Friday, 28 August 2015

Grey is the new black

I know I've mentioned this already in a couple of other blog posts this week (trust and networks and doing the right thing), but I've just seen so many examples and issues recently caused by people dealing in absolutes that I think it deserves a mini-blog of it's own.  Here's my take on why grey is not only the new black but the colour of things to come if we're going to continue to evolve.

Firstly we need to dispel the notion that in day to day things we deal with predominantly facts.  We don't. We predominantly deal with opinions and versions of what we witness.  Outside of the purest of mathematics there's very little absolute fact.  In fact in high-level maths they even start to bring uncertainty and probability into the equations - call it grey maths.  For example, watch the news on different channels, listen to interviews - what they build is a picture of what's occurred that may become clearer in time but isn't a series of absolutes.  A great example here would be 911.  I can vividly recall the day and what unfolded and recollect the initial picture and the story that unfolded.  Sure there are facts, like aeroplanes colliding with the towers, but in amongst that are stories, versions, witness accounts which build the picture - not to mention motives, responsibilities and accountabilities much of which is still unclear to this day.

Processes need to cater for the normal not every possible eventuality.  This is one of the places that grey is your best colour to consider.  If you try to make process flow diagrams that show every outcome and possibility you'll do two things, firstly you'll make it very cluttered and overly complicated, and secondly you'll fail because you can't actually predict every possible outcome.  Instead you should show the main flow through and a simple how to get help if not.  Job done, simple, easy to follow and effective.

Time is relative to. I've spoken about this in previous posts (relativity in learning)and stressed the nature that 'facts' tend to change with time (hey, we once thought the world was flat).  Time is the ultimate colour mixing pot for us as the blend changes as we add more and more to it. What you think should be the same.  Do you hold the same beliefs entirely that you did yesterday or last year? What about 10 years ago or when you were 10? Time is relative and everything changes.

People are people. They are not wholly good or wholly bad, they just are what they are - a shade somewhere in between.  If you interact with people believing everything they say because they are good or vice-versa you just end up with a distorted picture (that you yourself will likely perpetuate to others).  Just as what they tell you isn't black or white nor are they and you can learn from interactions with everyone.

In fact the problem runs deeper.  We seem to have a love affair with categorising everything including people.  Not only are there not wholly good and wholly bad people,
there aren't even specific types of people.  There aren't 50 shades of grey (although there's a book and film) there are infinite.  We are all individual is just about it.  7 billion shades of grey? Yep and ever increasing.  It does seem to be human nature to categorise everything and pigeon hold for simplicities sake, but when we do that we should be aware it's a digital approximation of an analogue reality.  The ultimate digital state is binary; 1 or 0 or black and white and that's the extreme of categorising and inherently the least accurate.

So where does this leave us?  It leaves us in a world where critical thinking, compassion and empathy need to combine to work effectively together - and that's great :) Just remember that this blog post itself isn't right or wrong either, it's just a bit of my take on a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Is trust a key part of networks, circles and sharing?

Before you get outraged at the title and rush to answer 'yes' of course, let's actually step back and look at this one.  Over the last few years we've seen a sharp increase in the amount of 'stuff' (yeah, you can tell this article will be scientific eh?) that's available, we're sharing more than ever and that's a good thing.  The downside is that there's a greater than ever opportunity for the bad side to rear its ugly head too; plagiarism, rip-offs and cyber-bullying to name a few.  

Once upon a time we used to share our stuff directly with a few people.  Sometimes we'd even publish something and it would get shared with more and if you were famous you'd even make television.  Nowadays the most humble and even the most limited of individuals can reach a potential audience of millions upon millions with nothing more than a few swipes of their thumb.  So does trust play a part in this?

It really does depend, so let's start with the extremities where the answer is simpler.  If you're pushing stuff out publicly via Facebook (open to all or with options that allow that to happen), Twitter via a general tweet or a public post on LinkedIn or your blog site the answer is actually 'no, not really'.  If you're reading this from your mental asylum (it does explain some things) or raging at what I'm saying that's fine - it doesn't directly hurt me and I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts here for anyone (and yes, I mean anyone) to get to, reply, discuss, agree, disagree etc.  If you're in the public domain and it's right out there then whether you trust those that get it or not is irrelevant - you simply can't trust everyone who could read it could you?

