Like Amit, I was a Tightrope Walker, scoring 7 out of 10, which according to McAfee suggests that I should be a little more careful in my web habits. This also means that I'm planning to download the free SiteAdvisor for Firefox to help me out in future.
I was checking out the Open Learn project this morning (a topic worthy of its own blog post) and came across their competition to remix/reuse their content, which led me to an interesting little tool--Feedcycle.
Feedcycle enables you to publish serialized RSS feeds. In other words, subscribers can sign up to receive a series of blog posts, podcasts, videocasts, etc. automatically delivered daily. As subscribers sign up, they will be sent the first item in the series, then the next, etc. regardless of when they sign up for the service. Subscribers can use any of the most popular readers, including Google Reader, Bloglines, Netvibes, etc.
This is a great way to provide chunks of content that should be in some kind of linear format (for example staff training, blog series, etc,). It's also obviously a great way to tell a story. It works best for content that isn't "fresh"--that is information that would be valuable to offer in a serialized format on a permanent basis.
There's a free version that's pretty generous, as well as premium/paid versions. More on pricing and features here.
I haven't had a chance to give it a try yet, but this TechCrunch article is pretty positive about the service. I'll be off for the next several days, so I may use some of that time to think more about how to use this for some projects I'm working on and to do additional research on the tool. Mostly wanted to share because it looks like such a cool option.
In the education/learning parts of the blogosphere, there's been a lot of talk lately about professional conferences and how to increase their value. I want to follow this trail because it led me to some thoughts of my own.
Tony Karrer started things going by asking what we could do to make conferences better. He made several suggestions, including:
- "Expert Only" time
- Unconference within a conference
- Better fun activities
- "Passionate Keynotes aimed at Us"
- Cheat sheets
- Free wifi
This led to a great discussion in the comments on his post on the relative merits of each idea, new possibilities, etc.
Then Tom Haskins suggested that blogging and engaging in conversation with other bloggers was a form of conferencing. And I still had Tom's post on Indie Professional Development floating around, wondering where the "long tail" is in this arena.
I've also been following the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) held in Atlanta this week. According to several bloggers in attendance (David, Brian and Jeff to name a few), they got the greatest value from the Blogger's Cafe where informal conversation and Web 2.0 tools reigned.
So all of this floating around in my brain . . . which got me to thinking about why we go to conferences. Yes, for professional development, but also to connect with other people, to have conversations and, most importantly, to talk about the things that really matter to us
I was also thinking about the beauty of Web 2.0 tools, which invite collaboration and interaction and engagement with content, provide immediate access to information and so forth. So some of my own thoughts on creating better conferences. (Warning--bit of a brain dump here.)
- Use an open, web-enabled process to set the conference agenda
- Build sessions on the fly by listening and responding to conference conversations
- Use "citizen-journalists" to create learning synthesis
- Where possible, web-enable the conference and provide attendees with "cheat sheets" that show them how to make the most out of the tools at the conference.
- Create a Companion "Virtual" Conference
- Create "Value-Add" Follow-Up
Use an Open, Web-Enabled Process to Set the Conference Agenda
One of the reasons that I love unconferences and Open Space Technology is because the agendas for these conferences grow organically from the passions and interests of the participants, rather than from the politics and egos of conference organizers. Further, Web 2.0 has taught us that bottom up, community generated solutions work better. So why don't conference organizers set up a wiki to post conference proposals and let prospective conference attendees vote on the sessions they'd most like to attend? Allow individuals to post comments, ask questions, etc. These could then be used both to select sessions and also by the speaker to improve the quality of his/her presentation. This process could also build "buzz" for sessions prior to the beginning of the conference and allow people to connect prior to the conference with people who share their same interests.
I'd use the same process for selecting keynoters (assuming you wanted to have one). I would use the wiki to ask people to submit their ideas for keynote speakers. I'd also have the keynoters submit videos of themselves, along with other key information re: their presentations. I'd upload to the web and have people vote, comment, etc.
