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The Books I Read in 2013

Just like last year I decided to publish an overview of the books that I’ve read during the year.

Covers of the books I read

Covers of the books I read

This year I managed to read 48 books (I am really missing my daily commute, don’t believe the 47 in the picture above) which I’ve put in the following categories:

Philosophy

Mcluhan’s Understanding Media is the single most important book on technology that I’ve ever read. His probes are all-encompassing and still very relevant 50 years after their first publication. Taleb gave me a new way of looking at the world and a set of tools for thinking that is richer than Dennett’s attempt at doing the same. Carse’s classic is well worth reading and I would love to read more Žižek in 2014.

  • Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man — Marshall McLuhan (link)
  • Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder — Nassim Nicholas Taleb (link)
  • Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking — Daniel C. Dennett (link)
  • Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility — James P. Carse (link)
  • Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium — Paul Levinson (link)
  • First as Tragedy, Then as Farce — Slavoj Žižek (link)
  • Het socratisch gesprek — Jos Delnoij (link)
  • McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed — W. Terrence Gordon (link)
  • The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust — Robert David Steele (link)

Digital Rights

I expect this category to grow in 2014 with more books about privacy, freedom of expression and the Internet. Solove delivers good arguments on why privacy is important and Edwards (inadvertently) showed me how scary it is to work for Google.

  • Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security — Daniel J. Solove (link)
  • I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 — Douglas Edwards (link)

Learning

My focus will move away from learning, but I still managed to read some fascinating books on the topic in 2013. Harrison left me itching to try his method for running meetings with large and diverse groups. Illich clearly showed the institutionalizing effects of schooling (confusing being taught with learning and confusing certification with competence). Gatto made me loathe to put children in schools (read Dumbing Us Down, the Underground History is less cogent).

  • Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide — Harrison Owen (link)
  • Deschooling Society — Ivan Illich (link)
  • Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)
  • De canon van het onderwijs — Emma Los (link)
  • The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)

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The book club read nine books in 2013. By far the most thought- and discussion-provoking was Morozov battling “internet-centrism”, “epochalism” and “solutionism”. Eggers enlarged current Google and Facebook practices to show us the grotesque direction we are moving in. Zamyatin wrote a Russian version of “1984” (way before Orwell) subverting the concept of freedom. Silver was a great read and Lanier gave me the useful concept of “Siren Servers”.

  • To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism — Evgeny Morozov (link)
  • Makers: The New Industrial Revolution — Chris Anderson (link)
  • The Circle — Dave Eggers (link)
  • Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet — Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jérémie Zimmermann (link)
  • The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t — Nate Silver (link)
  • Bleeding Edge — Thomas Pynchon (link)
  • We — Yevgeny Zamyatin (link)
  • Who Owns the Future? — Jaron Lanier (link)
  • The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production — Peter Marsh (link)

Fiction

For some reason I had yet to read Kafka’s The Trial. It didn’t disappoint. Shteyngart made me laugh the hardest (with Thomése coming in a close second) with his near-future dystopian novel on our hypercommercialized digital future.

  • The Trial — Franz Kafka (link)
  • Super Sad True Love Story — Gary Shteyngart (link)
  • Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
  • De laatkomer — Dimitri Verhulst (link)
  • 2BR02B — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia — Mohsin Hamid (link)
  • Homeland (Little Brother, #2) — Cory Doctorow (link)
  • Het bamischandaal — P.F. Thomése (link)
  • Gelukkige Slaven — Tom Lanoye (link)

Other

There were some real gems in this miscellaneous category. Feddes has set the standard for books on cities. Because of Hillis I finally understand how computers work. My friend Dorien Zandbergen‘s PhD thesis gave some wonderful insights into hacker culture in the bay area. Van Casteren’s book made me think of my early teenage years living in a young neighbourhood in a forensic town just above Amsterdam.

  • 1000 jaar Amsterdam — Fred Feddes (link)
  • Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping — Mike Clelland (link)
  • The Pattern on the Stone (Science Masters) — W. Daniel Hillis (link)
  • Japan’s Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese — Boyé Lafayette de Mente (link)
  • The Incredible Secret Money Machine — Don Lancaster (link)
  • New Edge, Technology and Spirituality in the San Francisco Bay Area — Dorien Zandbergen (link)
  • Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design — Jane Fulton Suri (link)
  • The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time — Jenny M. Jones (link)
  • Lelystad — Joris van Casteren (link)
  • Treat Your Own Neck 5th Ed (803-5) — Robin McKenzie (link)
  • The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm — Tom Kelley (link)
  • Een halve hond heel denken: Een boek over kijken — Joke van Leeuwen (link)
  • How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum — Keri Smith (link)
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers — Richard Nelson Bolles (link)

Written by Hans de Zwart

31-12-2013 at 17:36

Out-Innovating the Competition

 

Best Practices are Stupid

Best Practices are Stupid

Stephen Shapiro from 27-4 Innovation was plugging his latest book Best Practices Are Stupid – 40 ways to Out-Innovate the Competition at an event I attended today. His focus is on how to speed up or accelerate the rate of innovation.

