Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things I Did Right - Being Out of Work

Friday I'm starting my new job with Adapt Courseware. This is little startup company, and their (our) product is e-learning for the academic space. I'm excited about being a part of this company, and looking forward to both being able to make a contribution and learn about things I'm really passionate about. It will be exciting to build the process and the team, and hopefully make a positive impact.

So how did this middle-aged lady get a her dream job with only three months, without trying? One thing I learned recently is that people tend to interpret positive random acts as things they some how controlled. I guess if the length of time people are out of work is normally distributed, then someone has to be in the short time part of the curve, right? And that turned out to be me. But assuming that's not the entire story, here are some of the things I would suggest if you find yourself suddenly out of work.

1.  Keep your resume up to date.This tip really has two parts. Keep the document called your resume up to date. I suggest checking it quarterly to see if you can make any refinements or add additional information. But beyond that, critically review your resume to make sure your skills are current. What should you be learning to move to the next level, or even to stay on your current level? Find job postings for a position you would like to have, and then compare your resume to it. Do you have the right stuff to get that job? If you do, is it clearly evident in your resume? If you don't have it, what concrete steps can you take today to get there?

2. Stay in touch with your references. I strongly recommend that you choose references that you admire. And have more than three, as well. Choose people who worked with you, for you, and those who managed you. Try to have lunch of coffee at once or twice a year. If that doesn't work for you, at least drop them an email, updating them on your career. When you need their support, they will have a slightly better idea of what you have been up to, and some positive feelings for you. This will help. And if you do loose your job, reach out immediately and let them know.

3. Stay out of debt. I suppose this is a "duh" suggestion - so obvious that it is not worth mentioning. But knowing I could live on my unemployment + a small amount of savings really reduced my stress. I did wish I had bought a less expensive car. That car payment seemed just fine when I had my job, but got lookin' really big a few months into unemployment. I tried to talk the dealership into buying it back, but they weren't interested. I didn't have very much cash on hand, so I do plan to build up those cash reserves this time. Critically look at how you spend your money and try to get your debt under control, starting today. This probably means saying, "no" to yourself, something I'm not good at either. But it will help you sleep better at night knowing, come-what-may, you will be able to scrape by.

4. Cultivate a balanced life. Being able to go forward with the graduate program I had just entered as an employee of RIT was a HUGE blessing. It gave purpose and structure to my days, and also gave me something to say when I was introduced to people. "I've just started a graduate program at RIT" sounded a lot better to me than "I'm out of work." Think about what you would say, and cultivate those interests. Would you write a book, become a free-lancer, take up volunteer work, if you had the time to do it? Start now. I also found my meditation practice really supported me through this potentially stressful time. I strongly recommend people include some kind of spiritual practice in their lives. Not religious? Mindfulness meditation can still be a support. Also, do something physically active every day. But the key to these is start now, while you are still working. Establish those practices that will be beneficial if you are out of work before you are out of work.

I had lots of support -- my dear partner was my rock, my daughter kept me looking to the future, and my friends both personal and professional offered me all sorts of practical help. To all of them, I say a very heartfelt "Thank you!" Now on to the next chapter of my life!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Personal Informatics

An individual's ability and willingness to reflect on her life is a key part of improving her life, and I think that ability is a skill we should be teaching at all levels. So, when I saw and article by Li, Dey, and Forlizzi (2010) on personal informatics, I was intrigued.
Li et al define personal informatics as tools that "help people collect personally relevant information for the purpose of self-reflection and gaining self-knowledge." If you are having a difficult time visualizing what this means, think Fitbit or Nike+. Li et al assert that there has been no study of the sorts of problems users encounter when using personal informatic systems, and offer recommendations about how existing systems might be improved, and yet-to-be-built systems be made more effective. They offer a five-stage model. For each of these stages, the authors present examples. I've used my own examples. Each of the phases also has obstacles or barriers, and these barriers cascade from one stage to the next. 
  • Preparation - In this stage, people are motivated to begin to collect information. They must decide what they are going to collect, what and how they will record the information. For example, my partner has decided that she wants to inventory all of her belongings. In the event of her death, she wants her children to understand what of her things are valuable, and what are not. She has to decide how she is going to record all of that information, and what tools she should use to do so.
  • Collection - In this stage, people actually collect the information. The tool used can be the most significant barrier. The logistics of the collection can also be problematic. For example, if the information that is being collected is a food journal (common in weight loss methods), and then however the person decides to collect that information needs to be easy enough to do three times a day, or more. If the tool is cumbersome, people just won't keep it up.
  • Integration - In this stage people must prepare, combine and otherwise transform data so it can be reflected upon in the next stage. As you can imagine, the more that has to be done in this stage, the greater the barrier to moving to the next stage.
  • Reflection - In this stage, people reflect upon the data they have collected. Reflection can be short term or long term. Short-term reflection is valuable because it gives us information about where we are right now. For example, I had the opportunity to drive a friend's car for a week. This car gave me immediate feedback on the number of miles per gallon I was getting. I could see how certain driving habits actually gave me worse gas mileage, and it became kind of a game, where I would try to improve my mpg on each trip. Long-term reflection allows users to see trends over time.
  • Action - In this stage, users decide what they are going to do with the knowledge they have gleaned from the Reflection stage. Primarily, they can apply their knew knowledge to meeting longer term goals.