Build Sessions on the Fly
Building on both Open Space and the NECC experiences with the Blogger's Cafe, I'd monitor the conversations that were happening, both in person and through web-enabled channels like live blogging, Skype, Twitter, etc. and then pull together panel discussions or facilitated conversations on those topics. The point is not to artificially redirect valuable informal conversation, but to recognize when it might be valuable to pull together what's occurring in conversations in various areas to create a synthesis of ideas.
Use "Citizen Journalists" to Create Learning Synthesis
The best conferences are a form of ongoing learning and conversation, not static presentations. But often what happens at the end of a conference is that we lose some of that learning. We miss larger patterns, we don't pull together various strands of thought. This is starting to change as bloggers reflect on their conference experiences, but I'm still not sure it happens in a more comprehensive way that is useful for people.
One strategy for addressing the issue would be to designate individuals to be in charge of taking a look at all of the channels of information and conversation that developed during the course of the conference. They would look for patterns, new ideas and questions, suggestions, etc. and document that as part of the follow-up to the conference.
Web-Enable the Conference and Provide Attendees with Cheat Sheets Ahead of Time
Liveblogging, Twitter, Skypecasting, Flickr photos, etc.--these are all tools that are beginning to enliven and engage conference-goers. But not everyone knows how to use them or how to use them at a conference. One "value-add" for pre-conferencing might be to provide conference goers with instructions and ideas on how they can get the most from the conference through these tools. Give them instructions on how to set up a blog or sign up for a Flickr account. (You can create quick screencasts for this if you want). Give them examples of how others have used these tools at conferences. Help "newbies" figure out how to use these tools of personal learning, which will enable them to get the most out of the conference. (Note--take a look at this post from Jeff Utecht and scroll down to see the ways he observed Twitter being used at NECC. Could be a good start to a cheat sheet)
Create a Companion Virtual Conference
If you're going to web-enable your conference, think about web-enabling things for people who can't attend. I'm actually thinking that this is one of those areas that could benefit both conference organizers and conference-goers. Not everyone can afford full conference fees and travel expenses. But people might be willing to pay a smaller conference fee to "attend" the conference virtually. For this to be a worthwhile value proposition, virtual attendance would have to mirror as closely as possible actually being there. But this is doable, I think, with careful thought and use of tools, although there may still be time barriers for international conferencing.
Create Value Add Follow-up
People generally leave conferences energized, engaged, etc. But there's often nothing to do with this energy except maybe to stay connected to the people you met. One of the interesting things I've read recently about Web 2.0 that I hadn't really considered is that it's about people connecting over objects/things they have in common. Yet when a conference is over, we're not always providing people with some more things to which they can connect.
One major thing to consider is that if you used a wiki to set up your conference, you can use it to provide follow-up. Have presenters record sessions and then upload them to the wiki, along with their handouts, slides, links to other resources, etc. This would also be a place to include summaries of learning you had your citizen journalists create, new ideas or questions that arose during the conference, etc.
I know that to a certain extent, this kind of follow-up exists. Many times when you leave a conference you can access handouts online. I think what I don't see as much of is thinking about how to use conference follow-up as a way to continually engage people in new learning and connecting, to provide them with something more than just a chance to download the handouts from the sessions they weren't able to attend. I'm not entirely sure how this would look, but I think that there's more here if we think about it.
Some Final Thoughts
Here I've focused on enhancing our current paradigm of conferencing. I still think that there are possibilities in entirely virtual conferences, but there are obviously major hurdles to deal with, not the least of which is the time factor. When you go away, then you know that you're committing yourself to attending conference activities. If you're "attending" online, you're much less likely to give a conference the same time and focus.