He started with an exercise where he pretended to measure how fast our brains were. He did this by shouting out different numbers in a very quick fashion. We had to capture those numbers. He would then give us assignments in the middle of it. Like “Write down the name of a genius.” Because we were under such time pressure we had remarkable little differentiation in our answers  to these challenges.

Shapiro says that this is because “Expertise is the enemy of innovation”. The more you know about something, the more difficult it is to come up with new and interesting perspectives on it. When we find a solution we tend to stop looking.

He then gave us a little mathematical puzzle that showed that the way you phrase a question has a profound impact on how you work towards a solution. One of his favorite quotes is from Einstein:

If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem.. and one minute finding solutions.

Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has far more eloquently stated descriptions of Shapiro’s examples of the biases in our thinking.

According to Shapiro asking better questions is at the heart of doing better innovation. You have to frame the question in a way that makes sense. He calls this the Goldilocks principle: the challenge needs to be defined exactly right, meaning not too abstract/broad, but also not too detailed. Or another way of phrasing it:

Ask the right question…
the right way…
to the right people.

This means that you have to move away from generic idea generation tools towards challenge based innovation. The added advantage of that is that you might avoid a common pitfal of crowd-sourcing, something Stephen names “mob-sourcing”.

A quick way to catalyse your thinking is to find someone who has already solved a similar problem. When members of a team are cut from the same cloth… you don’t see many failures, but you don’t see many extraordinary innovations either. Innovation is not invention: it is taking something that already exists from a different domain and adapting it.

Written by Hans de Zwart

22-04-2013 at 13:59

Reading McLuhan’s Understanding Media: Join Me! (#umrg)

Technology is never neutral. It is not just a tool. We know that technology has affordances and makes certain things harder and other things easier. As Benkler says “Technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice.”

One of the most fundamental thinkers on what media does to us was the “oracle from Toronto” Marshall McLuhan. He was a prominent figure in the sixties who was well known for his ability to speak in insightful but opaque “McLuhanisms”. Who hasn’t heard of “the medium is the message” or his predictions for “a global village”?

Let me whet your appetite with a few short video clips to give you a better idea of how he spoke and thought:

He defines technology as the extending our human body. This clip is from 1965:

Here he describes what he means with the medium is the message through talking about cars as a technology. The following clip is from 1974:

The talk about products becoming services feels pretty recent. McLuhan already talked about this in 1966 in this clip (and predicting how we would access information using networked computers):

If you want to see more, then check out all the videos uploaded by YouTube user McLuhanSpeaks.

Understanding Media

Very few people nowadays have read his original works. His magnum opus is the Understanding Media (1964). Reviewers of the book at that time wrote things like:

Every so often, the semi-intellectual communities at the fringes of the arts, the universities and the communications industries are hit by a new book, which becomes a fad or a parlor game. This summer’s possible candidate, with what may be just the right combination of intelligence, arrogance and pseudo science, is Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. (Time Magazine, 1964)

or

This is an infuriating book. It offers a number of brilliant insights but mixes them in with some extravagantly turgid incoherencies. Adopting a tone of Machiavellian candor and acquiescence, Dr. McLuhan loftily records the death of the “literally-logical” spirit in Western Man. This results, he says, from the impact of contemporary mass communications such as television and the jet plane. We are passing out of the age of rationalistic individualism and into an era of “tribal” togetherness and oral culture. [..] It was about time somebody took stock of the new social and intellectual situation caused by our advances in the techniques of mass education and mass hoax. McLuhan throws light on this situation by deliberately adopting a new “mosaic approach” which he assumes is called for by the novelty of the futuristic inferno we inhabit. But he seemingly cannot resist going over the deep end with his generalizations on such varied social phenomena as the motor car, baseball and Body Odor. His deep-end plunges, conveniently, happen to suit his over-all theoretical purpose, as in his terming B.O. “The unique signature and declaration of human individuality.” What he reads into the statements he attributes to varied authorities [..] is enough to make one’s old-fashioned “logical” flesh creep while his account of nationalism as, purely and simply, “an unforeseen consequence of typography” is grotesquely inadequate. (C.J. Fox for The Commonweal)

My favourite review comes from Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. who wrote in Book Week in 1967:

What then is McLuhanism? It is a chaotic combination of bland assertion, astute guesswork, fake analogy, dazzling insight, hopeless nonsense, shockmanship, showmanship, wisecracks, and oracular mystification, all mingling cockinly and indiscriminately in an endless and random dialogue. It also in my judgment, contains a deeply serious argument. After close study one comes away with the feeling that here is an intelligent man who, for reasons of his own, prefers to masquerade as a charlatan.

