Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

28 October 2008

Thinking Out Loud?

Clark @ 3:26 PM

Along the lines of the earlier post about social media tools, I thought it might be a ‘practice what your preach’ if I made my thinking explicit. We know that learning is facilitated when experts articulate not only their decisions, but the background rationale (ala Alan Schoenfeld, as I know it from Cognitive Apprenticeship).  To some extent I reckon I do this, amidst my tweets and blog posts.  However, I’m not sure if I show my underlying thinking enough, and I’m wondering if there is more I can do.

I try to show some of the thinking triggered by various projects I’m on, but of course on most of them I’m bound by confidentiality not to reveal the specifics, let alone the really neat new things we’re working on. I also capture some of my background principles in various papers/articles, like those available at the Quinnovation Resources page.  And I do try to capture my ongoing thinking though I wonder if I capture the contexts that generate the thoughts sufficiently.

It’s hard to be accurately self-reflective, and strike that balance between stating opinions, sharing personal reflections, and be reasonably concise.  I’d been thinking that I should, so now I reckon it’s time to ask: what would you like more of, less of, etc?  Here’s your chance to let me know what’s working, what’s not, what would make this more worthwhile for you.  Otherwise, I reckon I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing…

27 October 2008

Mobile tools

Clark @ 11:07 AM

Ok, I’ve had my iPhone a bit now, and some things are very useful, some things are cool, some are way fun, and some things are still irritating.  Note that most of the apps I download are free; I’m cheap and there are great free apps (and games).  I regularly go off to the iTunes store and check out what’s new (particularly the top free apps list).

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way quickly.  Naturally, my pet peeves haven’t changed (because they haven’t fixed them, ahem): no cut/copy/paste drives me nuts.  For example, I put an address in my calendar, and then can’t cut and paste it into Google Maps to look it up when I’m on the go.  It’s there, but I can’t just carry it across!?!  Frustrating.  Similar with notes and todos.  As I’ve mentioned, if I promise something and it doesn’t get into my phone, we never had the conversation.  However, that’s much harder to do on the iPhone, because I have to email a message to myself!  Frustrating.  Similarly with memos. There already have been times I wanted to put things into a memo to take with me (e.g. a meeting agenda), and I can’t.  Sure, I could use EverNote, but then I’d have to have connectivity, and thanks to ATT’s coverage and hotel policies on wireless, that’s not always the case.

OK, the useful: Google Maps, Yelp, and now UrbanSpoon (finally covers Walnut Creek, my corporate headquarters) are very useful when I’m out and about and need to find some location, or a restaurant, or store, or…  I use them quite a lot, actually.  UrbanSpoon’s interface method of choosing at random is fun enought that it’s almost a ‘cool’.  Weather has been useful when travelling, as is Clock (not least for timing my tea :). Also, I’m all over references. I use the Wikipanion and the Google App.  Occasionally, the various unit converters, calculators, and the like are handy.  I expect to use the translator on occasion as well.  Hey, that’s why we have digital devices, to offload those things our brain’s aren’t great at, like remembering arbitrary data, and leave us to do the strategic and pattern-matching stuff.  The camera’s handy as well.  I haven’t used the voice recorder, though I’m ready.  And a secure password storage app, SplashID. And I got a first-aid reference, a Bart schedule, even the constitution (relevant in several ways).

The fun are the games I’m playing.  I used to play a lot of Risk in college, and then Lux on the computer.  Now there’s a somewhat abbreviated version of Lux on the iPhone.  That, along with Solitaire and Mahjonng are fun.  And of course, the LightSaber app.  Great for entertaining the kids when we’ve got to wait.  I play games for research reasons, er yeah, that’s it…. Oh, and books.  I’ve read a couple including James Fenimore Cooper’s “Pathfinder”, Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Tarzan” (I read as a kid, was re-reading to see if my lad’s ready), and Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” (hadn’t ever read, amazingly). Lots of free classics available and worth reading.

Finally, the cool.  I just got Google Earth, and that’s way cool.  Just amazing to have it running in the palm of your hand!  Went over and looked at our old house in Australia; they’ve put a tree in the front yard, it appears.  Twittelator lets me tweet and keep up with others’.  I have LinkedIn and FaceBook, though I haven’t used them much.  Midomi will let me hear a song, capture 10 seconds of it, and tell me what it is. Amazing.