Also, I feel like I didn't pay enough attention to enhancing the informal connections that are so valuable in conferences. There's probably more that could be done on a pre-conference level with using social networking to connect people, as well as creating more activities like the Blogger's Cafe that take advantage of people's tendencies to meet and talk informally.
Lots of possibilities, I think, in taking conferences to the next level. It will be interesting to see where things go. I'd love to hear from people about other examples of conferences they enjoyed or specific conference enhancements that they found particularly effective.
It's interesting the difference a day makes.
Yesterday I expressed my frustration over my inability to change people who are meant to be change agents. Writing it down got most of the negative energy I was feeling out of my system. It also left me some space to think a little more about the problem. And another reason to be grateful for blogging--writing about it brought me some good advice from Tom Haskins and encouraging words from Brent MacKinnon, which also helped. So here's where I'm at now.
First, I think that Tom's right when he says that helping people to become conscious of how they've become disempowered is an important step:
Most disempowered professionals I've coached don't consciously realize how they lost their sense of "can-do" and "can-make-a-difference". They are doing the best they can in their own minds. Once they are aware of how they are getting disempowered in their relationships, they can make the necessary changes for themselves. Meanwhile they are caught up in a spiral, going nowhere quickly and becoming more convinced that no change is possible.
One way I make disempowerment conscious is to prescribe it. People realize what they are caught up inside of when I make it clear how to keep it going intentionally.
Tom goes on to list a series of beliefs that disempowered people tend to hold and suggests that to explore our disempowerment, we should consciously try reinforce those beliefs in ourselves to see how they act in our lives. Good stuff.
As I read Tom's post, I realized that I also had some answers to my problem in my own toolkit. Apparently I got so caught up in being negative, I lost sight of my personal resources. Something I think has been going on with my clients, too.
A few years ago I was working with some people to implement a major organizational change. In that process, we examined the issue of the victim mentality, a belief system that many of us have without really knowing it.
To explore that concept, I asked what kinds of stories people told about themselves--active stories or passive ones? With active stories, we say things like "I am in charge" or "I am responsible." When we tell ourselves passive stories, we focus on outside forces and external circumstances. Active stories start with "I" and passive stories start with "They." Active stories make us feel empowered. Passive ones suck away our personal sense of control.
Then, stolen from Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute, I asked two questions:
- Do you believe that with respect to this situation, no matter how much power seems to lie in other’s hands, you still have at least 10% that is in your control or power?
- Can you work on that 10%?
In thinking about this problem, I'm realizing something really important that I know, but seem to forget. Sometimes I'm being dragged down into this disempowered thinking too. It's hard to resist, especially if I'm in a room full of people who have already given up. It doesn't help that my natural temperament is to focus on problems, always looking for what needs to be fixed.
But getting dragged down into the negative isn't helping anyone and in a lot of ways, I can't afford to take that role. Someone has to be the dream keeper. Someone has to keep believing that if we all do our 10%, then it will add up and create change. It's like what they tell you in the safety talk on planes--put on your oxygen mask first and then help those around you. I'm the one who has to keep finding ways to get to the mask first. I'm the one who has to keep working on her own 10%. Without that, we'll all be crying into our beers.
I'm hoping that if I can keep doing that, others will join me eventually. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but at some point. In my heart I believe this will happen. But if I'm honest, I have to say that some days it's easier to believe that than others.
I'm on my way out the door to a conference and have a bunch of things in my "blog this" file that I wanted to clear out. So today is Link Love Day. I'd suggest a quick scroll through the topics to see if anything catches your fancy as these are really random.
The Cranky Middle Manager has a new podcast on managing 4 generations at work. Good stuff if you're working with:
- The Silent Generation--born 1933 through 1945
- The Baby Boomers--born 1946-1964
- Generation X born--1965-1976
- The Millenials--born 1977- 1998
Manager Tools also has a new podcast up--Part One of a two-part series on how to make a job offer.
Can managers learn something from the thinking errors that doctors make? That's the provocative question Harvard Business School Professor James Heskett asks in How Do Managers Think?