Li, I., Dey, A., & Forlizzi, J. (2010). A Stage-Based Model of Personal Informatics Systems. In CHI  ’10 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 557–566). Presented at the CHI 2010, Atlanta, GA: ACM. doi:978-1-60558-929-9/10/04

Friday, November 23, 2012

Five Great School Tools: Google Scholar, Cmaps, Zotero, Adobe Creative Suite in the Cloud, and Balsamiq Mockups

I've survived the first quarter of my new graduate program, and now have a couple of days of a break. I loved my classes and the work has been challenging but very rewarding. During the semester I was introduced to a few new tools. Let me amend that to new to me. They have been around for a while. 

Google Scholar has been a huge boon. It can be used to locate journal articles and books on all topics. As students will know, not every article is available for free. But once I know about the article, I can go to the Wallace Library site and search for it. Most everything I want has been available there. Another thing Google Scholar does is to tell you who has cited the resource in their work. This has led me to many new sources of information. 

Cmaps is a free concept mapping tool. Think Visio, but also available for the Mac and free. I still can't make the elegant charts that I've seen around, but it is a very useful tool. I was writing a final paper last quarter and having difficulties getting the organization just right. I used Cmaps to get my thoughts down on paper, and then could rearrange chunks until finally I had a flow that worked. It was very useful. I'm using it now in my new job to create a new workflow. Check it out, it's not hard to learn and very useful.

Zotero is a citation management program that you can use for free. It allows you to save citations, add metadata, group citations into projects or categories, add notes, and best of all, include a copy of the website or a pdf or other document to the citation. So what was formerly an unruly stack of paper on my desk is now an organized group of citations in the cloud. You can also add things by typing in the DOI or ISBN number. Then Zotero populates all the pertinent fields for you. I did this with all my books, and used a metadata tag to say where the book was located ("Living Room", "Bedroom", "Office"). Then, when it's paper-writing time, you just drag a citation over to a Word doc and viola! A correctly formatted bibliography!

Cloud-based Adobe Creative Suite makes CS affordable for students. For $19/month, I can have access to any of those tools I want to use. When I got my new computer, I decided I couldn't afford Creative Suite,  - until I heard about this version!

"Wiring framing" is a term that was new to me. It means making a non-functional mockup of an interface or website. Although my program is about human-computer interactions, I'm not much of an artist, and was a little worried about how I was going to be able to do this when the time came. Then I discovered Balsamiq Mockups. For $79, you can download software that, "helps software designers and developers build great software by letting them easily sketch out their ideas, then quickly collaborate and iterate over them." I haven't actually used this, but am looking forward to doing so soon. It looks like a great product, and a great company as well!
Hope you enjoy exploring these products. Even if you aren't in school, you might find them useful!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Blogger Stats

Here's something I wonder about -- any of you out there understand the mysteries of Blogger blog stats, please pipe up! Yesterday I had 23 page views. This is a big number for my little blog. I rarely promote it and I think it's mainly for my own reflection. The day before yesterday, I had zero pageviews. Usually I have one or two a day.