What would McLuhan say about the Internet/World Wide Web?

Next to getting a better understanding of his work, it is my purpose to think about what McLuhan would have said about the Internet and the World Wide Web. How can we apply McLuhan’s vocabulary (e.g. hot and cool medium, de- and retribalization, reversal, the electric age) to our current predicament? How can his thoughts inform us about the situation we are in? I am very curious to find out.

Reading and discussing in a weekly rhythm

I want to start a virtual reading group. We will read Understanding Media in 10 weeks (from March 18th till May 27th, less than 50 pages a week). Every week will have the same rhythm:

  • We read a specific part of the book for that week
  • Two people will create a summary (a piece of text, slides, a video, whatever works for them) for that part and will ask a set of questions about the text (every Friday)
  • We have a virtual event (using Blackboard Collaborate) to discuss the questions (every Monday)

That is the minimum. Next to that I intend to organize things like a best quote of the week voting competition, screenings of McLuhan inspired films (in Amsterdam most likely), a set of resources (other primary literature on the topic, and secondary literature) and a set of guest lectures (also to be done on Mondays).

The kick off meeting will be on Monday, March 18th. You can always find the latest full planning here.

You can join too!

I would like to have as many people as possible join me on this reading journey. Joining is a simple four step process:

  1. Get the book (this is the edition I will be reading).
  2. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
  3. Book a week in which you will be responsible for delivering a summary of what we have read. You can check the planning to see which topic we will read when and make a choice. Be quick there are only 2 slots per week available.
  4. Follow the blog (fill in your email address at the top right widget on the page) to get all the updates about the reading group in your email inbox. You can also follow the Twitter account.

There will be a central space for this group: understandingmedia.net and I hope we can generate a big set of resources, thoughts and reflections aggregated through using the #umrg hash tag on places like Twitter, Delicious and Diigo.

Are you interested, but do you think you might be too busy? Register anyway! You are only committing to writing one summary, everything else can be skipped if you want or need to.

P.S. Most people wouldn’t think of starting a group like this without using Facebook. I don’t like Facebook so won’t use it. Others are of course free to do anything with this reading group on Facebook, I just won’t be joining you there.

Written by Hans de Zwart

04-03-2013 at 11:38

Posted in Books

Tagged with , , ,

A Day of Conversations at Learning Technologies 2013

This is now my fourth year in a row that I manage to do a quick visit to the Learning Technologies exhibition in London. Like last year I decided to try and speak to as many luminaries as possible and ask them what they were planning to do in the coming year.

Steve Dineen

Steve is founder and CEO of Fusion Universal which is going strong as it has just signed the term sheets with an external investor. Steve is on of these people who do what I like to call “push the world”: through a certain shamelessness (bright bright bright pink stand at the entrance of the exhibit) you can push a little bit further than others. So on the volume for the videos being played at the stand: “The right volume is when we get told off.”

Steve is one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met and he has a product to sell (read the next paragraph with that in mind). Our conversations was around his excitement that their video-based social platform Fuse (“amplifying the brilliance of the trainer and making it last longer”) now has the final missing pieces and is putting everything together. If you look at the 70:20:10 model then according to Steve Fuse is leading in the 70%, has been doing well on the 20% and now with personal learning plans in place can even perform the 10%. There is a seamless integration of these three types of elements rather than the traditional Learning Management Systems that often have very clunky features bolted on. This makes it much easier to focus on business outcomes rather than on learning outcomes (and gets rid of the association of learning with compliance training and compliance systems).

Another big development will be the mobile app (for Android, Blackberry and iOS) which will allow for offline playing of the videos, capturing of video/audio directly into the platform and notifications of new videos into the app. Steve mentioned a course where all the participants had to create their own video about what they had learned. They noticed that each of these videos was watched an average of ten times (i.e. people were watching what their peers had done). So not only did the creation of their own videos helped internalize the materials, there was also repetition of those same facts through watching the videos of others.

Ben Betts

Ben is the CEO of HT2 and creator of Curatr. At the same time he is pursuing his PhD and has three more months before he has to hand in his thesis. He has just done some research investigating whether gamifying an environments affects the quality of the contributions (so, would gamifying the system make people game the system?). The paper will be out soon.

