Which User’s Life Have You Changed Today?

Creating Passionate Users: Which user’s life have you changed today?

Back in my former life as a career counselor, one of my favorite articles was social psychologist Albert Bandura’s “The Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths”, a journal article that highlighted how often the intentional career planning advocated in college career centers was subverted by real-life events and choices. I’d often explain to students one main goal of all the work they were doing in the career preparation was to help them become much luckier in the job search. They’d be much more likely to find just the right contact, hear about the perfect job opening, or be offered a very special internship or summer job, if they were clear on what they were looking for.

The right contact, the perfect job, and the very special internship are defined by personal passions and interests; one student’s perfect summer job is another’s hell-hole. Identifying and owning your passion–even if it’s unusual or not popular in the press–for me is one of the key “ends of education”, and one that we all should be thinking more about.

So, some guy (Nick Petterssen, who it turns out wasn’t even a tech writer) working for a small software company (Electric Rain) cares enough about users to go way beyond what’s needed and write a killer, inviting, memorable user manual. As a direct result, an engineering student from Canada will end up as one of the youngest O’Reilly-signed authors. Nick, and Electric Rain, changed the direction of a user’s life in a substantial and unexpected way. All because of a manual.

If a user manual can have that impact on a student, imagine the possibilities for a class, a course or a curriculum.

Keeping Up Can Make You Dumber

Creating Passionate Users: The myth of “keeping up”

Kathy Sierra, who blogs at Creating Passionate Users, has written a nice reminder of the dangers of the “myth of keeping up.” As Gardner points out in a recent comment, you know you’re engaged in an exercise in futility when your “books I have to get list” is longer than your open loops list:

I need to get that GTD book, but my “get that book” list is even longer than my open loop list … some days it really does feel like a never-ending downward spiral.

The first step (sound familiar) is to acknowledge that no one really keeps up:

So… it’s time to let that go. You’re not keeping up. I’m not keeping up. And neither is anyone else. At least not in everything. Sure, you’ll find the guy who is absolutely cutting-edge up to date on some technology, software upgrade, language beta, whatever. But when you start feeling inferior about it, just think to yourself, “Yeah, but I bet he thinks Weezer is still a cool new band…

There are some specific suggestions for beginning professionally responsible and still getting out from under pressures of feeling that you have to keep up with everything.

  • Find the best aggregators
  • Get summaries
  • Cut the redundancy!
  • Unsubscribe to as many things as possible
  • Recognize that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes, including Slashdot and the Guardian.
  • Pick the categories you want for a balanced perspective, and include some from outside your main field of interest
  • Find a real living breathing person who help you sort out what you need to know from what’s nice to know and what exists only on the edge cases.

The Creating Passionate Users bloggers are all authors of Head First books (http://www.wickedlysmart.com), a “brain-friendly” set of programming books from O’Reilly. According to the web site, “they’re all passionate about the brain and metacognition, most especially–how the brain works and how to exploit it for better learning and memory.”

Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom

Link to: NPR : Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom

Interesting NPR piece on Harvard’s most popular course–Psychology 1504: Positive Psychology. Over 900 students take the course which is offered in a Harvard theater. While some question the “fluffiness” of the course, and its appropriateness as a full credit offering at Harvard, others see a unique role for courses like it. One student noted:

The work is about personal transformation not about the quantity of reading. It’s the one class that I feel like I’m achieving growth in a way that no other class does.

Similar courses are offered at over 100 colleges, and the syllabus, lecture videos and readings for this course are freely shared. Seems to me that it might be a good idea to be reminded a couple of times a week of some things that might make the college experience happier and healther.

Continue reading “Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom”

The Ends of Education

There have been a number of thought provoking comments on one of Rachel‘s recent posts on a paper she’s working on that focuses on what it means for a New Media Center or other organization to “have an impact on campus.” Gardner commented on the original post asking:

Hmmm. What *does* it mean to have an impact on campus? …..Does an “teaching outcome” count as a “success’ if a student offers a passionate eulogy at your funeral?

