Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The first step....

A little humor for your Wednesday.

Dedicated to all those that are starting a Thesis or Capstone project (or thinking about it anyway) :-)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Boring Within or Simply Boring?

I was reading this article on the other day.

All I have to say is BRILLIANT! (OK, maybe I am getting a bit carried away here)

While the article doesn't point out much new information (for me anyways - sorry, I don't mean to sound like a snob), it manages to point out that a lecture is not an inherent ability that you are either born with or you are not. It's is a skill, an art dare I say, that you cultivate, and the longer you practice this art, the better you become at it (especially if you are inclined to take constructive critique).

This isn't all that different from when I was learning to prepare presentations as a young(er) graduate student. Did my first presentations stink? Of course they did! But as time went by, and I spent more time thinking about content, layout, information outside of my powerpoint deck, and I practiced, I got better at it! Lectures are the same way too :-)

I liked this particular quote from the article:

Bad lecturers violate nearly every rule of good communication. They never vary voice timbre or pitch. They either stare at their notes or ignore them altogether and ramble onto whatever topic comes to mind. They never make eye contact with their audience or use visual aids and handouts. Everything comes out at the same speed, and they never, ever show the slightest bit of life when discussing the very subject that supposedly excites them. Check for a pulse; if you can stay awake!
Step one to improving your lecture skills is to purge yourself of bad communication habits, but the rest of lecturing is a formula. Mix with enthusiasm and repeat the following:
  • Stated Objective(s)
  • A Plan
  • Hook
  • Body
  • Repetition
  • Summary
  • Restated Objective(s)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

If TV science was more like real science

Here's some weekend humor for you,

courtesy of PhD comics

Friday, April 24, 2009

Attack of the bad powerpoint presenters

I had a good laugh when I read this over at the PowerPoint Ninja. The author goes though a list of the different types of bad PowerPoint presenter types (although I find that sometimes these types intermix).

It's no surprise that I've survived a number of bad PowerPoint presentations. The most annoying ones are the Reader, the Apologist and the Wanderer. This tells me that they've spent NO time actually preparing for their presentations (well all the types tell me that, but the most egregious ones are the ones I mentioned).

There are two blog posts on the topic over at the PowerPoint Ninja. Have at 'em, they are entertaining (unless you suffer from PowerPoint Presentation PTSD).

For what it's worth, when I teach people PowerPoint I try to teach them more about presentation technique rather than teach them about flashy bulletpoints flying all over the screen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Traits of a community Manager

I came across this article on Mashable a few weeks ago about the traits of a good community manager. Granted this article is concerned more with commerce rather than academia, however I do think that the traits do translate one-to-one in academia.

I encourage people to go to mashable and read the article. Here are a few of my thoughts on it.

1. Love your job

Well this is a d'uh for almost any job (otherwise you will be a miserable sob hehehe). I found the comment that a community manager should be very approachable quite pertinent. Community managers are the community's front face, the maitre D' in a sense and if you don't like the snooty Maitre D' in this restaurant you will probably go somewhere else.

2. Empower the community and promote others (as well as self).

This quite important in a community of practice. People are veritable fountains of knowledge, they just don't know it. Encouraging people to participate unlocks that knowledge for the benefit of the community. What I know, you might not - thus if I share you gain (and as some of my professors have said: if you have a question, chances are that someone else does too!)

3. Extensive knowledge about the company

This is really important. In academia it's also really important to be very familiar with school procedures and be a subject matter expert as well in order to run a community of practice. Just being the IT guy helping people log in isn't going to cut it. The subject matter expert will help people navigate the campus bureaucracy, give them accurate information, and know enough about the subject matter to find resources for the community, participate in the community and spark conversation and debate.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How to refer to your professor

Here's a nice little comical flow chart for all you students who don't know how to refer to your professors :-)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Knowledge Overload - a response

I was reading an article called Knowledge Overload over at Inside Higher Ed about a month ago. It was quite an interesting article. I've personally experienced information overload in the last few years by discovering new blogs and information sources and it was interesting to see an academic perspective.

