Thursday, April 30, 2009

Collective Dictates

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneSocietal Pendulum
This is my final post for April and is one of a series on collective effects.
It completes a year of blogging that began in May 2008. Like many posts I’ve put here, the main text is inspired by another blogger, in this case Tom Haskins. It is essentially a comment in response to his post, According To Design Dictates.
I recommend that you check out
his blog for it is indeed inspiring.

This is what I call a comment-post. It is a comment that’s long enough to be a substantive post. Tom recognised this. He published it as a post a day after I’d left it as a comment on his blog. Today I return the words to Middle-earth.

For a long time (and it continues) humankind has followed dictates.
Oh yes, the form of the dictates has changed over the millennia, but never-the-less the dictates have called the shots.

Some last for a few years, some last for decades, some live out centuries before the dictates are overturned by some sort of knee-jerk reaction by (human) society. I think that it's in our dna.

You have recognised a feature of the effect of dictates. It's not particularly exciting. It simply dictates the status quo.

How often has society waited for that wonderful moment when religion or science or political inertia is about to announce a revelation that brings hope into the arena, only to find that the wait was a waste of time, and energy in hoping?

Our dna

Somehow our dna prohibits humankind from behaving intelligently
en masse. The collective intelligence we hear and read about never puts on its thinking cap when it's really needed.

Yet it can move swiftly and deftly as a shoal of fish in following fashion and things seemingly trivial compared to the perceived real need for shifts in society. We've only to look at political choice of a nation.

I'm not talking about the present moves in elections. Politics has shifted under the influence of dictates for centuries like a pendulum.

Harmonic motion

As agile as it moves, the pendulum has its own inertia, never finding the balance, never resting in equilibrium. Never learning from its own mistakes. Yet at its centre is a need to solve a problem of sorts.

It is (in fact) like a collective non-intelligence. It's the case in point where the whole is NOT greater than the sum of its parts. Far from it.

History gives a fine reflection of how it works. They say we never learn from history. That saying has been around long enough. Yet we still don't. We have never learnt to learn from what we see as a blatant lesson for society.

Unlike brains

No. Humankind doesn't think like brains do. How silly to think that the collective motion of millions of intelligences is not intelligent - as we perceive it. Not like bees. A bee seems to have a residual intelligence. But the swarm seems to have a mind of its own.

Maybe it's just the way individuals think. Maybe, in fact, the real intelligent way to move is how humankind moves and has been moving for centuries - despite the intelligent opinion of individuals on how it SHOULD move.

So dictates may form a major part of that. Who knows? Perhaps the dictates should be revered more than they are.

( 5 ) << - related posts - >> ( 3 ) ( 2 ) ( 1 )

Haere rā – Farewell

A Giant Programmable Computer

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Web Crystal Ball

"The web is becoming a giant programmable computer,

and that means that people can now collaborate.”
Don Tapscott

In the year 2000, I was scouring the web for engaging sites to help me teach my online Science students, when I happened to get a hit on
The Periodic Table of Comic Books. This award winning site is a 20
th century mashup.

Link to The Periodic Table of Comic Books
It involves a close collaboration between the celebrated content sitting on the site at Web Elements in collaboration with the Chemistry Department of the University of Sheffield, UK, and a splendid 60s style comic book periodic table on the site at the Chemistry Department of the University of Kentucky. This amazing resource has not only engaging colour comic strips but also provides a full complement of data on each of the elements of the periodic table.

A giant programmable computer

When I listened to Don Tapscott’s lines about the web becoming a giant programmable computer in one of his recent video interviews,
I was reminded of Fred Brown’s famous Sci Fi short story, Answer.

The web is changing "the way that we innovate, the way that we orchestrate capability to create goods and services in society". It is "changing the deep structure and architecture of the corporation" and this is likely to bring about "profound changes to every institution in society".

I wondered if it would just be people who would collaborate though. Clearly, there is scope for much, where computational collaboration, far more than is already taking place, could become common.

Compelling style

Tapscott’s visionary manner is compelling. He comes across as a plausible sage. While I have no doubt about his observational skill and his business acumen, I wonder at the implied imbalance and the scale of some of his predicted web transformations.

He speaks of web changes, with most of his forecasts suggesting absolute transformations. “Social networking is becoming social production. This is no longer about hooking up online or creating a gardening community and putting videos on YouTube.” His tone suggests that these will become things of the past - they will simply not happen anymore.

He similarly describes it “changing from being a platform for the presentation of content to becoming a platform for computation”.

