy Department

Too long gone

Posted on | March 1, 2010 | No Comments

I really don’t like blog posts about not blogging.

I don’t like them because they’re a bad sign in a blog — you’ll see a post about trying to blog more often, then a few blog posts, then a long pause, rinse and repeat until the blog peters out.

So I won’t say anything but, man, I miss blogging.

We’ll see what happens.

Online learning discussion boards aren’t

Posted on | September 20, 2009 | No Comments

really discussions, that is.

I’m taking an online learning course now, at a good university.  This mode of learning combines two of my favorite things: learning & techy stuff. I’ve been busy putting pdfs on my Kindle2, annotating and highlighting like crazy. I also like discussion boards — a great way of having an asynchronous conversation.

But I’ve been having a hard time with the discussion boards in the two classes I’ve taken so far and it took me a semester and a half to figure out why. Here’s the deal: in the syllabi of the courses I’ve taken so far, they lay down the rules for online discussion: substantive, informative, referenced.

On the face of it, that doesn’t sound bad. Here’s how it works:

Read more

Link to NYTimes article for Week 6 assignment

Posted on | October 8, 2008 | No Comments

For some reason, BlackBoard is acting very strangely with this link. When I try to link from inside BB, I get a blank page.

Using Video Games to Hook Readers

Games and Simulations for Learning

Posted on | September 2, 2008 | No Comments

That’s the name of the course I’ll be teaching this semester at UB. It’s brand-new, so it doesn’t have a description yet.

I think games are a great way to learn, but you have to design them carefully, especially if you want to do something more sophisticated than a “Jeopardy” type of memorization. I abhor the games you sometimes see in training, such as crosswords, or word search, where you circle the words as you find them in a scrambled letter grid.

And my fundamental principle is that learning occurs when the student interacts with the material, NOT with the interface.