Saturday, September 27, 2008

30 things reprinted an InfoWorld article called 30 Skills Every IT Person Needs. The list is a bit network heavy, but all-in-all I thought it was a pretty good list. A few of my favorites included:
  • Know basic networking (#6). Computing is all about the network. If you (programmer, DBA, support) don't know basic network concepts and troubleshooting techniques, then you deserve the scorn and ridicule that the network staff heaps upon you and trust me, they will.
  • Test backups (#12). This is one of those "I can't possibly be that stupid" things that every IT person learns, usually the hard way. And yes, it happened to me. Six months of backups and not a single file could be restored because of bad heads in the tape drive.
  • Learn the business process (#20). This is particularly true if you are in corporate IT (Nordstom's, Starbuck's). The real power of corporate IT is to make the business better, faster, and cheaper, not the IT department.
  • Square pegs go in square holes (#30). The strengths movement encourages us to play to our strengths and workaround our weaknesses (see this post). I would, however, amend #30 to say that it is just as important for individuals to understand this about themselves as it is for managers to understand it about their staff.
So how did you do on the list? Anything you think is missing?

Tags: ,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bates and switch

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Bates Technical College has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by 16 former civil engineering technician students who claimed they were not adequately prepared for jobs in the field. This follows similar settlements with students in their court reporting ($170,000) and denturist ($1,250,000) programs.

Bates is one of five technical colleges in the State's technical and community college system. So when they say they agreed to pay, I'm guessing they mean that they agreed for us (taxpayers) to pay.

The take-away here is not that technical and community colleges are bad and that all students should instead get a bachelors degree from the University of Washington at Lake Wobegon (where all the children are above average). The take-away is that the goal of professional/technical (prof/tech) programs is to train "employable" students and if graduates aren't qualified, then the program is a failure. Here is what one student said:

“When I left Bates, I was embarrassingly not ready for work in the field and was told as much by employers and potential employers,” plaintiff Michael Edmundson wrote in an affidavit filed earlier this month. “Bates did not teach me how to use the equipment required by the industry or how to do the basic task required as an entry-level employee in the field.”
Having served 7 years on a prof/tech advisory board at a community college, and having left a little frustrated by the experience, let me toss out a few rough ideas for your consideration (instructors, administrators and general community)
  1. Program outcomes must be created with input from, and regularly validated by, an advisory board of working professionals. Advisory boards should be coordinated by the college as a function of Workforce Development (or equivalent), not the individual department. The composition and functioning of prof/tech advisory boards must be actively managed and not left up to chance.
  2. Prof/Tech programs are not the same as academic programs and instructors should not be granted the same academic freedoms. This is not to say that we should micro-managed every classroom decision, but instructors need to be teaching to agreed upon outcomes. Further, if those outcomes are not being achieved then corrective action needs to be taken swiftly for the students' sake. It's not okay for a prof/tech instructor to have a "bad" year. It's one thing for an AA to graduate without a full appreciation of Maslow's self-actualization level and another for a database administration student to graduate not understanding the importance of indexing in database performance.
  3. Instructors should be expected to hold professional certifications in their area of instruction and be able to demonstrate that their understanding of the field is current. I would suggest a regular sabbatical (every five years) to work in the field or, better yet, local businesses (the college itself) could hire instructors for ongoing project or part-time work. And if no one wants to hire the instructor, well I guess that tells us something too.
  4. We need to pay instructors enough to leave industry and teach. If database administrators (DBAs) routinely make $120,000/year then you are going to be paying around $120,000 to get a DBA instructor. I don't care what Sociology instructors with 25 years experience make. As an alternative, we could use part-time instructors so they could keep their regular jobs. In this scenario the college would need to invest in a person or persons who can focus on curriculum development and assessment while part-time instructors focus completely on classroom work and sharing experience.
  5. Businesses need to invest in the system by having top people - people who really understand the profession and its future - serving on advisory boards. I mean an active strategy of identifying and rewarding employees to participate.

Tags: , ,

Thursday, September 18, 2008

That was weird

I was listening to the latest Teacher's Podcast on Sunday, as I often do (they're just the right length for mowing the backyard). About a minute in to the show I hear Dr. Kathy and Mark start talking about " ... this interesting blog called the Advisory Bored ... ". Hmmmmmmmmm. I must have misunderstood. I'll just rewind this, hit play and no, they just mentioned the Advisory Bored blog and me, by name.

I gotta tell you, it is really weird to be listening to a podcast and hear the hosts talking about you. I think the last time it happened J.P. Patches was announcing my 7th birthday over the ICU2 TV. That was a few years ago.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yeah, I knew 2.0

Over at that the Dangerously Irrelevant blog Scott McLeod posted about engaging the broader community - local folks he called them - in a discussion of the revolution in 21st century teaching-learning. I couldn't agree more and I should know, I'm local folks. I don't teach or administer anything and I am not a parent. I suppose serving on advisory boards for technology programs at a couple of different school districts (and blogging about it) makes me a little different than average "local folks". Nevertheless, the revolution won't be happening without me.

