Creativity, Inspiration and the Conservation of Keystrokes

We have at least three members of our  current adult education class who are experimenting with blogs as part of their learning logs.  The care and feeding of a blog can teach many things.   Some of those things are inspirational; others are more practical.

As the center of your digital identity, your web site can give you of a fighting chance in creating a web presence that helps you accomplish your professional goals.  Your blog can provide a forum for narrating you work and help attract a community to inspire, challenge and expand your thinking.  It also can provide a way to save you some keystrokes.

As Jon Udell has pointed out, saving keystrokes can be very important, particularly if Scott Hansleman is right in his assessment:

There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die. Next time someone emails you, ask yourself “Is emailing this person back the best use of my remaining keystrokes?”

If you can communicate with more people with fewer keystrokes before you die–that’s a good thing.  I had the opportunity for the last few days to put the principle of conservation of keystrokes into practice, using another blog that I post to occasionally.  Earlier this week, William and Mary got hit with a particularly nasty phishing attack and a group of faculty accounts were compromised.  The resulting flood of spam resulted in William and Mary’s outgoing mail being blocked by most large ISP’s, including Blackberry.  Every time someone sent email to Blackberry, the mail bounced.  Every time the mail bounced, I got email asking what was going on with Blackberry.

Rather  than answer each one those emails individually, I made a quick post to the SoE blog, then I could direct email to that link rather than respond individually.  Using a blog entry works well in this case because I want to provide a little bit of the back story and show how important it is for all of us in the community to be involved if we want to protect our precious Internet.

Here’s a challenge for you to those of us in the EPPL 714 class.  Can you find a way–high tech or low tech–to invest 1 hour in learning something that will save you 5 hours over the next month?  Can you share it with 10 of your friends so that they can save some time, too? If an hour is too much, can you find a way to invest 10 minutes in something that will save you an hour?  ( Want a hint of a place to look?  If you use Microsoft Word, explore using named styles.)

Sneak Peek at a New Program on Teaching Excellence

Last week I spent two full days in sessions of the University Teaching Project in preparation for a new partnership at William and Mary focused on using the best combination of traditional and emerging technologies available to broaden and deepen the conversation about excellent teaching. IT’s academic information services staff will be working closely with the Roy Charles Center–the nerve center for WM’s interdisciplinary programs, competitive scholarships, University Teaching Project and the Sharpe Community service program. As a result, the Charles Center is the home of some of the most interesting programs focused on expanding the range of teaching and learning at the College, and dozens of faculty members are working on projects to make learning even more interactive, integrative and imaginative.

We’ve worked closely with the folks at the Charles Center on a number of initiatives, including one focused on understanding the process of undergraduate research, and we’ve laid the groundwork even more expansive projects in the future. The grand plan for the next two years calls for our group to focus the time and resources that we’d been investing in the former Technology Integration Program on expanding the reach of the University Teaching Project. Our efforts in creating TIP had some very real successes, but we never achieved the kind of seamless integration that we had hoped for.

In practical terms, we’re going to help develop a fully interactive web site that fosters communications and consolidates resources about teaching in a common location. We know that teaching is highly valued at WM, but a visitor from Mars would have to look pretty hard for evidence of our commitment. Efforts at teaching improvement have generally been highly personal and private–shared only with a few close colleagues and department members. Our goal is to keep the support for grassroots efforts at teaching improvement, closely tied to the individual classroom, while publicizing some of successes so that others can build on them. In the early stages of the project, we’ll focus on listening, gathering information and trying to understand what the teaching community of practice is really like.

We’re optimistic about the potential value of this partnership because of the strong alignment between our way of working in the academic computing group and that of Joel Schwartz, Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies:

I am a catalyst,” he said. “What a good teacher does is kind of catalyze thinking and productivity in students. Teaching is not something in which you have a student sit at your feet while you dispense wisdom down to them and they soak it into their heads. You try to help them become original, creative people.” (link)

Links

University Teaching Project

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”

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.