Friday, November 28, 2008

Educating Employees

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving day. Mine was very enjoyable, largely due to the fact that the family dinner was not at my house this year (we still had the annual Fryday gathering around the deep fryer - 2 turkeys and 5 chickens). It did throw my schedule off, however, and I missed the full, extended version of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant on the radio. There's always next year.

I did catch an interest radio piece on KUOW, part of a series from the Cunard Cruise Lines called Liner Notes. Episode 6 (Talking Turkey) contained an interview with author Wendell Berry. Around 51 minutes into the podcast the interviewer asks Mr. Berry what advice he, a frequent commencement speaker, gives young people about leading a successful life. He says his comments always go against the grain because:
... I think what they are being taught is how to be good employees, which means to be dependent and obedient and so on, and I encourage them to try for independence.
Argue if you will about whether the goal of school is to create good employees or educated citizens (are the two really mutually exclusive?), but I can assure Mr. Berry that "dependent and obedient" is the very definition of a poor employee, certainly in the modern information technology (IT) organization. The world of routine, process-oriented jobs, where employees follow orders from a boss with superior knowledge is fading fast. Organizations are flat, managerial span of control wide, knowledge fleeting and work project-oriented. I would consider the 3 skills Alan November highlights in this short video clip as more accurate representation of what good employees need to be taught.

My concern, however, is not that Mr. Berry's assessment of hiring standards is accurate (it's not). My fear is that his assessment of education might be accurate. I know teachers and administrators are going to say we don't teach those things and I know that's not their intent. I am confident that there isn't an AP Obedience class anywhere in the country. Still, I wonder if the very organization of school and the behaviors it models doesn't encourage some dependent and obedient behaviors. I'm thinking of the focus on lecturing, the teacher as the expert ("the sage on the stage"), the rigorous structuring of the class day and standardized testing the reinforces the notion of "one right answer".

This gets tricky because, if we are modeling the wrong behaviors, then the discussion can't be between a couple of teachers at Kamiak or Cascade or E-W and their respective technology advisory committees. Those behaviors are woven into the very fabric of the education system. Removing them is the job of the weaver, not the seamstress. That is why, as I have written before, there needs to be a discussion amongst the broader community - taxpayers, citizens, civic leaders, business leaders, teachers and administrators.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Silk Degrees

From yesterday's (11/24/08) Everett Herald comes an article on the expansion of degree offerings from other universities as the UW branch campus idea dies a quick, painful death as a result of the State's budget shortfall.
As the campaign to bring a University of Washington campus to Snohomish County stalls, the state's other public universities are quietly expanding bachelor's and master's degree programs in the Everett area.
Quietly expanding? Really? Too bad Herald reporters don't read the ads in the Herald 'cause if they did they would know that the schools had been paying a lot of money to make the expansion of the programs broadly known. It's also too bad that Herald reporters don't read Herald letters to the editors 'cause if they did they would have seen a letter from me on 3/14/08 highlighting those same degree programs (you can also find the text of that letter here). I would argue that had the Herald not abandoned all journalistic integrity to become the primary cheerleader for the UW branch campus, the expansion of these programs would have been anything but quiet.

From my perspective as a lowly taxpayer these programs are a bargain because the deliver education to under-served populations, often in under-served areas, with significantly less infrastructure and administrative costs. A UW North Sound, for instance, will take the better part of a billion dollars and years of construction before we graduated anyone. These alternative from existing universities go up much faster (although they are still too slow to respond).

Take the Central Washington University (CWU) information technology and administrative management (ITAM) degree, mentioned in the article. You may recall that I blogged about the local version, a bachelor's of applied science ITAM (BAS-ITAM), last spring. The Herald article doesn't fully describe the value of the program. Yes it offers an IT bachelor's degree locally, but more important, it offers it in multiple locations and to a different student base. The program is taught simultaneously through distance learning technologies at Edmonds CC, Highline CC and now Everett CC. (Below is picture of the lecturer's workstation at Highline. The small screens let the lecturer see the classroom and students at the other locations.)

Lecturer Workstation

In addition, the program is targeted at a different audience than the Ellensburg-based ITAM degree. The BAS-ITAM is a two-year program for students that have completed an IT program at a community college and have at least a year of work experience (hence the "applied" part of the name). I won't cover the same ground covered in the earlier post, but one point bears repeating. Most community college IT programs are Prof/Tech and their credits do not transfer to any bachelor's programs (they are referred to as terminal degrees). Without the BAS-ITAM these students would have to start over again as freshman, spending time and money on areas of study where they already have the requisite knowledge. And, since the tuition is subsidized by the State, the program saves the taxpayers two years of tuition subsidy.

