Monday, June 28, 2010

American Idol and People that Can't Sing At All Or How Could You Possibly Not Know?

I've noticed a strange phenomena since beginning work here at school.

I've noticed that many of the sign language interpreters that I meet are incredibly unsure of their ability to sign. I mean, really. These are folks who have had extensive training in ASL and work as interpreters full time. They work at one of the finest colleges for the Deaf in the world, and have access to a large number of native signers. I'm no expert, but these people are very, very, good at what they do. But it is not unusual for an interpreter will refuse to sign a waiver so we can videotape a presentation that includes him/her working. As a beginning student of ASL, I wonder: If this person who uses ASL as a key part of his/her daily work, who's ability to sign is a core competency thinks his/her signing sucks, how will I EVER learn to sign even a little bit? All this self-doubt seemed phony to me, or at least disingenuous.

On the other hand, sometimes I am asked to review students' portfolios. And there are cases (not often, thank goodness!) where the portfolio is TERRIBLE and the student is completely oblivious to this. How can someone be so completely out of touch with reality?

Another example: Over the years I've been seriously dismayed when I have read the self-assessments of some of the people that worked for me. Frequently my weakest performers will score themselves high on their self- assessments. And more than once, the person has been very upset at my appraisal of their performance, telling me that they have never received a negative evaluation before. How can this be? Did the person think they could bully me into a better score? Or are they some kind of egomaniac?

Well, now I know. It's something called The Dunning-Kruger Effect. According to Wikipedia, that authority on everything, Dunning-Kruger effect is "a cognitive bias in which people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.They hypothesized that with a typical skill which humans may possess in greater or lesser degree,

  1. Incompetent* individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy."
So people who are actually unskilled think they are terrific, and people who are very skilled underestimate their own performance. And, to make matters worse, the incompetent people are unable to recognize competence. So they won't learn from just observing competence.

Another important point that Dunning and Kruger make is that people rarely receive negative feedback. And if they do, for it to be useful,  they have to understand WHY the failure happened.

So how do we mitigate against this type of bias that we are all subject to? If we don't clearly understand our strengths and weaknesses, it will be difficult to evaluate risk on projects, plan any kind of self-improvement activity, or in general, understand reality. I think there are two ways we can do this.

Dunning and Kruger suggest that, "If ... people... can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill."  Well, duh! I don't know if this is a very useful observation, if we are interested in self-evaluation strategies to improve in domains where one isn't a top level performer.

But a second point by Dunning and Kruger is more helpful. They suggest that people seldom receive negative feedback about their skills and abilities. But even with negative feedback, people need to understand WHY the failure is a failure. In other words, smart feedback is essential.

This article has made me rethink how I going about performance reviews for my team. Last year, I was frustrated by the difference between my evaluations and the individual's self-evaluations. My response this year was to bring people together to write a rubric that would describe behaviors in various levels of performance. Now I'm thinking that maybe that's not a good way to go about it, because my weakest performers are not going to be able to recognize what is the desired behaviors.  Instead I am going to need to think of a way to give everyone smart feedback, and at multiple points during the year. This is going to be challenging!

In the process of writing this blog article, I came across two interesting sources that you might want to check out.

The first article was in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" by Justin Kruger and David Dunning. This reports on the research that is the basis for what we know of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The second was a blog called Finch, written by Francisco Inchauste. He is a designer, and based on what I see in his blog, a good one! You can check out his article here. I really enjoyed his blog and wish he would write more.

* Kruger and Dunning say this about the word "incompetent": "...We think of incompetence as a mater of degree and not one of absolutes. There is no categorical bright line that separates 'competent' individuals from 'incompetent' ones.  Thus, when we speak of 'incompetent' individuals we mean people who are less competent than their peers.  Second, we have focused our analysis on the incompetence individuals display in specific domains. We make no claim that they would be incompetent in any other domains, although many a colleague has pulled us aside to tell us a tale of a person they know is is 'domain-general' incompetent.  Those people may exist, but they are not the focus of this research."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Interesting Video Sites

 YouTube has undoubtedly changed the world by giving us a place where post our own video. And they are making powerful leaps forward with their automated captioning efforts. But there is more than YouTube out there.

Of course, there can be  zillion videos available, but if you can't find them, you have nothing. Blinkx describes itself as "world’s largest and most advanced video search engine" and with 35 million hours of video tagged and available, it looks like that is an apt description. I am still waiting for the day when intelligent auto tagging will make it possible for particular scenes to be located without the need for time consuming human involvement. We aren't there yet. But this is an important and useful first step.