By the way, many of these were available on the Palm, and some version of the above may be available on Windows Mobile, RIM’s Blackberry, or forthcoming on Android.  Anyway, it’s about extending your brain, and these apps do it in various ways.  So, what are you finding useful, and what am I missing?

20 October 2008

Distractions and reflections

Clark @ 3:45 PM

The other day, I wanted to read an article on the CLO site.  I went there, but I found the article too hard to read; there were bloody animated gifs everywhere!  Really, it’s only like 5 years since we realized that animated gifs make things hard to look at, and it’s based upon perceptual psychology way older than that.

Our eyes have cones at the center that pick up color and fine detail, and rods at the edge that kick in for low-light situations.  Those rods also detect motion, and we’re wired to move our attention to things that move in the periphery of our vision (survival, naturally :).  So, if we’re focused on reading something, and an ad is moving in the periphery, we can’t read it well. And CLO spread the article across four pages with moving ads all over the place.  I gave up, which I presume isn’t their intention.  Time to get a clue; you can’t process what you can’t attend to.

That’s a low level distraction, but we see this at multiple levels.  A higher-level one that’s going on around here is the kitchen demolition. It’s made it harder to blog, as I’ve had a hard time doing deep reflection when there’re continual interruptions (worse these next few days, I’ve got the kids while my wife is away visiting her mother; don’t expect there to be a lot of posts this week).  Interestingly, it hasn’t had a similar impact on my tweeting, which is an interesting outcome.  We intuitively know that tweeting is different than blogging (hence the sobriquet: micro-blogging), but it was brought home more vividly. It’s interesting to think about the cognitive differences we find, and their utility for learning.  As I previously mentioned, social networking could support virtual mentorships, and tweeting I think is more immediately tied to a person’s current state, while blogs are more closely tied to their longer-term thinking.  Both, of course, could/should be coupled together for a really rich picture.  How many of you are finding that watching a person’s tweets and blog posts together provide a rich picture?

There’s another level, of course, at the organizational level.  Doug Engelbart, one of our true visionaries, who’s guiding principle of augmenting human intelligence has led him to contributions in many places, has talked about a three-layer system for ongoing improvement.  He posits one layer reviewing our daily action for improvements, and his unique insight is a layer above, looking to improve our improvement processes, across organizations.  The ongoing review is sort of an institutionalized reflection, and the next layer is meta-learning at an societal level.

I still argue that one of the best investments that can be made is reflection, particularly for knowledge work and any individual or organization that needs to not just survive but thrive in the growing flow of information and chaos.  Systematize it, support it, promote it, reward it, and use it.

15 October 2008

Coaching in games

Clark @ 12:32 PM

Much of intelligent tutoring system (ITS) work focuses on creating deep domain models of a particular task, creating essentially an expert system, and then coaching students as they navigate that domain.  Valerie Shute and Jeffrey Bonar did something different a number of years ago, building a tutoring model/system that tutored your exploration and experimentation strategies and layered that same model on top of exploratory environments for optics, electric circuits, and economics.

I always thought you could do the same in a game environment.  That is, if you had a game framework that you built games in, with structured representations such as definable maps and actions that could be taken, you could similarly coach learning/research skills instead of the domain.  It’s about looking at how people explore and trial things.  I even tried to get funding to build it, but sadly wasn’t successful for whatever reason (probably several reasons).  We did build a coaching engine into Quest that followed the principles, checking your search, not your domain knowledge (as well as monitoring your levels to give hints), so I knew the approach was viable.

Yesterday, I saw that they were putting ads into video games, and was reminded that we now have the game environments (e.g. Unreal engine) with generic structure to not only to take live feeds into games, but sufficiently generic that a coaching engine could be added.  It’s doable.  It’s far more interesting than putting ads in games!  Who’s, ahem, game?

13 October 2008

Planning and panic

Clark @ 2:15 PM

All morning, a crew has been systematically demolishing our kitchen (one learning: it’s hard to concentrate with regular sounds of destruction in close proximity).  This is as planned.  We’ve wanted a new kitchen since we had experience with the one that came with the house.  It was on our ‘todo’ list (heck, it was on my wife’s *can’t wait* list), but hadn’t risen to the top until the old refrigerator died.  The space in the cabinets for the old fridge wouldn’t fit any new model, so we were forced into kitchen renovation.  We got a new fridge standing elsewhere in the kitchen, and started planning the project.  By we, I mean my better half. She took this on with zeal, because she’s really wanted it.

