Long time, no post

I was realizing it had been ages since I posted anything but I just read an article in the Atlantic on What Makes a Good Teacher? that I thought was interesting. The writer was reporting on research done by Teach for America which was published in February as Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap.

Looking at the advice, it’s not rocket science, but harder to remember do:

  • Set big goals
  • Always try to improve and reevaluate your teaching
  • Make students (and family) a part of the process
  • Focus everything on student learning
  • Plan carefully and work backwards from your outcomes
  • Work, work, work and never say die (or give up on students)

The teachers also used a number of things I’ve heard under other names: peer learning, checking for understanding, I do-we do-you do as part of active learning. According to their results, success breeds success as well which is also no surprise–if someone had run something and shown results before adn exhibited perseverance toward a goal then they were more likely to be successful.

Always when I read these things I think, “Oh, yes that!” Now, to do.

Amazon Rank, Amazon Fail

Amazon Rank

amazon rank
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): amazon ranked

1. To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies).
2. To make changes based on inconsistent applications of standards, logic and common sense.

Etymology: from 12 April 2009 removal of sales rank figures from books on Amazon.com containing sexual, erotic, romantic, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer content, rendering them impossible to find through basic search functions at the top of Amazon.com’s website. Titles stripped of their sales rankings include “Bastard Out of Carolina,” “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” prominent romance novels, GLBTQ fiction novels, YA books, and narratives about gay people.

Example of usage: “I tried to do a report on Lady Chatterly’s Lover for English Lit, but my teacher amazon ranked me and I got an F on grounds that it was obscene.”

Alternate usage: “My girlfriend wanted to preserve her virginity, and I was happy to respect that, then she amazon ranked and decided anal sex was okay.”

ETA: More explanation here and here and here and here. This is not just a glitch. Petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/petition/119673661. Massive massive FAIL Amazon!

Testing, testing. So we’re now in our new blog home and despite a few hitches, things seem to be going well.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate. I am hanging out, catching up on some reading and posts from all in my real and virtual world, and having some duck later. Mmm..

In other news, Rick Silterra posted this link on knowledge sharing to Facebook which was interesting. How to create these kind of networks though? I leave you with that thought; I’m going to eat.

IDEO and innovation, Part 1

I've kept Tom Kelley's The Art of Innovation out from the library long past the time I sat down and inhaled it in one weekend but now that I have to give it back and that I've just started his second book, The Ten Faces of Innovation, I figure I should sum up, compare and move on. Tom Kelley is part of Ideo, a leading design firm known not only for its cutting edge designs of everything from computer input devices to medical equipment to services and environments for all kinds of companies but also for its unique approach to fostering innovation and creativity. I got interested in it because of a Nightline episode chronicling its method (called The Deep Dive I believe) and because of a committee at work looking at innovation. So, the book:

IDEO's methodology for observation:

  • Understand the current situation
  • Observe real people in real life situations
  • Visualize new stuff and who will use it (brainstorm, simulate, storyboard, etc)
  • Evaluate and refine prototypes (quickly! no one perfect model and get input from everybody)
  • Implement the new design

Other points:

Observation (not focus groups or what you or experts think your market needs)–this made me think of the continuing OPAC and database dilemma where librarians tell vendor reps to make incremental changes and addons, the kind of feature creep that has nothing to do what users need (which users wouldn't be able to articulate if you asked them either). IDEO suggestions: take notes on an experience when it is new to you and immerse yourself, observe lots of different (even crazy-seeming, rule-breaking) real people (I thought about U of Rochester hiring an anthropologist), ask "dumb" questions, consider the human story, sometimes mall changes make a big difference, think of things as verbs (things people use for tasks) rather than as nouns (just objects), make people the heroes of their own stories (I thought about John Beck's You've Got Game and his assertion that millenials want to be heroes of their own stories).