The big thing for him in 2013 will be the release of Curatr version 3 which will be Tin Can enabled and will integrate Mozilla’s Open Badges. I consider this quite forward thinking, but also a risky bet. Neither of these technologies have proven themselves yet. Ben and I had a short discussion about the Learning Record Store (LRS) component of Tin Can. Ben is convinced that people should own their own learning records and he is curious to see how this will be provisioned going forward. I am convinced of the value of tracking what you have (and in the usefulness of triplets as a format). I’ve written up all my activities in 2012 in the form of categorized triplets and was pleasantly surprised by how useful it is to get feedback about what you have done. I am not sure though that people will be willing to invest any time in “writing up” what they have learned or are now capable of. An “activity stream” of your professional life will only work if it is close to fully automated.

Lawrence O’Connor

Lawrence still has the audacious goal of being what he calls a “wisdom architect”. He is toying around with the classic trio of quality, speed and cost (“pick two”) and thinks that if you would add wisdom (applied knowledge with experience and empathy) to the mix you could reframe those constraints.

We had a quick talk about open space technology which has four principles and the Law of Two Feet (“if at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing – use your two feet and move to some place more to your liking”):

  1. Whoever comes is the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time
  4. When it’s over it’s over

Open space is a truly self-organizing way of running things that allegedly always works as it has a lot more honesty and the people who are engaged are really engaged.

As an “imagineer” for Udutu (“ahead of the pack with a free (as in beer) agile collaborative online authoring environment”) he used open space to host a session titled “Life and Death: Please help me bring theatre into this corporate training project.” and found a way to bring context and story into the e-learning platform. Initially he was very much focused on the pedagogy first and the story second, but he soon realised that he should start with the story and then bring in the pedagogy, a more common-sensical approach.

Lawrence also shared his favourite learning experience that he ever designed: he taught salespeople of NetG networking hardware how the TCP/IP protocol works through dressing them up as IP packets and routers and letting walk over to eachother and communicate within the constraints of the protocol. Wonderful!

Barry Sampson

Barry is one of the founders and director of Onlignment and a fellow lifehacker.

Two years back he told me about the wonders of Markdown and this year he has convinced me to find a Linux version of TextExpander functionality (suggestions are welcome). Next we discussed productivity like the Pomodoro Technique (works wonders for me, he will try it again) and the importance of not being distracted. Barry has disabled all notifications for all his apps and is also trying to make sure he doesn’t have to make too many choices to be productive.

He is convinced that the learning industry thrives on what people want to sell, rather than on what organizations want or need. Something like responsive webdesign for example which starts with the mobile experience and then upscales gracefully towards a tablet and desktop is being appropriated by the industry and implemented the wrong way round (starting with a desktop experience that is too rich which loses things when it is displayed on mobile.

The big project for Onlignment this year will be to “fix the conversations between training departments and their business stakeholders”. I think this is a perennial problem (not solvable as long as you have a training/learning department), so I like the ambition!

Charles Jennings

70:20:10 Forum

70:20:10 Forum

Charles Jennings has done a lot of work popularizing the 70:20:10 framework. This has now culminated in him starting the 702010forum.com. He has written an extenside whitepaper on the “what” of the framework (“70:20:10 Framework Explained”, soon to come out) and will soon deliver a whole series of papers on the “how”.

We started off by talking about the origins of the framework. He says it is most likely came from some work by Morgan McCall (then at the Center for Creative Leadership) who had been working on experiential learning for years. He got together with Michael Lombardo and Bob Eichinger and did a small survey where they asked high performing managers where they had learned or developed their capability. In 1996 they published the results where the managers said they got 70% from having tough experiences on the job, 20% from other people and 10% from formal learning or reading (another way to say it is 70% experience, 20% exposure and 10% education). In 2001 Charles started working with Reuters to create their learning strategy and he built it on the back of the 70:20:10 framework.

He sees a key role for the manager to enable this 70%. He quoted some research that says that people who are being developed effectively (by their managers) outperform their peers by 25%. That is like adding more than a day of productivity per week. This can only work if you make learning a continuous process. 70:20:10 helps to create this culture of continuous learning. This is where I diverge a little from his thinking: I see less and less relevance for the manager and think people should and will develop themselves, rather than be developed.

Charles sees four learning drivers:

  • Experience
  • Practice
  • Conversations (the “best learning technology ever invented” according to Jay Cross) and networks
  • Reflection.

I usually just say there are two drives for learning: doing things and reflection. I would like Charles to focus a bit more on how more direct feedback can help the reflection process.

All of this should change the focus of workplace learning. According to Charles we will make a shift from “Adding Learning to Work” (with learning metrics) towards “Extracting Learning from Work” (with business metrics).

Annie Buttin Faraut

Annie does HR Information Magement innovation at Philip Morris International, making her effectively my professional twin (especially since Philip Morris has made many of the same HR design decisions as my employer).