So what caused 23 page views all of a sudden yesterday?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Late Summer

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Dansville Balloon Festival

Monday, August 27, 2012

Schemas and Adult Learning

Recently I had was telling some of my Facebook friends about my plans for school. Christine Pence, whom I met at a conference a few years ago, asked me this:
Clare Shappee Dygert Christine -- I'm hoping my thesis will be on using ASL as a schema to reduce cognitive load in asynchronous e-learning. Whatcha think?
Christine Pence Hmm..could you expand a little on this? Are you thinking about the approaches to learning ASL as in your blog article? Or, are you thinking about generalizing the design of asynchronous learning content? Do you have a specific academic content environment in mind?

Once I got over the thrill that someone A) read my blog and B)actually thought about it and remembered I had written, I thought about Christine's question.

Schemas (or schemata), as they are discussed in the Memory and Mind chapter, by John P Clapper ("Category Learning as Schema Induction") that I mention in my ASL Hand Shapes and Schema Learning blog post are a little different than what I am considering for my research. They are related, though. Schemas, as John Clapper uses the term, refers to categories of information. Students learn the characteristics of the category and are able to sort new information, determining if the new information is in or out of the category. This corresponds to the "concept" type in my instructional design model. (You can read more than you probably want to know about my model here:

What I would like to investigate in my research is whether or not the structures and grammar of ASL  -- use of signing space, time line, for example -- can be utilized by the graphical presentation of content in asynchronous e-learning as a schema, and would using it as a schema reduce cognitive load and make learning difficult content easier for signing learners.

To get to that question, there are a lot of other questions that have to be answered. How should I measure cognitive load? There seems to be some controversy about that topic. What features of ASL would be most useful to be used as part of a schema? How would that schema translate to graphical presentation of content?

The Chair of the Psychology Department warned me that my research question is more like a dissertation than a thesis.  It does probably have a life-time of work in it. But I think that is a good thing, don't you? If, in the next two years,  I can get the questions listed and understand what work has already been done on this topic, and find an ASL linguist who is willing to work with me, then I will consider the next two years well spent.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Thoughts About Losing My Job

Last Wednesday, July 31, was my last day at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Because of budget reductions, NTID was forced to make budget reductions, and that meant that about half of my team was let go. I was sorry that the Institute decided that 7 of the 9 folks let go had to be from my department, but I wasn't consulted, and it doesn't matter now anyway. What's done is done. Now I will turn my thoughts and energy to the future.

By happy accident, I was just matriculated into a program at RIT -- Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology. What's that? Well, here's what they say on the website:
Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology is the application of psychological principles, knowledge, and research to improve the ability of humans to operate more effectively in a technological society. [Its] research focuses on people's interaction with or involvement with communication, decision making, and computer information systems, work places, energy and transportation systems, medical and health care settings, consumer product design, living environments, etc. The goal is safer, more effective, and more reliable systems through improved understanding of the user's requirements and performance capabilities'
 So, the good news is that, as part of my severance package, I get to go to school for a year on RIT's dime! So, I'm pretty thrilled about that that, as you can imagine. In addition, I can have $1000 for "retraining".  I'm mulling over a few choices. Should I take one of ASTD's certificate programs? And how to choose -- they have many yummy choices! Or should I get the training for PMI and take a shot at a project management certificate? Or maybe Lean Six Sigma? the choices are all tempting. Lucky for me, I get 4 months of career counseling from my friend Deb Koen. I'll be looking to her for some good advice on this choice.

My biggest concern is that I will loose my very hard won sign language skills. Hopefully, I'll be able to volunteer at the RIT American Sign Language and Deaf Culture Center.  I've volunteered, and now am waiting with fingers crossed to see what they might have for me to do.

I'm also looking forward to doing a little more work for the Amitabha Foundation, the non-profit that I serve. We'd like to grow our social media presence, and give more people the opportunity to interact with the good works the Foundation accomplishes. We also are very aware that there are a lot of people who'd like to practice with a Buddhist group, but are living in small towns or far from one of Ayang Rinpoche's practice groups. We'd like to give those folks a way to practice and benefit from teaching retreats. And I'm going to help make that happen.

So, while I would have never quit my job at NTID, and I deeply miss both my team and our clients, I'm excited and energized as I look to the future. I'm sure only good things are ahead, and I can't wait to see what they are!


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.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Get Ready - It's All About to Change!

Amazing, exciting. Can't wait.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Lean Principles and Developing Instruction: Structuring Communications

One of the key principles of Lean is that communications should be structured. I wasn't really sure what this meant, exactly. So I asked my own person consultant in all things business process related (my daughter Nicole) what this was about.