I doubt the totality of the web transformations that the pitch of Tapscott’s delivery suggests. There is plenty of space and scope for the web to be “a global platform for collaboration” as well as all the other uses it is likely to be put to and that will include cloud computing and all its developments. As long as humankind is confined to this earth, the capacity of the web to accommodate all of this and more is the nearest we’re ever likely to see of an infinite network.

Clearly there are transformations occurring in the nature of the web, and there always will be. While many of the new avenues that he describes are conceivable, I am sceptical of the exclusive nature of the things the web is supposed to become, according to Tapscott.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Dwan Ev ceremoniously soldered the final connection with gold. The eyes of a dozen television cameras watched him and the subether bore throughout the universe a dozen pictures of what he was doing.

He straightened and nodded to Dwar Reyn, then moved to a position beside the switch that would complete the contact when he threw it. The switch that would connect, all at once, all of the monster computing machines of all the populated planets in the universe -- ninety-six billion planets -- into the supercircuit that would connect them all into one supercalculator, one cybernetics machine that would combine all the knowledge of all the galaxies.

Dwar Reyn spoke briefly to the watching and listening trillions. Then after a moment's silence he said, "Now, Dwar Ev."

Dwar Ev threw the switch. There was a mighty hum, the surge of power from ninety-six billion planets. Lights flashed and quieted along the miles-long panel.

Dwar Ev stepped back and drew a deep breath. "The honor of asking the first question is yours, Dwar Reyn."

"Thank you," said Dwar Reyn. "It shall be a question which no single cybernetics machine has been able to answer."

He turned to face the machine. "Is there a God?"

The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of a single relay.

"Yes, now there is a God."

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.
A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.
Fredric Brown - 1954, Answer

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For The Love Of Words!

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Starry Night
Bud the Teacher made a deal, it being National Poetry month in US.

He has run a series of prompts on his blog this month, encouraging me, among others, to write a verse a day. I don’t normally splash the verse I write all over a post. But then the ‘word’ is one of my interests.

It being the year of astronomy, here are all the bits of verse that Bud coaxed out of me so far that have a particular cosmic element to them, and a few that are of themes closer to home:

In less time than it takes to say the word
A whole universe came into being.

One, two, three
wrote Gamow,
or more exact
from big bang
to tomorrow,
atomic fact
was off
beyond the
of Gamov’s

What it is to feel

soft sand under foot,

waves lapping at ankle,

warm sun on back.

Where else in the universe

is there rich pleasure as this?

“It’s been a long time since Cataclysm.

They said in the beginning
it might be quite a journey.
And so we are all here
in one form or another.
No one knew
it would be so simple to start it off.

Even Fermi didn’t, though more than most
he had the insight. ‘So where are they all?’
was what he put to them, knowing full well!

He’s over by the supernova.
Can’t get him away from it.
Addicted they say.
He always was fanatical.
Apparently he was among
the first to congratulate Hawking
when he got here.

Hawking knew all along of course.
It was only a matter of time.
And before he let it all out,
it was far too late.”

“Another crumpled Golden Kiwi ticket!
Jackpot’s 9.5 million this week.
Chance would be a fine thing.”

“Now that’s what I call lucky.
There’s a car with registration 319WXG!
What's the chance of seeing that?”

“Talk about flukes.
Looked up at the sky last night.
Saw two satellites crossing within,
well, millimetres.”

“Just think.
Of all the galaxies in the cosmos,
by sheer coincidence,
we happen to be right here.”

“You and I.”

“Better get another Golden Kiwi ticket.”

In the arid heat there’s nothing so dear

as water to a parchment tongue.

Nothing so peaceful in a cool evening
than the rippling lake in summer.

What is it about crystal clear water
That turns a tired mind from dull task?

Through the ages we got by
with a few basic tools,

fewer that even a child might use,
and for the same purpose:

a scrap of paper -
a bundle of crayons;

once shown how to use them
creativity needs no prompt.

Of cleanliness,

they got it right,
the marine tropicals.

I mean
the little fish
like Nemo,
in finding the same.

They just can’t hack the filth.
Enterprising aquarists,
to their cost,
found that out.

Yes, it’s to be pristine,
that’s the word,
like the clear crystal
they thrive in.

You can tell
as you look
through the
blue water
it’s clear
the fish are
in their element.

“Can I have a scissor please?”

“A what?”

“A scissor.”

“We only sell them in pairs.”

“I’ll have two scissors please.”

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Technology Competency & 21st Century Learners

Recycle BinRecycle Bin
Aaaaaaah! I’ve just deleted the Recycle Bin from my Desktop!

My PC runs Vista. Unlike other versions of Windows, Vista has a pull-down list on the Recycle Bin with a Delete option as well as the Empty Recycle Bin option. If Delete is chosen, the Recycle Bin isn’t emptiedit is removed from the Desktop!