IDEO on brainstorming:

  • Start with a well-stated (not fuzzy) problem or question (not too specific or fuzzy). Focus on cutomer need or service enhancement rather than organizational goal
  • Don't critique first or you'll kill ideas
  • Number your ideas (100 ideas in an hour?!)
  • Watch for energy changes in the session and prompt at plateaus
  • Write up ideas so everyone can see them as they emerge (can be post its, flip pads, whiteboards, etc)
  • Warm up to brainstorming in new, infrequent, or distracted/pressured brainstorming grups (word games or show and tell) and in all groups get physical (sketch, mind map, show and tell, act out or build)

Don't: Let boss speak first, require everyone to get a turn or be an expert to speak or have to com up with very serious ideas, write everything down or only brainstorm offsite

IDEO on hot groups/teams: dedication to end result, some pressure on deadline, respectful of diversity and nonhierarchical, empowered to do what it takes to get it done (small groups and no inertial standing committee!), make your own fun and energy, passion and call to excellence, group problem solving and shared space, good team dynamics, no all-controlling "they" who regulate what can and can't be done. I was interested to read that IDEO recommended "crazy deadlines and seemingly unreachable goals" in some cases. But when does this become a help rather than a demoralizing hinderance? The examples that Kelley gave seemed tobe when the challenge was external (another competitor, an unexpected flaw, new field or personal challenge) rather than internal willfulness. I also liked the "three implicit questions" from Lou Holtz, football coach at Notre Dame: "Do you care about me? Can I trust you? Are you committed to the success of the team?" Good teams make people feel special from the outset and reward them often (with experiences not just tokens), meet often to exchange and celebrate, brand themselves and welcome characters (like USA Networks). So much of this reminds me of work; no wonder I like it!

 IDEO on prototyping: Get things done and now (not perfectly and too late –oh boy do I need to remember this!) or prototype, prototype, prototype. Problem solve, sketch, model. Do incremental reviews to get feedback early in the process. Put your bad ideas out there to get them out of the way and have something to shoot down. Ask forgiveness rather than permission.

IDEO on office environment: Create neighborhoods and community interaction; let everybody have a say in designing their space; make it fun, flexible, and nonhierarchical; use basic building blocks and keep it simple; merge process and play; brand areas and make sure you're walking your talk in your physical arrangements; tell your stories in public; use your random stuff (the Tech Box of neat stuff for inspiration)

 IDEO on the unexpected and the power of serendipity, timing, quick responses to unexpected uses, "cross-pollination" from other fields and areas (again brainstorming with the Tech Box, browsing magazines and the Web, playing "film director" to sharpen observation, holding informal open houses (again with the show and tell), inspiring and listneing to advocates for various viewpoints, hiring outsiders, and trying out different perspectives and new training)

IDEO on barriers to innovation: individual and company mindsets and false assuptions; cultural divides and social norms; S-curve adoption; "FUD factor" [fear uncertainty doubt]–Regis McKenna, marketing expert; legal issues. How to deal? Increase creativity by making sure org is: merit-based, autonomous, familiar/family-like; messy; full of tinkerers (those willing to experiment). Try new skills, look for design opportunities, realize the power of ritual, evangelize, be persistent and go th eextra mile (sometimes literally)

IDEO on experience design: Not just products or a tangible end goal but a better-designed experience. What steps do you have to take? How can I fix an unpleasant experience? How do I make it fun (and effective and human)? How do I tell an authentic story? Resist featuritis and realize veen small changes count.

IDEO on fast innovation: Challenge yourself by playing or competing to learn (IDEO does the Sand Hill Challenge). 

IDEO on risk taking: "Fail your way to success"  but use something that has small consequence (as Kelley pointed out, juggle with beanbags not rocks first). Easier to risk when you have nothing much to lose (which is why new, small companies often dominate later) but big places can innovate by creating smaller spinoffs, discourage bureaucracy and rules, open things up to everyone. BUT don't go off into the wilderness completely.

IDEO on v.2.0: No featuritis; keep directions simple; focus on the part you touch most; simplifying take time and fighting some uphill battles. Make a great first impression; create a useful metaphor; make it useful at work and at home; use color; let people know what's hapenning under the hood; make it simple, fast, error-proof/forgiving, and painless; make sure it fulfills your checklist of must-haves; include valuable extras.

IDEO on the future: change happens at different rates in different areas; look outside your field; empower people and observe and talk to them; try concept projects, film mini-movie trailers, read widely; think ten years from now. 

Final tips:

  • Observe cutomers, noncutomers, enthusiasts.
  • Play with your physical space
  • Think verbs not nouns, experiences not objects
  • "Break rules and fail foward" 
  • Encourage human scale orgs and hot groups 
  • Connect org departments, workers and customers, old and new