On the other end of the scale maybe you have an intimate circle of families/friends/mentor type relationship.  These relationships are pivotal on trust and it's a bond that often takes years to build (and an instant to destroy if you break that trust).  I don't think many of us would argue that these small and intense relationships require a level of trust to be able to share things that you probably wouldn't want broadcasted.

The difficulty comes in between; what about a small internal network or circle that you share things with first before going public if at all?  I know there's a lot of circles (hey, I've even joined a (the) NZ WOL circle recently) and it seems logical that some like-minded individuals come together there.  How important is it that they trust each other? Again it depends on the situation, there's a level of trust to me that seems to be directly proportional to the level of intimacy of the situation.  What I mean by that is that if I'm sharing something I really don't want to 'get out' then I must really trust that person.  That doesn't necessarily mean that by not sharing those things we don't explicitly trust those around us, it just means there's levels of trust and sharing.

It comes to a point I made in an earlier blog this week about what's the biggest threat to
doing the right thing where I revealed one of the big problems is our tendency to see things in black and white.  Trust is a sliding scale.  Who would you trust with your life? Very few people I would expect, despite the fact that if you entrusted a large number of people with it they would probably take extraordinary care with it (in fact I remember an article a while back of people guarding other people's stuff more vigilantly than their own).  What about your career?  Your current job? Your wallet? Your daily report? The weather? A news item? A bit of gossip? A dollar? You see it's a sliding scale and our networks are probably built around a level of trust that we and the others in our group feel comfortable with.

The question someone raised today in #pkmchat was what would happen if someone in the group betrayed that trust.  My response is that the group and individual would do what they always do, they would evolve around the issue and become slightly different.  Maybe that would mean the person would leave the group and the group would adjust its level of trust within, maybe the group would exclude the member and maybe things would return to normal.  The answer again is a greyscale not black and white and it will always depend on the breach and the personalities involved.

So here's my offering as to how to move beyond some of the trust issues.  I tend to work out loud (before it was WOL and after) and say for the most part this is what I do, this is what has happened and what I've found.  Sometimes I'm right and here it is for celebration. Sometimes I'm wrong and here's the learnings so far - or even, can anyone help?  I think WOL can be a really effective counter to trust issues we may have.  If someone has guns out for me and I share my learnings (you can call them failures if you will) it kind of takes away a lot of their ammunition (watch the end of 8Mile to catch my drift here).  What do you say to someone who says 'sorry, screwed up when we did that and this is the learning'? You can shout, you can rant but if they're truly working out loud, they'll just apply that and move on and let you and everyone else know about it.  So to me, trust in the wider sense is less of an issue.

There's also a way to counter-act trust issues in smaller groups and circles.  Here the important thing is to have integrity.  Now integrity is a really easy word to throw around, but what I really mean by it is that when you talk to private small groups, be mindful of what you say and consider carefully the feelings of others.  If that sounds a bit hammy, maybe it is, but if I talk to different people I'm always mindful of what I say about others.  I don't like the political games of playing people off against each other.  I've seen too many people run down one person when with one group and another with another (does that make sense!).  I remember an old boss was once described to me as someone who ran with the foxes and hunted with the hounds.  It's that duplicity or lack of trust that actually puts relationships at risk.  To me that means that the trust issue may actually lie as much with yourself as the others that you perceive untrustworthy.  Mmm... I'm not totally convinced of my own point here - but hopefully you can see where I'm going with it! If you've got the integrity to not put others down and keep yourself above that level you're less likely to run into many of these trust issues.  I'd also like to say I've learned some of this from my own actions over the years, life in perpetual beta will allow you to work through that...

So, back to the original question is trust a key part?  I say yes, it's important first and foremost to be trustworthy yourself - maintain your integrity no matter what.  If you work this way and at least use some of the principles of WOL and sharing the outcomes and learnings then for the most part the answer is actually 'not so much'.  Of course those smallest and most intimate groups will always be built on trust - just don't take them for granted.

Yeah or nah? Happy to discuss further...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The biggest threat to doing the right thing?