What she said was pretty simple, actually. That a communications plan should be in place that specifies how and what communication is going to occur. At first I thought that there simply must be more to this than that -- but then I remembered something that happened to me a while back. 

I had attended a conference and saw a new technology that I found pretty exciting. It was software that provided a virtual desktop to computers. It would allow us to have only one desktop to maintain, not 15. It would ensure that every day a fresh instance of the standard desktop was present on the machine, so we didn't have settings being changed, software missing, etc etc etc. So I asked one of the team to install it and thought we would try it out and then I could report our wonderful success to the other department heads and we would be the toast of the University. 

And my teammate hopped to and installed the software. 

And then the nightmare began -- not for me, but for the people who were responsible for actually supporting users in the lab, people that I had completely neglected to either ask or inform of my grand plans. It was with great embarrassment that I heard about the extra work and headaches I had caused for my team. And then I asked my teammate to uninstall it and put things back the way they were.

After that experience, I find myself not only stopping and thinking, "Who needs to know this?" but also thinking, "And who ELSE needs to know? And who ELSE?" A plan for structured communications helps to prevent this sort of problem. 

Recently, when I was helping the team rolling out a new student information system by developing user training, I was able to see that my plan for every-other-day status updates did inform my teammates, stakeholders, and clients. They all knew what was going on. But more importantly, their sense of anxiety was lessened as well. They knew what was going on, and they knew  they were going to hear again from me. Their energy didn't have to go into being worried. It could go into getting the project finished.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Great New Tool: ThingLink

I stumbled across a cool new tool today -- ThingLink. This tool allows you to upload a photo or graphic, insert hot spots, and link them to video, photos, or URLs. Here's a quick one I just did -- I had a lot more trouble using iMovie than I did ThingLink!

You can see my first attempt here.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Using Brain Science to Improve Your ELearning

As I've developed my instructional design model for deaf adult learners, I've turned to brain science to understand how I should best present content. My study has centered on Cognitive Load Theory, and what implications that has for deaf folks. Of course, it isn't as simple as checking out studies on cognitive load and deaf learners. Studies that answer my questions don't seem to exist. But I have been able to find studies that I think apply. Here's a summary of my findings. 

1.     Pretraining – understanding the names of things and how components work first – reduces cognitive load.
2.     Mental Models have two parts: First A representation of how parts work, and second, causal, how the parts affect one another.
3.     Novice learners need content signals. This means they need to be signaled when there is something they need to learn appearing on the screen.
4.     Novice learners need content weeded. This means there should be no extraneous information presented to reduce cognitive load.
5.     Novice learners need video to be segmented.  They need the time between videos to move content from working memory to long-term memory.
6.     Text on screen and voiced text at the same time increase cognitive load. Obviously deaf people don't hear text. But information conveyed in sign language, the deaf person's native language, is shown by some studies to be processed similarly to voiced text.
7.   Voiced text and graphics are better that text on screen and graphics. So perhaps signed language and graphics are better than text and graphics. 
8.     Text and graphics on screen increase learning if: 
Words and pictures are shown at the same time.         Illustrations are weeded. Text and pictures are physically close to one another.  An integrated instructional format is used. This means that the explanation of parts of a illustration are actually in the illustration, not separated above or below the graphic.
9. If students verbalize about their learning, they are better able to solve novel, ill-defined problems.
10.     Retention/transfer is greater when students build their own personal, external graphical representations. This is known as “Activation.”

Chandler, Paul and John Sweller. Cognitive Load Theory and the Format of Instruction, Cognition and Instruction: 8(4) 1991, 293-332.

De Westelinck, Katrien and Martin Valcke. The Impact of External Graphical Representations in Different Knowledge Domains: Is There a Domain Effect?

Hickok, Gregory, Ursula Bellugi, and Edward S. Klima. Sign Language in the Brain, Scientific American, June 2001.

Ibrahim, Mohamed and Pavlo D. Antonenko. Effects of Segmenting, Signaling, and Weeding on Learning from an Educational Video.

James, S. A. (2001, June 7). Magazine articles in APA format. Newsweek, 20, 48-52.