We talked mostly about her experience with Coursera where she did a very good course on gamification. It consisted of eight demanding weeks of watching videos, doing assignments and peer reviewing other people’s assignments. The peer reviewing was often interesting as you could see what other people had done with the assignment. I guess I will have to pick a course from their catalog to see for myself (even though their privacy policy is a bit scary: “We use the Personally Identifiable Information that we collect from you when you participate in an Online Course through the Site for processing purposes, including but not limited to tracking attendance, progress and completion of an Online Course. We may also share your Personally Identifiable Information and your performance in a given Online Course with the instructor or instructors who taught the course, with teaching assistants or other individuals designated by the instructor or instructors to assist with the creation, modification or operation of the course, and with the university or universities with which they are affiliated.”).

Just like me, Annie is trying to get the people in her team to become “Innov-Actors”, emphasizing that to be innovative requires you to do something. I will likely collaborate with Annie on a set of activities (inspired by the Innovator’s DNA that will help people increase their innovative behaviour.

Bert De Coutere

Bert is a solution architect at the Centre for Creative Leadership and writes one of my favourite blogs. He has a few personal plans this year: he will make “an app”, he will continue his investigation into the quantified self movements, will look into personal network analytics (“where do I fit inside the network and what does this mean for my leadership development”) and will look into the work of people like BJ Fogg (Tiny Habits) who work on behavioural change.

He is very excited that he will pilot a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) this year on leadership. He is still full of questions about how to approach it. Do MOOCs work with softs skills and can they actually lead to behavioural change? How do you deal with confidentiality (important when it comes to leadership)?

Other short conversations

I ran into Laura Overton who told me about Towards Maturity‘s Learner’s Survey which will be launched. David Wilson and David Perring from Elearnity told me about their experiments with a new format for their presentation (minimal slide-based content and then conversations on the basis of questions on Twitter) and I shared with them my new “Socratic” approach to teaching classes. With Alex Watson I talked about the mindset of middle management and (off-topic for the conference) about How to be Black.

Books

I love to get book recommendations from people that I know. I asked everybody whether they had read a good book recently. Both Steve and Bert mentioned Insanely Simple and both Ben and Bert mentioned Dan Pink’s latest book To Sell is Human. Steve made The Lean Startup required reading for the staff in his company (this is a reverse recommendation: I remember telling him about the book). Charles mentioned Bounce a very interesting book written by champion table tennis player. Bert is looking forward to reading Yes! about the science of persuasion. Annie liked this book for “beginners” Content Rules and thought Socialnomics was good. Lawrence, finally, managed to get me to commit to reading Image, Music, Text by Barthes before I revisit London in June.

The Books I Read in 2012

Inspired by Tony Haile I have decided to write a yearly post in which I list the books that I have read for the year. This year I managed to read 57 books (still 18 books short on my seemingly unattainable goal of reading 75 books a year. Please note that the categories are quite arbitrary, but mean something for me. Having a Goodreads account really helped me with this exercise.

Some people ask me how I manage to read this much. I’ll give away my secret recipe: don’t have children, do not watch any TV (or use Facebook) and make sure you commute by train (45+ minutes in each direction) every day. That is all there is to it.

Covers of the books I read

Covers of the books I read

Innovation

Doorley’s book showed me how simple changes in the physical space can change people’s behavior and Dyer showed how being innovative is just a set of behaviour. I will put those two together in the next year. Checklist have stopped me forgetting things after reading Gawande’s book.

  • Make Space: How To Set The Stage For Creative Collaboration – Scott Doorley (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators – Jeff Dyer (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Sustainism Is The New Modernism – Michiel Schwarz (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think – Peter H. Diamandis (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right – Atul Gawande (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley – Victor W. Hwang (Goodreads/Amazon)

Philosophy

French has showed me that corporations are the best positioned lifeforms to show sustained moral behaviour. Illich was truly enlightening, I expect to read more of him in 2013 (Deschooling Society!). I will continue to explore McLuhan’s thinking with a reading group on Understanding Media. Sandel’s book on the moral limits of market is chockfull of incredible examples of things that can be gotten with money nowadays (e.g. prison cell upgrades). The three weirdest books I’ve read this year are also in this category: Stone, Burrell and Goertzel, all thanks to Daniel Erasmus. The book which made me think the most per page must have been Eagleman’s.

  • Corporate Ethics – Peter A. French (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Tools For Conviviality – Ivan Illich (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Medium Is the Massage : An Inventory of Effects – Marshall McLuhan (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age – Sandy Stone (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Pandemonium: Towards a Retro-Organization Theory – Gibson Burrell (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A Cosmist Manifesto – Ben Goertzel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • In Praise Of Love – Alain Badiou (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives – David Eagleman (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • You Kant Make It Up!: Strange Ideas from History’s Great Philosophers – Gary Hayden (Goodreads/Amazon)

Technology

The anthology edited by Zerzan was probably my favourite book of the year and I was amazed to see how relevant the Cluetrain Manifesto is, 12 years after it has been written.