Menu of the Recycle Bin
Fortunately, the Recycle Bin is not actually deleted, but the path to restoring it, although easy to follow, is not easy to find.

The first time I deleted it was traumatic but I found a tip on Google. There are millions on
the Vista Recycle Bin!

It was only when it happened again that I realised that I hadn’t followed the advice I give to my students and colleagues on learning and practice. So the second time I had to do the Google search I made a careful mental note of the steps needed, and also to come back and check I could still remember them before I logged off.

I was reminded of this helpful idea when I read Tracy Hamilton’s recent post, Laughing at my own memory lost - Use it or Lose it. I also recalled the related comment I left on Tony Karrer's Tool Set 2009.

See > Note > Act > Practice (SNAP)

Teachers today require a high level of ICT competency, in addition to their understanding of subject knowledge, pedagogy and teaching practice. But the 21
st Century teacher doesn’t need much more in the way of basic ICT skills than a late 20th Century teacher did. Certainly keeping up with the latest ICT developments and updates is a part, but then, isn’t that always the case in ICT?

The need is for a clear pathway for the learner to apply the learning once delivered, by whatever means – conversation, professional development program, whether on-the-job or in a formal training class.

Cognitive apprenticeship

It is embraced in the so-called cognitive apprentice theory that experts in a skill often don’t consider hidden processes involved in carrying out complex skills when they are teaching/instructing newcomers.

Situated professional development programs can be used to make this happen, instead of defining a prescription for particular technology competencies that learners must have and be able to use.

Often, learners have difficulty learning raw content. They may not be able to see exactly how raw know-how can be applied as it may have no relevance to them at the time and so they don't learn and remember.

Situated learning that grounds learning experiences in the learner’s own practice may well be more successful and a situated professional development technology program can serve the needs of the learners’ specific technology within their own learning environment.

But learners can do a lot of this for themselves.

Practice and metacognition

Whatever skill/knowledge/concept the learner has first learnt should be practiced soon as - the same day. This means that any training that is given should take into account the opportunity the learner may have to practice the same day and try out their newly acquired skill.

Mini projects that can be used by the learner after learning sessions always helps with this. This also applies to an on-the-job conversation where the learner picks up a tip or piece of advice that may well be useful to them in the future.

Learning to write little reminders when first shown something and then to practice it immediately afterwards is paramount to putting what's learnt into use and maintaining it. It is in the category of what’s called metacognition.

The mantra is learn and practice soon as.

As well, last thing on a Friday is a no-no for training/learning simply because of this whole principle of practice soon as.
You can say ta-ta to what you're shown last thing on a Friday by the time Monday arrives. You rarely consolidate what you’ve learnt over the weekend!

When a helpful IT technician comes to show me how to do something on my PC on a Friday, I always say, “Can you show me on Monday? I’ll send you an email - I'll come round and you can show me then.”
Then I send the email AND cc it to myself.

I recall some years ago getting computer training on the last days of the year! Forget it! I may as well have!

Three tiers of technology competency

Acquiring technology competency has at least three components to it. They are to do with concept
(c), training (t) and practice (p). Take knowing where to find the ‘attach and email’ function for instance.

The know-how to use the ‘attach and email’ function in Word 2007 comes with a bit of t & p and the end result is swifter and less cumbersome than other methods. But the ‘concept’ that a newly created Word document can be attached immediately to an email, and that the email application is invoked automatically while this process is being brought into effect is more than mere t & p.

The learner who has never met this idea is very unlikely t
o think of looking for the function on any new version of a computer application in order to use it. Thankfully in most instances the c comes with t & p but not always.

It’s not all just learning how to. My feeling is that there are at least 3 tiers of competency in any set of related skills:
  1. concept - such as Send to Mail Recipient as Attachment (just get your head round the c idea)

  2. knowledge that a function exists on the application/program used (t but also needs c),

  3. knowing how to use it on a specific app/program (c and t & p).
You'll notice that practice always comes last but is no less important.

Remember the mantra? Learn and practice soon as

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Māori Culture And Legend

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Māui and his brothersMāui and his brothers taming the sun - The Marae, Te Papa Museum of New Zealand

Māori tradition is steeped in folklore. It is a culture I have much respect for and I see strong similarities with the Celtic traditions in Scotland, the land of my birth. I’d like to share with you some of the aspects of Māori culture and folklore that are significant to me.

The section I belong to at The Correspondence School (TCS) is called Poutama. We chose this name when restructuring began, with the regionalisation of TCS early last year. I feel privileged to belong to a wonderful section of teachers in Poutama. I’m very proud of our name which comes from the name for an ancient Māori wall design.