Mayer, Richard E. and Roxana Moreno. Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

Thomas, Nigel J. T. Dual coding and Common Coding Theories of Memory, Mental Imagery, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2011 Edition.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lean Principles and Developing Instruction - Making Tacit Knowledge Explicit

I recently read an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review on Lean and how it might apply to knowledge work. The article, from the October 2011 edition, is titled, Applying "Lean" Principles to Knowledge Work, by Bradley R Staats and David M. Upton.  I encourage you to check it out, and take a look at HBR while you are at it.

This post will be about the second of six things the authors suggest. "Strive to make tacit knowledge explicit," they say. I think most people think that the type of work that knowledge workers deal it is fundamentally tacit. That is, it's in one guy's head, and it's not going to be able to be seen by others. I don't agree with this view. It's not going to be easy, but we need to make tacit knowledge visible.

One place to start, when we are talking about the development of instruction, is to separate the repeatable parts of a process and codify them. Here's an example. Let's imagine that we are developing a course on how to conduct a meeting for an audience of first-time team leads. There are practically an infinite number of ways we could go on this. And a lot of these would be valid approaches. And casting about, trying to decide which of these approaches is the best, well, that takes a lot of time. And when whoever the person is that reviews it sees the course, they may or may not agree with the approach. And then there will be at least one, if not several, long discussions about that approach. And all those conversations mean time, and frustration too.

So instead of that, my team and I determined what the default approach was going to be on any and all courses. We agreed that whenever possible, content needed to mirror the work environment that our students would return to. That all information should be as much like real life as possible. And content should be presented in job order.

We also reviewed a number of courses, and realized that all of the tasks that these courses taught students to do had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Every job-based task fell into this pattern. So when we were discussing the outline of a course, we would start by dividing the white board into three sections: The first for all preliminary tasks, the middle section for the main tasks, and then the last section for any tasks that would take place after the main tasks. Sometimes we would have a fourth section for troubleshooting and problem solving. This dramatically sped up our planning, and it also made it possible for us to collaborate on determining what the tasks were in those categories.

Another thing we did was to agree on the types of content and the requirements for those types of content, were included in instruction. We loosely followed the work of Ruth Clarke and Robert Mayer on content typing. We found over time that we improved our original model. But having a place to start from was a huge leg up. We all understood what type of content to choose if we wanted our student to determine if something was a member of a group or not. And we all understood what that content type (a concept in this example) required. Codifying this gave us consistent results, and made it much easier to use multiple writers on a project.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lean Principles and Developing Instruction - Rooting out Waste

I'd heard about "lean principles" in the context of a manufacturing environment, and one thing I can tell you is that developing instruction is not very much like manufacturing. So I didn't really think of how I could apply lean principles to the work of my department when I was considering how we might improve our productivity. But my instructional designer, Allison, pointed out an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review from October 2011 titled, Applying "Lean" Principles to Knowledge Work, by Bradley R Staats and David M. Upton.

I'm a huge, huge fan of the HBR. I've subscribed for years, and month in and month out there is something interesting in it that has helped me be a better manager, or has validated something I was doing instinctively. And this article couldn't have come at a better time.

Here's a definition of "lean" from Wikipedia:
Lean manufacturing, lean enterprise, or lean production, often simply, "Lean," is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, "value" is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.
Staats and Upton start by acknowledging how difficult it might be to apply lean principles to knowledge work. They state, "Most in the business world believe that knowledge work doesn't lend itself to lean principals because, unlike car assembly, it is not repetitive and can't be unambiguously defined. ...The work involves expertise and judgement that depends heavily on tacit knowledge - knowledge locked inside the worker's head."

Indeed, this is true. Frequently, when I've developed business skills or design content, both of which rely on principal based content, I hear from subject matter experts that the content "can't be taught." My reply is that difficult to do is not the same as impossible.  And because I have figured out the parts that repeat, that don't involve judgement or expertise, I can use those as a framework for the other parts of the content. 

The article suggests six things to do to incorporate "lean" into knowledge work. In this post, I'll discuss the first: Rooting out waste.

The first item dealt with rooting out waste. There are seven sources of waste:
a.     Overproduction
b.     Unnecessary transportation
c.      Unnecessary inventory
d.     Unnecessary worker motion
e.     Defects
f.      Over-processing
g.     Waiting
When I read "overproduction" I think about content where everything but the kitchen sink has been included. I frequently see what amounts to a "brain dump" coming from subject matter experts. This is not good instruction, and it's not Lean either. Instead, if the project team has a well-crafted design document, where every item included contributes to the mission of the course (instead of just being in there because the SME happens to know it), the instruction is more targeted and no overproduction is taking place. 