  • Questioning Technology: A Critical Anthology – John Zerzan (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual – Rick Levine (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency – Micah Sifry (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software – Scott Rosenberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything – C. Gordon Bell (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom – Rebecca MacKinnon (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other – Sherry Turkle (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age – Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Goodreads/Amazon)

Learning

Postman’s book was full of provocative thinking. It made me wonder why we don’t seem to have this kind of insight into education nowadays (and are being put up with Ken Robinson).

  • Teaching As a Subversive Activity – Neil Postman (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning – Sugata Mitra (Goodreads/Amazon)

Business/Management

I will use Osterwalder’s canvas in an upcoming workshop on business models for learning. Rodgers defies management orthodoxy by showing how we need (mostly informal) conversation to do sensemaking in this complex world.

  • Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers – Alexander Osterwalder (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public – Lynn Stout (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Informal Coalitions: Mastering the Hidden Dynamics of Organizational Change – Chris Rodgers (Goodreads/Amazon)

Lifehacking/Self-Improvement

Berkun’s book on speaking is probably the most useful on the topic that I’ve come across. Zinsser is a well deserved classic. The Pomodoro technique has increased my productivity tremendously and has given me an idea of being in control of the work that I do.

  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction – William Knowlton Zinsser (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: Can You Focus – Really Focus – for 25 Minutes? – Staffan Noteberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Pomodoro Technique – Francesco Cirillo (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Verslaafd aan liefde – Jan Geurtz (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun (Goodreads/Amazon)

B00kc7ub 4 N3rd5

Together with four other nerds I started a book club where we will read technology related books. Holiday’s book was irritating as hell but did lead to a great discusion. Expect ten books or so in this category next year.

  • Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator – Ryan Holiday (Goodreads/Amazon)

Fiction

I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year. Thompson was long overdue (and didn’t disappoint). Stephenson was a bit disappointing (although also mindblowing at times). I thought Scott Card was morally despicable.

Other

Some great books don’t fit in the above categories. DeKoven wrote down how I intuitively taught physical education a few years back. I had a wonderful few days with MacGregor. The picture in MacArthur’s book are the opposite of Doorley’s book in the innovation category. Laties made me want to quit my job and start a book store.

  • The Well-Played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness – Bernie DeKoven (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects – Neil MacGregor (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Soccer War – Ryszard Kapuściński (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Richard Ross: Architecture of Authority – John F. MacArthur (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A General Theory of Love – Thomas Lewis (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want To Fight For From Free Speech To Buying Local To Building Communities – Andrew Laties (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A Life with Books – Julian Barnes (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Bezeten: Ton Boot, de winnaar & het laatste seizoen – Igor Wijnker (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • the Science of Love and Betrayal – Robin Dunbar (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • How to Be Black – Baratunde R. Thurston (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory? – Paolo Soleri (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Radical Evolution – Joel Garreau (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media – Mizuko Ito (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs: (She Thinks I’m A Piano Player In A Whorehouse) – Paul Carter (Goodreads/Amazon)

Written by Hans de Zwart

22-01-2013 at 22:42

A History of the World in 100 Objects

The Book

The Book

Last week I spent three days at the British Museum in London exploring their History of the World in 100 Objects collection. I had bought the book earlier and showed up on a Monday morning with the intention of going to see each object in the book (preferably in order) and reading the chapter about that object while sitting next to the object. By Wednesday noon I was done with a mindblowing experience behind me.

The collection consists of 100 carefully selected objects, divided into 20 chronological periods. Each period has a theme and contains five geographically dispersed objects. Through this device the collections informs us on wide range of historical topics. We see how we moved from hunter/gatherer societies towards agricultural societies and even towards the information society. We get insight into the migratory patterns of humans from our roots in the African continent to our presence in the Americas (made possible by the last ice age). We are shown the birth of the major religions (and their surprising tolerance for each other at many times). We see the proof of trade patterns between different continents through the use of certain rare materials in objects. We see one of the first pieces of art (a non-functional object) that we’ve found:

Swimming Reindeer

Swimming Reindeer

and the first known depictions of a couple making love. We get an understanding of how people like the Romans, the Aztecs, the Incas and many others lived. We are forced to adjust our thinking about what happened in Africa before the colonisation. We see techniques like pottery or glassblowing develop. We get an idea about the development of activities related to leisure like smoking or sports. We can track how money developed and gained importance. And much more.