Critical Past makes footage of historical events and people available to professionals and non-professionals. It also gives you the opportunity to buy still photos taken from historical footage. Concerning rights, they say:

When you place an order, the video clips and images provided by are licensed to you, royalty-free, in perpetuity...  Unlike most stock footage providers, Critical Past LLC welcomes professionals, non-professionals, and enthusiasts worldwide to search our site and license our media.
If you know of other, similar resources, please comment on them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Returning to the Breath

Last Monday, J and I watched a show on our PBS channel called "Horses". (You can watch it for yourself here.) The show included the story of a nervous dressage horse named "Chamont". The rider asks the horse to make a particular move, and Chamont rebells, threatening to buck the rider off. Her coach praises her response, and tells her that every time he does that, but she sits quietly, and brings him back, that she strengthenss his confidence and their bond. He shys, she sits quietly. He rears, she sits quietly.

We know that's what meditation actually is. Some people mistakenly think that meditation is sitting really still and having no thoughts. They think that they can't meditate because when they try, thoughts arise. But in reality, meditation is the act of returning our focus to the breath. When thoughts arise, we label them as thought and return our focus to the breath. And return the focus to the breath. And return the focus to the breath. Its that returning that is the important part, nothing else.

In fact, when we look at our life, if we can think of our failures not as failures but as opportunities to return our focus to the breath, to repeat over and over that return, then our failures become a secret treasure. The relapse, the anger, the jealousy, the self cherishing behaviors are all the opportunity to return our focus. Instead of using the precious opportunities to practice self-hatred and guilt, we can use these opportunities to return to the present moment and practice. You can't buy that kind of opportunities. Rejoice in them!

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

YouTube's Audio Transcription

I'm attending The Future of Reading conference at RIT next week. (Side note: Margaret Attwood is the Keynote speaker. I love her stuff and am thrilled to be seeing her!).  The conference is being conducted by the School of Print Media. The program looks really exciting and I am eagerly looking forward to attending.

One thing that wasn't very exciting is that the organizers have posted videos to YouTube. They weren't professionally captioned and only used the new captioning feature in YouTube. And the results? Terrible! The captions are so far from the spoken words as to be almost completely gibberish. There is no way that a person relying on captions could understand what this video was about at all. I'm disappointed -- I was hoping this would be an inexpensive way to get content captioned. Don't rely on the automatic transcribing feature on YouTube to make your video accessible.

Late addition: I heard from one of the organizers and they are planning to create captions for this video. Good for them! But my main point still stands: Don't count on this as a way to make your content accessible.

And now more: I got the following email from the posters of the video.

futureofreading has replied to your comment on Future of Reading Symposium Social Media Tutorial:@claredygert Hi Clare. We had to wait several hours for YouTube's machine transcription. We have corrected the captioning and it now work's properly.
And it does seem to be working better. I guess the final lesson to be sure to check your video to make sure the transcription is actually working!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Welcome, Summer

Let's take a little break from instructional design to celebrate the beginning of summer.

Yesterday, on my way upstairs, I happened to notice a little embroidered picture that a friend, Lois Farnsworth, sewed for me in 1996. Lois was an old lady, well into her 80s when she made this little picture for me. I couldn't help but think how much my life has changed in just the relatively short period of fourteen years. Where and with whom I live, where I work, how I view the world, all have changed dramatically. But in 1996 and still today, I live as though things will never change. That life is in some way permanent. And it isn't, not even a little bit.

I hear people complain that "Memorial Day has just become the unofficial first day of summer". Instead of trying to create a day that memorializes lives cut short, let's recognize how impermanent it all is.The first day of summer? Yes, a summer that'll be over before we know it. We can't hang on to the days, no matter how hard we try. So let's celebrate the passage of days.

To celebrate, I made some lovely little Lemon and Lavender cakes, using lavender from my garden. Welcome, Summer. It's nice to have you back again.

Lemon and Lavender Mini Cakes
(adapted from the Family Bites site)
* 3 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 3/4 cup milk with 2 tablespoons of vinegar
* 3 tbsp lemon zest
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 3/4 cup olive oil
* 1 1/2 cups flour
* 2 tbsp dry roasted flax seed, ground
* 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 3 tbsp fresh lavender buds

Lemon Glaze

* 6 tbsp confectioner sugar
* 4 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with oil and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks and the sugar with a whisk until pale yellow and thick. Add the lemon zest, juice and yogurt and beat well. Add the oil in a steady stream and whisk until combined.

In another mixing bowl combine the flour, flax seed baking powder, baking soda, salt and lavender. Add the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Fill the muffin tin 1/2 - 2/3 full. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.

While the muffins are baking, make the glaze. Mix together the confectioner's sugar, and lemon juice and set aside.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow mini-cakes to cool for five minutes. Dip the tops of the cooled cakes into the lemon glaze and garnish with some dried lavender. Allow to set on a cooling rack.

(Makes 12 mini-cakes) Enjoy!!!