I won't really go into the whole article, you should head over and read it if academia and academic publishing interests you. However this quote was quite interesting:

The irony in all of this is that it is academic career and advancement requirements, more than faculty preferences, which are driving the current pattern of academic dissemination. New doctorates, eager for a place on the tenure track, work like crazy to get into the right conferences and journals. Recently hired faculty know that tenure rests on getting the right hits in the right journals and, maybe, getting their dissertation published as a book. Tenured faculty know that merit and final promotion – indeed, their personal standing in the field – rests on continued and even accelerated publication output.

Now I find this interesting, and something that is inherently wrong with Academia. Yes I know that faculty should be doing research, but good teaching is never preferred over teaching which is something fundamentally wrong considering that higher education is about...well...EDUCATION!

What I am about to say is by no means intended to be disrespectful, but quite a lot of academic articles that I've read that are published recently are fluff. They seem to be published just for the sake of having something published. I recall this one article that was looking at librarians as faculty and the implications (granted this article was from 1993). The article had almost no insight. It was an amalgam of other articles with some assertions made by the author. There was no empirical study, no data, just reading other articles and putting something together. It was a nice read, but I can't believe that this was in a peer review journal!

A commenter on this article wrote:
It is the ever-increasing amount of material to master, and the pressure to publish, that is driving many younger scholars out of academe - myself included.

There is something profoundly wrong with the current model of scholarly life.

I tend to agree with this assertion. The academe model need to change. There should be more value on keeping up your skills and teaching newer generations than just publishing...well...fluff!

Now I know that there are serious researchers out there that publish serious things and when we read them we go "AHA!!!!" Perhaps it's time to reward tenure-track and tenured faculty with something other than the volume of their publishing. Then maybe we can weed down this Knowledge Overload.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Debate over the MLIS

I was over at Library Journal a short while a go and I came across this article about the "debate" over the MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) at the most recent ACRL conference.

Personally I didn't know there was an open debate among professionals - just those among us that don't want to get one but want to work in fields that are traditionally staffed by librarians. Apparently there is a debate.

The person in favor of the MLIS for information professionals argued that
the MLS was necessary because it fosters shared values—values essential to the transition to the future of the digital library. Library schools, Bishoff said, rightly “focus on educating rather than training.”

Personally, from what I've seen, most MLIS programs fall short on both training and educating. Shared values can be fostered without plopping down $30k for another graduate degree (considering that most librarians already have a Masters degree).

I think that the most interesting comment that was made (and published) was:

“The only way to get better pay is to get the MLS.”

I think one needs to go outside of library journal to see some more critique of the MLIS, and you won't find any place better for critique than the Annoyed Librarian. Here are some comments that really, in my humble opinion, tell me that the degree is not necessary for a person to be a librarian.

Commenting about the quality of his online education, LIS student writes
I am about to graduate from a mostly online program. When available, I completed on site classes, and wish all could have been available. Here is the run-down:
1. GA's do all of the grading, and real professors are hardly present.
2. A jumble of outdated readings and busy work are in Blackboard (this is how are efforts are measured).
3. Professors are getting paid to not "teach" but rather recycle poorly presented lectures every term. Some don't even bother to change the dates on the work.
4. The in class section in did attend consisted of showing Power-points of the same notes handed out to online classes.
5. Though I have all A's, I feel like I have learned very little and have wasted my time and money.
6. Yet if you challenge the work, program or professors you are considered negative and told you will not succeed as a librarian.
7. Some of my fellow students think this is a difficult and quality program (direct result of low admissions standards).
7. It it takes being an ignorant pushover without a grasp on reality and with little self respect, I DON"T WANT TO BE A LIBRARIAN!

A paraprofessional notes (by the way, I dislike this "title")
I am one of those "paraprofessionals", library support staff or whatever. My job title is library assistant and I catalog books (some librarians do that too, by the way). People in my unit come from many backgrounds, educational and otherwise. In any case, having come to the library world relatively late in life, the distinctions some draw between librarian and paraprofessional or library assistant would only matter to me if I wanted higher pay or more status. I don't see any qualitative difference between the two categories.

