Jeff Presents...

Consulting, Communication, & Creativity
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Jeff's 2009 Web Log...

Welcome to my Blog for 2009...

I'm changing things up a bit in '09. Rather than writing all "essay" style posts, I'm going to mix it up! You will find short bursts, long narratives, and everything in between. As well, I won't post solely on Monday's this year, but will put my thoughts "out there" anywhere from 1 - 7 times per week. (I'll keep you guessing...ENJOY!)

RSS feed for this blog found at Wordpress

Signing Off...For A While...: As many of you who know me are aware, I’m heading into my dissertation phase….so guess what? No more writing. Not for a while anyway. I’ll be writing for the next 18-24 months – so between work and teaching and my doctorate, I need to concentrate heavily on that piece of paper! I hope you’re all with me…sorry if you were a regular reader. But priorities are priorities See you in a couple of years!

Don't worry - I'm still available for your professional development, keynote, and other communication workshop needs! Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!

 


Unfaired Upon:If you read this blog on any sort of regular basis, you know that my wife Keena has Crohn’s disease. As well, you would also know that it was 2 years before it was finally diagnosed properly followed by 5 years of hospital visits, heavy duty meds, ups and downs, and two bouts with near death until she finally had an ileostomy which removed her entire large intestine. During that time, our perceptions and paradigms around health, medicine, physicians, food, and support were completely turned on end.

 

But some of you may not know that about 3 months after Keena’s surgery – just as she was starting to feel well for the first time in 7 years – her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, the diagnosis from the doctors was that the tumor had probably been there for 5 years or so, going undetected by mammograms. (Yes, it was news to us as well that they don’t always work…)

 

Luckily, Suzy found her way into a study during her treatment.Because she qualified, she would get some free medications as she would have chemo both before AND after the surgery. Doctor’s hypothesize that book ending the surgery like that will significantly improve her chances of staying clear of cancer.(It better too…there’s nothing like losing your hair – eyebrows included – experiencing nausea, losing your appetite, getting blisters on your hands & feet, and many other wonderful side effects for no reason!)

 

And much like we did with Keena, our perceptions are being stretched yet again. And what’s really interesting is that those of us who went through it with Keena are responding differently to Suzy just a few short months later. The context and the variables are different enough that our support mechanisms have changed.

 

For example, Keena and I obviously have a daughter now.A daughter who loves her Nana very much! And love to Addie isn’t snuggling and rubbing of backs…it’s getting down on the floor and playing. It’s running, jumping, hide and seek, and lots of other cardiovascular activities. So, for Nana, my daughter’s desire to be with her is a real problem right now. That is why Keena can’t see her mom (read: best friend) nearly as much as she wants to. So Suzy has to endure more of this alone.

 

As well, there are other relationships that are different. Suzy’s sister has come out twice during the process, much like she did for Keena several times. She’s a calming influence for the family and she helps cut through the junk to find the heart of the matter. But you can see how much harder it is for her to be strong with her sister than with her niece.

 

Then of course there is Dave, Suzy’s husband and Keena’s dad. When Keena got sick, his primary responsibility was to support Suzy as she supported Kee. Not that he didn’t care for Keena – he cares deeply!But, his role was clear and his charter was simple: make it easy for Suzy to care for her daughter. Now, though, he’s in a pickle.He’s a career Air Force mechanic. He’s a tough guy.He’ll tell you about how he came back from knee surgery a week early, against doctor’s orders, and that a person should take as few pain medications as is possible. Everything is about ROI and TCO.So, when you ask him for sympathy and empathy, it’s hard. His mission has changed and his skill set is making it difficult.

 

Of course all of this is still in the midst of friends and other family members who don’t know how to act or react. This was true for Keena too – I suspect it’s the human condition. Very few people really know how to help a person who is going through something alien.For example, my mom holds “good thoughts” for people, but doesn’t communicate those concerns to the person. At the same time Suzy has a friend who communicates every thought, to the point of being a bit of a burden. I try to support Keena as she supports her mom which probably doesn’t let Suzy know how much I want to help her. Etc.People generally speaking have trouble doing the right thing, saying the right thing, and offering the right help…it’s just hard!

 

And there is also the lack of understanding.I used to get it all the time with Keena. People would ask me how Keena was doing and I’d tell them. A year later, I’d see that same person who would ask again about Keena. When the news was actually worse than the previous year, it made most people extremely uncomfortable. Doctors are supposed to make you better.Medicine is supposed to work. These are things Americans hold to be true and when something happens that promotes a different kind of experience, we get very uncomfortable.

 

This is true with Suzy.She responded very well to her first treatments of chemo. The tumor essentially died – although it didn’t reduce in size.Many people hear this and think, “Oh good…it’s over.”Ask Suzy if it’s over.She’s got 3 more months of super side-effects from the chemo, not to mention the reconstruction surgeries, etc. Then there is also the burden of worrying about cancer for pretty much the rest of her life…

 

What still amazes me, almost every day, is that there are stories like this going on in almost every family around.We all feel so insulated from the reality of sickness because as a culture, we really don’t share these burdens on a regular basis. But when you talk to someone and find out about a sick spouse, child, or maybe even the person you’re talking to, it’s so hard to be in the moment and work on understanding. I’m guessing it’s because it’s too painful to hear on a regular basis so people would rather stay at a distance than really get in there and ask questions.And for some people, myself included, who have never really had medical problems, it’s almost impossible to truly empathize.

 

But at the end of the day, I think it comes down to this.We need to know that people are hurting. While we may not know exactly how to help or support them, it’s a good starting place. And about the only real way to learn that is to ask. Then, the second step is something I’m going to try very hard to teach my daughter. After we know they are hurting, it’s important to listen.It’s important from one human to another to acknowledge the context of their situation and listen. From that listening I believe a lot of good can come. You can hear how to support, how to help, or simply what to say next. Simply giving 30 minutes to someone may be all they need that particular day. Talking it out (for most people) really can make an impact.

 

So this blog, while about my family and about illness, is really about what I believe in from my core. I teach communication to people around the world and that’s what this blog is about. Listening, immediacy, feedback, stories, context, and interpersonal communication – these are traits that we should all work on in multiple frameworks.

 

Here’s to healing for you Suzy.And here is to health for our family. We’ve had enough sickness to last a lifetime, so here is to a time of wellness for us all moving forward.

 

Want to hear more about how to communicate around illness? Need someone to speak to your group about effective interpersonal communication? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!

 

How To Lose An Audience Using PowerPoint (Using Zentation - www.zentation.com)

video

 


 

Assessing Creativity: Pick a number between 01 and 09. Got it? Multiply the number you chose by 9. (You may need a pencil or calculator for this…) You should now have a two digit number. Add these two numbers together. Subtract 5. Take this last number and correlate it to a letter of the alphabet. (1=A, 2=B, etc). Think of a country that begins that letter. Now think about the 2nd letter of the country’s name. Think of an animal that begins with that letter. Got one?

 

 

You now have a problem. There are no elephants in Denmark! (Impressive, eh?) So, approximately 94% of you came up with that answer. The rest of you probably had an ostrich in the Dominican Republic, but it’s a crap shoot at that point.

 

Do you think that attention getter is creative? I do. Audiences like it – if you can get them to participate. The payoff is when they realize you “read their minds” and they try to deconstruct it. But regardless of the math behind the trick, it’s a pretty creative way to get people invested in you as a speaker.

 

Creativity is a passion of mine. I am a big believer that we do not teach, nor do we encourage creativity in our classrooms. (Tell me you’ve watched Sir Ken Robison’s talk at TED on this subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY) Yet, what talents do we read about in newspapers, magazines, and journals that are said to differentiate successful businesses, inventions, or even countries? Innovation is often touted as what makes one business successful while another one fails. Inspired design is often how inventions are described. The United States likes to talk about our resourcefulness, imagination, and out of the box thinking that helps us stay ahead of other countries with regard to science, defense, and technology. But if creativity is so revered, and if innovation is what will change our future, why don’t we build an infrastructure of creative thought for our students?

 

 

I used to believe that educators were creative. I thought you had to be innovative to find ways to inspire and motivate while teaching foundational principles. But after 15 years in and around educators at all levels, I’m not convinced of that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tremendously imaginative people out there teaching and assessing our students. But, the percentage of creative people in education is probably the same as the percentages in industry, business, and the military. (I’d guess that percentage is around 5%.)

 

Don’t get me wrong. I think everyone has the propensity for creativity. Or at least a majority. But without those skills and attributes being nurtured by someone along the way, most people just do as their told and that creative inclination dissipates. Think about it – you are in 2nd grade and you’re asked to draw a picture of a farm. You grab your crayons and a big piece of butcher paper and start to work. A purple sun here, a blue barn there, a flying tractor that can transform into various vehicles – all in all a pretty imaginative farm! But then your teacher comes over and asks what you’ve done. They explain that our sun is yellow and that a typical barn is red. “Why?” you ask. No answer is given. It should be red because it should be red apparently. And of course tractors don’t fly. That’s just silly.

 

 

The end. Game over. Your attempt at something fun, cool, interesting, and creative was squashed and you soon understand that in order to succeed, you need to do things the conventional way. You need to follow the pack to show that you have learned.

 

Obviously, this is a super simplified example and I mean no offense to 2nd grade teachers. This could have been any level with any project. And therein lies the problem.

 

Think about what I call the triangle of teaching and learning. You have two foundation points – the outcome and the assessment. Then you have the tip of the triangle – the learning asset. (I am growing tired of the bastardization of words like “learning object” which now mean so many multiple things to different people, we can’t have an effective conversation anymore.) But let’s talk about each point.

 

The outcome: this is a constant. It should not change unless it becomes out dated. An outcome of students demonstrating writing skills or reading skills comes to mind. (Of course, the level of specificity is an important conversation – but one for another day.)

 

The assessment: this may change from term to term, class to class, or group to group, but essentially this stays the same for one instance of teaching. In other words, you should assess all students in the same way to promote fairness. (Ex: Don’t use a test for one student and a paper for another student.)

 

The learning asset: this is where teaching creatively can come into play! How you get your students to the outcome can (read: should) vary within the same class / term and beyond! The learning asset may be a lecture, a widget, an exercise, a powerpoint presentation, a video, etc. (Creativity should be modeled!)

 

However, it’s the assessment that we’re talking about here. While you don’t want to change requirements for assessment on a student by student basis, what about trying this. Give your students the option to demonstrate understanding and application in their own way?! If your assessment gives the freedom for students to explore their own creative ideas in terms of submission – and as long as the objectives for the assignment are met – imagine the culture of creativity AND assessment you would be creating!

 

For example, most instructors ask for a paper on bigger, complex items. Why not ask for a presentation? This may be a paper, but it might also be a video. Students could use Zentation to combine a video with a powerpoint. They might even create a model on Excel or using another software that demonstrates the objectives creatively.

 

What about asking students from the start what ways they would like to promote themselves in terms of your outcomes and objectives? Creating a democratic classroom in addition to a creative assessment culture is also powerful! Students get to take more and more ownership of their learning and you get more and more ideas for future teaching modules!