This leads naturally to the need for more discussion on what the purposes (or ends) of our colleges and universities really are. Neil Postman in the End of Education writes that most of what was being discussed about education in the mid-nineties was about mechanics, engineering and technology. The salvation of education requires that we move beyond the technical:

Of course, there are many learnings that are little else but a mechanical skill, and in such cases there may be a best way. But to become a different person because of something you have learned–to appropriate an insight, a concept, a vision, so that your world is altered–that is a different matter. For that to happen, you need a reason. And that is the metaphysical problem I speak of.

It’s been a long time at most universities since we’ve taken that conversation very seriously, as Garnder notes in another post:

The apparatus of higher education has managed to obscure that truth about the professional work we do. We can’t even find that “something much larger” on our own campuses, or reflect it in our curriculum, or foster it in our interaction with colleagues, much less find a way to demonstrate it to the world.

I enjoy the discussion of new technologies and new ways of teaching–both those that use technologies and those that don’t. As a faculty member in the School of Education, I feel an obligation to look beyond the hype and to really understand the fundamental changes that “have an impact” on teachers and their students. For better *and* for worse technology is changing why our students learn, what they learn and how they learn it.

The *why* is a tough, but important issue to keep in front of us. For me, the *why* is more about transforming lives than about covering content or preparing people for jobs. We’ve got lots of talking (blogging) to do to learn how to do that better.

Limitations of the Education Industry

Link to: CogDogBlog » Blog Archive » The Dissonance of “Blogs in Education”

There’s lots to chew on in this post from the CogDogBlog. Seems like the whole crew at the Northern Voices conference got their juices flowing and there are more provocative ideas floating around than I can absorb. I think Alan’s discomfort with the term “Blogs in Education” hits on a fundamental problem that will constantly plague us as tools for individualized learning proliferate. The key distinction to me is between “education” and “learning”.

Back when I was doing career counseling, I spent a lot of time trying to help students understand the difference between a job and an industry. Jobs are things that you do, like writing process, creating images, or counting beans; industries are the environments that you do those jobs in. (That’s the simplified version; the longer version requires the use of props like paper plates, but I digress.)

Education in the US is an industry, much like advertising, investment banking or luggage manufacturing, though bigger, and, some would say, with more noble goals. As an industry we have certain expectations that differentiate us from other industries. The higher education industry is defined–for better or worse–by the fact that we offer courses, evaluate what happens in those courses, and grant credit for those courses that other industries judge as being valuable. As an industry, we see most everything–including blogs and other social software–through the lense of courses or the support organizations that allow us to offer courses. (The research enterprise is an industry with its own rules of engagement.)

Learning is a job or an activity that can take place in multiple environments. Adult educators, led by Allen Tough, have tried to help the education industry understand that learning is centered with the individual–not with the industry, but with little success. Social software tools are empowering learners to be at the center of their own learning universe to an extent we could only imagine a few years ago. There’s going to be an amazing amount of dissonance and discomfort within the higher education industry as we try to break free of our conception of the course as the primary organizational tool of what should be our primary organizational activity (job)–learning by indviduals.

Twelve Habits of Successful IT Professionals

Link to: EDUCAUSE REVIEW | January/February 2006, Volume 41, Number 1

Educause President Brian Hawkins has an article in the latest Review in which he outlines 12 skills that he sees as essential to becoming successful and effective IT professionals in higher education. In the introduction, he makes the key point that there are two processes at work here: having the skill and then building the habits of integrating the use of that skill into daily practice. Imagining the integration piece is the hard when you look at some of the habits he highlights.

They Avoid the Unconscious Conspiracy… of drowning in the tidal waves of minutia, mundane details, and dailiness associated with their jobs, which take all of their time and energy…

Many of his suggestions have more applicability to CIO’s than the mere mortals in the IT world:

  • They Are Cautious When Speaking Publicly
  • They Cultivate Their Advisory Committees

Others seem have more universal applicability:

  • They Don’t Whine
  • They Redefine Themselves

I’ve collected lots of lists like this over the years, and they make intesting reading and engaging conference presentations. They all suffer from one problem, however, that is central to “professional development” in IT and every other field. How does the average IT staff member actually put these prescriptions into practice? How do we create–dare I say it–learning environments where busy staff understand the importance of continuing to learn and their organizations routinely allow the space required to learn the new skills and the support to make it habitual to use them. That space is hard to come by in organizations beset with security problems, never-ending demands of administrative systems users and lack of a clear vision for the importance of technology to the core mission of our institution.