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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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EdTech Update





Plato quote again

From USA Today, 12-18-05: This is the Google  Side of Your Brain. Another view of the threat of technology destroying a human capacity. Explored before in The Blue Skunk.


Management blues

A lot of us who would have been happier as mechanics went into management. With auto mechanics, there is such a thing as competence. With management? I don't think so. Garrison Keillor

It's been a quiet week here Lake Woebegone - make that, the office.  Time that I had thought I would be able to spend figuring out Moodle has instead gone into updating job descriptions. It's salary negotiation time for non-affiliated employees and current job descriptions are needed. Amazing how roles in this department change in a very short time as new technology-dependent projects begin, others mature, and some die. (And it seems like only yesterday the Corvus networks needed trouble-shooting.)

I tried using the discussion forums in Moodle to aid in the job revision process. I learned that I have hired a bunch of comedians.  Good grief. There is potential in using some form of online collaboration, however, and we will keep at it.

Management and supervision is something I've learned though the college of hard knocks and it's nothing that's come naturally to me. I like the planning, coaching and mentoring part; I dislike the tough guy, deadlines, get-yer-ass-in-gear bits. Although I've found I'm pretty good at conflict resolution. Not that we ever have conflicts here ;-)

My basic law of successful supervision has always been: Hire people who don't need to be supervised. For the most part this has worked well. To make it work even better, though, I continue to find that I need to improve the clarity of my expectations. Tough sometimes when working in an area like technology in which deadlines, budgets, and buy-in are all rather, shall we say, flexible.

I was delighted to read in the Creating Passionate Users blog (one of my favorites), a piece by Kathy Sierra called Death by Micromanagement: The Zombie Function Sierra asks:

Do you have a micromanager?
Or are you a micromanager? If you demonstrate any of these seemingly admirable qualities, there's a big clue that you might be making zombies.

  1. Do you pride yourself on being "on top of" the projects or your direct reports? Do you have a solid grasp of the details of every project?
  2. Do you believe that you could perform most of the tasks of your direct reports, and potentially do a better job?
  3. Do you pride yourself on frequent communication with your employees? Does that communication include asking them for detailed status reports and updates?
  4. Do you believe that being a manager means that you have more knowledge and skills than your employees, and thus are better equipped to make decisions?
  5. Do you believe that you care about things (quality, deadlines, etc.) more than your employees?

Answering even a weak "yes" to any one of these might mean you either are--or are in danger of becoming--a micromanager. And once you go down that road, it's tough to return.

I am blessed to have a boss, Ed the Superintendent, who displays none of these characteristics.  I am a little shakey on a couple personally.

Any tips for successful management you'd care to share?



The gift of creativity

Toys opened last night. Roboraptor was a huge hit. I did not know it, but it was on 4-year-old Paulie's wish list, but vetoed by his mom and dad as too expensive. Paul was so excited he could barely talk (which is almost impossible for that little chatterbox). The cats see the robot as their own very large squeaky toy with a tail that is eminently bat-able.

For Paul some toys become "real." They are beings with back stories and are worthy of care and concern. His vivid imagination and  storytelling ability regarding them is seemingly limitless. Whether the subject is his invisible sister Jessica (for whom we must leave the bathroom door open), Snakey his favorite giant blue rubber snake, or now Roboraptor, each of the characters in Paul's mental world has dozens of details that come directly from somewhere in his creative center. As a grandfather, it's difficult not to think Paul is a uniquely talented boy of superior genetic make-up, but my experience is that all children are inherently creative. And we then do our best as educators to bleed it from them.

Of course we in education pay a lot of lip service to encouraging creativity in our students, but do we really? Creativity seems to have been relegated to art classes. Oh, we throw in a "fun" writing assignment among the three paragraph expository essays, but most of the time we discourage originality through stay-within-the-line rules, one-right-answer tests, must-be-followed templates, and praise for conformity.

If I had one wish for Paul and all students this coming year, it would be that every teacher builds the expectation of creative thinking and communication into each assignment.

Such a wish is not just fuzzy, feel-good claptrap. From BusinessWeek Online's Best of 05: Ideas (Thanks to Clarence Fisher's Remote Access blog for the heads up.) The Way To Succeed In The Creative Economy: Innovate

The Knowledge Economy is giving way to the Creative Economy. Information has become a commodity like coal or corn. People once thought that superiority in technology and information would ease the economic pain of outsourcing manufacturing to Asia. But it turns out that a good deal of knowhow--software writing, accounting, legal work, engineering--can be outsourced to places like India, China, and Eastern Europe, too.

The solution: Focus on innovation and design as the new corporate core competencies. To prosper, companies have to constantly change the game in their industries by creating products and services that satisfy needs consumers don’t even know they have yet. That’s how loyalty is built. Mastering new design methods and learning new innovation metrics are the keys to corporate success, if not survival. Smart companies now have a senior-level executive charged with driving innovation or sparking creativity. Perhaps it’s even the CEO.

(We've heard this from Daniel Pink too.

I won't pretend to know enough about best practices in science, social studies, language arts or math to suggest how original thinking might be added to these areas, but one place where librarians do have influence is in information literacy and technology projects. So how might we spark, rather than discourage, creativity in research and when using technology with kids? Along with standing by my suggestions in Designing Research Projects Students (and Teachers) Love, I'd propose some rather simple actions:

  1. Banning clip art.  Or at least asking that clip art be modified.noclip.jpg
  2. Encouraging a graphic or visual representations of concepts.
  3. Asking for the narrative voice when writing and for storytelling when giving oral presentations.
  4. Integrating more technology into art and music classes - and more art and music into technology projects.
  5. Asking for multiple possible answers to questions or multiple possible solutions to problems.
  6. Giving points for "design" or formatting on all assignments - more than just "neatness counts."
  7. Instead of simply marking a response "wrong," asking for a reason why the answer was given.
I know, easy to do is easy to say. But I can hope. Your ideas for encouraging creativity?