 

Why not start assessing students through gaming devices? Games are powerful teaching and learning tools – and the assessment combines formative and summative effectively. There are a number of games already created online or in books, but you can certainly make your own (demonstrating your own creativity!).

 

There are ways to promote creativity. There are things we should do to suggest to students that innovation, invention, and inspiration are both valued as well as something we can develop! Think of the ramifications for our businesses, our culture, or our country around this powerful concept. While we believe ourselves to be decent problem solvers, this may lead to a whole new generation of problem finders (which is typically considered much harder…). Assessing creativity can happen. It can make learning more engaging. It can lead to stronger connections between content and application. It can happen. Good luck and good teaching.

 

 

Want to know more about creativity? Want to inspire your team to think outside of the box? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!

 

The blink of an eye.I know it’s cliché and I know it’s probably overused, but I have no better way to describe it.Don’t get me wrong – I’ve noticed the inevitable speeding up of time my whole life.For almost 40 years, the patterns of existence seem to increase in velocity on an exponential basis.

 

Every Fall I look forward to the fresh Colorado air, the leaves transforming into something Rockwellian, and the ability to play outside all day but still want hot soup for dinner.Of course, Fall also represents the nearness of Thanksgiving and Christmas – my two favorite holidays.And that pattern has existed for me since I was about 8 years old.But each year, Christmas gets here faster.Thanksgiving is gone seemingly before it began.Then we’re into the dead of winter – those few months in January and February where it’s dark, cold, and the days are long.Those months don’t seem to fly by quite as quickly, but they too are accelerating.

 

That brings me to today.The day after something consequential…something monumental in my life and the life of my family.It brings me to the day after my daughter turned two…

 

My little girl, who needed Keena and I to fulfill her every need just months ago is no longer a baby – she’s now a kid.In the last 24 months, she’s been summoned and referred to by many names: Peanut, Sugar Plum Fairy, Monkey, Addie Girl, Ads, Addie Borden, Munchkin, Lovely, and Cutie – I’m sure there were more, but my memory is already fading (sigh).

 

I’m having a hard time remembering where these last two years have actually gone. While I remember being in the hospital, having the doctor hand my daughter to me immediately after being born, and staying with her from that moment until two days later when I finally ventured out of the hospital for some much needed Qdoba for Kee and I, I can’t remember all of the little stuff that I want to.

 

Addie walked super early – she was walking at 9 months – and she walked pretty well right from the start. Luckily we got that on video!But until I looked back at some of those video moments, I forgot how she liked to run back and forth between Keena and I, giggling the whole time. This little girl who screamed her guts out at her first bath went on to meet milestone after milestone early and I want to remember them all. But like a frosty window pane, I can focus on specific memories while others are just out of reach, lingering in my subconscious.

 

Our SPF (Sugar Plum Fairy) started to use sign language early too.She knew more and milk and water before we did.And what was her first word?Was it “Daddy” or “Mommy” or “kiss” like some kids? Nope.She said the word that fascinated her and captured her little attention right from the start. “Jackson” – our Lab / Greyhound was what came out first.Well…more like “Jacks” but we all knew what it meant. That was over a year ago.Now, it’s on to, "M&M Cake" (what she busted out that she wanted for her birthday party…). Now she says things like, “Oh No Momma!” when there is a ladybug on the window. Or one of my favorites – she’ll say, “Down Dad.”This means she wants to go downstairs. I’ll reply, “You want to go downstairs Addie?” To which she’ll come back with, “Okay!” – as if to say, “What a grand idea! I wish I’d thought of that!”

 

I want to remember the compliments.I can’t describe how often complete strangers stop my wife and I to tell us how beautiful our little girl is. Our kid photographers want to give us extra pictures and send her images in for product placements. I mean, my little girl is over the top pretty. (Don’t think I don’t know what that’s going to mean for my future…)

 

I pray I’ll never forget that tiny body running to me when she hasn’t seen me for 8 hours. She puts that little head down and just starts trucking my way, putting her hands up about 5 feet away. Then, it’s into my arms and she lays her head down on my shoulder, patting my back. (I wish those moments could last for hours…)

 

And unless we capture it on film, audio clips, photos, or in journals – it just fades away. Every day brings something new as we lose what was new yesterday. Excitement for any ceiling fan was replaced by a love of airplanes and hec-ocs (helicopters). Of course, hec-ocs was then replaced by the thrill of, “poo poo!” Everywhere we go – “Dad! Bird poo poo!” or “Oh No Daddy!Jacks poo poo!” And so on…

 

But through all of the memories, with all of the fascination and wonder, along side it all, the memory that actually improves is love.I have no idea how it’s possible to love a being so much more today than yesterday, but it’s as if the memory just builds on itself – exponentially. I want to protect her, help her, give her everything – I just want her to know that love that I can’t really express.

 

There are a few songs out there from parents to kids. They totally have new meaning for me now. My wife and I particularly love, “Fix You” by Coldplay…ok, like doesn’t cut it for a song that makes me cry every time I hear it. (Damn you Coldplay!)But it’s not the song as much as the feelings I associate from that song with my little Addison. I want her to always know that those lights will guide her home. I yearn for her to have a home where she is safe forever - a home where she can go to ignite her bones.

 

Even after 20, 30, or 50 years…after my eye has blinked just a few more times – I want my Addie girl to always know how much we love her. Happy Birthday Addie Cakes.

 


Mentors: When I was sixteen years old, I remember going downstairs to our basement where my dad was watching tv. In fact, he was watching some guy on tv talk about the need for men to have a mentor. I watched the tape with my dad and when it was done, I remember looking up as my dad was silent for a few minutes. “What did you think of that Dad?” I asked after a while. He went on to explain to me that felt every guy needed a mentor – a leader and/or teacher to help him navigate parts of life that were tough, new, or important. In fact, my dad said that I should always strive to find a person like that in my life – that he would never be able to fulfill all when it came to advising. I tried very hard to take him seriously and I’ve looked for mentors my whole life.

 

So, as Father’s Day came and went and I got to celebrate as a dad myself, it also gave me time to reflect on the men who have had a significant impact on my life. First off, I’m sorry ladies.I know there are several of you who have also affected me greatly, but I didn’t think about this until yesterday. Maybe next Mother’s Day, I’ll do something similar J

 

Note, I’m not talking about respect. There are tons of men who have passed through my life that I respect a great deal. My Father-In-Law comes to mind.He’s a good man – an Air Force man – who can fix just about anything that needs fixing. He wants desperately to be a good husband, a good dad, and a good Papa. I respect him immensely.Likewise, I respect some of my friends. John, Luke, David, Ben – these are good guys who I love to hang out with – in fact, I wish I had MUCH more time to hang out more often.

 

But I’m talking more than friendship or respect – this is deeper. I’ve known guys to leave companies because they had no mentor to coach them through. I’ve known men who joined clubs and groups just to find a trusted advisor. Heck, my mom works with Psycho-analysts who let people pay for years to gain a guide in life!

 

 

I would also add that the men in my life who have taught me, led me, and helped me become who I am today were very diverse. Many probably have no idea that they meant something to me. Well today I hope to remedy that.I won’t use any last names, with a few exceptions, but if these guys read my work…they’ll know.

 

  • Jim, Tim, and Steve.I lump these guys together because they all held the same role – they were my youth leaders growing up. As the son of a preacher, of course I grew up in and around a church. But these three leaders got me through Junior and Senior High School when I was probably pretty tough to deal with. They taught me how to live a decent life, without the need to act crazy in the name of fun. And as a result, my high school career was pretty great. No major trouble – no drugs – no drinking – just fun doing things that I enjoyed and that made people happy. Thanks for not giving up on me you guys!
  • Keaten.The best professor I ever had was in college and luckily I stuck around to really gain access to his brain in my grad program. Keaten taught me how to be a better communicator, instructor, and presenter than any other teacher I had and that’s saying something as I was pretty lucky in that department. I now know that most college professors are never given education classes – they don’t necessarily know how to teach, what adult learning theory is, how to put an outcome and an assessment together, etc. But Keaten knew this stuff and he passed it to me. I was lucky enough to watch him model great teaching behaviors and have him directly assess my ability to create instruction too. While I’ve come a long way in terms of my education about education, he started me on a path for which I will forever be grateful. Unfortunately some life stuff got in the way of staying close, but he was a great mentor to me and I won’t forget it.
  • Andy.I’ve blogged before about Andy. He’s the ultimate stats guy – a logistician’s logistician. He loathes blanket statements and starts to shake if people babble on about nothing for long. But the guy taught me process is important.If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m a big picture guy. I’m a visionary.Don’t bog me down with the details!But Andy showed me the importance of those details.Not only did he explain their value, he showed me several ways to implement and operationalize those details effectively. Anchor against what’s known.See if it passes the “Spidey Sense” test (one of my personal favorites if you know how much of a Spider-Man fan I am…)Follow the flow. And I must admit I actually have some Excel skills. Not “mad” skills mind you – this grasshopper will likely never out spreadsheet the master. But I can put formulas together to figure out support numbers or analyze training revenues. What’s also interesting about Andy is his management style.Don’t get me wrong – there are people who worked for him that can’t stand the style. But what I like is that he accepts that.He knows he can’t manage all people all the time – but he’s going to try like crazy to set up a culture where others can fill in the blanks for him. And ultimately, he takes care of the people he feels deserve it.
  • Steve.I came to know Steve as one of our clients about 6 years ago. He was just taking over the online program for a bunch of community colleges. I’m actually not sure how long it took Steve and I to become “friends” – but it couldn’t have been long. We’ve traveled hundreds…possibly thousands of miles together on car trips around the great state of Iowa, and along the way he’s gone beyond simple friendship. He’s taught me some valuable things.The most pertinent lesson I’ve learned from Steve is that NICE GUYS DON’T HAVE TO FINISH LAST! It’s true.I’ve talked with Andy before about not being “cutthroat” in business. It’s just not who either of us are.And it’s probably why neither of us has $4 million in the bank today. But, Steve has shown me that it’s okay to be a decent person, to try and be a good boss, and to attempt to make decisions that empower others. Steve has quietly provided a platform for dozens…no, hundreds of people to shine. He never wants the glory – he never wants the praise.He just wants those around him to succeed.From the high school girls he coaches to the college instructors he leads, his “get out of the way” approach to leadership has done nothing but make his groups grow, succeed, and be great.
  • Paul Borden.I told you, a few last names…and you had to see it coming! My dad has been a tremendous figure in my life.Over and over again, he has reinvented himself to me and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. While I’ve seen him struggle – I don’t think that’s a problem for a mentee. In fact, growing to see your mentor for all of the positive and all of the negative I would argue is a good thing. But, at the heart of my relationship with my dad is a friendship – a bond that I hope I achieve with my daughter. His guidance when it comes to money, friendship, relationships, and so much more has manifested itself throughout my life. And speaking of modeling behaviors and skills?He’s the best presenter I’ve ever seen.He’s a fantastic consultant who can drill right to the heart of the problem and make you believe you are capable of fixing it overnight. He’s genuinely funny – and not “preacher” funny – but overall funny!And at the end of the day, I’m proud to call him my dad.