Also worth noting is that June 2008 saw the first set of graduates from the Edmonds and Highline locations. So CWU isn't really "testing the waters in Everett" as the article states.

For more ranting on what's wrong with a UW branch campus see my No Sno U blog.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

More tweaks

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll spend the weekend in a boat drinking beer with his friends." -- anonymous
In this sense, blogging is like fishing. I started to do just one thing, make the body of the post wider, and I am still making little changes. In addition to the new layout, I've:
  • added Creative Commons (CC) licensing. CC provides content creators a relatively simple way to maintain copyright over their materials while still allowing a range of usage, at their discretion. I, for instance, selected an Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-Alike license for all materials that I create for the Advisory Bored (see the footer of each page). This means that anyone is free to use my works if they: attribute the work to me, don't make money from it and share any derivative work under the same licensing. BTW (by the way ), this topic would be a great addition to any content creation class so that students start to understand the role of licensing in a professional/business setting. More on that later.
  • changed the position of the subscription details. In addition to moving the subscription box to the top of the left-hand navigation column, I've also simplified the display. I wanted to make it more prominent to encourage people to use some sort of syndication to get notifications of new posts. Syndication eliminates the need for the reader visit a site and look for new content. I use Feedburner for the syndication so that I am able to capture statistics about non-visiting readers.
  • made it easier to share with AddThis. At the bottom of each post you will now find a little icon that says "BOOKMARK". It's a tool from AddThis that makes it easier for you the reader to bookmark the post for retrieval later or to share it with friends via email or social networking sites. Click the icon and you get a box of common sharing/bookmarking options (see image at right). For instance, click on Email and you can quickly send an email to a friend, with a little message and a link to this post. In return, I get feedback about which posts are most intriguing.
As is often the case, the changes don't take long. It's troubleshooting all the little roadblocks that leaves you weary and sleep-deprived. I spent 90 minutes figuring out why I couldn't sign-in to Google in IE on my laptop - I almost never use IE on that machine. Somehow Google, Amazon and Blogger all were set as "never accept cookies" in the internet options, a requirement for Google/Blogger login. Then I spent another 2 hours trying to figure out why I couldn't add the AddThis icon to my blog template without causing an error. After 2 hours I put down my laptop, walked over to my desktop machine and made the change in 40 seconds. Why? I have no idea. Some days it is better to declare victory and go home early.

Let me know if you find any of these things helpful or merely a visual distraction.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Links and Resources: November 18th, 2008

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. -- Eric Hoffer
  • Opps, maybe IT isn't as recession-proof as columnist were predicting (that bubble burst quick). Over at ZDNet "Tech workforce pinched by economy, feeling like 2003" gives the bad numbers for layoffs in the tech sector, especially for telecom, electronics and computer industries.
  • However, there is still hope for other parts of the profession. Michelle Singletary picked "150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs" for her Color of Money Book Club (Everett Herald Nov. 2nd). #1 on their list was computer systems analyst. #5 was post-secondary teacher. Mrs. Advisory Bored, who teaches computer systems analysis at a community college, was rather smug the remainder of the day.
  • Computerworld's 2008 Salary Survey seems to indicate that "The hottest IT skills survive a cool economy". The survey tells us that businesses need to get the most of the technology they already have. Web developers, network administrators and information security managers stand to do well regardless of the economy.
  • At the most recent Everett SD technology advisory committee we briefly touched on the issue of the under-representation of certain demographic groups in IT. In the article "Making a Case for Diversity in STEM Fields" the authors argue that the lack of diversity isn't merely an unfortunately civil rights issue, but, given the importance of STEM, has significant implications for our economy and future. The article is hosted at MentorNet, an eMentoring site for science and technology fields (more here).
  • eSchool News reports that the "Nations first tech-literacy test" will be included in the Nation's Report Card starting in 2012. (I assume they mean information technology, because a stapler is technology and we don't need a test on it.) A contract was awarded to develop the framework for the assessment, but there is plenty left unresolved. They don't even know which grade-level will be tested.
  • And let us conclude with something fun. Paul over at the Last Great Road Trip sent me a link to Oblong Industries. Oblong makes g-spatial, a spatial operating environment. Watch the video.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seek and ye shall find

I was listening to KUOW on the way to work today and I heard a piece on a basic education funding study for the State of Washington. This blog isn't about that study, it's about finding that study.