One of the first things was finding a kitchen designer.  Now, when we were looking to buy our first house, we talked to lots of realtors.  They’d *listen*, and then show us something completely unlike what we had set as constraints.  It was aggravating!  When we moved back to the US and were looking for a new home, we were connected with a realtor who did listen, and were extremely grateful.  A match is everything. So she was thrilled when she found a designer who listened, looked, asked questions, and asked her/us to consider tradeoffs.  I’m learning that the match between customer and contractor is as important as the match between contractor and task.  Which applies to me and my business as well.

She did a lot of leg work (thankfully), but involved me in crucial decisions.   We’re both researchers, the type who subscribe to and read Consumer Reports, with complementary strengths in concept and detail.  She got the industrial-strength range she wanted by testing with paper cut-outs of her pans to find the smallest that would accommodate her cooking. I like to cook too, but not as elaborately (I’m a fan of ethnic one-pot meals, e.g. jambalaya), and would’ve been happier with less, but her work convinced me.  (I’m reminded of when Don Norman mocked up his new kitchen in cardboard and practiced workflow before settling on a design.)  I managed to secure a reddish wood stain and a dark green countertop, and a light tile that will complement both.  We spent quite a bit of time playing with dishwashers, range hoods, as well as ranges.

The planning is paying off, but there are always more details.  Last night we worked late (we worked all day, and she worked harder than me) clearing out our stuff from the kitchen, as it was more work than we’d expected.  We also were getting things organized for six weeks of eating microwaved meals on disposable tableware. It’s just too hard to figure out how to do dishes in bathroom sinks, bathtub, and toilet.  At least I got paper and not foam. There’s more, as we’re losing two rooms of the house (not only the kitchen, but another to accommodate appliances/cabinets as they wait for installation), so it’s relocating things (putting up new shelves, for instance), moving computers around, etc.  It doesn’t help that we’re both pack rats (every home needs one thrower-outer) and the house doesn’t have enough storage space.  My office is quite, er, cosy right now!

Still, we weren’t quite prepared for the interruption in our lives. It’s only day one, so this first heavy demolition is promised to pass, but there’ve been some adapation on both parts.  They’ve found out that my wife’s a wee bit protective of the front yard landscaping she’s spent weeks on installing, and shouldn’t leave torn out windows on plants, while I’ve discovered that you can put zippers on plastic sheeting!

It’ll be a learning experience for the whole family (the kids left this morning for school before things really got going), and will require some adaptation and flexibility.  We’re looking forward to cooking our first Thanksgiving (US, happy holidays to my Canadian compatriots!) in our new kitchen (fingers crossed).  However, it’s also fascinating, and hopefully we won’t come up with too many surprises (tho’ some are also expected).  It’s a catalyst for lots of changes (new sofa, entry way lighting will be precipitated as well).  I’ll try not to bore you with any but the important learnings, but it will be occupying a bit of my mindspace for the next six weeks or so.  With planning, flexibility, and teamwork, we expect to get through this.  Fingers crossed!

9 October 2008

‘Novel’ learning about reading

Clark @ 8:16 AM

I like to read.  These days, I confess I seldom find time to read a full non-fiction book, but try to find the ‘readers digest’ condensed version on the web.  Time/money.  But I do still read novels, as enjoyment.  However, I’m reading differently than I used to.

As a Father’s Day present, my family took me to a used book store to load up on fun novels. I picked up a couple from recommended series of books, and two of them really were a revelation.  One was written in a very ‘street’ language, and very elliptical, and I had to work hard to understand (it also sort of presumed previous experience with the series). The other was a recent book from a familiar series, but was in the first person present, and also was hard work to read, requiring cognitive ‘leaps’ to make sense.  The revelation was that both books kept me to the end, not that I’d choose to have those experiences again.  It taught me a lot about how far we might be able to stretch our audience to stay engaged.  That is, if we’ve set up a compelling story line, or have other ways of ensuring motivation.

Another lesson comes from another series, where the protagonist’s reflections on society are revelatory to me.  It’s fiction, but the description of what the character sees resonates with what I see my partners doing in successful conversations with clients, and I’m always looking to learn to be better at what I do.