 

So thanks guys…to all of you who have helped me navigate the waters. I appreciate it.While I haven’t always made the best decisions and I’ve still had to learn some valuable lessons on my own, it’s been made so much easier because of you.

 

To all the Dads out there – Happy Father’s Day. I hope you are mentoring your kids to be better people. And to all the mentors out there, wherever you are.Thank you.

 

Need a motivational speaker for your next event? Want someone to talk about how to improve communication, teaching, management, or culture at your office? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!


Problems Down Under AND Up Over: I just got back from Australia...what a confusing place that is! They use dollars, but not the same dollars as the US (obviously). They are 16-18 hours behind my beloved Mountain time zone, depending on the time of year. Australia uses centigrade, so when I asked what the temperature would be one evening and heard, "10-15"...I was hosed. I was asked several times if I was staying in the CBD, to which I incorrectly answered, "No, I'm staying at the Hilton..."

 

But at the end of the day, all of the differences aside, one thing seems to be universal - even down under. Education is in trouble. Talking to educators ended up in the same conversations I have in the states, just counter-clockwise. :-) They're worried about quality, outcomes assessment, education dollars, and authentic curriculum just like we are in the states. Australian teachers have problem students, problem parents, and problems with administrators just like teachers in the states. Administrators have difficulty with rogue teachers, consumer minded students, and whether to go online with all programs, just like the states. In fact, it seems that we're all in the same boat for just about every major, educational trend I know of.

 

So I have to ask...WHY? Why do so few countries seem to get it right? Why are there so many problems? Why aren there so few innovators and visionaries leading the (correct) way down a path towards enlightenment?

 

Luckily, I have an answer. It's simple, really: argumentum ad antiquitatem is what it's all about. Yep, a simple fallacy in reasoning is the culprit behind decades of inaction and fearful speculation. The appeal to tradition is paralyzing education around the world...

 

Ok, so maybe it's not just that simple, but listen for a moment to my reasoning. If you look at most scholars who gauge educational relevance, they'll put it somewhere between 3 and 5 decades late. In other words, educators still teach out-dated theories, practices that nobody uses anymore, and terminology that few "real world" practicioners understand. On top of that, we use methods that are years behind, we force students to learn the ways in which we learned, and we ignore brain research instead focusing on antiquated learning theory.

 

So you may be sitting there getting frustrated by these comments. If so, odds are that you are 1) a teacher guilty of this (99% likely are...) or 2) an innovator who wants desperately to change things. Well friends, I'm with the innovators. It still amazes me how few, traditional teachers accept the Internet as a viable way to educate. Is it best in every situation? Of course not. Is it better than on-ground teaching in many situations? Absolutely. Of course it's scary too. It provides a level of accountability that educators aren't necessarily used to. Data mining is changing the face of online education and the measures / assessments brought with it are going to cause tremendous angst for some instructors. I've been in meetings where teacher's union representatives have flat out denied the viability of online education explaining, "...we've never needed to teach that way before..." (yikes)

 

So you want a fix? Ok - here's one. Call your Congressman - talk to your local school board - write our President. It will take a small portion of the education budget and some guts. But here we go...

 

Offer X grants per state for innovative education ideas. Something like 3 schools per state would likely work. One should be elementary, one should be high school, and one should be at the college / university level. The key is in the proposal - it has to be "out of the box" and it has to be adopted institution wide. What would "innovative" look like? Well, I don't know exactly. The beauty of innovation is that it draws from the collective brain trust. BUT, one key aspect of the proposal would be measurement. How do you measure success? That question has to be answered farily and justly in order to receive consideration. For the opponents of NCLB, this gives them the opportunity to create their own measures. For the proponents, they can use the metrics already in place if desired. But real measurement must provide the outcome.

 

Let me give one example to get the ball rolling. How about the New City School in St Louis? This is a school where every student has a DEEP understanding of HOW s/he learns. As a result, diversity is embraced without being forced. Collaboration becomes second nature to these kids. And all the while, they see how they BEST learn, while figuring out how to mitigate their own lack of learning styles. In other words, they learn practical application of authentic tasks & assessment - what better way do we have to prepare students for the real world? THAT is innovative.

 

So, we get 3 schools per state to "pilot" a program for 1, 2, maybe even 3 years. Do you know what we get when we're done? 150 case studies. We get 150 stories of success or failure. We see what might work, what likely wouldn't work, and what we should consider rolling out to dozens...heck, to hundreds of schools. It might involve new ways of designing curriculum, different textbook configurations, innovative projects, new uses for technology, providing students with unique tools, or a myriad of other ideas.

 

We have always been a country that embraces innovation and creativity. While that's not easy for big business or our government, as a country we still idealize the concept that a new way of doing something may be effective. (Obviously we have to be cautious of the fallacy of novelty...that's another blog.) So let's put our money where our mouths are. Let's let educators put up or shut up. I believe in my heart that there are some creative, innovative educators out there with some potential solutions to our education crisis. Let's give them a stage to present their ideas and potentially shine.

 

So would this "fix" education? Probably not. We're talking about a system that has problems from top to bottom. Just look at the problem with cafeteria foods as it correlates to learning, obesity, and focus (http://www.jamieoliver.com/school-dinners). But, might this start the ball rolling to get more and more of our students educated in a system that creates a more competetive employee? I think it might.

 

So let's see. I read article after article in INC., WIRED, NEWSWEEK, FORBES, and dozens of other publications about how to tap into innovation and creativity. Why don't we start modeling (and therefore) teaching it to our students right now? It could lead to education reform that helps us financially, academically, and systemically. Creativity could lead us to a system of education that prepares students for a real world future...whatever continent of our world they may happen to reside in.

 

Would you like to talk about innovation in education? Want to learn how to both teach and assess creativity in your students? Contact jborden@jeffpresents for more information!

 


 

Health & Persuasion:So I’m in one of those mash-ups again… Weight, diet, persuasion, and health are all colliding in a mish mash of confusion and angst, leading to frustration and anger!See what you think…

 

 

 

My wife recently got Jillian Michael’s book, “Master Your Metabolism” for me.We are big fans of hers from the show (Biggest Loser) and like many people, I’ve wondered if metabolism wasn’t a potential problem for me over my lifetime.Don’t get me wrong, I’m not back up to 315 pounds like I was in college or anything!I’m at my normal fighting weight – but I’d surely like to move down a belt or two.And along the way, if I can eat a healthier diet and live longer (and therefore give my daughter a healthier life…), then I’m in!

 

Enter the problem.This is the latest of a series of books I’ve read in the past 6 years since Keena got sick.We looked at “The China Study” – a book (and author) which believes it proves the link between meat & dairy and a plethora of problems from cancer to Alzheimer’s.We read “Eat to Live” where Dr. Fuhrman promotes a vegan lifestyle as a way to exist as the weight you should be, fix your cholesterol, and on and on.And there have been plenty of others.From gluten tolerance books to vegetarian books to chemicals…there are plenty of people with opinions about our world, our bodies, and our lifestyles.

 

So let me level set the playing field.I actually buy into the notion that certain meats and amounts of total meat are problematic – this of course is compounded significantly by the idea of chemical enhancement like antibiotics, steroids, etc.I also believe that dairy is a bad idea for humans.As the only animal on the planet that consumes another animals milk AND the only mammal alive that continues drinking milk after begin weaned AND the fact that our bodies produce profuse amounts of mucous every single time we ingest dairy to cope with the notion that our bodies don’t like it…I get it.We shouldn’t ingest milk!(Try downing a gallon of milk in under 10 minutes and see how your body reacts…it will be very different than trying to down 1 gallon of water in the same time frame…)

 

So that is my paradigm – my over arching perception of food.Along the way I’ve also come to believe that sleep is crucial when trying to maintain weight (Jillian supports this in her recent book), low carb / high fat is dangerous in the long term, and most importantly, everyone is different.Our bodies all react to various things differently – for example, if I need to shed some pounds, eating after 8pm is a no-no.I have seen books written by people who state that is nonsense.But (in my opinion) assuming that every single variable applies equally to every single person is ludicrous.

 

So back to my dilemma.Jillian Michael’s suggestions, sometimes supported and other times not as much, are tough.“Of course they are tough!” you might suggest, especially if you’ve seen her on the show.Well…there is a difference between tough and impossible.A few examples might help.

 

  1. Only eat organic fruits, veggies, and meats.Okay – this is certainly possible for my family.Although I have a number of friends for whom the double / triple prices would not be a feasible option.
  2. Get rid of anything plastic that touches food.Hmmm…now we’re starting to get hard.I get the principle – she asserts that plastics are not completely stable and they slough chemicals into and onto foods / beverages.Your body, not knowing that these chemicals aren’t from the body, assume they are signals and start to react.These reactions may be to retain salt, retain water, or retain fat.But replacing every plastic plate, plastic glass, plastic left-over container, not to mention all of the foods that arrive in plastics (did I mention she encourages very little of these foods to be purchased – mostly whole, natural foods)…now we’re starting to get into a major purchase mode.
  3. Avoid all chemicals from touching / entering your system.She would say that the stain-master carpet we just had installed in our new home has to go.No more chemical detergents for dishes or laundry.No more soaps or deodorants from the grocery store.(Do you see why I’m starting to struggle here?)

 

Unfortunately, most of these suggestions aren’t supported by much data.Although in fairness to Jillian, there aren’t a lot of people looking to see if correlates exist between our hormones and our environment.DOW chemicals isn’t too worried about proving that their products are not only hurting the planet but slowly poisoning the human race – imagine that.However, some of the persuasion she uses is just fallacious.

 

One example she uses repeatedly is a friend she has who has always been thin, while eating as much as she wants all the time.She claims that this woman only eats whole foods, healthy grains, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.(I’m reminded of a great Brian Regan bit about how his friends suggested a diet of combinations.You can eat as much as you want of the right combinations.For example, you wouldn’t want to eat steak and potatoes…but you can have all the cauliflower and steamed raisin skins you can eat!)

 

The problem is that I also have a friend – one who is even older than Jillian and her friend – who still wears the same size jeans he did in high school.He’s a rail.And you know how he eats?Like @$#* actually.He’ll eat 1 or 2 HUGE meals a day, usually from a fast food chain and washed down by a power drink or soda.But his body can handle what mine could not.I realize that doesn’t mean he’s healthy.Even though his cholesterol is normal and his heart is “strong” – it doesn’t mean he won’t keel over at 50.But he might outlive us all…nobody knows.

 

So, like with many “health” books, people are left wondering where reality lies.Is it in such an extreme diet and lifestyle that you can’t really fit into society, or should we all say, “forget it” and eat what we want, when we want, ultimately leading to obesity rates becoming 99%?(Except for my friend…)

 

If you have lots of money…I’m talking LOTS of money, being healthy is definitely easier.Healthy food is really costly.Ripping out your carpets and installing wood flooring everywhere is not cheap. Using the right soaps, only drinking non-dairy milks, buying organic everything...is expensive! But for some people, healthy is harder than almost anything.I work 70-80 hours per week between my job, my teaching, as a full time doctoral student – and that’s all on top of time spent with my family which is precious.So, getting to a gym for exercise…I know how important it is, but if I do that (aside from the added expense), what do I cut out?The job and the teaching can’t go or we can’t live.The student work can’t go or I can’t get a promotion.The family time is more important than anything else…hmmm.