What makes it so powerful is how the objects connect us to our shared humanity and to the people who interacted with the object. Most of these objects also have very personal stories to tell, sometimes about their users, occasionally about how they got to the museum. I was incredibly moved by the universal story of a refugee leaving all that they own which obviously happened to the wealthy owners of the Hoxne treasure and I cried thinking about how the Akan African drum was used on a slave ship and then on a plantation in Virginia and how it had traveled to Britain where they first thought it was a native American drum.

In short: those 100 objects and the book are fabulous.

You had better be quick if you want to experience these objects in the same way as I did: 16 of the 100 objects weren’t on show when I was there. Some of them are too brittle to be on display, some were on loan and others were being conserved (a 17th object was replaced by a replica). A few objects are already in a different spot than on the map and others don’t have the signage that is specific to the collection anymore. I hope the British Museum will continue to put an effort into keeping it whole, but it currently doesn’t look like it.

I have one regret: looking back I should probably have listened to the full podcast feed rather than reading the 550 pages of the book. This would have taken a bit longer, but would have allowed me to take a much better look at the objects. Maybe I’ll do that next year.

Spending a lot of time in the museum I couldn’t help but encountering all the other things that are absolutely brilliant about this museum with free entrance: the awe-inspiring white marbled and domed courtyard, all the school children doing their assignments, the free 30-40 minute “eye-opener” tours of the different galleries, the people taking painting lessons or drawing the museum pieces, the “Hands On” tables where you are allowed to touch pieces from the museum with the guidance of an expert, the large groups of Chinese tourist looking at their heritage in the Chinese galleries, the incredible selection of books in their bookstore and the friendly staff. This is probably the best museum in the world. I think that, because of its collection, you can also say that the museum belongs to the whole world.

One final note: I’ve recently read Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy, The Moral Limits of Markets in which he writes about how market thinking is invading all kinds of spheres where it wasn’t before and where it doesn’t really belong (see my review of the book here). One example that Sandel uses is how many things now get commercial names, things like sport arenas. Some of the galleries in the British Museum are also sponsored in this way. This is troubling. They seem to be on a slippery slope (yes, I know I am using a well known fallacious rhetorical device here): Sainsbury has very little to with Africa, Mitsubishi sponsoring the Japanese galleries is already one step further, but with Citi sponsoring a gallery on money I am starting to feel uncomfortable about the influence of sponsorship on the content of the museum. I’d rather pay an entrance fee and be sure I get true editorial independence. Am I being naive here and have museums always had to appease their benefactors?

Corporate Sponsorship

Corporate Sponsorship

Written by Hans de Zwart

12-10-2012 at 14:54

Posted in Books

Tagged with ,

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – A Short Review

Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Anything with “subversive” in the title has my attention, especially if it relates to teaching.

Even though this book is more than 40 years old (1969) Postman and Weingartner are making an argument that is very similar to the argument that is being made today around the bankruptcy of an educational system that is based on the needs of an industrial society. They write that for the first time in history change has become so fast that we can’t assume that what made sense to us, makes sense to our children. This means that the focus of education should shift towards helping children learn how to learn (“leren leren” as we would say in Dutch). Teachers (and thus teacher education) are the starting points to initiate this change.

Their suggested way to do this is by the “Inquiry Method”: asking questions of students and allowing students to formulate their own questions. Very similar to what others might call the Socratic method. The inquiry method is grounded in the realisation that we always perceive the world with our own meaning making machinery. People will only change if they can give meaning to what they learn in some way. The students own thinking is the only starting point for learning.

Reading this book has made me reflect hard on my own teaching practices. I dare say that it will fundamentally change the way I will address any future classrooms. I will have to start by asking myself the following questions:

What am I going to have my students do today?
What’s it good for?
How do I know?

There are many things to quote from the book, but let me just focus on a statement from the end of the book:

Learning to suspend judgment can be most liberating. You might find that it makes you a better learner (meaning maker) too.

If you then think about this statement in the context of judging (i.e. grading) students you should ask yourself the following set of questions:

  1. To what extent does my own background block me from understanding the behaviour of this student?
  2. Are my own values greatly different from those of the student?
  3. To what extent have I made an effort to understand how things look from this student’s point of view?
  4. To what extent am I rewarding or penalizing the student for his acceptance or rejection of my interests?
  5. To what extent am I rewarding a student for merely saying what I want to hear, whether or not he believes or understands what he is saying?

I used to do this as a teacher and found the results quite disturbing. As the authors write:

A grade is as much a product of the teacher’s characteristics, ability, and behaviour as of the student’s.

How many teacher’s realize this?

The book is well summarized in it’s last paragraph (although it is very dense and requires reading the book to get its full meaning):

The new education, in sum, is new because it consists of having students use the concepts most appropriate to the world in which we must live. All of these concepts constitute the dynamics of the questing-questioning, meaning-making process that can be called “learning how to learn.” This comprises a posture of stability from which to deal fruitfully with change. The purpose is to help all students develop built-in shockproof crap detectors as basic equipment in their survival kits.

