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Sunday
Mar152015

A growth mindset for techs

It’s sometimes tough to help people increase their knowledge without making them feel stupid or incompetent, but good teachers do. Phrases like, “My third graders can do that.” “You know it works better when you plug it in.” and “No, the other right arrow.” are not recommended. From the "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Technology Trainers"

Those of us in the technical world are often hired for our technical prowess, not our interpersonal skills (as the old Saturday Night Live sketch above illustrates*) or our teaching skills. What this means is that all of us need to learn about working with "warmware" as well as working with software and hardware.

During the last two bi-weekly meetings of our district technology staff, we have discussed the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset - echoing an initiative begun by our teaching and learning department based on the work of Carol Dweck.

At our first meeting, we introduced the concept by showing the TED Talk by Eduardo Briceño titled "The Power of Belief - Mindset and Success." We then examined our own language that reflected these approaches to challenges.

Given continuous learning nature of technicians, the whole "I don't know - yet" as opposed to "It can't be done" resonated with the group.

During our next meeting, we focus on how should we respond when hearing a "fixed mindset" statement from those we serve. "I've just never been good at technology." "I don't have time to learn this." "It never works." Adding a little humor (and perhaps some venting), we listed a few common fixed mindset statements we often hear, then composed a "inappropriate" response and an "appropriate" response.

For example, a common fixed mindset statement we often hear from others in our schools is "I'm just not good with technology!" An inappropriate response (plus those in the opening quote), might be "Then just what ARE you good at?" An appropriate response might be, "Technology can be confusing, but perhaps I can show you how to fix this problem in the future. I know you can do it!"

Being a teacher is not a part of most technicians' formal job description, but I would guess that not a day goes by that techs don't try to help those they serve become more self-sufficient and competent tech users by teaching simple processes and solutions.

And like all teachers, a personal growth mindset is imperative if we want others to exhibit it as well.

And we all plan to strike "MOOOOOVE!" from our vocabularies.

* Here's a full Nick the Computer Guy sketch - caution, rather rude

 

 

Saturday
Mar142015

BFTP: A history of books

I asked this five years ago about the chart below:

So here's my question: Has anyone over the past couple hundred years missed the scroll, the clay tablet; the papyrus or the sheepskin? I am guite sure my great-grandchildren will laugh when they read how people were once reluctant to give up paper books for electronic ones. And yes, my great-grandchildren WILL be reading.

Among the comments to my original post was this one from Michael Doyle:

Gutenberg and Munuzio's contributions allowed folks other than the privileged class to get their hands on books. Very few Western people saw any of the book history before the 15th century (too elite, too scarce, or Chinese). Papyrus and clay tablets were replaced, true, but since so few folks used them, no big deal.

Since books are accessible to just about everyone now, the changeover to electronic books is not truly revolutionary (though our ability to manipulate words is--that's where the revolution has already happened). The Kindles are remarkable for their "typeface", and I suspect as the typeface of other e-books get better (and the battery life longer), more most folks will prefer them to books, because they're like books! Portable and snuggly.

My car has seat belts, radial tires, anti-lock brakes, struts, air bags, and is very different from the car my grandfather drove. But it's still a car.

Many of us reluctant to give up paper books are not reluctant out of Luddite stubbornness--we're reluctant because of cost and readability. When Kindle is safe in the bathtub, I'll consider buying one.

A thoughtful comment, I thought, - as were several others to the original post.

The move from print to e-books seems to be taking on a new urgency as we adopt tools and strategies to increase differentiation by providing reading materials at a range of reading levels in our libraries and classrooms.

Does a print library of a few dozen titles make sense when a classroom equipped with devices capable of connecting to a few thousand digital titles is possible?

Factor in the advantages of adaptive quizzes which may help students find books at their reading levels and about their personal interests, eliminating the stigma of reading books viewed by classmates as "baby books," and the ability to have texts read aloud or words pronounced in situ, we really need to be having these discussions - now!

Thursday
Mar122015

Writing FOR understanding

The most popular explanation is that opaque prose is a deliberate choice. Bureaucrats insist on gibberish to cover their anatomy. Plaid-clad tech writers get their revenge on the jocks who kicked sand in their faces and the girls who turned them down for dates. Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.

But the bamboozlement theory makes it too easy to demonize other people while letting ourselves off the hook. In explaining any human shortcoming, the first tool I reach for is Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. The kind of stupidity I have in mind has nothing to do with ignorance or low IQ; in fact, it's often the brightest and best informed who suffer the most from it. Steven Pinker, The Source of Bad Writing, Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2014

I read Pinker's essay with great interest. He explains "The Curse of Knowledge":

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn't occur to the writer that her readers don't know what she knows—that they haven't mastered the argot of her guild, can't divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn't bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Much of the professional writing I do is explanatory, not visionary, in nature. I try to translate tech terms and systems into prose that administrators, librarians, and teachers can understand - in the hope they will find it important and useful. My Head for the Edge columns in Library Media Connection and Power Up! columns in ASCD's Educational Leadership require this ability to explain technology in relevant and understandable ways to people for whom technology is not their first love - or their hundredth. 

My practice, I hope, is the opposite of Pinker's (and Calvin's) explanation of bad writing practices.

I've found that my own mediocre intelligence aids me in this effort. If I can find the analogies, the simple words, the vivid examples that help me understand a complex topic, I can then use the same to help others who have the intellect but perhaps not the patience to understand it. (I've investigated this before: Shallow wit vs deep intellect.)

Too many technical people suffer from an alpha wolf syndrome: I am the baddest animal in the pack if I know more technical terms than anyone else. If I discover the latest app or educational theory. If I can embarrass someone else by discovering a gap in his/her knowledge. I somehow think this tendency goes beyond Pinker's guess that it revenge on jocks by nerds. But it does smell a bit like a power trip.

For me, perhaps, the best path to clear writing is to reflect on the reason one does it in the first place. Is it an ego boost? Is it stun the world? Is it to gain fame and fortune? Is it to show just how much I know (and you don't)?

Or is it explore one's field, to help others, and perhaps improve the world in some small way? And to have a little fun in the process.