 

I realize that I’m in a MUCH better place than some.Some people are working 2-3 jobs just to live and support their families – they don’t even get family time!How do THEY be healthy?I have no idea.And what IS actually healthy?I think everyone accepts the importance of exercise.I think most people buy into a healthier diet.But what is “healthier” anyway?The research is hard to wade through, especially with so many special interest groups tainting the pool of information and rhetoric.Try finding a study on dairy that doesn’t include a lit review with findings from milk-purchased studies.And the jury is probably always going to be out on meat, but most people will eat it regardless of health risks.Why?Two reasons – they were raised that way and they like it. (Both fallacies in reasoning.)So don’t bother them with pesky facts…

 

In conclusion, I’ll say that I like Jillian Michaels. Seriously – I think she means really well. I watch her care deeply for her clients on the show and she does put her money where her mouth is. (Notice she doesn't "sell" the sugar-free gum, sugar-free jello, etc. during the commercials?) But in the end, her book will find its way to my shelf with just a few nuggets having been gleaned and it’s a shame.I’d love to find “the book” out there…but I guess that’s as unlikely as “the pill” – right?

 

Interested in how NOT to use persuasion?Want to hear more about effective arguments versus fallacious reasoning? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more info!


Political Correctness:Q-How was the training you did in Hawaii Jeff? A – It was like every other training I've ever done...about 72 degrees under florescent lighting…

 

Wow, is that unfunny.Ok, it’s mildly amusing.But, it’s also the craziest joke I get to tell on any kind of regular basis.Why?Because I work in an office for a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.You see, funny to me isn’t funny to my employer – one of the 100 most ethical companies in the world.Actually, what’s funny to most of my colleagues is a violation of dozens of HR rules, codes of conduct, and probably Miss Manners as well.

 

 

 

Many of you know that I perform stand-up comedy.I don’t do it as often as I used to, but I got the chance to perform a few weeks ago at an open mic night and I killed! Why?Because I wasn’t anywhere near my office and I was 99% sure nobody from my office would hear me.I got to tell jokes about all kinds of HR violations and the place erupted. I believe as a people we need that outlet.We need to laugh at sex, communication, bodies, race, stereotypes, stupidity, bosses, gender, and hundreds of other non-political correct things.Yes – I truly believe this is a need people have…

 

So, I’m a man without a country; a comic without a mic; an employee with a self-imposed gag order.And it’s tough – believe me!I see ridiculously funny things every day. The reason The Office is so funny is because we all know people like that. Well guess what?My office has characters even funnier than the tv show! We have it all – sluts, know-it-alls, dufi (plural of dufus?), hard workers, non workers, bad parents, gas passers, and about 250 more!And who can I tell these crazy stories too?My wife.

 

My wife thinks I’m funny…at least to a degree.But the humor is sometimes lost on her as my punchline has to wait for my daughter to finish screaming, “OLIVES” seventeen times from her high chair.The big delivery just isn’t as funny with a fidgeting baby in your hands who is trying to smear you with minestrone.

 

True, there are the few – the pantheon – who are willing to snicker quietly as you express your deepest, inner-most thoughts.They may even see your tit for their own tat.But there’s always that fear that they’ll rat you out.Or, the notion that someone will still hear you through the same paper-thin walls that have allowed me to hear marital infidelity, spousal arguments, and 1 nervous breakdown.

 

It’s not like my speaking allows me to vent – I have no catharsis when I present for education groups. I have to tell you – that is one of the toughest crowds in the world! I’ve spoken with some other amazing comics and they agree – teachers are hard to make laugh. Besides, most educators don’t hire me to be funny – they want to be inspired, motivated, and forced to gain perspective. That’s cool – I can do that too.But I sure do miss going on a rant about how ridiculous it is when people “Reply All” in an email just to say, “Thanks!” I wish I could break out my, “Stuck in a women’s bathroom” routine for people. I would love it if I could talk about how ludicrous it is to say there are no stupid questions without making the audience uncomfortable…(Professor, I just saw the price of the book. Will I need to actually buy that this term?-Professor, I’m going on vacation next week to hike with my buddies in Alaska. Am I going to miss anything?COME ON!That’s comedy gold!)

 

But that is not the world I live in. I can’t bring up the fact that our spam filter doesn’t prevent all of the enlargement emails from coming my way. Nor can I tell anyone that most of them are from my wife…OUCH! I can’t afford the uncomfortable silence when I share my favorite student quote:“I like many other men, like to surf the net and watch sports.I’m looking forward to this class…”(See why we need to teach proper use of commas?)I can’t pass along seriously bizarre YouTube videos like these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnOyMSEWNTs - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b5CKSqlz60&feature=related – What the…? How can these not make you laugh at the sheer absurdity?

 

 

So I will continue on suffering in silence.I will watch humorous situation after goof-ball premise surround me and not say a word.But the day I quit…watch out.I might get escorted from the building but I’ll be laughing all the way…

 

 

 

Need to hire a funny guy?Looking for an entertainer with humor AND substance? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more info!

 


Metrics

: “In God we trust…all others bring data.”Edwards Deming’s comment about the importance of numbers as they relate to action is poignant, no?But there are a number of other sayings that likely have as much weight when discussing the use of actionable, statistical information.My personal favorite: “Numbers don’t lie, but liars use numbers.”

 

 

I work with education organizations regularly.Some are extremely interested in metrics while others think they are just good to know.Some educators are scared to death of the ramifications of numbers while others are just scared of the unions that don’t allow numbers to be used in conjunction with supervision.

 

 

I get it!Numbers are only as helpful as the test, the measure, the conclusions, and the variables that make them up.For example, I was recently in Dairy Queen.(Mmmm…Mint Oreo Blizzard…)The girl took my order of 6 items – I was buying for a family night.However, when I tried to hand her my credit card, she held up her hand.“We have this new system that tracks how long it is from the order being placed to completion,” she explained.“So, we don’t open the cash register until the order is almost done…it impacts our reviews and how much we get paid.”With that, she began to fill my order.With 1 dipped cone left to go, she ran my credit card and completed the transaction.Very smart.

 

 

See, numbers are only meaningful if they measure meaningful data.But, we always have to remember that anytime people are assessed (or paid) based on numbers, they’ll figure out a work-around.It’s not hard.For example –

 

 

At my day job, we work with a number of institutions who want to use activity data by faculty to ensure quality.(I know, there is an automatic fallaciousness there, but I’ll go on.)So, they ask my company to write reports to pull time spent in gradebooks, time spent in discussions, number of characters written in comments boxes, etc.However, faculty soon realize that they are evaluated based on that information and change their behaviors to meet benchmarks.They will open their browser on a discussion page and leave it for an hour.They will begin writing lots of fluff in the gradebook comments because it’s all about word count, not quality.I’ve even seen where they ask students to email projects for a “first glance” by the teacher, only to have them submit them to the Dropbox later – this makes the turn-around time for grading much less.Etc.

 

There are several problems at work here. First, the assumption that this data is “the answer” is flat wrong. It could definitely be a starting point to ask more questions, but whether or not someone posts to all gradable items in an online course is a silly metric. (Did you know that most of students won’t click on anything they received 100% on?But many teachers are forced to write something anyway…)The second problem is that the metrics aren’t “real” – essentially the argument that opponents use against NCLB. The data is lacking too much context – the numbers are too forced. Finally, there is the variables issue.With the number of ways to evaluate an assignment, teach a student, learn from a teacher, etc., one set of numbers can’t possibly include it all.For example –

 

I evaluate students with an audio tool (www.audacity.com) for their speeches.As I watch the speech, I record my thoughts for them.I get very positive feedback on this.However, in a system where my gradebook comments are scrutinized, I would be in trouble.We have school administrators who ask us to write reports checking to see if a teacher has copied comments from one student to another.Well, in this scenario with the audio file, I write EXACTLY the same comment in each grade box.It says, “Please listen to the following mp3 file from your instructor…” etc.Is the text comment personal?Nope.Is the attached audio file?EXTREMELY.But, my variable of a unique grading technique would throw off the numbers…

 

As I conclude, I’ll admit, I’m not a numbers guy. I’ve become more so as a manager and executive, but ultimately I believe more in context. I’ve met leaders who are numbers oriented.My old boss wouldn’t step off the train track unless you could prove through a math equation that a train was indeed going to kill him! But the key is not about the numbers as much as the way you generate them, the measures you use, and the conclusions / inferences / assumptions you draw from them. Very little shows causality when you measure people.So be careful with your metrics – be cautious with your data.Numbers can give you tremendous power but they can also create all sorts of trouble…

 

Would you like more information about actionable data for your school? Need some help distinguishing good metrics from bad? Contact jborden@jeffpresents for more information!


Letter to the Coures Editors - Part II: In my travels and dealings, I have seen thousands of online courses.Some courses are brilliant, while others leave much to be desired.Unfortunately, there is still a significant number of what I call, “Text Under Glass” – essentially courses that are all reading with little to no interactive content.Likewise, there are courses where the instructor has no presence – no immediacy, no communication, no evaluation…no teaching!I have also seen courses that aren’t really courses – they are incomplete from the traditional concept of a course.So, for these last two blogs, I’d like to present my letters to course writers.These letters are meant to both motivate and call out.See what you think.

 

I saw one of your courses the other day.Whoops!It’s hard to know where to start in trying to explain the numerous problems I saw, but I’ll try to take a stab at it.

 

Let’s start with the pretty pictures…perhaps you might want to rethink grabbing any old photo from Google images and tacking it on a page.It’s especially helpful if the picture actually has something (anything) to do with the content you are discussing!But not to worry, there weren’t that many pictures anyway, so at least there won’t be many to fix. (Although the different colors of your paragraphs seemed to match the pictures sometimes - how great for your class of ADHD students!)

 

Of course, not much in the way of images suggests that you had a lot of text.That would be like saying the Titanic took in a lot of water.Take some direction from our Instructional Design friends – less can be more!The Word documents you converted to html pages were…well, they were probably exactly what you designed them to be – notes!YOUR notes.Not meaningful content or substantive comments, but notes to help guide your own understanding.Do you know what good your notes are to me?Let me try to help you.Here are my notes from a lecture on Objectics:

 

Objects and Artifacts.Function and aesthetics.Presidential debates – going back to Kennedy / Nixon.Colors = context culturally.

 

I have several more lines, but I hope you get the idea.This also translates to PowerPoint slides.I finally get the saying: Death By PowerPoint.This is because your slideshow had no power, nor did it have a point.I’m guessing that’s because some were your notes, while others were publisher slideshows.You do realize that the 200 slide presentation was designed for face to face consumption?As well, it is probably best edited down to a manageable grouping.Finally, the keywords your students see really need to be sentences as it generates a LOT more meaning.