"Unnecessary transportation" and "Unnecessary inventory" also seem like they would have much to do with developing training materials. But instead of thinking of transportation as shipping, instead think of it as how content is moved from one part of the process to the next. How does the editor and QA know it's time to get to work on a lesson? Is content in a centralized location? Or being moved about in emails?

"Inventory" could refer to out of date courses that no one has taken the time to delete from lists of offerings, so students have to scroll past them. It could refer to printing courses that could be delivered on screen or online. 

The point is, you will need to read the list with a open mind, thinking less literally, perhaps, and find the places where you can root out waste in your own process. And this is an ongoing process, not something that is done once and for all.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Five Things I Love and One Thing I Wish They'd Change

I've been asked to review e-learning and give feedback, and to be honest, I don't see much out there that is very good. The academic realm is the worst, by far. Many professors thing that e-learning = a video of them talking. Oh dear.

But even the professionally made materials can be pretty uninspiring. And then I found Wow. Here are five things I love about

1. The clips are the right size. A long one might be nine or ten minutes. They cover a topic in a single clip, and they don't have many clips that seem to be "orientation" or as someone I used to work with called it, "throat clearing."  I didn't buy the course files with my subscription, so the way I work with the material is to play the file, and stop at each step. Then I work on my own project, doing whatever was just taught. Then back to the clip. If the clips were longer, it would be much clunkier (is that a word?) to do this.

2. The content is task oriented. Because they aren't just running through menus (and yes, some people actually still train this way), I can switch back and forth from a real project to the clip. Because they are doing things I want to do. There will be a higher rate of retention for me too, because I am learning it like I will use it in the future. And I have already used the clips for "just in time" reminders of how to do something.

3. The navigation and interface is intuitive. I didn't have to have a lesson on how to use the interface. If you find yourself adding this to your project, know in your heart that there is a big fundamental problem with your interface. This isn't 1988.

4. The content is captioned. You didn't think I was going to ignore that, did you? I'm shocked at how much in the world is NOT accessible. Again, this isn't 1988. Because the content was captioned, I could buy subscriptions for my 14 team mates. Some of whom are deaf.

5. The tone of the instructors is great. They have a friendly, easy to follow approach that I liked. The instructors also come across like they actually use the software they are teaching. They seem like they are a trusted friend, someone who knows what they are doing, and they are giving you the inside scoop on the software.

One thing I do wish would change is their purchase options. I wanted to buy 14 licenses for my team -- one each. This should be easy, right? Just give them a list of email addresses, type in my credit card info and bang, you are done. Right? No. The level of service wants me to purchase, since I was purchasing for a group,  was more than I wanted to buy. Instead I was forced to give the team "gift cards" for the subscription. Please, Lynda, make it easier before I have to renew all those subscriptions!

Check out I think you will like it as much as I do!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Deadly Webinar: Three Things You Can Do to Keep From Boring Your Students To Death!

I'm sure this has happened to you: You get an email about a webinar. The topic sounds just like something you have thought about/wondered about. Oh, look! It's free! And on your lunch hour! What a great opportunity to do a little professional development and munch your sandwich. What could be better?

When the appointed hour arrives, you are settled at your desk, sandwich in hand. You log into the webinar site, and the technology works fine. The presenter begins and, after a few minutes, you begin to zone out. Between your instant messages, signing a few expense reports and vacation requests, and checking email, you suddenly realize that 20 minutes have passed and you have heard nothing. You have not a clue what they are talking about now. Oh well, they will make the slides available to download at the end. Maybe you can listen to the recorded version too. Only you never do.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too. And here's the worst part: that's how most of your participants are behaving during YOUR webinar. Here are three really simple things that you can do to make your webinars more engaging.

First, don't be afraid to give your participants pre-work to accomplish. Even if your students haven't completed the assignment, you don't have to begin from zero. A little of the information will prime your audience, and you won't have to wasted as much precious time reviewing the basics. It also sends a subtle but clear message that the participants are going to be actively involved in this engagement, and not be able to just sit there, like blobs, munching sandwiches and zoning out. 