The Poutama design is a type of tukutuku, a traditional Māori art form. They form part of visual storytelling in Māori culture.

Tukutuku are decorative woven or carved
panels that are part of the traditional wall construction used inside Māori meeting houses.

In ancient lore, poutama symbolises an ascent made by the folk hero Tawhaki (pronounced tafaki) to receive the three baskets (kete) of knowledge from the gods.

They are:
  • te kete-aronui - basket of knowledge that helps us,
  • te kete-tuauri - basket of knowledge to do with ritual, memory and prayer,
  • te kete-tuatea - basket of knowledge of evil or makutu, harmful to us.
The interpretation of the word poutama is one who protects and supports his family sub-tribe and tribe, as in a chief or rangatira.

The construction of poutama symbolises the steps to progress in education and the endeavour to improve - the planning of a child's future - by parents, family and tribe. It is believed to be the ultimate mark of a leader.

The legends of Māui

I have always had a fascination for folk legends. Most
Māori legends possess a strong principled or educational aspect. Perhaps this is why I found the legends in Māori folklore particularly absorbing.

Among some of the most attractive are the tales about the Māori half-god, Māui, who was abandoned at birth and later reunited with his family. Māui is depicted with his four brothers in the photo at the head of this post.

Here is how I tell the legend of Māui, how he was eventually reunited with his mother and family
, and given his name.

Māui wrapped in the topknot of Taranga

Little Māui, baby Māui,
Wrapped all in the tikitiki,
Sleeping on the white wet sand.

Swept the wind up on the beaches,
Swept the ripples, swept the tide-spray,
Hair and seaweed tied the bundle,
Lightly tied the bundle neatly.

Swathed in seaweed, bathed in sea-spray,
Lifted by the tide-wave gently,
Buoyed up on the foamy bubbles,
On he slept as waves were bobbing,
Poor unwanted baby Māui,
Bobbing out to sea.

Still he slept, the little Māui,
As the cruel and hungry sea-birds
Watched the bundle gently rocking,
Rocking on the sea.

Then the kindly sky-god Rangi
Saw the hungry sea-birds hover,
Hover near the baby Māui,
Bobbing out to sea.

Swiftly Rangi hailed the mountains,
Mountains with their white hair gathered,
Gathering the white hair rolling,
Rolling out to sea.

Swift they lifted little Māui,
Lifted on the plumes of white hair,
Hair twined with the tikitiki
High above the sea.

There the kindly Rangi raised him,
Taught him all his wondrous magic,
Set him on the rolling white sand,
Wet sand where Taranga left him.

Then the old man Tama met him,
Took him as his son, his own son,
Told him of his four fine brothers,
Told him of their mother's homeland.

Showed him all he knew as nature,
Where the streams run fast and steeply,
How the bees hive, how they gather,
How the birds dive, how they hover,
Where the fish swim fast and fleetly,
All that he had known.

Then the youthful Māui learning of the homeland,
Yearning for the brothers living with their mother dear,
Left the old man Tama by the rolling white sand,
Crossed the western hills to the wooded plain so near.

Lightly fell the footstep quieter than the silence,
Slipping like a shadow through the shady underwood,
Entering the whare in the family's presence,
Past the smoking fire to where the pitiless mother stood.

Presently Taranga called on all her young ones,
Called on them to join her around the smoking fire,
Counting as they joined hands, counting she had five sons,
Four sons and a strange one dressed in strange attire.

Holding near a fire-brand to the littlest brother
Taranga leaned forward and asked from where he came,
Māui said 'I'm Māui, and you are my own mother',
'These four are my brothers and Taranga's your name'.

Little Māui told them what old Tama told him
Of the baby Māui laid asleep upon the sand:
Shrouded in the seaweed, chilly crown and cold limb,
Rescue, and the sea-birds, and kindly Rangi's hand.

Māui named his brothers and told them all their secrets,
'You are our little Māui!' cried Taranga,
Clasped him to her breast as her hair hung round in ringlets,
Named him little Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga.

Many other
Māori legends can be found on the Māori in Oz site.

This April is National Poetry month in the US.

I have been hopping across to Bud the Teacher and attempting to invoke the muse. It is a wonderful site and Bud is prompting us to write some poetry every day this month.

If you are poetically inclined and would like to write a line or three,
I encourage you to nip across to Bud’s site. Go on. Give opportunity to your muse.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Learning With A Webcam

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
This article was first published on Futurelab in February 2008. I've reproduced the text of the article here. Some links to resources are now no longer current.

"Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth -
tame the dragon and the gift is yours."
- Noela Evans

A new kid on the block

The webcam[1] has enjoyed a prosperous career, from its early commercial adoption in the adult industry, through its use in personal video-conferencing, to more recent applications in monitoring traffic, examining air quality[2], as weather-cams, aquarium-cams, zoo-cams, volcano-cams[3] and a plethora of other location-cams[4].

Despite its popularity and speedy development many educators still regard it as a new kid on the block and there is surprisingly little published on its specific operation as a pedagogical tool; this article summarises information currently available relevant to this purpose.

Why use a webcam?

The idea of teaching online classes and using a webcam for this purpose[5] with specific communications software such as Skype[6] has been around for a few years. Enthusiasm among instructors has initiated the need for training in the use of this technology within a range of pedagogically related applications[7] but only basic information[8], simple tips[9] and useful hints in the operation of the webcam[10] can be found on a few practical Internet sites.

Some tertiary institutes such as CTL Regent University have incorporated the webcam in a variety of teaching and learning activities[n/a11], Spanish language tuition has enjoyed the use of this technology with notable success[12] and the value of the webcam in learning the technique of taking cuttings from a woody plant in horticulture has been identified[13]. The use of the webcam as a teaching and learning tool is gradually becoming more popular at all education levels.

A recent Becta article[14] on improving learning through technology reports that “webcams can offer teachers effective ways of using ICT across the curriculum that can engage pupils with technology in an interactive way. They can allow pupils to see real-time events, bring far-off places to life, and can inspire curiosity and imagination. Webcams can also be used for video-conferencing, assisting collaboration between schools, perhaps in different locations in a country or between countries, on a joint project.”

E-learning applications

Though there is not a significant amount of quantitative research available at present, the anecdotal evidence suggests that use of the webcam in specific areas can make an important contribution to the portfolio of applied e-learning technologies.

The Digital Geography site[15] offers different examples of webcam application, for instance, one where a Year 7 student uses it to explain how she created her model river[16], and another where a whole Year 7 class works collaboratively to make an environmental movie[17] using Windows Movie Maker[18] to edit the takes and a webcam-wall[19] using PowerPoint.

The Center For Innovation In Engineering And Science Education (CIESE) provides lessons in weather forecasting[20] where remote webcams accessed on the Internet give students prompt confirmation of their assigned predictions. Many Internet-based tuition services are now using the technology as a direct means of providing lessons in a variety of topics, including those that present live access to a zoo[21], offer live music lessons[22] and facilitate the required animation for specific lessons in biology[23].

The potential for the fruitful application of webcams is evident in teaching art, technology and other areas of learning that have a central practical component. Student research on difficult topics such as environmental issues can be made easier through access to the many location webcams available on the Internet.

Problems and risks

Becta[14] elaborates on some of the threats related to webcam use, outlining that “one of the greatest risks associated with streaming webcams is one-to-one chat, typically as an extension to chatrooms. While it’s extremely unlikely that pupils will use webcams for chatting in an educational setting unless for organised video-conferencing sessions, it is possible that they may use them outside of school and so should be alerted to the dangers.”

Computer virus infection such as that caused by a so-called ‘trojan’ can also present problems that are minimised by installing good anti-virus software.

Ric Jensen of Northwestern State University found that the use of a webcam could enhance learning and had real benefit that allowed distance education students to put a face on the instructor, though there were difficulties of access due to low-bandwidth issues[24].

Privacy issues and acceptable use policies

Establishing a safe ICT learning environment is of paramount importance. The people at Becta have identified and elaborated on three generic components[25] that are recommended to ensure this is maintained:
  • an infrastructure of whole-school awareness, designated responsibilities, policies and procedures

  • an effective range of technological tools

  • a comprehensive Internet safety education programme for the whole school community.
Special care should always be taken where webcams are in use as with the supervision over the dissemination of images from that technology. Becta has published an excellent comprehensive document[26] entitled ‘E-safety - Developing whole-school policies to support effective practice’, some of which relates directly to the use of the webcam.

References (some links are no longer current)

11. now not available -
13. The Correspondence School, NZ, Claire Neiman (private communication, May 24, 2007)

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Friday, April 17, 2009

Love The Conversation

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Love the Conversation
“Love the conversation” is Tony Karrer’s closing sentence in a recent discussion on his post, Reduce Searching Start Talking.

The poet in me reads his words as having latent yet brilliant dichotomy. I couldn’t help but be entertained by this, for the post and its associated discussion are precisely about the practical usefulness of information, brought about through conversation, rather than by a search on an information database.

Conversation can apply to discourse on a blog, chat-room, phone or face-to-face. I explore parts of that conversation here.