 

Don’t get me wrong – the educational integrity was there!You are obviously a master of your subject matter!(Read: I would NOT want to play Trivial Pursuit against you in your degree area!)As well, you took great care in providing feedback to your students on their final paper.It’s a shame you had to mail the papers back to the students – there are ways to capture that information electronically!But the rigor in your course was intense for sure.Discussions, essays, tests, literature reviews, bibliographies, definitions pages, and other assignments would surely help students know more of the material by the end.(That’s assuming they made it past week 3, right?)But you had a lot of sources and resources to give a mosaic of content – albeit in only one or two formats.

 

That said, it might be time to rethink the amount of work and time your students are spending in the course materials.Perhaps adding a few group assignments would be good.After all, most workers find themselves in teams once they leave school.If you believe the current literature, this happens more than ¾ of the time!So perhaps it’s time to teach them skills they’ll need even if they aren’t specific to your discipline.I know, I know, you aren’t a “small group” instructor.(Unless you are a small group instructor – and in that case – good for you - you are salt of the Earth!)But students need help tying the pieces of their education together just like humans need help tying together anything.When someone becomes very sick, they may tie together diet, medicine, exercise, mental calm, environmental toxicity, and dozens of other pieces of life.Why shouldn’t we teach them how to best live their lives once they’re out of school?(Perhaps that’s why teachers always refer to graduation as going into the “real world” – hmmmm.)

 

Oh, here’s another tip.Directional text.Your students don’t automatically know what to do or where to click next.So, it’s probably a good idea to let them in on it, rather than making it some kind of secret club or game.Speaking of games, why note embrace the full power of the online medium!Gaming is powerful – it increases retention, comprehension, and engagement.These things are well documented.So, instead of transferring your face to face (F2F) lectures to digital lectures (or walls of text), perhaps transforming your content to fit the new medium is a good idea!Instead of needing a test in every unit, perhaps a group exercise is called for.Why not include a simulation, a game, or a real-world exercise and have the students simply reflect on it?You don’t even have to make it up completely – there are thousands of free resources on the Internet that have pre-made learning assets.So, if you aren’t feeling particularly inspired or creative, find someone else who was and who also put their content up on the web for anyone to use…free!

 

Lastly, it’s time to figure out learning outcomes.I don’t care what you call them – here’s how I view them.Course objectives (specific tasks) suggest or “prove” course outcomes (standards in k-12).Outcomes suggest mastery, proficiency, or competence of program goals.Goals, ultimately can imply institutional values.That’s it – four levels.Objectives, outcomes, goals, and values – figure out how your content maps to those and you are well ahead of many of your colleagues (both online and F2F).

 

So, my friends, I’m left wondering what to do next.I don’t want to offend all of you with good intentions, but it’s time to get in the game!I realize that most instructors are not taught principles of education – mapping to standards, how to create immediacy, PBL, what is authentic assessment, etc. – these are concepts that are foreign to most college level teachers and loosely understood at the k-12 level.(By the way, I realize there is a contingent of you who are researchers and not teachers.I realize you are teaching 1 or 2 classes per term because you have to, not because you want to.This blog is not for you.To you I beg – find a GREAT graduate assistant and force them to research education in addition to teaching your load…)Learning styles mean little in terms of student understanding and even less in terms of curriculum creation.And that is a shame.(I’d call it more of a travesty really.)My suggestion?Go back to school.Pick up an instructional design class.Check out a teaching effectiveness conference.(And actually go to the sessions – don’t just hang out by the pool or the bar….I’ve been to your conferences and I know how you are!)Buy a book on teaching, instructional design, or curriculum mapping.And for the sake of all that is holy, invite quality speakers to perform your inservices.(If you need one, I happen to have a million dollar idea…)But leave the committee chairs and community business leaders off the luncheon schedule for a while.Promote good learning, effective teaching, and sound pedagogical strategy.Hold teachers accountable to outcomes, problem based learning, effective use of Bloom’s taxonomy, etc.In other words…promote quality education.

 

Want to hear more about building a better course? Need some help finding a balance between standardization and effective teaching? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!


Letter To The Coures Editors - Part I: In my travels and dealings, I have seen thousands of online courses.Some courses are brilliant, while others leave much to be desired.Unfortunately, there is still a significant number of what I call, “Text Under Glass” – essentially courses that are all reading with little to no interactive content.Likewise, there are courses where the instructor has no presence – no immediacy, no communication, no evaluation…no teaching!I have also seen courses that aren’t really courses – they are incomplete from the traditional concept of a course.So, for the next two blogs, I’d like to present my letters to course writers.These letters are meant to both motivate and call out.See what you think.

Dear course developer

I saw another of your courses today.Yikes!I’m not completely sure I would consider a course at all, but accreditors don’t seem to know the difference, so I guess you’re covered.Why wasn’t it a course, you ask?Well, it consisted of about 3-4 pieces of content every week.The basic outline went something like this:

 

Content Item #1 – labeled Readings:Here you told your students what pages or chapters of the textbook to read.

Content Item #2 – Discussion: Here you had a discussion area with a pre-populated discussion topic for the “instructor” to facilitate.

Content Item #3 – Assignment: Here you asked the student to submit a 5 paragraph essay on most any topic.The creation of a product (I’m assuming) gave you the feeling that you were assessing a higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Content Item #4 – Quiz / Test: In the weeks that had tests (not all did), the questions were purely recall, suggesting that memorization of terms from the textbook was essential.

 

That’s it.Don’t get me wrong – your course has plenty of structure and instructional design.And standardized nomenclature is a very good thing for an online course.When students click on “Discussion” they know exactly what you mean.The stock photos and newspaper like pages were easy to read, especially since there really wasn’t anything more than directions item after item.As well, your outcomes and objectives were impeccable.They weren’t necessarily important or practical, but they were spot on in terms of what you presented.You obviously mapped program goals to learning outcomes to course objectives – this should make for a great report to show accreditation groups or internal reviewers.However, when it comes to differentiation (Educational Variance), curriculum integration, immediacy, and lots of other important, academic concepts, you’ve missed the boat.

 

You may have noticed that I put the word instructor in quotes above.I know that seems harsh, but essentially the course that I saw from you made the teacher an overpaid grader – s/he wasn’t teaching anyone anything.For example, if the instructor asked a poignant question in the thread, students had absolutely no reason to answer that question.The explicit grading rubric, in and of itself a great thing, was clear.As long as students responded to the pre-populated topic and X number of their peers, then the student would earn all points for the week’s discussion.So, perhaps you would allow the instructor of the course access to add in a few quiz questions so as to keep students accountable to the expert you’ve hired to teach.Nope.The instructor was not allowed to add any assessment to the course.Only the development team could do that.So I say again, your course had no need for an “instructor”.(Other than the fact that accreditation requires it I guess…)

 

But where was the rest of it?If a traditional course, requiring contact hours + homework asks 45 hours of a teacher / student’s in class plus 3-5 times that outside of class, how does this course work?If ALL content is coming from the textbook, isn’t the textbook the teacher?Is that really the best education our students can get?No practical, real world instruction from an expert – but just textual theory from a bunch of graduate students who work for a PhD?Don’t get me wrong – I AM a doctoral student and I work my tail off to gather research and assemble journal articles.But my ability to write a textbook today would come from the last 15 years of communication teaching AND experience – I would not have been effective at that during my Master’s program!

 

Perhaps there is a shortage of quality instructors?People who you don’t trust to teach effectively?Surely there are ways to police that though.I know how hard it is to keep tabs on adjunct faculty teaching in the face-to-face classroom – I managed over 50 at a time when I coordinated public speaking at MSCD.But online is a different story, isn’t it?You see every communication, every thread, every document, EVERYTHING!You should be able to tell if quality instruction is happening.So I’m guessing that’s not it.

 

Hmmm.I guess it comes down to creativity, teaching, and other academic principles.The lack of web 2.0 concepts, the surface development of learning community, and the trust of content over teaching suggests a business decision, not an educational one.I’m reminded of a keynote address I heard recently by Dr. Mark Milliron.He said that research shows the #1 influencer of student success is a teacher.He also noted that the next 5 educational elements that influence success, when totaled, don’t equal the percentage of relevance a teacher has.Not standardized outlines, not repetitive agendas, and definitely not content.(Libraries have been around centuries yet we still need teachers to effectively teach us how to classify, interpret, and apply it, no?)

 

So, my friends, I’m left wondering what to do next.I work with many of you – I KNOW many of you.Some of you are excellent people with (uninformed) hearts in the right place.(I also know some “educators” who really only care about the profit involved.I have no problem with you – everyone has to make money and furthering education in the process is fine by me – but this isn’t for you.You’ll likely see this as silly and altruistic.No worries – find another blog.)But how do I fix this?It IS fixable after all.Content doesn’t have to be boring.Learning doesn’t have to exclude practicality, originality, and context.Learning doesn’t have to happen in a vacuum.Rigor is okay when accompanied by scaffolding, core knowledge, and scholarship.I know it might weed out potential unmotivated customers, er…students, but that’s okay too.Not every class is for every student and school isn’t for every person at every stage of life.Life-long learning doesn’t have to be formal – informal and nonformal learning are at work too.

 

Well, I’ll keep on speaking.I’ll put out the word and see if any of it sticks.I’m cynical, but not without at least a small degree of hope.Things can be changed.There IS a happy medium between the course I described here and the course created by a faculty member who is either uninformed or lazy.And the person who figures that out…watch out.It will change education as we all know it.

 

Want to hear more about building a better course? Need some help finding a balance between standardization and effective teaching? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!


Small Group vs Large Group Facilitation: We just got done with our users conference at eCollege.CiTE 2009 was a smashing success!That makes 5 conferences in 2 months…I’ve seen a LOT of presentations. As well, 2009 is turning out to be the year of the meeting for me. I get called to about 12 meetings per day.(You know the mantra – if I’m going down, I’m forming a committee to take down with me!)But the dichotomy of large group presenters against small group presenters has never been so palpable to me as these last few months.

 

So, I thought it might be nice to do a compare & contrast of some common elements to presentations in these two forums.I won’t get into interpersonal stuff today…that’s a whole different blog.But here are some of the “a-ha” concepts in communicating with small groups and presenting to large groups…from my point of view!

 

 

Communication Concept

Small Groups

Large Groups

How you should start:

Begin with an AGENDA!Don’t waste anyone’s time in a meeting that has no outline.

Begin with an ATTENTION GETTER! I can’t believe how many presentations start with the purpose or the presenter’s name (even if they’ve been introduced already…)Remember the importance of primacy!

The rest of the introduction:

Two words: OBJECTIVES & PROCESS.Tell people what you need to accomplish and how it will be done.Can others talk?Will you give them the floor?Etc.

Effective introductions include a statement of credibility, a statement of goodwill, a welcome, and a preview (agenda) so the audience knows where you are heading.

Eye Contact:

I can’t tell you how often I see meeting holders look at only 1 or 2 people, completely ignoring other members of the meeting.You are communicating value and perceived power here…be careful!