Second, to draw your student in, tell a story, and focus on the why. I actually heard a great webinar yesterday, given by Ray Jimenez on story telling and training. Ray did a great job, and his webinar was the inspiration for this post. Ray gave several examples of how a good story really grabs your learner and makes them tune in. He used a Mercedes commercial to illustrate this. This commercial really grabbed me. I was ready to go out and buy one after watching it, and I never respond to ads like that! If only the car wasn't $100,000+! Telling stories like this is really establishing the "why" that Simon Sinek talks about.  (You can read my post about that here.)

Third, engage your students by asking them questions as you move along through your talk, and - here's the important part - respond to their comments by name. When Ray read my response to one of his questions and said, "Clare, great point," I was hooked! I was no longer just an anonymous participant. I was Clare, with the great point. I wanted to be recognized again, so I listened hard and tried to make good replies to his questions. Ray didn't do this once or twice, he did his all the way through his talk. It was very energizing and engaging, and contributed to the success of the talk.

I'm sure that there are more things/different things you could do to make your webinars engaging. But nothing works like involving your audience. Give these a try and let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Segmenting, Signaling, and Weeding: Improving Learning from Educational Video

It's always exciting to find out that something I have believed to be true actually is true, and there is research to support it! Today I read a wonderful journal article by Mohamed Ibrahim and Pavlo D Antoneko, both affiliated with Oaklahoma State University. The paper is titled, Effects of Segmenting, Signaling, and Weeding on Learning from Educational Video. The study used hearing students and focused on dual channel processing of video and the cognitive load problems that arise, particularly for novice learners without domain knowledge. I believe there are many good take-aways for content that is being developed for deaf learners.

Ibrahim and Antonenko tested three strategies that seem to improve knowledge retention: segmenting, signaling, and weeding.  Breaking the content into smaller pieces allows students' working memory to  Signaling means that the students are notified when a piece of content is important. Weeding refers to removing all superfluous content. 

The core problem is that when novice learners encounter video instruction, it tends to be delivered all in one big piece. It has to be swallowed whole, or not at all. In addition, if the student is a novice, without domain knowledge, then he has to try to figure out what is important and should be remembered, and then where that knowledge should be remembered. So, Ii the content is too long, for example an hour instead of 5 minutes, the student's working memory can't manage it. By contrast, when a student encounters a difficult text, the student can usually stop it, or think about it.

Segmenting is the practice of chunking the video. When the 5 minute video ends, the student must do something to get the next piece. Just this is enough to give his brain the time to consider and store the content.

Signally adresses a problem that novice learners have. Without domain knowledge, the student has to determine what is important, and what is not, and where each part of the knowledge fits, locically. Signaling notifies the student when something important is happening in the video. Not having to make this determination for themselves, when they don't yet have experience reduces the cognitive load on the student, and results in bettter retenion and learning.

Closely related is the problem of weeding. Weeding removes all superfluous material so again the student is able to understand what is important and what is not. Removing this material also reduces the cognitive load for the student.

The concepts of segmenting, signalling, weeding are critical to the instructional design model I'm assembling for teaching business skills, particularly concept and principle content types, to deaf professionals.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Video Cases Research by Ulgur Kale and Pmela Whitehouse, and What It Means to Asynchronous E-Learning

I just read a fascinating article in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education. Structuring Video Cases to Support Future Teachers' Problem Solving by Ulgur Kale and Pamela Whitehouse (you can read the entire article here) describes research done on the use of video cases with preservice teachers. I was particularly interested in what they call "ill-structured pedagogical problem solving." I think this means the messy problems that pop up in real life, when there are people involved. These kind of problems are layered, and, according to Kale and Whitehouse, what the preservice teacher can see in the problem is based on their own preferred teaching theory. In other words, what I call "The Carpenter's Problem" or if all you own is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

I'm interested in the use of video cases for teaching business skills, and this study offered me some great leads on how to structure them. Here's the summary:

1. Students have to be taught how to notice. I'm not sure that Kale and Whitehouse would exactly recognize this from their article, but it's in there. I think that most of what a person needs to learn about any subject that requires more than memorization is how to notice. The how-to-notice piece is what organizes chaos.

2. Students need a schema  for analysis and appropriate scaffolding. It is in reflecting and verbalizing the problem solving process that students are able to understand what is at hand, and their ability to reflect is enhanced. Tools that were proven useful included guiding questions, rubrics, and category codes.