Okay, we're heading in a totally new direction in the Nth Degree today. I'm used to writing around learning and technology because hey, that's what I do right?  But today I thought I'd go for something slightly different and look at the thing which really stops us breaking down barriers and making effective change - it seems to me it's the fear of not fitting in or belonging - the very groupings that seem to define us could be what is at the heart of lots of our problems.  So here we go, let's look at some of the big issues and ask a few questions:

#1 Is patriotism wrong? Maybe it really is.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong in loving where you're from or where you live, but when where you're from is more important than treating other people with respect (for example the people in the next city or state, let alone country) then something is out of kilter.  When wars occur they're usually between one geographic area and another.  At the heart of these wars there may be a lot of different reasons, but eventually we choose sides based upon where we're from rather than being able to clearly think for ourselves and choose what is right or wrong.  Here's the essence of a lot of what is wrong with our world - gang mentality is like a drug that impairs our ability to make well-balanced decisions based upon what we know is right or wrong.  I like this article from the US (arguably the most patriotic of nations).  In answer to the question it really can be, but loving your country doesn't mean that you're automatically in the wrong either, it's when the love of your country becomes greater than your abilities to apply critical thought to a situation.
#2 What if I don't fit in?  One of the biggest drivers for us doing things is to try and fit in.  We all do it and we all make questionable judgement calls based upon trying to worry about what others think and fitting in with the group.  Think frat-house mentality for a particularly clear example where people will do things out of character in order to prove their 'worth' to the group.  It's another example of us overriding what we really know is right or wrong to go with what we think we need to do to impress.  How many of us truly have the strength to stand on our own?  It's truly scary and I know at times I've been as guilty of trying to fit in as anyone and have acted poorly in that way.

#3 Is love blind?  So if love of your country is wrong what about love of another person or
group of people?  What about love of a football team or friends?  When can love be the problem? When love is blind.  If we blindly do things we know are wrong in the name of love that can only be a bad thing.  I know that many of us say we would do anything for the person or people we love, but would you really?  If your wife or husband asked you to kill another person they didn't like, would you? If your child did something illegal and abhorrent would you cover up for them?  It's not black and white I appreciate, a starving family would you steal for - yes and I'm sure most would... that leads into the next one...

#4 Is it black and white?  The issue of right or wrong is as grey as most of my arguments so far.  How many times have we acted on an issue because of the unshakeable knowledge that it's right?  There are laws and rules, but we break these under certain circumstances because actually there is a time to use your judgement, to realise that we don't live in a world of absolutes.  There are times when the law says something, groups of people agree, the people you love agree - but actually it's not that simple and it's not as clear cut as all that.  All the big issues; race, religion, love... none are actually black and white.  Sorry to spell this one out but there are no wholly good or wholly bad of the above. The problems often occur when we think in black and white and lose our ability to see both sides of the argument.  If nothing else, take away from today that nothing is harder to deal with than absolutes and inflexibility.

#5 Is believing enough?  I'm going to try gently (again) to touch religion without causing
outcry - but actually it's wider than just religion, it's about belief.  Believing in something is a natural human thing - we find something, a mantra an ideal or a way of living that we associate with and tie ourselves too. There's nothing wrong with a belief that's not totally based upon hard evidence (even if hard evidence itself actually exists - another time, another blog), unless that belief again clouds our ability and blindly allows us to act without thinking.  Remember that black and white issue?  If you believe that being a christian makes you right and a muslim makes you wrong (or vice versa) then you're not seeing things as they really are.  Good and evil are just classifications of belief - and like all classifications they are approximations, digital extremes on a life that is analogue.

#6 When are you going to mention attitude?  My good friend Ryan Tracey waits for me to mention attitude because at some point in every chat I resort to my catch-all; it's about attitude.  Reason being that my belief centres around attitude and how it's our attitude that affects what we do more than anything else.  In my usual context that's about learning; learning simply doesn't take place too often without the right attitude.  We can talk about change and breaking down barriers all we like, but without the right attitude it's unlikely to happen (you have no idea how hard it was to right that sentence without using extremes like 'never'!).

