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Why I Teach – Learning to Think Like the Web – #ccourses

I’ve been struggling to keep up with the torrent that is Connected Courses, a microcosm of my daily existence. I’ve been at this long enough now that I’m no longer surprised or upset to find myself out of sync. I prefer to treat falling out of sync as an opportunity for serendipity. Several weeks back, the question on the table was “Why I Teach”. As I’ve been mulling that over, the more recent conversation re-surfaced this post from Jon Udell:

Seven ways to think like the web | Jon Udell

Back in October, at the Traction Software users’ conference, I led a discussion on the theme of observable work in which we brainstormed a list of some principles that people apply when they work well together online. It’s the same list that emerges when I talk about computational thinking, or Fourth R principles, or thinking like the web. Here’s an edited version of the list we put up on the easel that day:

  1. Be the authoritative source for your own data 
  2. Pass by reference not by value 
  3. Know the difference between structured and unstructured data 
  4. Create and adopt disciplined naming conventions 
  5. Push your data to the widest appropriate scope 
  6. Participate in pub/sub networks as both a publisher and a subscriber 
  7. Reuse components and services

I was at this conference and gave the keynote talk on observable work that Jon references and participated in the working session that generated this list. Which circles back to the fundamental reason that I teach. I teach to learn. To figure out my thinking by putting it out where it can be seen and critiqued. In the world of the Net that also means putting thinking out where it can connect. 

Online learning, connected courses, and knowledge work itself are still very much in the days analogous to the earliest days of movie making where the first movies were made by placing the camera in the audience of a stage play. We are all lab rats in this environment and will all learn by doing. We are all making it up as we go. One advantage that we may be able to exploit in connected learning as distinguished from connected working is that it is safer to acknowledge that we don’t know what we are talking about. It is always easier to learn if you can accept and lay claim to not knowing.

Knowledge is a sobering thing

I sometimes wonder whether the thing that scares people about knowledge and science is how it can make you feel small and insignificant. This image is a visualization of the newest knowledge about where we on Earth fit in the universe. They’re calling it “Laniakea.”

It’s a very long way from when we thought that the Sun revolved around the Earth. For me, it engenders a sense of awe; what reaction does it trigger for you?


The video walks through the data analysis process that went into establishing our extended universal address. It’s a good example of Big Data and analytics at work. 

If you’re interested there are several good articles discussing this work:

Our Place in the Universe: Welcome to Laniakea

This is the most detailed map yet of our place in the universe

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Connected Courses Course – An Experiment in Collaboration – #CCourses

I’m carving out time to participate in what I see as a worthy experiment in collaboration. It’s been organized by some of the most interesting people working on online learning and seems to be attracting an equally interesting collection of people interesting in participating.

Here’s what they have to say:

We invite you to participate in a free open online learning experience designed to get you ready to teach open, connected courses no matter what kind of institution you’re working in. We’ll explore how openness and collaboration can improve your practice and help you develop new, open approaches.

You can mix and match — take one unit or take them all, and go at your own pace. You’ll be joined by other participants from around the world who are looking to:

  • get hands-on with the tools of openness;
  • create open educational resources, curriculum and teaching activities and get feedback from a community of your peers; and
  • connect with and learn alongside other faculty, educators and technologists.

Sign up and receive updates from the organizers. Everyone is welcome, and no experience is required. We will all learn together in this free and fun opportunity to start planning your own connected course. The instructors, award-winning university professors from around the globe, are the innovative educators behind successful connected courses such as FemTechNetds106phonar, and the National Writing Project CLMOOC.

An orientation starts Sept. 2 and the first unit starts Sept. 15, 2014 and you can sign up and find more details about the topics we’ll be exploring at connectedcourses.net.

[Connected Courses Sign Up]

This is being billed as “a collaborative community of faculty in higher education developing networked, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.” I think it is something richer than that.

Paying attention is the least that you should do if you are interested in issues of collaboration, learning, and new organizational forms. Jumping into the pool with the rest of the crowd is a better idea.

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Using Moore’s Law in Reverse: Alan Kay on Invention vs. Innovation

I’m an unapologetic fanboy of Alan Kay. This can be problematic given that the average person has no idea who Alan is even though they benefit from his work on a daily basis.

Earlier this year, Alan presented at the Demo 2014 conference, offering his reflections and insights on the relationship between invention and innovation. It’s about 45 minutes in total and well worth the investment of time and attention.

Although Alan doesn’t say so explicitly, he suggests that we have become so enamored of innovation that we are systematically neglecting invention. If you spend time reflecting on Alan’s observations you get real insight into the difference between strategic and tactical thinking.

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Book Review – Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

CreativityIncCover

 

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace,
Random House, New York, 2014

 

This is an excellent case study of creativity and collaboration at scale. Ed Catmull was one of the co-founders of Pixar. With co-author/collaborator Amy Wallace, Catmull reflects on the lessons he and his colleagues have learned over nearly three decades of superior creative work. 

There’s a management summary of key lessons at the end of the book. For example, here’s Catmull on errors: 

Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.

Pithy, but you’ll do yourself a disservice if you skip ahead to the conclusion. The value here is in the details and the unfolding stories of challenges met and mistakes made. 