If you read the edubloggers enough you will eventually find a post lamenting the hard work changing the educational system one teacher/administrator at a time. My response is always the same - converting teachers is only one essential part of the puzzle. The revolution of 21st century teaching-learning is a part of a larger transformation of the society (information revolution, death of mass). Transformation of the part cannot be done without transformation of the whole.

As a result, the broader community will need to be included in the conversation. Not only must we rethink our collective mental model of education, but we must then redefine all the rules, constraints and measures that maintain the status quo. You know, teacher pay, school year, use of information and communication technology (ICT), teacher/student ratios, union rules, etc. 21st century teaching-learning will always fail if the measures for success are from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Furthermore, demographic changes make outreach to the broader community essential to just maintain the status quo, let alone complete the revolution. I am specifically referring to the fact that a greater percentage of the customers of the education system - customers being those that write the checks - don't directly benefit from the system. A greater percentage of our society is older and their kids have long since left school and the district. We also see an increase in the number of couples like my wife and I that will go childless throughout our lives.

Engaging that broader community will be no small feat. Robert Putnam documented the decline in social engagement years ago. If few people will attend a planning commission meeting on a topic that directly effects them, then how many do you think will show up for a school board meeting when they don't have kids? How many show up when they do have kids? Equally challenging is to get the broader community to recognize and acknowledge as positive the underlying changes that are driving/enabling the revolution in teaching/learning. I can assure you that where I work, the idea of a building inspector or plans examiner as a knowledge worker has not sunk in at any level. Remember what I said about crisis and illusion a couple of months back.

So what's a poor 21st-century education evangelist to do?
  • Look for kindred souls within the broader community and work together. The employee I need to enlighten about web 2.0 and the parent you need to enlighten about web 2.0 is the same person. Let's work together.
  • Keep it personal. It's easier to dismiss the ideas of the teacher's union than it is the teacher who lives next door (remember, the broader community thinks schools are bad, but not their schools).
  • Stay on message. In the business world we have the elevator pitch, what you will say to an executive about your idea on a 30-second elevator ride to the 40th floor. Create a 1-page talking points document on key topics and publish them so that any teacher/kindred-spirit can give the pitch at any moment.
  • Tie it back to the goal of a better future. Remind people that 100 years ago leaving the farm for factory work seemed like a road to disaster. After a difficult transition it was that feared "industrial" future that became the American Dream (see Glen Hiemstra's video Beyond 2020).
  • Read Selling the Dream and Made to Stick.
I don't know if it will help any of you, but since I didn't initially buy into the use of computer technology in the classroom it might be informative for you to know why I changed my mind. Basically it came down to 4 revelations:
  • In addition to teaching facts, schools also model desired behaviors. Unfortunately too many of the behaviors they are modeling aren't needed in 2008, let alone 2028. A rigid adherence to an arbitrary school day, for instance, doesn't really prepare anyone for a 9pm conference call to India or working from home one day a week.
  • You can prepare students for an uncertain future. Instead of facts and figures we need to focus on skills that allow the student to adapt to various situations. Isn't that what the Boy Scouts are all about ("be prepared")?
  • Computers are disruptive the 1960's-style classroom. Yeah, okay, but it's 2008. Maybe we need a little less lecture and a little more project time. An introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy helped my conversion.
  • It's the information (age) stupid. Information technology needs to be in the classroom so that students learn how to gather, assemble, assess and synthesize information. The enabling technology needs to be integrated into the course, not stand alone. You never had an Introduction to Pencil class (or AP Pencil, for those going to college).
Good luck with the revolution and let me know if I can help.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Links and Resources: September 3rd, 2008