Two words: SCAN & GAZE the entire room.Meaningfully look at individuals for 2-3 seconds and try to look at every major “quadrant” of the room!

PowerPoint:

IF using PowerPoint, I can’t say this strongly enough. DO NOT READ THE SLIDES!Use keywords and let it help facilitate the experience.

Have you heard, Death By PowerPoint?” This is when the presentation aid is not used with power and has no point! Keywords and plenty of interesting images, videos, and other representations should be used.

Body movement:

Just because you are sitting down, doesn’t mean to stop gesturing and moving your upper torso.Plus, don’t forget effective facial expressions!Remember, 85% of your message is nonverbal!

The complete package is what you’re after.The key is purposeful, motivated movement.If you can’t remember to do it, write cues down in your notes!

Audience Analysis:

The key to an effective meeting is not to waste people’s time.Did you only invite those who NEED to be there?A big net to catch anyone who MIGHT be interested is not helpful – nor does it endear you to the group!

The key to an effective presentation is the “A-Ha” – the “So What”.Why do your points matter?Why should the audience care?How does it affect them?Answer these things continually and you’ll be golden!

Q&A:

Answer questions directly and succinctly. Brevity is crucial here.Instead of 3 stories to relate context, use 1.

Don’t forget to repeat / rephrase questions asked.Too many times, the question isn’t heard by other members of the audience, so the answer doesn’t help them at all!

Tangents:

Let tangents happen – then bring people back around. Remember, satisfaction in groups as well as effectiveness needs some degree of social interaction.Timelines will dictate how much room for social, relationship building you have, but don’t stop it!

Tangents should NOT happen in this venue.Very few speakers have the ability to “riff” effectively.Remember, you aren’t a comedian – unless you are a comedian… - so keep it to the planned presentation!The only changes should be edits due to time.

Conclusions

Wrap up your meeting by reiterating agenda items and (more importantly) action items.What are the next steps?

Conclude by reviewing the main points of your talk and then leave the audience with one big thought. Remember the importance of Recency – this is something your audience should remember for a long time!

 

 

 

 

Well, that should do it for now!There is a lot to know about facilitating an effective meeting, whether you are in front of a large group or a small one.Just be aware of people, time, and outcomes and you’ll probably do better than most.Good luck!

 

 

 

Want to hear more about small group communication? Need some coaching regarding a large group presentation you have to give? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!

 

 


Keena Update '09:

 

I was recently at a conference with dear friends in Iowa.I have been asked back as a guest / keynote speaker by the consortium group for the past 5 years and I probably know them better than any other group I work with.(In addition to consulting with / for them, I am also an adjunct faculty member with one of the consortium schools…so it’s a wonderful tie to life!) These are not just teachers or partners...I'm honored to count them as friends.

 

 

 

 

But at this conference, I was greeted and questioned by 20-30 people about Keena.Teachers who had read my blog last year when Keena got a surgical ileostomy due to complications with her Crohn’s disease – administrators who have children with Colitis – and staff who have a parent struggling with IBS all asked how Keena was and expressed gratitude for her story.

 

 

 

This made me realize that I haven’t really updated her situation in months and, since she has a bigger fan base than I do on my own blog, I thought it important to let you know how she / we have been! (If you'd like the whole story - check out my blog archives from '08)

 

 

 

First things first…she’s feeling GREAT! The advice she received from a dear friend and her amazing doctors was spot on.She felt pretty crummy for the first two weeks, but steadily improved every day after that.By the end of the first month, she felt better than she had in years.By the end of the second month, she was at 90%.And by the end of the third month, she felt like her old self again.She got her life back…

 

 

 

Keep in mind, the hospital was not great. And by not great, I mean really crappy actually!The nurses seemed to be fantastic or really poor (we had 3 wonderful nurses during the 7 day stay there…)The hospital staff was extremely unhelpful. But, the only way to get the best surgeon was to use The surgeon by the way, was fantastic – as was her GI doc (whom I have blogged about before).You couldn’t ask for a better one-two punch for a medical team!But all in all, for a couple who have seen the inside of 4 hospitals in 5 years, this particular venue was really awful.

 

 

 

But back to life after surgery…Keena is back.She has energy for our daughter (ok, she at least now has normal tiredness associated with a 2 year old!), she has time to get things done in a day, and she isn’t going to bed at 7:30pm like she did back then.We can go places without being anchored to the house (aka bathroom) and she is independent again.I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called her to hear that she and Addie are at the park or at the Little Gym.It’s amazing.

 

 

 

So, with a new outlook on life and a lot more energy, we started talking about all sorts of things we could do, would do, want to do, etc. Bigger family?Maybe.We’d hoped to buy a bigger house too. We talked about Addie & Keena going with me on trips. And so far…we’ve done a LOT!In fact, we just bought the house that Addie should grow up in. Again, how amazing is it to have great people to work with? Our realtor is incredible – this is the 3rd residence he’s helped us get and this time, he actually negotiated a better interest rate with our banker! Wow…thanks Mark. Keena has come on 2 trips with me already this year and Addie has joined a gym :-)

 

 

 

Things are really clicking for us.While my busy schedule has ramped up (1 full time job, 2 part time teaching jobs, 1 part time doctoral student, and that’s all in addition to being a dad / husband), things are good.Keena, Addie, (Jackson our Greyhound/Lab), and I are doing very well.And while life is busy, sometimes even distracting, we actually have a filter on it that makes things ok.Keena’s experiences changed us profoundly.I won’t say we’re grateful for it – I wouldn’t wish that learning curve on just about anyone – but it does make life a bit sweeter now.We could have lost her a few different times, but she gutted it out (pun intended) and we now have a lot to be thankful for.

 

To all of you who drew some inspiration from Keena, I’m truly glad. So is she.In fact, she wanted me to say that if ANYONE needs help, advice, or just an ear to listen – if you’re going through a time trying to figure out what medical problem you might have – or if you have Crohn’s / Colitis and wonder about your future, please contact me and I’ll pass your info along to her.She learned a TON of things in the past 6 years that could potentially help someone.

 

Thanks for reading everyone.Talk to you all soon.

 

If you think Keena’s story might be one of hope and help for your group or if you want a motivational talk about life, health, or dealing with problems, contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. asap!


Perception Determines Reality: I’m funny.At least I think so.My daughter thinks I’m a hoot too.Give me a nerf and a good head shot…she’s on the floor laughing.But when my household is compared to a sitcom, my wife doesn’t think of me as the comic relief.I’m not the star of the show.After my daughter (of course), the spotlight falls on my wife.At least that’s how she sees it.If only she saw what everyone else does…that I’m hilarious in my own head!

 

I recently came across a journal article about employer perceptions of online degrees.The first lesson I teach my speaking students is something we should all take note of.Perception Determines Reality or PDR for short.I’ve blogged about it before.But it’s extremely true.It doesn’t matter what IS true – it only matters what you BELIEVE to be true.Heck, even in a court of law it doesn’t matter what you think – it only matters what you can get a jury or judge to believe to be true.

 

So, the perceptions of employers is an important element to study.Now, I know some practicing distance educators who would be annoyed if not outright angry at the thoughts and perceptions of this group.I hear them at conferences making fun of people who don’t “get it” and how we’re really the enlightened ones. I read blogs from the ivory tower that frustrate me for their lack of practicality and conventional wisdom. (Sigh)

 

I don’t buy into that though.I think it’s my job as an educator, a policy maker, a businessman, and an online advocate to help mold the perceptions of others into what it should be!Here are some highlights from the research article:

 

Throughout the empirical studies, as well as Carnevale’s (2005, 2007) popular media articles that cite empirical studies, potential employers gave the following reasons for their reticence in accepting online degree credentials:

 

·lack of rigor,

 

·lack of face-to-face interactions,

 

·increased potential for academic dishonesty,

 

·association with diploma mills,

 

·concerns about online students’ true commitment evident from regularly venturing to a college or university physical location, considered by some to be an important part of the educational experience.

 

On the other hand, some themes emerged from the empirical study literature and popular media supporting employer acceptance of online degree credentialing. Conditions that could influence online degree acceptance in the hiring process were:

 

·name recognition/reputation of the degree-granting institution,

 

·appropriate level and type of accreditation,

 

·perception that online graduates were required to be more self-directed and disciplined,

 

·candidates’ relevant work experiences,

 

·and whether the online graduates were being considered for promotion within an organization or if they were vying for new positions elsewhere or in a new field.

 

 

As I look at that list, I’m not surprised.Anyone who teaches online should have considered one or more of those points along the way.I’ve had students actually complain to me because my class wasn’t as “easy as they thought it would be.”Cheating in the online arena is probably the easiest target by doubters, even making its way into the Higher Education Reauthorization Act where schools are being required to “prove” that the student is who they say they are.As frustrating as this mindset is (since there is no evidence that cheating happens more online than on-ground), it is still reality.

Likewise, the other issues are real perceptions too.While I can (and do) debate them all the time, the findings aren’t surprising.I was at a curriculum meeting for one of our big for-profit schools last year.They brought in industry experts and outsiders to look at the curriculum for a specific program and makes recommendations, suggestions, etc.The issue of online courses came up and the room got very excited!Business owners and entrepreneurs were extremely concerned that the employees they would hire did not have any “real school” experience.But, rather than feel frustrated or dejected, I tried to take that opportunity to share the value, rigor, and potential for online classes.I became an “e-vangelist” for the event.

And that is the ultimate advice I would give here.For some people, they will never believe an online education is possible. Forget them for now - the closed minded don't have a place at my table today - I'm too busy working with people who are willing to listen and learn. While I have and continue to teach both online and face to face, I realize there are pros and cons to BOTH mediums.But just because there are cons to F2F teaching doesn’t mean it should go away.Likewise, online education has its place – a prominent place – in our educational future landscape.I think that my job is to show the promise, the potential, and the real-world application available today in this format.My job is make my perception your perception.Then, together we’ll determine a reality that makes sense.

The last thing I’d mention about online courses and degrees is this.There is no distinction made on a transcript for an online vs on-ground course.(And there shouldn’t be.)Just like there is no distinction made about the instructor’s credentials, how the student did vs their peers in the class, etc., there is no extra measure listed on a transcript.So, at the end of the day the argument doesn’t really matter too much.Just about every college student graduating by 2010 will have taken an online class.It’s estimated that by 2020, half of K-12 education will be delivered via distance.And nobody will know the difference…

Want to hear more about online learning? Need some suggestions for creating a great online course, program, or curriculum? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!


 

Innovations Presentation: For anyone at the conference who attended my session (How Virtual Learning Environments Could - And Should - Help Learners) - here you go! (This link will be good from 3/16 - 3/23 on YouSendIt)

https://www.yousendit.com/download/UmNJck95d0k1aVpFQlE9PQ


Cool New Presentation Tool!

Check out Zentation! It syncs (easily) with YouTube. Here is a presentation I'm using for my public speaking students:

http://zentation.com/sharepresentation.php?passcode=CdUZy8BuBZ


 

On Your Mark, Get Set…

 

Who was your first girlfriend or boyfriend? (Becky Sanders…third grade…I cried when she left school to move to Utah…I was a ridiculously girlish little boy...)Who was the first man on the moon?Do you remember your first car?What was your first job?