In summary, I'm not sure where my motivation for today's post came from or even what my point was - I think most people are aware that the biggest challenges we face in learning and in the world perhaps are around the barriers we erect and silo-type thinking, I just want to highlight that there are some pretty big things that we place in the way that impact our abilities to think.

Agree or disagree?  (or somewhere grey in between?)!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Is audio falling on deaf ears?

I remember in the early days of elearning (back when we called it CBT if I remember rightly) being distraught at the idea of being constrained by the limitations (then, not that things have moved that far forward) by Citrix sessions that wouldn't allow for audio to work on the packages.  Crazy to think you could have elearning without audio back then.  Perhaps even more crazy can you imagine a phone where you didn't have audio, or a microphone to speak in to?  Yet the large majority of young mobile phone users hardly make a call in the traditional sense - they use text or picture messaging to convey what they think.  If we were to look back a few years ago to the features of mobile technology it might have been reasonable to think that text messaging was a stop-gap until something came along to replace it... yet here we are, not only as popular but more popular than ever.  Studies back a few years ago revealed that the mobile phone's primary use for young types was text messaging (42% if you're into numbers, with safety next at 35% - Neilsen 2010).  Whilst I'm referencing I pinched some of my ideas from this blog post: We Never Talk Any More

Surely these two things aren't related though; audio in learning and mobile phones?  Well here's a theory or two on why and where we might be headed.  One issue is without wearing headphones audio just isn't private.  Ever navigate to a website (especially when you're involved in self-directed learning) and the video and audio just automatically cracks in loudly and everyone in the office looks round?  One of my pet hates on web-sites is embedded video and audio that thinks it's fine to automatically start and push its way in.  In fact if I Google how to do something and there are web pages or a Youtube video, I tend to head to the web-page first rather than straight to the video.  The reason is, and here's my second point, that I have control over what I read, what I skim and how I progress.  Most how-to videos start off by teaching granny how to suck eggs (or assume no knowledge if you're unfamiliar with the euphemism), they reinforce the old 'you know nothing, I know everything' model of teaching that some of us are working really hard to dispel.  The ownership for my learning is suddenly in someone else's hands again and I don't want that.

The third point here is the push versus pull.  Not only do I have to watch the video and listen to the audio to make sense of it, I can't control what's coming next - I can't even predict what's coming next. When I read an article or a blog I skim, if I like what I'm seeing I go back and forth sometimes or straight through other times but it's my choice, my direction, me that pulls the information rather than someone else who pushes what they push.

Then there's the other side of audio.  The biggest issue with taking a phone call over a text message is the need to speak back.  Sure I can listen (although there are those that argue I can't) but when I need to speak again privacy blows out the water.  How many of you work in open plan offices?  The reason people often don't like them is that very lack of privacy and in particular when speaking with others on the phone or via web-conferencing.  In fact let's take this further into the world of technology.  I've got an Apple Watch and I love it actually.  The thing I love most about it is the haptics (the little vibrations the watch does to let me know what's going on).  Then there's the biometric sensors and a very cool retina screen which actually does most of the micro-type messaging I want to see.  I also like that there are (editable) one touch responses to things like Facebook messages or texts.  Sure Siri is evolving and the voice commands on the watch are useful (for example when in a car).  But outside of the novelty factor, I do feel a bit self-conscious if I have to speak to my watch in public.  So if audio outputs can affect privacy, audio inputs are even more disruptive.

The other thing is the asynchronous nature of communications that are not audio based.  I can for example multi-task and converse with several people at the same time, continue to do other things and it doesn't affect the quality or message that I send - the same can't be said for an audio conversation - much less video or face to face.  It also allows me to give informed responses, checking online for solutions, sending through hyperlinked information and of course recording it all in a store for me so that I can scroll back through (or search) without ever having to consider writing something down.  In the learning sense our learners can control beyond the direct learning - interact with others and use social learning practise without the pressure of having to watch the twenty minute one-way stream of 'knowledge' (don't get me started).

Where does that leave us?  Typing text messages has led to a very developed 'thumb' for modern mobile users but surely the future lies in ways to make what we think appear on the screen or commands beyond the audible methods.  For learning do we focus on input modes that don't rely on voice?  To be honest most learning doesn't rely on a voice input and probably for good reason - can you imagine a room full of people trying to talk to an automated 'programme'?  Voice recognition is still a little frustrating too, I've had some very unproductive 'conversations' with automated systems and Siri and I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship too!