When one teaches, two learn.
– Robert Half
On with the links.
  • Deb Perelman over at adds her 2 cents on why tech jobs possibilities remain good as employment starts to erode in other sectors.
  • Jim Lanzalotto draws the same conclusion in a ComputerWorld piece titled Despite recession talk, it's still a good time to be in IT. You'll find a number of comments that don't necessarily agree with him and you should take a look at them too. I like the one where the guy says he'd tell his kids to join the circus rather than go into Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). Okay ... there certainly aren't any foreigners in circus acts or any really popular circuses from foreign countries.
  • Here are a couple of links related to the cost of college. The first is from the Everett Herald's James McCusker entitled Can we afford higher education's external costs. In brief, the debt students accumulate changes their behavior after graduation (a dentist won't practice in a rural area, for instance). McCusker asks if society can afford that externalization of the high cost of college. In the current issue of Money magazine, they ask "Is college still worth the price". Short answer is yes, with a maybe. Long answer is no, with a however.
  • In a recent post on podcasting I mentioned that LibriVox provides free audio books for works in the public domain. If eBooks are more your thing, you'll want to check out the The Gutenberg Project. Concept is the same, works are in the public domain so they can be made available free. Looks like they have sheet music, audio books and DVDs too. Also look at the Internet Archives, which is a wealth of all sorts of public domain/open source materials. You can download episodes of You Bet You Live with Groucho Marx (no, he wasn't the leader of the Soviet Union, that was Harpo).
  • Wordle is an internet based application that creates a word cloud of your blog, feed or text string. A word cloud graphically represent the frequency of word use through font size, placement, color, etc. Here's an example of one I created of the Advisory Bored on September 2nd. What can you do with it? I have no idea. The last link is is suppose to be fun. Were you planning on building a Teddy Bear that is interfaced with your computer?

Post script: I was finishing the Wordle link at midnight in Seattle. At that very moment Jeff Utecht, a teacher at a school in Thailand tweets (that's a Twitter message) that his U Tech Tips blog has a post from Dennis Harter, a teacher in Bangkok, called Wordle - DIY Word Clouds. Dennis suggests a couple of interesting uses for Wordle. That's globalization and the internet at work for you.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's the frequency Kenneth

I share my blogroll on this site so everyone can see what I am reading, but I haven't been so good with my podcasting list. I'm a big fan of podcasts and, while I don't get to listen as much as I like, I do get through 3 to 5 every week.

Podcasts are digital audio files distributed via the internet using syndication (like RSS is used to distribute this blog). The term is generally considered to be a contraction of iPod and broadcast, but it is not limited to iPods. I listen to podcasts on my iPods, on my computers, on my Blackberry and on my work smartphone (yes, only work related podcasts there). I use iTunes as my primary tool for podcast subscription, particularly for those I want directly sent to my iPod, but I have also used an open source tool called Juice.

So here's my list, in no particular order:
  • TED Talks - you've seen me reference a few TED Talks video's in previous posts. Really thought provoking stuff.
  • The Teacher's Podcast - Dr. Kathy King and Mark Gura host this show for teacher professional development. Not being a teacher, the topics aren't always relevant to me, but it's always fun to listen to their banter. Listen carefully and you might hear a little Bichon barking in the background.
  • Science Friday - a NPR show that focuses on a wide variety of science topics every Friday. I like that I can cherry pick just the segments I want to hear without having to listen to the whole 2-hour broadcast. As you might guess, there is a boatload of good NPR and PBS content for download. You can browse the Podcast section of the iTunes store or go to a resource like Podcast Alley.
  • Sketicality - Discovery Institute fans can skip this one. It's the official podcast of Skeptics magazine and it reminds me to think critically. It's mainly an interview show with some news briefs and a little opinion.
  • Radio Sweden - one of my brother-in-laws lives in Sweden with his family, so I like to stay in touch with what's happening in Stockholm. Many other countries have the same, which could be a useful tool for researching other countries and world events.
  • The Chillcast with Anji Bee - It's a pod-safe music show featuring Anji Bee, who sounds like she just stepped out of early 70's FM radio (anyone remember KZAM). Even if the music isn't your cup of tea, the issues around legal licensing of music for podcasts, blogs, etc is a great topic for students to investigate. You might want to start your next content creation class with a trip to Creative Commons or Ioda Promonet.
  • Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - No, the history of hardcore is something completely different. I just learned about this site and haven't listened much. Dan Carlin comes at this as a fan of history, not a historian. I really enjoyed his interview with James Burke, host of great PBS shows like Connections and The Day the Universe Changed (now that what some serious education).
  • The MedicCast - I highlighted this one in a previous post. Created by the podmedic, Jamie Davis, I listen to the show to learn terminology of the Medics that I work with. There are a lot of professional-to-professional podcasts out there, which provide a great resource for students interested in a field.
  • Technet Radio - is a product education source from Microsoft about Microsoft technology. I really should be listening to MSDN's Channel 9, however. Technet is more infrastructure and MSDN is for programmers.
Also, let me suggest that creating podcasts (audio-only, or with video) is a powerful educational tool. I mean really, with podcasting, YouTube, instant messaging and email is there a reason to have "snow days" anymore. There are several small scale recording devices that capture your audio and transfer it to a computer. A free software package like Audacity does the same and can be paired up with an inexpensive microphone or wireless mic (I picked one up at Radio Shack for under $65) for recording lectures or interviews. Mac users can use Garage Band. Phone interviews can be captured directly from Skype. Oh, and you'll need a place to store your podcasts. iTunes U provides such as source for schools and districts, at a fee. There are free sources, but generally they are wide open, so you've got some trade-offs to make.