From the game design point of view, these are important reasons to read different genres of books (ok, so I’m lax on reading bodice rippers, I have to have some limits), but my learning here is that reading different author’s styles (and their stylistic explorations) give you two things: an exposure to the breadth of what will work, and some insight into how other people can parse the world.

So, as I tell my workshop attendees: “you have a tough assignment ahead of you, you’ve got to spend more time exploring the breadth and depth of entertainment to add to the repertoire of solutions you can bring”.  And there’s something to be said about a hot tub, a cold beer, and a good book…

8 October 2008

Cyberlearning (ahem)

Clark @ 4:14 PM

A high-powered panel assembled by the NSF has reported on The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge.  With people like Christine Borgman (Chair), Ken Koedinger, Marcia Linn, and Roy Pea (to name just the ones I’ve met), you’d expect some pretty clear thinking.  (So where did they get the term ‘cyberlearning’?  Yuck!)

Defining cyberlearning as “the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning”, they’re obviously onto the right stuff.  I couldn’t agree more about the potential for these technologies to transform learning.  As I’ve mentioned before, the technology is no longer the barrier, it’s now our imagination and conviction.  And now that we can do anything we want, when we go back and look at most formal learning, we realize it’s based on an outdated model.

Without having read the full report, let alone reporting on it here, I did have some thoughts on their top-level recommendations, that I thought I’d recite:

1. Help build a vibrant cyberlearning field by promoting cross-disciplinary communites of cyberlearning researchers and practitioners

Regardless of label, working at this in an interdisciplinary way is absolutely the way to go.  The conceptual foundations for the categories/silos are crumbling, so too should the barriers.  I realize this is the NSF, but I hope that they’d also reach out to the Dept of Ed, corporations, NFPs, etc.  Maybe even independent consultants?  :)

2. Instill a “platform perspective” – shared interoperable designs of hardware, software, and services – into NSF’s cyberlearning activities

This is insightful.  Using their resources to facilitate, whether through grants or even requirements for projects, interoperability and (the other meaning of) web 2.0 ‘software as a service’ approach could pay off in a big way.  Society has a vested interest in an open playing field.

3. Emphasize the transformative power of information and communications technology for learning, from K to grey

I love the phrase “K to grey”; far better than ‘cradle to grave’, ‘womb to tomb’, or anything else I’ve heard.  And I like the emphasis on going beyond formal and institutional learning.  Make those skills part of the infrastructure!  I presume they mean those terms inclusively, that is it could start before K, (in some small ways only, not bashing kids onto computers, but allowing digital tech to be part of the environment), and continue after you’re grey (or I’m in big trouble!).

And it’s more.  They talk about interaction with visualizations and data, etc, but I want to also talk about bridging formal and informal, moving to an apprenticeship model with greater ways for people to interact around topics, and create communities.  They emphasize teachers, but I want to suggest that, increasingly, we’re all teachers, as well as learners.

4. Adopt programs and policies to promote open educational resources

This, to me, is really a revisitation of the ‘platform’ proposal as well.  Open API’s, open source, and open education.  We all stand to benefit, I reckon.  They’re talking about materials generated with NSF funds, but even materials used as part of NSF projects should err on the side of open materials.

5. Take responsibility for sustaining NSF-sponsored cyberlearning innovations

This last one seems like a ‘given’, but it’s really about saying that the output of NSF projects should have maintenance and extension beyond the project finish.  I like this; for NSF SBIR grants (I reviewed them a couple of times) you’re supposed to have a business plan; even pure research grants could have ‘put into action’ components in the proposal.

There are lots more specific recommendations, good ones, in the report.  It’s a bit biased towards formal education, but still is visionary.  This is a useful time to push initiatives like this, and I hope the report leads to the interdisciplinary efforts called for.

While I realize we’ve more pressing immediate concerns that might govern our near-term ‘man on the moon’ project, I still think a full K12 curriculum online would be a really cool project.  The only limits are now ‘between our ears’ as my friend Carl used to say.  If we can do anything, what will we do?

7 October 2008

To politic or not to politic, that is the question

Clark @ 12:38 PM

I got turned on to Common Craft‘s videos a while ago, and they’re excellent.  I follow Lee LeFever on Twitter, and he tweeted about the question of addressing politics in his blog, and there’s quite an interesting response.