So when I tossed the search terms into Google I started getting a lot of results from a lot of places. I had a few keywords that helped me refine the search, but there were still a number that were not relevant. Then I remembered that I could build my own custom search engine with Google. A custom search engine allows you define one or many specific web sites or web pages to be searched.

So I created a search called Washington State Education that pointed to a handful of state education sites such as the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges ( and the Higher Education Coordinating Board ( Now when I enter those same search terms into the custom search box, only results from the specified sites are included. Much more relevant because I'm not interested in Ohio's basic education funding initiatives.

You can also include the search as a widget/gadget in your iGoogle page or in a blog. If you scroll down the left-hand side of the Advisory Bored you will eventually reach a search box. That uses the same exact custom search engine as if you went to the link I specified above. Cool, no.

What can you do with a custom search engine? Well quite a lot I would guess. Google lists some featured sites here. A couple of my favorites are:
  1. Expanding Your Horizons which is an engine for girls, teachers and parents to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This engine includes over 140 different sites.
  2. CS Curriculum Search will help computer science (CS) faculty find teaching resources that other CS faculty has published to the web.
  3. Mrs. Gray's Research Sites for Kids contains a list of kid-safe sites that middle school teacher Lucy Gray can use with her students in Chicago (and now you can use with your students too).
You will notice in the final site that there are contributors listed. What this means is that while Mrs. Gray created the site, she has allow some people to help suggest new sites to add to the custom search engine. So, for instance, history teachers in the Mukilteo SD could band together to build a history search engine even if they are spread out across the district.

My one other custom search site is called Puget Sound News Sources. It includes 12 local media entities, including the Everett Herald. So if you want to know what local media is saying about you, give it a try.

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Virtual High School - continued

Not long after my Virtual High School post I received a tweet (a Twitter message) from the Cool Cat Teacher Vicki Davis pointing to this article from Orlando Sentinel on a new Florida law to expand online education in primary and secondary grades:
The law passed by the Legislature last spring is designed to give parents more choice in how their elementary- and middle-school children are educated full time. Online instruction joins home schooling, charter schools and Florida's on-again, off-again experiment with vouchers to private schools as a way of broadening the selection.

"The beauty of this is it is another choice for parents," said Sonia Esposito, director of school choice for Osceola schools.

The state will pay for online instruction, providing districts about $6,000 per student -- what they would get for a student who showed up at a regular school. But savings are expected in bus transportation, school construction and other areas.
Then today I was outside for my last lawn mowing/Teachers's Podcast listening session of the year - I'm done with lawn mowing not the podcast. Virtual schools were again the topic of discussion in episode #28 (for those of you new to podcasting, you can play the episode from your computer, you don't need an iPod).

They discussed the Florida law which apparently requires schools to offer a full online degree program starting next year. They then dove deep into virtual schools and online education. It's a great discussion and they have posted a number of links for you reading enjoyment. A couple of things I found particularly interesting:
  1. Dr. Kathy talked about online education as a continuum that starts with the use of basic online resources, moves to students using it as part of their studies, then to partially online courses and finally to fully online programs. Starting with the simple stuff is alright, but it's just the beginning.
  2. Dr. Kathy also reinforced the notion that the proper application of technology to the classroom is not simply migrating your existing class content to the web or learning management system (LMS). Teachers will need to adapt their teaching to get the most of the new technology, just as they have had to do in the past (anyone remember filmstrips?).
  3. Dr. Kathy and Mark went on to discuss the hybrid or blended model in which coursework is a mixture of online and on-site. They referenced the VOISE program in Chicago as an example (see this summer 2008 Converge article about the program starting on page 21).
  4. Mark talked about a Converge article he did in 2007 about the Distance Learning program in Alabama. He talked about how the program was used to, among other things, deliver coursework that was not offered on-site because of insufficient demand for certain classes (say Latin or AP Programming). We might consider this the Long Tail of education.
Okay, so last time I said we in the broader community - business, taxpayers, parents, advisory board members - needed to be thinking about this too. I am even more convinced of that now. The implications of these changes seems more profound than merely getting teachers to blog.
  • How will we pay for educators to learn the technology and implement an entirely new way to deliver education? (And don't tell me they can do it as part of their job, that's not how it's done in the business world.)
  • How will funding be effected if students rush to fully or partially online programs and leave school buildings empty? It might be a great solution for a growing district that doesn't have enough space, but what about a district that is shrinking?
  • How will we fund schools if a student is on campus for four classes each day and then takes two more online from another school (funding and football are going to be the biggest roadblocks to educational reform).
  • What changes in teacher education do we need to make in advance of the transition? Are the Colleges of Education in our Universities training new teachers how to build their curriculum around both on-site and online delivery?
Digging up the links for this post I trip over a site, Virtual High School Meanderings, that you might add to your reading list if you are interested in virtual/online education.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's your reaction

I'm trying out a new Blogger feature called reactions. It's a way for you to quickly provide feedback about a particular blog post without commenting (although I would really like you to comment too).

