Monday, May 16, 2011

Information Costs and Flat Organizational Structures

One of my most strongly held management principles is that decision making should be pushed as far down the chain of command as possible. This is counter-intuitive to many (most?) of my brother and sister managers who, because they are responsible for successful outcomes, naturally want to maintain control over critical processes. But in doing so, they are actually guaranteeing that results will be suboptimal. Here's why:

Take the case of your local instance of a national jeans store. It is probably staffed by 20-somethings or even teenagers, while far, far, away, a much older person makes decisions about the inventory in the store. Ms Store Clerk knows that the snap on those "boyfriend" style jeans has a little rough spot on the inside that is uncomfortable. She knows this she asks when the customer comes out of the dressing room, "How did those work out for you?" and the customer says, " What's the deal with the snap? It was totally scratching me!" And then Ms Store Clerk folds the jeans and puts them back on the shelf.

When Mr. Corporate sees the sales numbers for the store, he doesn't have access to that critical piece of information. But the human brain will fill in the blanks, if information is missing. Its the way we are hardwired. So Mr. Corporate will have a story for why the numbers are low on the "boyfriend" jeans. Perhaps he will think that the style is now out of fashion. So when he re-orders, he won't order more of those, but instread go with the capris. From the same manufacturer, who is still using the same snaps. And when the customers see that their favorites, the "boyfriend" style jeans are no longer stocked by that store, perhaps they will switch to the other national chain store in town. Just maybe.

In this case, the information costs are the costs of the lost sales, the lost future sales, and the purchases of the wrong stock. If the organization could somehow ask Ms Store Clerk about things, it would be able to make much better decisions.The take away for us is that decisions should be made as close to where the process is that they will affect as possible. It will be a negotiation  to find the best place -- but I bet you will be surprised when you figure it out!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Happy New Project Year!

My department's new project year actually begins October 1, but we like to get things rolling a little before that. So recently we have be soliciting new project ideas from the staff and faculty at NTID. Our projects can be requested by anyone, and if it either supports learning and teaching, or if it promotes NTID, we can accept it. Projects are assigned a budget up to $5000 and the use of my entire team's skills: video, programming, instructional design, graphic design, photography, web development.

This year looks exciting. Although we haven't completed the selection process (a collaborative process that the entire team participates in), here is a sneak peek at some of the technologies and concepts we will be working with:

  • QR codes, both for instruction and for administrative use
  • Iphone and Android development
  • Xbox development ("You are the controller!"
  • Using Drupal sites to encourage collaboration
  • "Fake" 3D
  • Use of emotion in instruction
  • Rapid curriculum planning strategies
  • Business skills for D/deaf professionals
  • More collaboration with student workers and co-ops
Looks like it is going to be an exciting year. I'll let you know how things progress!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Using Research in Design

I was having a conversation recently about designing effective eLearning, and I made a statement that my design is research-based. When pressed for details, I mentioned the name of my ID guru: Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark. Dr. Clark was instrumental in the development of the instructional design model I used at Element K, and her work continues to have a profound effect on me.

But of course, Dr. Clark hasn't been specifically working with D/deaf college students, so of course while I can use her work as a starting place, it doesn't answer all the questions that arise when developing instruction for a totally different culture and language, especially a language that is manual versus spoken.

So for the past three years, I have been working on an instructional design model that starts with my specific audience, D/deaf college students. Many in this group  use ASL as their primary language, and English as a second.However, some use English, and only begin to sign when the come to NTID. And others are scattered along the continuum between ASL and English.

(Side comment: learning a second language while trying to invent an instructional design model for native users of that language isn't so much like building a canoe while rowing it as it is like growing the forest, felling and milling the trees, building the canoe and rowing it! Everyday I learn another little piece that helps me to internalize and know more.)

As I have thought about each section of my design model, I've asked myself: "What does the research say about D/deaf adult learners and this?" I've read mountains of research of various topics, such as:

  • How do ASL signers expect/want/need content to be ordered and chunked? How is this different from the way I (as a native English speaker) expect/want/need it done? (Because, let's face it: Our default audience is always "me".)
  • What features of ASL can be incorporated in to my instructional design? What features are critical, and what don't matter? For my my non-ASL students in the crowd, this would include things such as presenting material from general to specific, mentioning time first, using a topic-comment pattern, and showing, not telling. There is a lot more to it, but that gives you the gist.
  • What kind of illustrations/graphics are most effective? 
  • What kind of text is most effective?
  • If we incorporate captions, or English, what is the best use of that?
  • At what point are what kind of practice activities most effective?
  • Are there actually such a thing as visual learners? If so, what does this mean in the development of my content?
  • What aspects of Deaf culture are import to incorporate?
  • How can non-manual sign components (such as mouth morphemes, gaze, facial expressions, and body shifts be effectively used?
What I have found is that researchers like to research tiny tiny tiny little pieces of things. And I need research on much bigger chunks. So while I continue to read and ask questions, I have also started to establish relationships with researchers so I can hopefully influence the future direction of their research. I firmly believe that it will be through those partnerships that I will finally be able to craft the most effective and engaging instruction. 

We are starting to build the first prototype -- business skills content for D/deaf professionals that desire to move into first-time manager roles. I am confident that this process, with it's millions of design decisions, will lead us to ask more and better questions. And asking the questions, well, that's the first step, isn't it?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nobody Tells

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

– Ira Glass

True, eh?