I’d wondered if I should discuss politics in my blog.  I’ve decided for the same reasons Lee cited that I wouldn’t, though some issues that do touch my work or I think could get more widely known may get mentioned (health care, electoral reform, etc).  Fortunately, Lee’s resounding feedback was that he was right (at least in comments, he said his emailed feedback was different), so I’ll stick to my policy.

Twitter tends to lure me into more personal exposure, I note (since it’s easier to toss off a twitter comment, it can be more spontaneous and coming from emotion as well as cognition.  Some of my colleagues are quite open on Twitter, and while I’ve tried to keep it mostly balanced, who knows?

I of course talk to my colleagues in person (likewise with you too), but the blog is a place for my professional learning reflections.  I may occasionally stray when I think it’s common sense (though of course common sense is noteworthy by how uncommon it is).

So, I’ll keep Learnlets professional, and save my personal comments for when we’re talking in person.  Fair enough?

3 October 2008

First eLearning?

Clark @ 8:36 AM

This month’s Big Question from the Learning Circuit’s blog is, basically, where do you begin?  Of course, that begs the question: what do you already know? Design, ID, a tool, ?

However, it appears that the question sort of assumes a preexisting master’s in ID/IT.  Which, if it’s done well, includes several different tools, lots of ID, a whiff of interface design, some experience prototyping different types of interactions (sync, games, etc), and one major project with project planning, prototyping, testing, and production.  Which, of course, is a dream.

Regardless, I’d recommend Clive Shepherd’s 30 60 minute Master’s (NB: you have to open an account), my own 7 Step Program (PDF) on the reading side.  Then I’d recommend taking a topic and storyboarding, testing, refining, prototyping, testing, and refining.  All before you actually start building.  I don’t really care how you prototype: it can be PPT, raw html, whatever.  Or a rapid elearning tool, but don’t put hands to a development tool ’til it’s mapped out on paper (you don’t want to prematurely converge on what the tool makes easy until you’ve figured out the best design).

For production, there are lots of tools out there. Apparently Udutu is free to author in, and there are lots of tools out there, SmartBuilder, Lectora, etc.  Whatever your org already has it’s mitts on.  Of course, if you’ve gone more creative in your design, you might need to actually work in, say, Flash.

But get the design right first; as I say, “if you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it, but if you don’t get the design right, it doesn’t matter how you implement it!”

2 October 2008

Reflections on Twitter and social networking

Clark @ 8:52 AM

I’ve been using Twitter for a number of weeks now, and that, combined with several recent social networking activities prompted this reflection.  There’s lots more for me to learn, of course, but there are powerful reasons to blog about it along the way as well.

I’ve talked before about the reasons to blog, including it causing you to think about a lot of things, which can then be useful when they come up, and in general that you need to be using the tools to understand them.  I find blogging personally beneficial to cause me to take time to reflect, and that’s one of the best investments you can make in effectiveness.

Twitter is a different story; described as micro-blogging, it’s more immediate, more a pointer.  Many of the people to track are sharing their interesting discoveries.  Sometimes it’s just personal things, which gives them richer dimension.  However, much like the Facebook opportunity, it’s a way to follow people who could be serving as mentors (even if they don’t know it!).  It’s also a way to track what’s hot and new.

I’m still exploring other uses of Facebook.  My tweets now appear there, and some people respond there rather than through Twitter.  That’s cool, as it provides more ways for interaction.  I like seeing what people are up to, as well.  Haven’t quite got my notifications right, however, as I miss some things.  I keep getting invited to things, though when I do see them, I’m not sure I’m on board with all of them.

I really appreciated Tony Karrer’s pointer on how to use LinkedIn, by the way. I’ve seen it mostly as a job hunt tool (consequently, more for others than myself, e.g. to support people I know who are on a job search), but he’s leveraging it as an expertise tool.

And Ning’s quite interesting  too.  They built one for the Summer Seminar Series, and it’s had some life. The Work Literacy one on Learning 2.0 that’s going on right now is great value if you want to have support in getting up to speed.  Elliot Masie’s LearningTown is ongoing I guess, haven’t been back in a while.  There are some others I’m signed on to as well: serious games, internettime.  However, they’re beginning to turn into one big Ning mass that I have trouble differentiating.  It’s just having to remember to go to all these different places.  I suspect I need to spend more time getting the notifications right.

So, lots of tools, lots of opportunities, still more to learn.  What am I missing?

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