Tony reviews the opinion of Martine Haas. She maintains that following a knowledge sharing philosophy, using document databases within an organisation, will not necessarily bring about desired success. Key and pertinent points that Tony brings forward are:
using personal advice from experienced colleagues can improve work quality

appropriately matching the type of knowledge used to the requirements of the task at hand is critical to improved performance of projects
The question is how to apply these axioms effectively and efficiently.

Experienced colleagues

When it comes to using the experience of people within an organisation, there’s often a pecking order or hierarchy. The hierarchy does not necessarily relate to a gradation of useful experience, so a careful inspection is required to avoid selection according to invalid or wrong assumptions. All of this relates to people and how they communicate. I put forward a selection of questions relevant to this:

  1. Who decides who within an organisation has the most useful experience when it comes to learning from that?
  2. What criteria are used in this decision making?
  3. How is personality, as a factor used by decision makers, considered against experience and worth of opinion when selecting experienced colleagues, presumably from within, rather than from outside, the organisation?
  4. (a) How is useful advice that is collected from experienced colleagues translated into workable information?

    (b) What ensures that variation from original advice
    doesn’t occur through invalid interpretation or other infidelity?
Inherent in the questions 4 (a) and (b) in the above list is the need to ensure the relevance and significance of gathered information isn’t dulled or diffused by editing or judicious culling. This may be brought about through intensions unrelated to the intent behind the first gathering of information. The writing of a summary report from transcripts and the like, perhaps edited by a third party, is one area where such diffusion can occur unwittingly.

Often within organisations, either in association with government or where there is strong policy or procedural strategies in existence, there are political factors that are brought into play. Depending on how these are taken into consideration, such features can adversely influence an otherwise appropriate decision or choice. These situations are often encountered when authorities are involved, and policy is enacted, perhaps incongruously, without due thought given to implications relevant to the issue being examined.

Matching the knowledge transfer process

Helping people to learn to use the most effective means of knowledge transfer is the challenge that Maria put forward on Tony’s post. I agree that this must be where it’s at on all levels in an organisation.

The question here is where to start. It is likely too complex for a practical guiding taxonomy to be drawn up and be of any use. Drafting a program to teach adults to use the right means of knowledge transfer is probably at least as difficult as teaching children to be discerning about information accessible on the Internet. There are no hard and fast rules for this. Yet there is no doubt that discernment forms a large part of selecting efficient and effective means for knowledge transfer.

Not only is careful analysis of the type of knowledge required, but its reason for use and the possible methods for its eventual dissemination have all to be considered when making a selection.

I recall visiting a demonstration in the late 80s on the use of Phoenix, an authoring tool for creating computer assisted instruction. At the time, my interest was to use the technology for developing a course on how to use a database. The example given as a paradigm was instruction on how to dig ditches.


Appropriate information gleaned from conversation, rather than sifting for the data in a document database, will yield results that are more likely to lead to success. In conversation Tony posed the question, when should the transition from written to conversation occur? In my response, I chose an example of when this decision making is done by a student:

Often the switch time should come earlier than it is made. A typical example of this is when a student phones me up about a difficulty. Usually they have been grappling with it for some time, maybe looked on the Internet, read the book etc, and then they resort to taking the initiative to phone.

BUT, in describing what the problem is over the phone, it's not unusual for the student to find their own solution. By verbalising what's problematic, it somehow enables the mind to see the solution. What the student should have done, of course, is to phone me earlier.

This is another aspect of conversation that's often overlooked - that of translating thought, so that the idea becomes more apparent and hence giving more opportunity for the talker to understand.

Formal discussion

If time is at a premium, meetings scheduled for discussion tend to be rushed. Contributors tend to do their thinking during the discussion rather than before. Personalities can dominate procedure and theme, and an unwritten agenda of consensus can preclude useful debate.

In challenged discussion of this type, important issues may be overlooked for there is often insufficient time for due consideration and real thinking to be done. The concern is to ensure contributors have done sufficient thinking on the salient issues before the meeting.

Digital discussion

At first look, a wiki or other such discussion forum over time could provide the opportunity for points to be raised for further thought. But it is well known that participation in discussion of this type tends to be limited to a small minority within a group. That’s not to say that others do not read, think and further consider the issues that are tabled, but there is no unequivocal way of checking this. I now understand Tony’s earlier pursuit of mandatory participation in digital discussion.

But given that such a system could operate, there are a number of important guidelines that should be followed by the person who calls the meeting. Since an understanding of what the key issues may be is paramount to the possible and eventual success of the process, it is clear this person also has to be one who has a major leadership role relevant to the process.