A Possible New Source of Funding and Volunteers for Nonprofits?
The NYT has an article on Doing Good on Company Time:
Companies have been using off-site meetings and retreats to foster a sense of camaraderie among employees for decades, but obstacle courses or golf tournaments are becoming as dated as guaranteed frequent-flier upgrades to first class. Today, more corporations are turning to hands-on volunteer projects to get their people motivated and working as a team.
It occurs to me that a forward-thinking, entrepreneurial nonprofit might be able to take advantage of this movement by actively seeking out companies to engage in these kinds of volunteer activities and coordinating them for a fee. Not only would you get volunteers, but you'd also get some unencumbered funding.
On a related note--here's a lifehack article on how to fit volunteerism into your day. A rewrite based on your organization could be a good marketing tool.
"In Class, I Have to Power Down"
Last week I posted about the NYT article chronicling the movement in some schools to get rid of their 1-to-1 laptop programs. Now this article from The Guardian (UK) points to why it's a bad idea. As one student commented:
"At school, you do all this boring stuff, really basic stuff, PowerPoint and spreadsheets and things. It only gets interesting and exciting when you come home and really use your computer. You're free, you're in control, it's your own world."
As if we needed any more reasons for kids to shut down and feel that school is completely irrelevant to their learning.
Also check out David Warlick's post on the NYT article and how it feeds into professional development.
On Being More Creative as a Blogger (or just in general)
Problogger Darren Rouse has run a couple of good articles in the past few days on creativity. First, where do creative ideas come from? And then another on the 9 Attitudes of Highly Creative People. I'm pleased to note that I possess several, although "optimism" is definitely still a challenge. Lifehack also has a helpful piece--How to Become a Creative Genius.
On Personal Learning and Personal Learning Environments
Without a doubt, the most popular post I've written here was the one on My Personal Learning Environment. The nice thing is that it has led me to a whole bunch of other work that people are doing around the concept. A few I've found recently:
- Ray Sims asks Why Personal Learning Environments? To my mind, he comes up with some pretty compelling answers. Also interesting is The Human Node in PLE: Learning How to Learn.
- Graham Atwell's recent presentation at a conference in Denmark. It includes a podcast of his remarks.
- Sarah of Blogging English is having her Italian ESL students create mindmaps of their own personal learning environments as part of their final class projects. What a great idea for encouraging lifelong learning!
- Although new, SkillsFeed looks like an interesting addition to the personal learning toolkit. It lets you create and share microlessons on virtually any topic. Has some possibilities.
What Are People Doing Online?
A few days ago I blogged about the new Pew "Typology of ICT Users" report. But before that was a post from David Wilcox on how far people engage online. Some interesting stuff on the degree to which people participate in web-based activities. I particularly like the "Ladder of Disclosure."
On Reinventing Yourself and Taking Risks
I thought this TechCrunch article on how HotorNot is ripping apart their business model and taking a huge risk was really interesting. I couldn't help but wonder if nonprofits would consider doing something similar. Yes, they have the capital to take a huge risk, something nonprofits generally can't count on. But it's the mindset I find really intriguing. Without risk there is no reward. I have to believe that there's a lesson in all of that for us.
OK--enough link love for today. Time for me to pack and get out of here.
Part of learning and growing, I think, is getting comfortable with being a beginner. Realistically, as quickly as things change anymore, we're always a beginner at something. As soon as we think we've mastered one thing, there will be five more skills we need to learn just to keep up. If we aren't able to accept this, we'll be in big trouble.
I've been thinking about this a lot today. First I read Tom Haskin's post on how to be professionally stagnant. This line, in particular spoke to me:
"Concerted efforts must be made to maintain your own pride, confidence and comfort zone."
Yes, focusing on pride, confidence and our comfort zones leaves us unable to learn new things.