 

Let’s try something harder.What was the first thing you said to your last date?What was the first image you showed during your last presentation or speech?What was the first thing you had your class of students engage in last term?

 

Firsts are important to most people.Most of us are sentimental enough to remember a list of firsts that are significant to us.In academic terms, it’s called primacy.People tend to remember the first part of a conversation, the first part of an event, or the first part of a class quite readily.And, as this is of seeming importance to most of us, perhaps it’s time to revisit how to create a strong first impression on your students.

 

The beginning of a meeting, workshop, or session is crucial.The start of the term, semester, quarter, or year is essential!The first 30 seconds of an interview typically makes or breaks the ability to get hired.The first 12 minutes of a date is the best predictor of a second date.

 

So start paying attention to firsts!Now that most of us are out of college, it’s time to lose the ball cap, put on some unwrinkled pants, and make a good first impression.What’s your first PowerPoint slide?What are the first words to come out of your mouth when giving a presentation?(Please do NOT say, “I’m here to talk about…!!!”That is the most BORING opener of all time!)What is the first activity you’ll engage in with students?What story do you have prepared for the first date?What 10 questions are you ready with to help you seem less selfish?And the list goes on.

 

We experience firsts every day.How you treat them is important.Strategy and purpose should be the order of the day.A good joke can go a LONG way.A great picture can set the tone immediately.A powerful passage of music, video, or other media can be profound.A purposeful smile and wink can assure.A narrative that illustrates how competent you are or how transparent you’ll be can make the difference between a fair presenter and a fantastic presenter.Immediacy can change the dynamic of a classroom entirely (for the better).

 

So, as the old saying goes, you can’t make a second first impression!Set yourself up for success early and you will have a much smoother, more productive, effective class, presentation, or interaction than if you try to create on the fly.

 

Want to hear more about primacy? Need some suggestions for making a better first impression? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!


Innovation In Education:What is your favorite, dramatic, uplifting “school” movie?Is it the one about the young teacher who goes into a group of underprivileged students and shows them how to learn in a way that’s meaningful to them?Or maybe it’s the movie with the stranger who teaches students to use tools they didn’t know they had like dance, martial arts, or painting to find in-roads to learning.Ok…so you probably realize that I just gave the basic plot for most every school-based drama in the past 100 years!

 

(Notice I said drama – while I enjoy the work of Belushi & Farley, those comedies are another blog – probably one about togas.And movies about school sports don’t qualify this week either.By the way, what’s the best school sports movie?If you said Hoosiers, give yourself an A+)

 

So who is ready to fix education?I know I am.Unfortunately, I don’t get to waive my magic wand anytime soon.But I strongly believe one road to fixing education is along the path of innovation.Let’s start planting the seeds of creativity and innovation and see what springs up!

 

 

A Youth Movement: How many educators have been at it for more than 20 years?Too many, right?Whether it’s that high school biology teacher who taught you, your brother, AND your mom or the college professor who has had tenure longer than you’ve had a driver’s license, some teachers have been through enough changes to beat the fight out of anyone!I’ll be the first to admit that MOST (not all) innovative ideas come out of youth.You could argue it’s naivety, but often it’s that lack of “understanding” (read: cynicism) that is what propels someone forward down a path of originality.

 

It’s hard for me to write this.I’m not “young” anymore.I stopped getting looks from teenage girls when I was still a teenager!But I will admit as a new father, while I love the wisdom and security that comes with being an almost-40 dad, I sure would like a few less aches & pains and a bit more energy.Our young teachers with ideas based on their RECENT experiences and new theories in educational thinking should be given a shot here.Teachers who embrace technology, new ways of thinking about assessment, and who connect with students in a paradigm-breaking new way should be allowed to innovate within our educational walls.

 

Old Dogs / New Tricks: But innovation isn’t just for the young.While there may be less creativity and passion for change in seasoned veterans, that doesn’t mean we’re dead!Some of the most innovative professors I meet are older than I am and loving the “revolution” (that’s what they call it) of technology based education.They’re the ones who have longitudinal data to suggest ways to bridge major educational concepts like variance, curriculum integration, and collaboration.

 

I will point out that much of this innovation can (and should) come from OUTSIDE the education community.The ideas for new thought and creative process would often be best served by people who haven’t been indoctrinated already.Disrupting Class is a great example here – some non-academics used business technology and assessment to identify areas of change and need in classrooms.Brilliant.Where else could education get a boost?Imagine how scientists could change science curriculum to be more interesting and more practical?What about a Chief Operations Officer teaching business process to Freshman?(Andy…you know you should do this…)Or what about professional speakers changing how communication is taught in public speaking classes?

 

It’s time for a change. This of course means it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.Put out the call and have people compete for creative, innovative ideas with the goal being real money, real schools, and real kids.And by all means don’t blow it with a judging committee of old school educators!We’re talking about challenging the norms here!We don’t need anyone with terminal PP (paradigm paralysis) clogging up the works.While it will be important to monitor closely and I’m certainly not suggesting a blank check with no measures or objectives – but let’s not stop the process before it even starts.Get a healthy mix of experts, radicals, conservatives, parents, students, and non-educator types to help pick a winner.

 

Let’s jump start a new paradigm in teaching.Can you imagine 1 of these programs per state?Let’s say that 10% work (although I’d bet on more than that).Now we have 5 strong models to look at for adoption in other areas.If we had this contest every year, we’d eventually have a generation of learners having been touched by some form of innovation.

 

And now that I have a 2 year old…I want her to get the results of that innovation.Here’s to a world of change Addie girl.I hope we can embrace it for you.

 

Want to hear more about online education? Interested in real solutions to cheating and plagiarism? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!

 


Online Security:Hi, I’m Dan Burrows.No, actually I’m Chase Larson.Ok, in reality I’m Suzy Patrick.I have been asked a LOT lately about how schools are going to deal with the new Higher Education Act of 2008.There is a very small paragraph in the 1200 page document that gives schools using the Internet a new directive.Prove that your students are who they say they are…

 

Ok, so forget the 27 year old student from a large, prestigious, R-1 institution I met on a plane who told me about how he paid for college by pretending to be rich kids.He would take the entire semester as that person, turning in work, taking tests, etc.Only one instructor in 8 years asked for ID which was easy enough to fake – school IDs aren’t Driver’s licenses after all.And, forget about the statistics that show ALL students (K-20) are cheating in record numbers on tests, papers, etc.Forget that any on-ground student could have a brother write a paper, a sister take a test, or a friend create a portfolio.And don’t get me started on twins!!!(Evil mimeographs…)

 

How would the Government like schools to do this?Of course, there will be entrepreneurs who will come to the rescue!It will cost a boat load of money, but they’ll try to help.

 

For example, one company uses credit-based questions for online students.When you login to the class or a test, the message says, ”You claim to be Jeff Borden.Jeff Borden lived at one of the following 4 addresses.Which one?”

 

Or another company that is using webcam technology to randomly capture images of students in a testing situation.They compare the instant photos to known photos of the students taken during registration and see if someone else is taking the test.

 

Of course both of these are easily cheatable for someone who really wants to.Just sit off camera or have the real person answer the questions as their friend types in the answers…

 

Another company feels they have it figured out.They provide a small globe that looks like a mini-disco ball.It captures finger prints, has a webcam, and a microphone.If anything unusual happens in the vicinity of the camera, finger prints are asked for, images are taken, and sounds are recorded.Big Brother 2.0!(Securexam - the company with the ball - costs the student about $150)

 

Other companies are using algorithms around student typing or average speed of answer to check for problems.

 

Some teachers have tried to figure things out on their own.A few phone calls throughout the term helps them determine if a person really understands the concepts they claim to.Checking for patterns with writing styles and skills in math are how some instructors are bridging the gap.

 

But ultimately it comes down to this.People will always cheat.You can make it as hard as you want, but people will do it.Remember the group who helped doctoral candidates cheat on the GRE?Encoded pencils gave answers to the paper based, highly secured test for years before they found out.(I wonder how my doctor did on his entrance exams…?)

 

People will always find a way around the rules.There is a group of people who cheat just for the thrill of cheating!Others are so pressured from various places they feel it necessary.And on and on…why people cheat is another blog article.

 

I guess I’m trying to say to Congress…take it easy.Policing is just going to cost a lot of money and make a lot of people who finally have access to education fail.Let’s look at real answers and solutions, not just knee jerk reactions to fear.It doesn’t have to be like that!

 

Ok…soap box #1 out of the way for 2009.Hope you enjoyed the rant.See you next week when I tackle the financial rescue package… :-)

 

Want to hear more about online education? Interested in real solutions to cheating and plagiarism? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information!


Transparency 2.0: So, have you heard this Facebook quote?

"yeah, but i feel like such a fraud...do you think dartmouth parents would be upset about paying $40,000 a year for their children to go here if they knew that certain professors were looking up stuff on Wikipedia and asking for advice from their Facebook friends on the night before the lecture?"

 

Or how about this one?

"...some day when I'm Chair, we're all going to jog in place throughout the meeting. this should knock out at least half of the faculty within 10 minutes (especially the blowhards) & then the meeting can be ended in a timely manner."

 

Yep...these comments were made public by a Religious Studies professor from Dartmouth on her Facebook page. They were set as public comments (much to her dismay) instead of private. So, besides learning to read how your favorite social network actually works, I think we can learn a valuable lesson in terms of transparency!

 

Professor Ohnuma forgot an important premise - putting it in writing makes it available...period. Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for transparency! But at the heart of transparency is an important notion (at least to me) - that is accountability. When a CEO desides to blog about the woes of the company in financially troubled times or an athlete creates a Ning page about his ups and downs in the NFL, they are letting themselves be accountable to the public. Not only are they experiencing catharsis but they are telling people about their struggles, their vision, the good, and the bad. That is transparency!

 

Unfortunately, bashing your employer, your colleagues, and your students on your Facebook page is as smart as licking a NYC subway pole. Both are going to put you in danger of losing something important and both leave a bad taste in your mouth! And keep in mind the speed at which the Internet works for crying out loud! I was at a demonstration at the University of Colorado last year where they sent a radio signal around the world twice before coming out of a transponder to tell a remote control car how to navigate a figure eight course. High speed is past the tipping point my friends and that includes both technology and the speed at which people find things!

 

Don't believe me? Post a message anywhere on the Net saying you'll give $20 to the first person who contacts you and see if you can make it 24 hours without several responses! The bottom line is that social networks require some degree of thought. Here's one of my favorite student stories to illustrate the point:

 

A female student at a college in mid-America where there is little to do and less to look forward to (socially speaking...) kept missing classes. She was constantly sick. She couldn't turn in assignments, missed tests...she was really in a bad place! In fact, her mother got the point where she was preparing to have the girl's room checked for asbestos and she was going to bring in a lawyer to sue. The Dean of Students happened to be playing around on Facebook one weekend with his wife. They didn't quite "get it" - but they wanted to see what it was all about. So, they created a fake college student profile and tried befriending students they knew. Surprisingly, this sick student found them through a connection and added them as a friend. (Can you see where I'm heading?) So, the Dean got onto her profile and guess what he found? Party pictures...LOTS of party pictures. And the dates happened to coincide with the nights prior to the missed classes! So, it seems her "sickness" was self-induced :-)

 

Look...just be careful with social networks. I'm a big proponent of transparency and the connections these sites make are amazing. But handle with care! Remember, the web is a big, easily accessible place with lots of ears and eyes.