Type of discussion

At a recent meeting I attended, teachers were invited for their input on an introductory diagram to be drafted, designed and eventually used in teaching part of Curriculum Level 3 - 4 Science. It was specifically for learners new to the concept. Unfortunately much of what was brought along were ideas on many and related cycles interlinked with but not directly relevant to the proposed diagram that was to be designed.

The meeting became a free for all. Some teachers became exasperated at its diffuseness. Eventually, refinements had to be made to a draft diagram through a series of to and fro emails over a number of days.

A clear understanding of the purpose of a discussion should be owned by each invited participant. Discussion parameters should be made evident to all parties before it begins. This not only saves time, but also prevents digression from the original intent.

The type of discussion expected should also be known and understood by all participants. If it is to be a face-to-face brainstorm, for instance, the contributors should also be fully versed in format and expectation. This will mean defining guidelines before the meeting, such as:
no put down – anything goes – short sharp suggested ideas no discussion – all ideas are recorded – maximum time for meeting 30 minutes.

Ambiguity wastes time

So often the issue to be discussed is only vaguely outlined and perhaps hurriedly in an agenda. Ambiguity contributes to vagueness.

There is nothing more likely to waste valuable time than participants arriving at the venue with the wrong agenda in mind. If the meeting is called to decide on a particular direction or course of action from a number of possible options, relevant information should be circulated about all the options to all participants before the meeting.

But these ideas aren’t new and they're not rocket science. They’re simply good communication practice for calling meetings. While the conversation at a meeting may be criticised, its planning may well be at fault from the start.


How well participants are committed to the cause within an issue brought forward in discussion is a moveable feast. All I can offer here is a message about ownership.

It’s not just a case of announcing the title of the topic at issue and distributing invitations. For participants to enter willingly and wholeheartedly into discussion on a topic, they must first have a sense of ownership. Their vested interest is fostered by offering opportunity to enter into cognitive discourse - they need time and occasion to think about it. That time well spent brings ownership to the participants of any conversation.

( 3 ) ( 2 ) << - related post
Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

What Is Learnt From Community?

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneMap of Fair Isle
North of Scotland, 25 miles south west of the Shetland Islands, lies Frjóey (Sheep Island - from the Norse) or Fair Isle. About 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, it is the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom. Despite its almost complete lack of raw materials, Fair Isle has been occupied since the Bronze Age.

The resourcefulness of the people of Fair Isle is extraordinary.
The principle occupation of the men is crofting. The people subsist almost entirely on their own fine produce of meat and vegetables.

Fair Isle Pattern
The women foster an impressive cottage industry in woollen knitwear, from natural coloured home-spun wool.

Their intricate Fair Isle patterns are legendary and are favourites in fabric and textile industries, local and world-wide.
A wind-powered electricity supply seasonally provides between 50% and 85% of the island’s electricity needs. Fair Isle is a world leader in the use of renewable energy.

In 1900 there were 300 inhabitants. Less than 70 people live there today, ranging in age from 6 months to 96 years old. But what is truly remarkable is that the community has a lifestyle based almost entirely on mutual help and community effort. Disputes between individuals or between families on the island are virtually unknown; such is their dependency on, and commitment to cooperation and mutual support.

The commitment to cooperation and mutual support is self-sustaining.
It is what has permitted the people of Fair Isle to live as a community for thousands of years.

A lesson in community

There is much to be learnt from the people of Fair Isle. In recent years, people networks, groups and communities, and the relevance of their activity in present day education, have captured my attention.

A fascination for the behaviour of communities and a desire to learn how to encourage learners to participate within learning groups, motivated me to become a blogger in May last year.

Through my own practice and research, I’ve discovered that achieving a sustainable online learning community is very difficult. Over the years, and especially recently, I’ve been relieved though not satisfied to learn, from many different sources, that it’s not just me. Teacher/facilitator reports of the endeavour needed to engage online learners in community participation are to be found everywhere I look.

So-called learning communities are capricious in the way they perform. Growing an online learning community needs a specialist skill. It also takes a lot of time, effort and patience. Such undertakings do not always achieve the desired learning successes. In Clark Quinn's recent post Real Community, he questions if what we call online communities are really communities.
I continue to look, learn and try to understand how some communities function and survive.Taking a lesson from the people of Fair Isle, how can a sustained commitment to cooperation and mutual support be brought about in a group of online learners?

 courtesy Lise Sinclair
Haere rā – Farewell

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Definitive Investigation - Don Tapscott

Tēnā koutou katoa Greetings to you all
Today I listened to a presentation by Andrew Churches. One of the highlights of his talk was a video by Don Tapscott launching his book, "Grown Up Digital - The Net Generation is Changing YOUR World".