I’ve been a fan of the movies forever and I’ve always been intrigued by the complexity hinted at in the credits. It’s easy to be dazzled by the egos of movie stars and auteur directors. The real work of any movie is hideously complex and interdependent. With the likes of Toy Story or The Incredibles, you must integrate art, science, technology, and business in a dynamic balancing act that spans months and years. This is organizational and management challenge in the extreme. 

Catmull is a computer scientist by training who grew into an executive role in a business that makes money by creating art collaboratively. The lessons here are applicable in any organizational context. They are all the more important because the organizational and economic world is moving along paths that Pixar has already travelled. Catmull’s observations and lessons learned are a report from the future. 

Organizations are backward focused. Accounting systems, standard operating procedures, human resource policies all look backwards. That can be appropriate in a slowly evolving world, but that is not the world we live in. That we live in a time of rapid change may be a cliche, but that does not make it less true. Catmull offers timely advice for this new world:

Whether it’s the kernel of a movie idea or a fledgling internship program, the new needs protection. Business-as-usual does not. Managers do not need to work hard to protect established ideas or ways of doing business. The system is tilted to favor the incumbent. The challenger needs support to find its footing. And protection of the new—of the future, not the past—must be a conscious effort.

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Learning to see systems – wolves and rivers

Systems in the real world are messy and complex. There’s a reason that Aldo Leopold was so cautious about interventions:

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” ― Aldo Leopold, Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold

Feedback loops and interactions can be subtle and hard to see. This short video is a nice example of that complexity presented in an accessible and understandable way. It’s been making the rounds in various social media settings. I wanted to post it here so that I can find it and share it more easily.

This video was developed from materials in a TED talk by biologist George Monbiot:

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Interested in being part of a unique problem solving team?

For the past several years we’ve been working to create the world’s largest high-performance team for problem-solving. This two-minute video captures the essence of what we are trying to accomplish:

We’ve been actively recruiting for the next stage in our development, which will be a beta test that will run over the next six months. We expect the time commitment for this phase will be 2-3 hours per week. If you think this is something you’d be interested in, drop us a line at ten.sdnimcnull@ofni and we’ll be in touch.

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How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists « Violent metaphors

I only wish I had been this organized and diligent when I was doing the research for my dissertation. Or that I had had this kind of excellent advice available when I did. 

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists « Violent metaphors: “What constitutes enough proof? Obviously everyone has a different answer to that question. But to form a truly educated opinion on a scientific subject, you need to become familiar with current research in that field.  And to do that, you have to read the ‘primary research literature’ (often just called ‘the literature’). You might have tried to read scientific papers before and been frustrated by the dense, stilted writing and the unfamiliar jargon. I remember feeling this way!  Reading and understanding research papers is a skill which every single doctor and scientist has had to learn during graduate school.  You can learn it too, but like any skill it takes patience and practice.

I want to help people become more scientifically literate, so I wrote this guide for how a layperson can approach reading and understanding a scientific research paper. It’s appropriate for someone who has no background whatsoever in science or medicine, and based on the assumption that he or she is doing this for the purpose of getting a basic understanding of a paper and deciding whether or not it’s a reputable study.”

While excellent advice in its own right, this blog post is also a reminder that knowledge work requires some pretty sophisticated skills and those skills require practice to develop and maintain.

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Never let “being realistic” get in the way of real problem solving

The good folks at xkcd always have something useful to say. Too many problem solving efforts are sabotaged when someone decides to redirect the conversation towards “being realistic.” 

Realistic Criteria

xkcd: Realistic Criteria

I’m planning on posting this little gem somewhere close by to remind me to view these requests more skeptically. 

When is a request to “be realistic” an honest effort to advance a problem solving effort and when is it a covert effort to derail or delay?

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Twelve years at McGee’s Musings

Still here. Not so many posts here over the past twelve months.

Working on making that change.

When I started this, blogs were pretty much the only way to share your thinking. A lot more choices today, although of late the emphasis seems to have shifted more toward ‘sharing’ than ‘thinking’. Both make the world a better place; striking the balance isn’t magically easy. 

Two efforts have cut into my capacity to share here. Each is moving into a phase where the balance is shifting to a more even split between thinking and sharing. Each will generate footprints here.

The first was finishing and publishing Think Inside the Box: Discover the Exceptional Business Inside Your Organization (WCG Press, 2013). This was a joint effort with my friend Tim Nelson.

My favorite (i.e. most ego gratifying) bit of feedback so far came from Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle, in a review in the Huffington Post. Here’s what Koch had to say about the book:

I’m really excited! I’ve just stumbled across the best new technique for boosting the performance of any business. And guess what — the method is brilliantly retro. But even trend-setters and worshippers of the new new thing can’t afford to ignore the technique. Quite simply, it’s the best strategic display since the BCG Growth Share Matrix.

Richard Koch, Author of The 80/20 Principle:
review in the Huffington Post  – 08/05/2013

You can learn more about the book and the work behind it at Insidethe8020box.com.

The second effort has been work on developing a business/service concept called Collaborating Minds. It’s an effort to create a hybrid between what we know about large technology-augmented groups and high-performance teams. 

So, stay tuned. 

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