 

Looking for a strategy for social networking with your organization? Want to hear more about Web 2.0, 3.0, or technology in general? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. right now!

 


PowerPoint Basics

: Ok folks – short and sweet today.I was reminded of this blog topic when at a meeting for work.It was a cool topic with great ideas…and a horrific PowerPoint to accompany a really bad presentation!Don’t be that guy/girl!

 

 

For a great video by Don McMillan on how NOT to use PowerPoint – check out the following! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cagxPlVqrtMFor those in a hurry…just remember the following:

 

  1. Stop looking at the screen.The audience needs your eyes for dozens of reasons, not the least of which is so that you know if they care at all about what you’re saying!Look out there!
  2. Stop writing sentences!Remember that bullet points are your best tool for an actual presentation.
  3. Take it easy on the bullet points!
  4. Please don’t read to your audience.Unless they are 5th graders, they can read for themselves.Use the keyword / bullet point to trigger a story, illustration, statistic, definition, etc.
  5. Transitions are not just for the slides – they are for you too!So don’t say…”ok, now we’ll talk about…”Just get to it!
  6. Remove all: Sounds, Clip Art, Animations, and spelling errors.It’s time for you to move up in the world.
  7. Use pictures and video – it’s 2009!Bring your ideas to life with visual imagery, motion, and emotion!
  8. Minimize your numbers.Statistics are great – if they have meaning.Demystify the concepts into numeric form – in other words, bring things down to the lowest common denominator!
  9. Highlight the bullet you are on – minimize the bullet you are NOT on!
  10. Blank Off!Sometimes the imagery you create with a story, vivid example, or vibrant narrative are enough.Don’t be afraid of the black screen!

 

If you are giving a professional presentation using the world’s most popular presentation tool – just remember it’s people who deliver presentations…not software.Good luck…and good speaking.

 

Need to know more about how to use PowerPoint effectively?Want ideas on all kinds of visual aids and how to use them professionally (aka effectively)?Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more info!


 

The Future of Social Networking: So a few weeks back (pre-Christmas) I wrote about what the "future" of education might be, with a dash of iPod wishing thrown in for good measure! (I'm still waiting for my email from Steve Jobs...) But, I got a number of emails regarding this vision of things to come, asking about my take on other stuff. I must admit, creating the vision of the future is fun...mental gymnastics as it may be, but fun all the same. One of the requests surrounded social networks. You know, Web 2.0 stuff.

 

I genuinely like talking about Web 2.0.I realize for some it’s already old news, but in the education circles I work with, it’s pretty high tech.(If we can only get teachers to see that Web 2.0 is SO much bigger than wikis and blogs…)But the power and flexibility the tools offer is pretty impressive.I like that they offer new opportunities for learners to take more control of their learning and access their own customized information, resources, tools and services.I think it’s great that they encourage a wider range of expressive capability.How great that they help facilitate more collaborative ways of working, community creation, dialogue and knowledge sharing.And ultimately, I appreciate social networking tools ability to furnish a setting for learner achievements to attract an authentic audience.

 

 

So what will these tools look like in the future?Well, I think the Open Source movement will help pave some of the way.First, I would be surprised if the tools we use today don’t talk to each other, allowing us to have multiple tools sharing content and alerts with each other.Websites like Ning are starting to get towards this notion, but instead of the feeds all coming from the same website, they would all talk together.Essentially, you’d have a page of widgets that held all of your good stuff!

 

Second, these interoperable talking points would be smarter.It would become easier to share them in all the appropriate spots.For example, if I were to write a killer book (or Kindle) review of “Disrupting Class” (which I will do soon…) on my blog, that would be great for the 500 or 1000 people who read it.BUT, wouldn’t it serve everyone better if it were on Amazon’s site?My subscription to Twitter could be used to tell me where to check the full articles and my wiki might get picked up on Digg where it would do more good for the collective!

 

 

Lastly, (I know that there will be a lot more cool stuff than three things, but I’m pacing myself…) I would bet that these networks talking to each other would will be even more useful as the mobile world explodes.You can already see the impact as the iPhone’s apps and Windows Mobile stream more and more rss elements.But imagine this:I’m a blogger who writes a blog about how I love ice cream.I also happen to have a GPS phone that sends me my daily reads from Fark while telling my friends on Loopt where I am and what I’m doing.But, since my coffee blog was tagged by Web 3.0 (the Semantic Web), it’s now associating me with ice cream.So one day I’m walking down 16th Street Mall in Denver when I get a text message.It’s a buy one get one free coupon for the new ice cream shoppe that just went in about a block away.Will I use it?Of course I will!!!Will I thank technology for the great coupon and introduction?Of course I will!!!Will I enjoy their delicious vanilla based ice cream with peanut butter ribbon, fudge ribbon, peanut butter candy, and chocolate chunks?What do you think? (You're welcome Ben & Jerry...can you call it PB & Jeff?)

 

 

Want to hear more about the future of technology?Want to tie it to education, productivity, or industry for your group?Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. immediately!

 


Stupid Questions: It's getting to be that time of year...classes are starting. I have 60 speech comm students trying to figure out what kind of teacher I am, how they can try to get out of doing speeches, and how the heck you do public speaking online. But, it also means I get some great questions to answer. I know you're not supposed to say that questions are stupid. It's a very "non-PC" thing for a teacher to say. And I've heard the old phrase, "The only bad question is the unasked question." But I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you, unequivocally, there are stupid questions.

 

Come on, you've heard them! How about the guy in front of you at KFC saying, "Hmmm...what am I going to order?" I know! I know! CHICKEN! How about the sports reporter asking Evil Kneivel what was going through his mind when he realized he wouldn't make the canyon jump? "I was thinking about puppies..." Have you ever had a cop pull you over and ask, "Would you like to step out of the car?" HECK NO! I'm just fine right here!

 

And I'm not just talking about my favorite teacher questions - the ones that you can't believe a student would actually speak out loud. Like this:

  • "Do I need to buy the book for this class?"
  • "I'm going to be gone the first week of class. Will I miss anything?"

 

Ah, oldies but goodies! But when you infuse technology into the mix, things get even stranger. You've heard some of the old standards for tech questions, right?

  • "I don't have a cup small enough for this portable cup holder in my computer. Where do I get one?" (Yes, this is regarding the CD tray)
  • "My computer says to press any key...where is the any key?"

So, let's put the two together and see what we get. I'm about to share two ACTUAL questions from students. I'm NOT making these up. This is just to illustrate how far we've come. Check these out:

  • "I won’t have a computer for three more weeks, how can I be successful in your online class until then?"
  • "I can’t look at a computer monitor for more than 5 minutes without having a seizure, as my online teacher, what do you recommend?"

COME ON! Really? What advisor suggested either of these students should take an online class? And better yet, where did we miss the boat in terms of teaching them some critical thinking skills?

 

As funny as the questions are, they are a bit sad too. But I can't focus on that...I'd go crazy. So, to all the teachers out there who get questions like these day in and day out, I salute you. So remember, when you're in the midst of telling your students about the eclipse tonight and a student asks if it will be a solar eclipse...just grin. It will all work out in the end...right? They can't be your student forever...

 

Looking for a humorist to talk with your group? Want to hear a cacaphone of "stupid questions" as they relate to education, communication, or just society in general? Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. right now!


 

The Hole-In-The-Wall Study: What would you do if suddenly there was a machine thrust into a building you passed every day. It was unlike any machine you had ever seen. It had strange buttons, strange visual presentation, and even stranger symbols all over it. But, you were free to touch it, bring friends to see it, and have groups try to figure out what it was and how to use it...

 

That is the hole in the wall study. Researchers took internet ready computers and cemented them into walls in countries where the people had no computers. Then they left and watched via remote cameras and data recording. What they found is inspiring! People (most often kids) learned to use the computer, with programming in a language other than their own (English) without any aid or any tutoring. In fact, they actually learned English so that they could successfully navigate the computer and the Internet effectively! While their pronunciation wasn't great (for obvious reasons), their written / reading literacy was quite good.

 

Dr. Sugata Mitra is now an edu-vangelist regarding primary education and how technology can increase retention, comprehension, and outcomes based scores. In fact, Dr. Mitra argues that technology is MORE important in non-affluent areas as the students are typically lower achieving which will result in a more significant bridging of academic gaps. This study and this researcher are starting to have a real impact on how education is thought of globally.

 

Want a speaker who knows the latest trends in education? Need someone who can help your faculty get motivated, engaged, or involved in higher level learning? Contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more info!

 


 

New YouTube videos! I've come across some more great vids on the YouTube site. I hope you all watched Ken Robinson, Randy Pausch, and the Kettering videos I suggested lat year. For '09, take a look at these cool finds! (Remember, they may not stay up for long!!!)

  • The Smart Table: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_FRmYXtneQ - what a cool concept to start kids learning new technology early! I know my daughter will likely not use a conventional keyboard like I do, but it's so hard to wrap your brain around until you see stuff like this!
  • The Paradox of Choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM - An older TedTalks video that shows how bad too much choice is. Our assumptions have been potentially wrong all this time!
  • The Human Animal (4 of 6): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YozGxV0qVMU - I have used this video in my communication class before and I was thrilled to see it on YouTube. It's particularly educational to watch how the magazine editors help the model look more youthful, more sexual, and more appealing with computers...(you can replace educational with disgusting as well...)
  • Life In A Cell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ukPD4G5eSw - Harvard's Biovision is a fantastic journey into a cell. What a great tool for educators.
  • Zack Kim playing Mario: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZpD0btOZx8 - pure fun - this video is quite frankly, amazing. This kid's fingers move beyond that of a normal human!

 


 

1.1.09
It's a new year! 2009 looks to offer some hope along with some challenges. We'll see what direction our new President takes us in the upcoming months (after the 6 month grace period) - hopefully it will mean great things for the economy, real estate, but most important to my world...education! If you're looking for a book to ring in the New Year, you should check out "Disrupting Class" - it's getting all the press at the conferences these days!
 
A colleague recently described Clayton Christensen's work as "business analysis of education...not the same old academic research, but a fresh perspective from another industry." I thought that was a good way to describe what D.C. provides. It's a series of analysis and suggestions from the corporate paradigm as applied to education. It really is quite interesting. Like all books, it has some hits and some misses, but overall, it's a valuable read!
 
If reading a new book was your New Year's resolution, then good luck! I revamped an old one...juggling. (I missed my 2007 target, so I refurbished it in '09). Wish me luck!
Jeff
 
If you are looking for a dynamic, engaging, and enjoyable speaker for almost any occasion, contact Jeff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. !