Now just to clarify my slightly off-the-wall blog today, I do believe that video, streaming media, virtual reality, augmented reality and other audio-visual inputs and outputs have their place moving forwards and Youtube is still THE place to go for funny animals and a valuable learning resource, but I think the future needs to consider the disruption of audible communications and how that meshes with an increasingly crowded environments of people interacting with others not in the crowd.

So there you have it, audio doesn't always fall on deaf ears... and perhaps that's the problem, I look forward to the solution.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

What's Wrong with Modern Learning Environments?

Modern learning environments (MLE) are getting a pretty big buzz these days in the education sector and wider training areas too.  If you're not in the know, the move is away from the traditional classroom - four walls, whiteboard, projector - everything facing the front - to a more dynamic space encouraging different types of learning. The move seems obvious enough doesn't it?  We've generally recognised that the old model of learning; master who knows everything and student who knows nothing, isn't really the way the best learning takes place.  We've seen a big shift towards social learning and a generally more student focussed approach, combined with the flipped classroom which focusses more on the problem based learning activities in 'class' than the knowledge transfer which was once the foundation of educational practice.

So what's the big deal, if we're all agreed it makes sense, why not just throw up some life reflecting collaborative and shared spaces with funky colour schemes and let the magic happen?  And that's kind of where the problem lies.  Largely that's been the case, learning spaces have been transformed and the idea is that the learning would simply follow on - or if the assumption was that learning was already 'modern' in its approach, simply be grateful for the better designed spaces.

Unfortunately the reality often doesn't quite match the intention.  Our teachers, educators and trainers are somewhat used to their space, their walls and their environment the way it was and their teaching has grown into that space.  Sure the new furniture is nice, and the colour schemes are cool, but where's my walls, my privacy... my control?  The key it seems is often in flexibility, the ability to quickly and easily change the design of the room, the size, configuration, desk, wall, group spaces etc.  The flexibility though provides a raft of options for teachers and whilst from an outsider that appears to be all good, for the teachers themselves that simply means more work and learning new things.  If you think being a teacher automatically makes you a good learner think again - and think hairdressers and their own hair!  Teaching and learning were once often poles apart and only in recent years have we tried to bring the two together.

What do student think of these new spaces?  Generally students are comfy; for example we transformed our library here at the Polytechnic a year or so ago to include a cafe, open meeting areas, some closed, some collaborative and configurable meeting spots - students love the area, it has a great feel and is even self-regulating around volume.  In fact it's become a popular meeting area for staff too and everyone agrees it's a success.  So again, surely we can make these new MLEs work for our lessons too?

So here we hit the main issue.  The problem isn't actually with the spaces that encourage and allow for collaborative and shared work and flexibility or with the modern theory of teaching and learning, the issue is that we've not got enough teachers, trainers and educators who are fully prepared to take advantage of this together... at least not yet. If we throw old-school (excuse the pun) teachers into our modern environment with a few pointers in how to do it and a bunch of theories, most will quickly revert to what they know.

This is actually a space in which we can learn a lot from early and primary education, where collaborative work and activities centred on the student are not only good for the learning, they're a necessity for young minds. If you combine this with the the fact that many of the young students coming through to tertiary and higher education now will have very little 'formal' student experience where they sit for several hours a day listening to presentation style lessons, we're definitely in need of these MLEs and perhaps more importantly the ability to use them effectively.

It's very much a change management piece as well as a learning piece and when you think about it, it doesn't make much sense that we lecture and send out information on MLEs to teaching staff forcing them to change their practice without doing the same to ourselves and our method of delivery.  In fact, it's more than just a change management piece, it's a culture change and that is something that doesn't just happen overnight or by itself.

How do you do it then?  Largely the only way to change a learning environment and be successful is to apply the same principles to the space as you are expecting from the learning.  Collaboration, sharing, learning from everyone and centring your learning around the students, which in this case is the teachers, which is the whole point isn't it?

Simple answer to the first question posed in the title?  Absolutely nothing.  But there's plenty that might be wrong with our approach to using them.