I just have to post his vid, but it's a tad ironic that Tapscott has to write about the use of all this technology and the Internet in a book!

Ka kite anō Catch ya later

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In Praise Of Plaudit

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allPraising KashinHannah praising Kashin - Auckland Zoo
Well done! Good thinking! Fantastic idea! Terrific score! Great result!

These are plaudits among many that are part of the vocabulary of the supportive parent or classroom teacher. They’re often used with the learner who is striving to achieve.

Clear-cut recognition of this quality praise works so successfully that many teachers use it even if the learner isn’t putting in much effort and is only making some show towards what might lead to possible achievement. So why give such encouragement to learners who aren’t really achieving?

Good teachers discover, perhaps through long experience, that support and encouragement given to a potential learner usually bring forth a good result. Even a reluctant learner can be encouraged to engage in learning when given praise of the right kind.

In a recent study, Izuma et al have gathered evidence that suggests the brain's reward system works just as well for praise as for money.

A privileged opportunity

In 1993 I was privileged to meet and listen to the experience and advice of Ormond Tait, former Principal of The Correspondence School, New Zealand (TCS), one of Australasia’s largest distance education centres. Tait’s expertise in working with distance learners is legendary.

He gave frequent seminars on distance learning to teachers at TCS, despite his busy timetable. Tait’s empathy for the distance learner was real and passionate. He held the opinion that distance learners are at a severe learning disadvantage nearly all the time, an impediment that sets them apart from most learners in the classroom.

One major difference that he often stressed involves teacher approbation. The learner in the classroom can receive encouragement in many ways. A smile, a nod showing that the learner is on the right track, a kind word of encouragement, a comment on a returned assignment, are all signs of approval that the classroom learner can receive, perhaps several times during a lesson. The distance learner may not have the benefit of any of these plaudits during a similar period of study.

Straight advice

Tait’s advice was implicit. Do not lay on praise with a trowel. That is just not enough. Praise in the distance learning environment has to be heaped on with a shovel. In this, most elearners have similar dispositions to the distance learner. For the most part, the distinction between these two sets of learners lies in how the learning resources are delivered and the nature of these.

Both categories of learners can experience the same feeling of isolation. In many ways Ormond Tait’s advice on encouragement applies as much to elearners as it does to distance learners.

The dangers of over-praise

Unexpected or spontaneous praise is a powerful motivating force for the learner. But it is widely accepted by classroom teachers that praising for achievements that come too easily, or for doing things that the learner may want to do anyway, can be ineffectual and even lead to problems with some learners.

While over-praise in the classroom may lead to feelings of unwanted smugness and
self-satisfaction in the learner, such attitudes are rarely brought about by over-praising the distance learner.

Studies by Meyer (1992) indicated that, in a classroom environment, praise that comes automatically can quickly become ineffective. As young learners mature they become sophisticated in the way they interpret the social significance of praise. While these suggested guidelines could be expected to apply in some way to distance learners, the opportunities for their occurrence are less likely.

The danger of criticism

Tait’s contention always was that much more praise and encouragement, and certainly no criticism, was the balance most likely to achieve results with the isolated distance learner. Criticism is so demotivating that it should never be used in a distance learning environment. It is very likely the same applies directly to the elearning environment.

So where do the avenues for plaudit lie?

Clearly the elearner and the distance learner share some commonality in respect to praise deficit during periods of study. With elearners, however, the computer interface has the potential to afford some feedback that is not there for the distance learner. And while learners in a classroom environment will ask questions in an attempt to interpret teacher feedback and understand its context, this doesn’t happen when learners are working with computers.

Early studies by Meyer, Mittag, and Engler suggested that learners tend to accept feedback from the computer at face value, and that it can make a difference to their self-perception and motivation. This indication could be taken as good news for elearning, for it provides a valid avenue for encouraging the learner.

My own experience in working with elearners is that computer feedback can provide some measure of encouragement that fills the obvious gaps for the isolated distance learner. But there are other avenues for providing praise that can also provide effective learner support and foster engagement.

Telephone, mobile texting, email and standard letters have all been shown to provide useful results when feedback is positive. Direct chat through an LMS, the use of video conferencing or face to face contact using Skype with webcams provide suitable opportunity for learner-teacher contact to give appropriate learner support.

Tait’s rule about criticism applies equally to all of these. The maxim is keep it constructive and keep it positive at all times.

Well Done!

Reference: Meyer, W.U. (1992). Paradoxical effects of praise and criticism in perceived ability. In W. Strobe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European review of social psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 259-283). Chichester, UK: Wiley.
Ka kite anō – Catch ya later