Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Run a Terrrible Online Class

I'm taking an online class right now. I'll not mention the teacher, the title of the class, or the school in order to protect the guilty.

But Oh My Lord.

Here is my list of things to do if you want your online class to be completely ineffectual:

1. Ask students to post their opinions weekly, and don't provide any framework or conceptual structure. Their life experience is enough. Oh, and if the students are under 24 and really don't have any life experience, well, they can just say whatever they want.

2. Require everyone to make a certain number of responses. Require that these responses be "substantive." But don't publish any guidelines about what that means.

3. And for heaven's sake do NOT post anything yourself so students would have some sort of a model.

4. When grading homework, do NOT give smart feedback. Simply saying you "don't like" the answer given is more than enough.

5. Likewise, don't publish an answer key for quizzes and tests. Saying responses are right or wrong is more than enough.

6. Don't feel that you should write your own homework assignments. Cutting and pasting from the Web is fine. Intellectual honesty doesn't apply to you.

7. It's not necessary to actually ever teach. No need to waste your time with any webinars or anything. Just writing up the syllabus is enough!

8. Who needs objectives? Even a skills-based course can be evaluated with multiple choice and true/false questions.

Up to now I have not tried to teach any courses as an adjunct, because I had the mistaken notion that I might not be able to do a good job. One thing I've learned in this course is that I am *more* than qualified to teach as an adjunct. So thank you, Professor, at least for that much!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I'm In!

I got it in writing!
Yesterday I got the very exciting news that I've been accepted to the MS program in Applied Experimental Psychology and Engineering at RIT. I am absolutely thrilled. Here's what I said in my Personal Statement:

I’m currently working at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf as the department chair for the Educational Design Resources department. Part of my job is to develop new and novel instructional assets to support the education of deaf students. One project that I’ve been working on is the development of asynchronous e-learning for deaf students.

I am interested in figuring out how to use the features of ASL to inform the graphical presentation of asynchronous e-learning. I think that certain features of ASL will perform as a schema that will reduce cognitive load, and increase retention and knowledge transfer for signing students.

The sad fact is that much of the way instruction is presented is not effective. In order to increase effectiveness of my instruction, from the beginning of my career, I’ve turned to research. And happily, there is a lot of research out there. But it’s about hearing students, not deaf.   So to answer my specific questions, I am going to have to do this research myself.  My hope is that this program will equip me with the tools and venue to discover the answers to my questions so that I can apply what I discover in my instruction.

I am joyful and passionate about my work. I believe that what I am doing will make a material difference in the lives of our students.  It probably sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I really feel that this work will be my legacy in the world – that it will improve how instruction for deaf students is developed.

My work style is flexible and collaborative.  At work I see my primary role as connection maker and obstacle remover. And it’s the same outside of work.

I’ve worked as an instructional designer for fourteen years, developing a wide variety of content for both web and instructor-led instruction. I have thought and written on instructional design topics and cognition. Joining this program is an extension of the work I’ve done up to this point.

The program specifically at RIT is a good fit for several reasons. First, I’m interested in deaf cognition, and NTID is the place to be for that. Second, this is program has a focus on application. I actually want to apply what the results of research to my work. And I’m working here, so the convenience of the location and support of my Chair are indeed factors.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rhizomatic vs Aborescent

 One of the things I find completely thrilling about being alive is that I learn new things all the time -- concepts that I had absolutely no idea about before, that I didn't know even existed. Recently I heard the term "rhizomatic". I know what a rhizome is in the garden -- it's a way plants propagate. A darn good way to propagate, too. Some of the most difficult plants to wipe out -- mint, false indigo, obedient plant, to name three -- propagate that way. They send out shoots in all directions that start plants that send out shoots in all directions that start plants.

But that's not what this "rhizomatic" means. In this case, it was using the term to describe organization of knowledge. It can be contrasted with an "aborescent" scheme. You know what aborescent means -- it means "tree shaped" and you probably use it to organize things all the time. An aborescent scheme depends on binary decisions and dualistic categories. It is linear.

A rhizomatic scheme is non-hierarchical and is said to be planar. I'm not sure what this looks like yet, but I'm working on it. I think it means that there isn't a single starting point, but there could be unlimited points of entry or exit to content. Does it mean there isn't some sort of a "founding" concept? Is there no status that is associated with being that founding concept? In a tree structure, there is status conferred, either because the first item is oldest and the "father" of all the others, or because of the dualistic nature of the structure, where things are going to devolve to good and bad, right or wrong, eventually.

I am very interested in thinking about rhizomatic structure as it applies to linguistics and language. Spoken English is said to be very linear, but American Sign Language is not. Can ASL be described as rhizomatic in structure? Could it be diagrammed by describing different parts of a particular sign as existing on different planes? Does anyone describe it this way now?