At the bottom of each post, under the tags, comments and labels you will see the word reaction with five check boxes: Great, Good, So-So, Boring and Huh. If you have an opinion, but don't want to hassle with a comment, then just check the box that best represents your thoughts. Blogger will total the count and display it for all to see.

Enjoy ....

Virtual High School

Did you catch the Monday edition of the Herald? Their lead article was about the growth in attendance in virtual (0nline) high schools.
Online schools are booming. In Washington, the number of elementary, middle and high school students enrolled full-time in public, online schools has nearly quadrupled in three years to 5,666 last school year.

Nationwide, the number of students enrolled in online schools jumped 60 percent, to 506,950 between 2003 and 2005, the latest year with data, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Of course the paper edition had to feature more prominently the quote "I don't have to listen to teachers tell me what to do. This way I can site in my pajamas and still get it done." by putting it in a sidebar. That should stir some excitement in the if-it-was-good enough-for-me crowd.

It's time that education as a production line comes to an end. Students are not the raw materials of the education system and teachers are not factory workers, bolting facts onto students like an auto worker mounting a tire on a Buick. Is virtual high school part of solution?

Students don't all learn the same. People have different needs for the delivery of education. It's not that we have to do away with the existing format. Some people thrive in it, and it should continue. Many others don't, and we need an alternative for them. We can't afford to let students fail simply because we only want to teach one way. Perhaps you remember the TED Talks video from Ken Robinson titled "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" that I featured in a previous post. Take 20 minutes to listen Robinson's story of Gillian Lynne failing in the traditional school setting.

I know that we who serve on advisory boards are suppose to be thinking about about the needs of specific programs, but it seems to me that we also need to be thinking about the broader educational system. I'm interested in your thoughts. What type of people do you think would benefit from this alternative? Would an online education help prepare students for your job openings? Would you have wanted your high school experience to be all online, all in-class or some sort of hybrid?

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

I went to school board with 27 Jennifers

Jennifer at the injenuity blog has been reassessing the way she is presenting social media tools to teachers in her post About Face. The core of her message is that social media tools aren't necessarily right for all instructors. Forcing a set of tools upon an instructor does not mean better education. Unless teaching changes, the introduction of new tools does nothing to further the goal of better education.

Initially I wasn't really buying Jennifer's thought process (also see comments by Geoff Cain and a post from another author titled "Which Technologies Shall We Evangelize"). As I continued to read and re-read her post, I started to get her point about changing teaching. She says that:
Teaching has to change before these tools can be effective for learning. When we promote the tools to instructors who are using inappropriate instructional and assessment strategies, we are doing nothing to further the cause of learner-centered pedagogy and collaborative learning.
Still, if educators have not used social media tools, save a two-hour seminar in the summer, how will they ever participate in changing teaching. It may not be about the tools, but the transformation isn't going to happen without them either (or without teachers understanding of them).

It's no different in the business world. When I try to convince my co-workers on the business side of the house to use a wiki I get blank stares. "What does it do?" they ask me. Their mental model is of a software application designed for a specific task. Responding with "It's a tool to quickly develop and maintain knowledge repositories in a highly collaborative environment" doesn't resonate with them. I won't describe the look of disappointment when I say there isn't a manual. Until someone from the business side embraces the wiki, I'm stuck.

I hope that the instructors who are deterred from using social media tools by Jennifer's frank and honest discussion are only deterred from using them as a cornerstone of their current courses. My experience is that you need to embrace the tools before you can assess their value (or lack thereof). Teachers can adopt the tools as part of their personal life or professional development activities. And so what if you just use these tools to "pave cow paths". We used computers to cut paychecks for decades before we learned to send email alerts notifying you that you're about to reach your credit limit.

Instead of creating a flat classroom right out of the gate, perhaps they could start using a social bookmarking tool like Diigo or with a group of fellow instructors. Everyone needs to save bookmarks in such a way that they are available from any computer. Along the way the instructors will be introduced to tagging and the power of the network to deliver a high-value information resources (see Week 2 of Work Literacy's Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals for a better introduction to social bookmarking).

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