Okay, one last audio source and I'll leave you alone. LibriVox isn't a podcast site, but it is a source of free audio books of works that are now in the public domain, which includes many of the classics (I've been considering Moby Dick). Also, they are looking for volunteers to read chapters of these books. Might be a great service learning project for that student with an interest in the theater, radio, etc.

Tags: , ,

Monday, September 1, 2008

Basic Cable

If you're watching my blogroll over there in the right-hand column you might notice another new entry. After several months of reading the WA Open Education Resources blog I bumped it into heavy rotation for a couple of reasons. First, I find the topic of open source educational resources (textbooks, course materials, etc) especially intriguing and would like others to be introduced to the idea. Second, the author, Cable Green, is the eLearning Director for Washington's State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), which means his insights count a little more than someone in Indiana or California.

In a recent post, Cable highlights a NPR piece on crowd sourcing and poses the questions of how this might work in education. In case you haven't clicked the link yet, crowd sourcing is the idea that product design, for instance, could be done by your customers instead of your own staff - better, cheaper, faster. (Oh just go listen to the NPR piece...I'll wait). Cable asks:
"if we open our courses, and textbooks, and let students design the learning materials and spaces they want… what would happen to participation and retention rates?"
I can only begin to image how hard it would be to implement this sort of cultural shift, but assuming the challenges can be overcome, I think community colleges might increase participation by a traditionally under-served audience, working professionals seeking continuous career development. Not career changers or degree seekers, but those of us needing to advance our skills within our current profession.

Let's say I'm an information technology (IT) professional in the small corporate environment trying to keep my skills relevant in a constantly shifting environment (oh wait, I am). I am faced with a number of professional development challenges:
  • Employer sponsored training focuses on what the employer needs not what I need
  • Employer sponsored training is limited in $$$ and time
  • For-profit training is pricey and favors popular topics (to fill the classes)
  • For-profit training is short-duration, so you don't get to reflect on the learning (drinking from a fire hose)
  • Colleges focus on degrees not learning (seriously, try taking one class)
  • Colleges serve a broad range of students, so the course content tends to be least common denominator (18-year old, career changers)
  • My experience, knowledge and skills aren't a factor in the course (except maybe in master's degree programs)
Colleges already try to tap into the experiences folks like I have through advisory boards, but there are challenges turning our advice into programs. What better way to do that than to let us do it as part of our learning. The development costs of text and courses could be reduced and the content made more relevant through the use of the cohorts. Further, the individuals of a diverse cohort will benefit from the varied experience of its members as would the instructional staff (who can't possibly stay as current as the cohort can). For example, an experienced database administrator learning C# could provide important knowledge about database administration to a fellow student (or instructor) in exchange for some insights on Microsoft's common language runtime (CLR). Finally, we can share our learning with others by capturing, organizing and reflecting on the information in a public forum like a wiki, blog or podcast. Is this a natural extension to the Majoring in Learning or Personal Learning Environments concepts?

If, using web 2.0 tools, I can build a cohort and we jointly develop the objectives, texts and course work, why do we need the educational system at all? Well, some people don't. I think, however, that for the majority of us colleges can add significant value to our professional development. First, they need to jump start the program with a base level of content and structure. I just don't see a group of professionals paying to start with a blank wiki. Second, they can provide access to resources that are difficult or inconvenient to access otherwise. For example, I may want to learn about web services but I may not want to learn how to configure and maintain my own web and database servers. Third, they can provide organization and structure, ranging from maintaining the computer lab to organizing the wiki where the course ware and texts are stored to enforcing the Creative Commons licensing. Finally, and perhaps most important, they can provide independent assessment of individual learning and of the program as a whole. Assessment is, after all, the point - to determine if I really learned the things I set out to learn.

Okay, so as long as we are blue skying this thing, what if the community college becomes my career health club. Instead of signing up for a class or degree I join the "club". I get access to a trainer that helps me set goals, demonstrates proper use of the equipment and checks in to make sure I'm progressing. Obviously, the club maintains the equipment and facilities so I have access to what I need when I need it. I might want to stop by at midnight to blast my abs().

The actual training is up to me. I might work completely by myself, but more than likely I will build a social network that helps me. I might have a running partner of similar capability for a weekly run. When weightlifting I may just hookup with whoever is available - sharing techniques, spotting and providing encouragement. I might also work with the club to find a swim coach to help me on my stroke and to join a cycling club to get me out on the road. Then, to demonstrate my progress, I participate in a club-sponsored triathlon.

I don't know, what do you think? Do you trust the wisdom of crowds or do think the structure of the current model will carry us into the future?

Tags: , ,