HappilyEmployed writes:
The MLIS is a no-brainer as long as you can write and put up with the mundane and trivial assignments.

And Lea (the last comment for this particular post on the matter) writes:
I am looking forward to your next column. I have spent the last five years thinking about getting an MLIS, and what's held me back is the cost of the damn degree. Why should I have to pay $45,000 for a degree to get a job that pays $37,000 a year (which I currently earn in an unrelated field)? I strongly believe that if an MLIS is required to become a librarian, then the cost of the degree needs to come down or the salary needs to be high enough so librarians can afford to pay off their student loans.

And finally, from personal experience, many librarians (those closer to my age group who've gone to library school in recent years), have told me that the MLIS is just a union card to get yourself in the door of the library (and this view is echoed online as well).

So it seems to me, based on the various comments from librarians and current LIS students, that the debate is settled. If the degree is nothing more than a union card, then it is not really required as a prerequisite for employment in an information institution (like a library).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Has the LMS jumped the shark?

I was reading though my feed reader the other day and I came across this post. The author and I agree on many points, and I have elaborated more with my face to face colleagues on this issue.

I had brought up the issue of blogs, wikis, bookmark-sharing and other potentially useful. The response I got was similar to this:

Well, the new release of Blackboard now includes the ability to do Blogs, wikis, and most of what you are talking about.

Well OK, yes they can do it, but there are (at least) two problems with your logic.
1. those blogs (etc) are closed, so you can't get access to them from the outside. In addition once the course is over students also lose their access to THEIR work! With uploaded documents you can always retain a copy, with a blog or wiki this isn't an option.

2. you dunce! you are paying for the privileged to use something that is FREE!

I agree with this sentiment:
Maybe LMS vendors are taking advantage of the people/organizations who don’t have the technical resources to install these free open-source systems on their own. I think it’s a big problem; by using these tools within the LMS, people are now locking even more data into a closed system. One of the few LMS add-ons that I think may have merit would be a talent management module, mainly because it could integrate well with the data in an LMS. That seems like a good fit to me.

Instead of adding all this new functionality, LMS vendors should concentrate on better connecting and integrating with open standards and technologies. User data should be 100% portable. RSS feeds should be available both ways: people should be able to subscribe to a feed to monitor when new resources are added in the LMS, and the LMS should be able to import and act on data fed to it. The systems and the data should be mashable. The LMS will need to become one of the building blocks within the enterprise, rather than remain as a standalone system that doesn’t play well with others.

Of course the LMS-producers have little to no incentive to change for the better. I think that the only way they will change is if they see mass migrations to Open Source LMS systems that do give us those capabilities.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What's the point of College

In the past number of months I've been reading the Brazen Careerist, and I've seen a number of blog posts that can essentially be boiled down to this: "I could have learned what I learned in college on my own!" Now I've also seen a blog post on the UMassOnline Blog about the debate over three year colleges, and I see more connections.

There are a few things that people should understand about college, but generally don't. First it seems that higher education is pushed on unsuspecting high school kids as the only respectable option. Trade schools seem to have gone by the wayside, thus college is billed more for its ability to to get you a job once you graduate (which may or may not be true) rather than the ability to expand your mind.

I don't blame people on Brazen careerist because I was once like them, until I realized the value of higher education for me. I was in the sciences. Technically what I learned what a marketable skill and I could use it to get a job in the field. The same goes for other hard sciences like chemistry and physics (just to name a couple). For people in the humanities the story is different. Those soft skills they learned need more work to be applied in a work environment, and generally people coming out of college are not equipped to make those connections. I know that I certainly wasn't!

I think that there is value in higher education, it just isn't necessarily the get-you-a-CEO-position value that some people are looking for. Liberal Arts and Humanities education is important, but so is learning a trade. So where is this rant-like-post heading? Well, it's heading toward the 3 year degree and how I am against it.

I've had classmates that went through their BA in three years. They took any course that satisfied some sort of requirement, performed, got the grade, moved on without thinking about what they had learned. This is the intellectual equivalent of going to a buffet, stuffing yourself without taking the time to feel all the different flavors and how they intertwine to make something new. I feel like this three year degree is the wrong direction for college students because it encourages grinding through a BA without much though just to get a piece of paper. It's a bit exploitative in my opinion on the part of higher education institutions that do this - focusing more on getting money rather than the ultimate education of the individual.