Then I saw Christy Tucker's post on blogging and perfectionism. She says:
Learning more is one of my main goals for blogging, and I don't think I can do that as effectively if I try to wait until my ideas are perfect before I post. This isn't really the forum for my most polished ideas; it should be a place for me to reflect as I'm going along, in whatever stage those thoughts are. Heck, if Will Richardson can admit that he was stuck, I figure I'm entitled to not always know quite what I want to write.
Something I struggle with, wanting to be polished in my presentation. But at what cost?
Finally, I came across a series of videos by Ira Glass of This American Life. In this one, he starts out talking about how to find great stories. But then he ends up talking about the need to fail and to abandon the inevitable "crap" that's produced in your search for something really good.
And then in this one, his excellent advice for beginners--recognize that in the beginning, there will be a huge gap between your expectations for the quality of your work and your actual ability to do it. Some people give up too soon. You have to stick with it to get past that point on your way to being really good.
So all of this floating in my brain got me thinking that for me to be a good learner, I need to be a better beginner. What would that look like, though?
- Being willing to BE a beginner is crucial.
- I need to examine my own mental models and how I approach situations and experiences.
- Related to this, I need to develop "beginner's mind." This quote says it all:"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi
- Accept the gap between where I want to be and my current skill level and keep working past that point, rather than giving up.
- Create a large volume of work (practice, practice, practice) so that I keep creating new opportunities to make mistakes and weed out the crap. Artists know that you have to produce a lot of bad work in order to get past it to the good stuff.
- Get good at failing. Ira Glass says in the first video that if you're not failing, then you're not creating enough opportunities to get lucky and hit the jackpot on quality. This has been true in my life--back to the idea of producing bad work to get to the good.
- Be willing to fail publicly. This is the hardest one for me. I prefer to fail quietly, behind the scenes, not in front of an audience. But you don't get feedback when you always fail alone, so sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk where people can see you.
- Be willing to look foolish. Children are seldom afraid to learn new things until we teach them that they should be afraid of looking "stupid." We don't mean to, but it happens. We transmit our adult embarrassment to them and it goes from there. I have to be willing to seem incompetent.
What are other ways to be a good beginner?
Via Neville Hobson, highlights from a new report from the Pew Charitable Trust, "A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users":
- 8% of Americans are deep users of the participatory Web and mobile applications
- Another 23% are heavy, pragmatic tech adopters – they use gadgets to keep up with social networks or be productive at work.
- 10% rely on mobile devices for voice, texting, or entertainment
- 10% use information gadgets, but find it a hassle
- 49% of Americans only occasionally use modern gadgetry and many others bristle at electronic connectivity
The report lays out 10 major groups of users divided into "elite" users, "middle of the road" users and those with "few technology assets":
A couple of interesting studies re: email use and our responses to it, via Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog.
The Impact of Capitalization and Emoticons on Perceptions of Email
Apparently, depending on your personality type, proper use of capitalization and the use of the smiley emoticon can make you seem more likable. According to one study cited by Dean (Byron and Baldridge, 2007):
They found that, sure enough, using correct capitalisation and emoticons tended to make a better impression on readers. The reader's personality also influenced how emoticons and capitalisation were perceived. Readers high in both extroversion and emotional stability were likely to rate sender's emails as more likeable if they had correct capitalisation. As for emoticons, readers higher in emotional stability were likely to rate sender's emails more likeable if they used emoticons.
The opposite was also true. This meant that for the introverted and emotionally unstable, correct capitalisation tended not to affect the sender's likeability, perhaps even lowering it. Similarly, emoticons had little effect on the emotionally unstable.
Communicating Persuasively--Email or Face-to-Face?
Another study indicates that email tends to work better in persuading men than it does women:
Persuasion research has uncovered fascinating effects: that men seem more responsive to email because it bypasses their competitive tendencies (Guadagno & Cialdini, 2002). Women, however, may respond better in face-to-face encounters because they are more 'relationship-minded'. But is this finding just a gender stereotype?