3. Students need more than one schema.  Reviewing content with more than one lens (or with the help of experts with more than one analysis model) allows the students to understand the material more deeply. More points of view translate to greater ability to notice different aspects of the teaching moment.

4. Video cases should be segmented, rather than shown in entirety. Segmented video leads to better skills transfer and knowledge retention. I always felt this was true, because I can feel myself becoming fatigued. Apparently research by R.E. Meyer reveals that when students are working on ill-defined problems, the breaks between segments is particularly necessary because the cognitive and meta-cognitive demands require more time for recovery.

5. Resources should be arranged sequentially. The model for presentation would be first a video segment, and then the instructor's analysis. Then another segment, and more analysis. Presentation in this manner helps the preservice teachers to better identify the "new" material in the subsequent segments. I think having the students apply their own analysis in this manner would also be advantageous. 

All of this was very useful when I consider how to best teach principle (judgement) based learning, such as that I will convey in a business skills course. Right away I am thinking that we need to develop a method for observation that can be taught to students before we start in on the content area. I need to do research to see what sorts of analysis models exist now. The breaking the content into segments and structuring the analysis with the students will be the easy part, I think.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Six Things You Should be Doing to Get Yourself Hired!

Let's face it: There are a lot of us baby boomers out looking for work. And the world is an entirely different place from the last time we were in this fix. And the world of job search is a lot different too. Here are four things you should keep in mind to improve your chances of getting hired.
Number one: Apply for jobs that make sense.
When I get a resume from a seasoned professional for an entry level position, completely outside the person's area of experience, or so far below the position they held recently, it is a major red flag to me. Why are they doing this? Do they just not understand what the job I am posting involves? Are they so basically unhireable that  they will snap at anything? It's either a case of low self-esteem, cluelessness, or desperation. None of these is attractive to me.

Apply for jobs that fit your career narrative, that seem like a logical progression from what you did before. And if the job doesn't seem to fit, but there is a reason you want it (career changing would be a reason), explain how what you have done in the past leads to this.

Number two: Lead with the why, not the what.
Again I am going to refer to this Ted Talk by Simon Sinek. People will connect with you because you share the same passion that they share. That is what they are looking for. If you can do a good job with this part of the hiring process, it will make up for deficiencies other places. Your cover letter MUST do this. Just like saltine crackers are only a vehicle for peanut butter (so says my dad, and you know he is right!), so is the what just a vehicle to convey the why. Take a minute and watch this video again.

(By the way, this video is captioned. Click on the upward facing arrow on the bottom right hand side of the video viewer.)

Number Three: Edit your resume.
Everything, yes I said EVERYTHING on your resume should point to the position you are trying to gain. If you include the fact that you took a  DOS 3.0 class in 1986, ask yourself, why does this matter? You were a waitress in high school. And the connection is what? I don't want to read your job description. Really. I know what a graphic designer does. What I want to read is your design philosophy, how you have been able to be collaborative in a essentially singular activity, how you create, how you stay fresh, how you contribute.

Number Four: Make it easy on the  person doing the hiring.
This is what happens. I finally, finally, finally, get the go ahead to hire. It's been a struggle. Now I want to hire someone today, this minute, before those above me in the food chain decide to change their minds. I do not want to wait a week or a day or an hour for you to send me your portfolio, your references, or whatever I need in order to close the deal. Have your stuff ready to go, and be fast and flexible. Because if it's down to you and another guy, the first one over the finish line will win. The victory goes to the fleet of foot, my friend.

Number Five: Use your network.
When I write to someone I'm connected to on LinkedIn about a position, I've had an 80% success rate (or better) getting an interview. Without that connection, my interview rate is much, much, lower. Build up your network and use it. Write to your connection and ask about the position. If you can get to the hiring manager, better yet.

Number Six: Ask for the job.
Many years ago, I was on a hiring committee to hire an assistant director. This position was at least two steps above me, and I happened to know all three of the finalists. I had worked with all three, and I liked and respected all of them. They were all equally competent, and very equal contenders for the position. During the interviews, only one candidate came right out and asked for the job. And he was the one who got the offer.

This was a real eye opener for me, and from that time forward, if I want the job, I ask for it. If I ask for it, I have about a 75% chance to get an offer. It is like a magic thing. You have to ask.

No one really wants to be looking for a job, but if you follow these tips, I think you will have an excellent chance at shortening the process and getting on with the rest of your life. Good luck!