Now there is an example where I can see the three year model working. If the curriculum is created, and set, and it is designed to intertwine all the knowledge learned in previous classes (no matter the discipline) so that in the end students don't just learn in these separate islands of knowledge, but they have bridges from one island to the other to connect it all up and expand their horizons.

What do you think?

Here are some of those posts for your reading enjoyment:
The library card versus the college degree
Do We Really Need Higher Education?!
Is College a Rip-off?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The PowerPoint Design Triangle

I saw this over at the PowerPoint ninja a while back and decided that it would be a good resource to post on here for all the PowerPoint n00bs.

It's the PowerPoint Design Triangle - similar to any good-ol' project management/competing attention type of paradigm (gah! I used that word again!)

Have a look - it's worth at least five minutes of your time :-)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Are Instructional Designers still relevent?

I was recently reading through the post titled IDs - It's time for some seriously tough love when I came across the following closing statement:

When you look at the job titles, you see things like content analyst, technical writer, screen writer, video producer, project manager, budget manager, evaluator, test-writer, statistician, graphic artist, web designer, content author, scripter, coder, analyst. LMS manager. Trainer. Teacher.

They are coming from design schools, art schools, multimedia departments, computer science departments, engineering, video and film, media and advertising. Business schools. They don't seem to depend so much on learning theory.

Does anybody else see anything wrong with this picture? Especially as games, Web 2.0 and new media are purported to be the future of elearning, and this is what IDs typically design?

Are IDs really still as relevant as we want to think we are?

I think that the Instructional Design field is probably suffering from the same malady that's afflicting the Library field, and paraphrased from my earlier blog post about this topic it boils down to this: being all things to all people.

Instructional Design works. Instructional Design is valuable. If you dilute it though you lose the essence of it. Learning theory is important. It's also important to know how to interface with the engineers, coders, illustrators and project managers to get a project completed.

Depending on the job those skills will have different proportions. For example, in some project management jobs Project Management skills might be 80% of the job, and Learning Theory might be 20% - just enough probably to pick up on more egregious errors in design and implementation of learning. What it really boils down is this: people don't completely know what they want when they hire an employee, and thus they try to get a good mix of skills. Perhaps it's also a function of a bad economy, you can't afford to hire multiple people, so you opt to hire one über-employee.

I got into instructional design after I had completed IT, business and computer science. I want to learn more about learning theory, pedagogy and andragogy, curriculum creation and organizational behavior. To me, this is instructional design.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The changing face of the trainer

I was recently reading Jay Cross's article on the Chief Learning Officer on Getting Rid of the Training Department, followed by his post on New Roles for former trainers.

The following quote summarizes the whole thing quite nicely:

When my colleagues and I advocate cutting back on workshops and classes, we don’t suggest firing the instructors. Rather, we recommend redeploying them as connectors, wiki gardeners, internal publicists, news anchors, and performance consultants.

I agree that training, old style training, is mostly dead. Old style training was based on the fact that all learners come in with the same basic knowledge. This may still be true when new products are deployed and people need training on those new products, however most types of training that I've seen have been more along the lines of boutique-style-training (I think I invented the term a few years back when I started as a formal trainer).

Most people don't start from point A in their knowledge of subject X. Some people are more advanced, and some are at the beginning. One size fits all training doesn't cut it. In addition, in a work environment, people seek training in order to accomplish a task, for example someone wants to learn Access or Filemaker (or Bento) to be able to streamline some process in their department.

In my line of work I've also become an (informal) social media consultant. A lot of people are curious because their heard twitter-this, or Ning-that, but they don't know much about the topic and what it can do for them. In other cases people have a need for a solution but don't know how to tackle it. Training is one aspect of it, but if you don't know you need training in X, how will you seek help?

What do you think?

Shall we change our titles from Trainers to Personal Learning Consultants? :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Profzi scheme

Here's a little April Humor for you