While this appears to be related to gender, there may be more value in looking at the nature of the relationship, says Dean. If you have a competitive relationship with a person, then you might be better off using email to make your case. If your relationship is more cooperative, then face-to-face may be the better way to communicate.
Robin Good has another great article today on Educating the Net Generation. Ironic, given my previous post on the digital divide.
I completely agree that many in this new generation of kids are a different breed, with different approaches to learning and that schools need to learn to adapt their teaching protocols accordingly. But I also think that characterizing all learners as being this net savvy obscures the very real divide between the students who "have" and are becoming fluent in the digital world and those American students who do not come to school knowing how to use all of these great tools.
The article does a fabulous job of summarizing the key issues, challenges and changes necessary to foster independence in learning, something I think is sorely needed in our educational system. At the same time, we need to be careful to realize that while all kids need to learn these new kinds of skills, not all kids will come to school with the same foundational experiences upon which this kind of education can build. I also think to argue that this generation as a whole is more "education-oriented" is again, to miss the point. Yes, the students whose parents put pressure on them to get into elite colleges are feeling the crunch. But this doesn't represent all students, not by a long-shot.
Still, some good stuff here--just need to remember the students who don't fall into these categories.
UPDATE--Sometimes I'm too fast on my posting button--This article was written by Kassandra Barnes, Raymond Marateo and S. Pixy Ferris and originally appeared in Innovate. It was reprinted on Robin Good's site. So technically the title of this post is wrong, but it's already out there and too late to change it. Must give credit where it's due and apologies for being too quick on the trigger.
A common complaint I hear from supervisors is that they haven't been "taught" to manage. The assumption, here, is that if the organization hasn't sent you to a training, how could you possibly be expected to know how to be a good manager? My personal feeling? That's a cop-out, especially in the age of so many free online tools and resources. So here are a few you can use to embark on your own personal learning journey toward better managerial skills.
Note--I'm going heavy on the podcasts here because I think that for a lot of people, they offer the most flexibility to access. You can listen to them online, burn them onto a CD for the commute to and from work, or download them to your mp3 player to listen to while you're jogging or traveling. Cuts down on the "I don't have TIME to learn something new" excuse.
Manager Tools Podcasts
This is a great selection of free audio recordings that cover a wide range of managerial skills, including writing more effectively, hiring, time management, running meetings, performance reviews, etc.
The Cranky Middle Manager
Another collection of podcasts. Says the companion blog: "Host Wayne Turmel vents, offers humorous commentary and talks to the smartest people in the field about management techniques, career strategies and just keeping it together day after day. If you ever feel stuck between the idiots that make the decisions and the morons who won't do as they're told, this is the show for you." Be sure to listen to the show on Personal Branding.
Carter McNamara's Free Nonprofit Management Library
Carter has been surfing the web and organizing nonprofit management resources since the mid-1990's. He's developed a great collection of articles, tools and resources organized into easy-to-use categories.
Open Culture's Business Podcasts
I've found some really interesting podcast resources through Open Culture, which now has a position of prominence in my Netvibes. The business category is fairly broad, but there's so much good stuff there, it's worth the browsing. Be sure to check out the Digital MBA with links to podcasts at some of America's top business schools. They're doing some really great stuff that you can access for free.
OK, so these should be more than enough to get you started. Let me know if you've run across any other manager training resources that you've found helpful.
BONUS FOR NETVIBES USERS--If I managed to persuade you that Netvibes is a great personal learning portal and tool, then you'll be happy to know that I created a Nonprofit Management Netvibes tab for you to add to your personal Netvibes. It includes some bonus items on career and professional development that you may find useful. Just click on the Netvibes link below and you'll be able to preview and then add to your Netvibes page. If I get additional links, I'll add them to the page. Also, I'm interested in feedback from people to see if this was useful.