My brain is so accustomed to thinking in a linear, binary way. Even the title of this posting is binary. As a Buddhist, I recognize the limitations of dualistic thought (although just to make that that statement compares dualistic with non-dualistic thought and is dualistic!) Up until now (now, not now) I've had no model (model, no model) to see phenomena (see, not see) as non-dualistic (non-dualistic, dualistic). How can I practice seeing things from a rhizomatic view point?

I'll let you know what I find out! :-)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Information Costs and Six Sigma

Probably one of three most important concepts I learned at the Simon School was information cost. (The other two were: Buy and hold a diversified portfolio, and sunk costs are irrelevant. There -- you just got the benefit of an MBA education. Go forth and prosper!) Information cost is the costs that occur because the person making the decision is too far away from the process to understand exactly what is happening. In many organizations, not only do the misplace decision makers not know the impact of the decision, but even worse, they don't know what they don't know.

So, when applying Six Sigma to a process, one critical place where the whole thing can go south in a hurry is having someone make decisions about sensitive systems when the person doesn't truly understand the system.

Here's an example from my past. I worked for a company that made, among other things, e-learning. The courses were divided into lessons, the lessons into topics. The content was complex. If it were easy, people would have figured it out on their own. They wouldn't need us to teach them how to do it.

Typically, we worked on a lesson basis. The process started with a planning meeting, and then was written, edited, and animated. This mean that there was some time waiting in for the content to get to you, especially if the previous lesson was smaller, or for some reason you finished the work early. Management watched utilization very closely, and decided that handing off lesson-by-lesson resulted in too much waiting, and we should hand off topic-by-topic.

The problem with that is that the entire process had been built with the assumption of lesson-level hand offs. We were accustomed to moving content around in lessons, adding or deleting topics, and so forth when the lesson was edited. When we were forced to edit topic by topic, once the topic went by your part of the process, that was it. If you got to a later topic and made an edit that affected (or need to affect) something in an earlier topic, well that was just too bad. As the content reviewer, I started having to pull back early topics. This resulted in re-work all the way down the line. It was a nightmare. At first management didn't want to hear anything about going back to a lesson-level hand off system. They stubbornly clung to their decision. But eventually their own figures  on cycle time convinced them to reverse themselves. What a happy announcement that was!

The take-away is, I think, that we have to approach process improvement with humility and collegiality. We need to watch the impact of our changes, and be ready to tweak as necessary. And we need to think about the unchanged systems affected by this process. It is only by attention to these that process changes will be successful, and not include some unexpected and unhappy results!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Make it Easy, Take it Easy

One of the things that really grosses me out is a wet sponge, used and covered with little particles of food and debris, sitting in a sink. I don't like looking at them, smelling them, or touching them. Ick!

The Scene of the Ickiness
So, when I encountered a truly disgusting example in the break-room sink at work, I was faced with some options. Break-room sinks are even more disgusting than most because no one takes ownership for them, so they never are really clean. When I found our department sponge mouldering in a puddle, I wondered who would leave it there, and how could anyone wash their dishes using it?

I could have just ignored it. After all, I don't actually wash my dishes at work. I take them home. But I do occasionally wash my hands there. So I would see the sponge again.

I could have rinsed it out, squeezed it out, and put it on the counter to dry. But I would have to actually touch it (ick, ick, and double ick!) tomorrow, and the day after that. And the day after that. The prospect of becoming the icky sponge monitor wasn't appealing.

So, I did something else. I bought and installed a sponge holder. Now when the sponge is used, the user can set it in the conveniently located holder. The effort required is zero, and the sponge will tend to stay drier.

I think that people don't wake up in the morning thinking, "How can I gross Clare out today?" They just tend to follow the path of least resistance. They choose to take the alternative that seems like it benefits them the most. So my teammate sponge users didn't want to fuss around with the sponge. They just wanted to wash and go. Throwing the sponge into the sink was born for a desire to not be doing the washing anymore.

When things aren't going the way you desire, take a look at the system that behavior is a part of, and ask yourself if the system can be tweaked to give you the outcome you desire. Be careful, though. Sometimes the tweaks can result in unexpected outcomes, not all desirable. A while back I installed  edging in my garden at home. I wanted to keep the nice tillable dirt in the garden and out of the lawn. I wanted to keep the grass in the yard and out of the garden. A few dollars and several feet of pound-in edging later, I was happy. But what I didn't realize was that the area of lawn I had just isolated from the garden was the low point in my yard. And come the next rain, I had "Lake Felgert" in my back yard. By keeping the dirt in the garden and the grass in the yard, I also kept the water in the lowest point! So it's important to re-evaluate your tweaks and make sure that the result you have is the result you want.