You have to love “crap detection” as the ultimate skill for our times!

Written by Hans de Zwart

05-06-2012 at 10:00

Speed Dating at the 2012 Learning Technologies

On Wednesday, January 25th I attended the Learning Technologies exhibit at Olympia in London. I used agreeadate to schedule as many meetings with corporate learning luminaries as possible. Next to catching up, I decided to ask each of them the following four questions:

  1. What will be the most exciting (professional) thing you are planning to do in 2012?
  2. Which corporate learning trend will “break through” this year?
  3. Which company (other than your own) is doing interesting things in the learning space?
  4. What was the best book you have read in 2011?

So here goes, in the same order as during the day:

Steve Dineen

Steve is the Chief Executive at Fusion Universal. We mainly talked about Fuse their video-centric social platform. In the next few weeks they will swap out the current video player and will replace it with one that makes it easier to display subtitles and transcripts, will do bandwidth detection and will allow for much better reporting on how the video has been viewed. They will also roll out adaptive testing with adaptive learning journeys. See here for example:

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The implementation of pull learning, seeing learning as a journey rather than a process and then the provision of the environment to let personal learning happen (as a platform and an environment). Another exciting thing is the Virtual School, they should be going live with a full secondary school curriculum by September.
  2. People will start to understand that not all learning needs to be centered around a course. This is a big paradigm shift for which we are now seeing the pioneers emerging.
  3. Fusion is not necessarily taking inspiration from the learning technology community. Instead, they are taking inspiration from YouTube. It is incredible to see what they have done to their platform. On design matters they take inspiration from Apple.
  4. The four books he enjoyed in the last few months were The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and Presentation Zen, Good to Great and The Innovators Dilemma.

Barry Sampson

Barry is one of the three partners in Onlignment, a learning consultancy with broad capability. He is also responsible for changing my life by properly introducing me to Markdown, the greatest thing since sliced bread for people who have to do a lot of writing of any kind. They have put a lot of effort into truly blending their own offerings. Rather than just teach a course on learning design for a few days they now design a journey towards independence. For one client they do a workshop first and then one-on-one coaching sessions (virtual and face to face). The end result will include e-learning content created by the participants themselves and guided by Onlignment.

Onlignment's Circles

Onlignment's Circles

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. Making the circles live. The circles make it very clear what Onlignment is offering and from now on we will only do work on things that fit with these circles.
  2. What we will see is a lot of mobile learning done badly (“everyone will screw up mobile this year”). Everybody will deliver e-learning content on mobile technology. It is usually crap on a PC and will be worse on mobile. He has also seen more Moodle vendors than ever before at this exhibit, so Moodle seems to be breaking through too.
  3. Two companies that are doing interesting things are Aardpress and Coloni. The former has a Software as a Service (SaaS) version of Moodle and the latter has a great licencing model: you pay on the basis of the space you take on their servers (their roots are a website development company) and they are very actively engaged with their clients.
  4. The only book that Barry has read in the last year is a book about becoming a dad.

Lawrence O’Connor

Lawrence was the only person who was excused from my four questions. Instead we had a discussion around topics like mindmapping, authenticity, tools for conviviality (and the speed of transportation), theatre and doing what you love. We spotted Jaron Lanier who has written the thought provoking You are Not a Gadget, but were too late to invite him over to join our lunch.

Amir Elion

Amir works for Kineo Israel an e-learning development company and has written 100 Presentation Ideas which is now also available as an iPhone app. I have had many virtual meetings with Amir over the last two years (he participated in the Learning in 3D reading group for example, but this was the first time we got together in real life.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The first thing that he is looking forward to is to try and see if mobile learning can be made into something real. It has a lot of potential and is a new way of supporting performance. There are still many questions around it that need to be answered. There is a lot of technical work to do, but more importantly the learning models and the performance support models will need to be rebuild. Kineo is doing pilots with a few clients. The second thing he is excited about is advancing blending learning through using a learning typology. He has started drawing a table explaining which type of solutions solve particular challenges.
  2. He hopes the break-through trend will be the open source Learning Management System (LMS) and would prefer that to be Totara. In Israel that is very likely to happen. Many companies there do not have an easy way to track learning now and the fear for open source has subsided. Companies now actually see the advantages of open source: flexibility, lower costs and supplier independence (“there is always another Totara partner”).
  3. The companies that are creating the development tools are really moving forward quickly. Articulate Storyline is exciting in how it really supports non-linear learning and now can also work in Hebrew and other right-to-left language. The latest version of Adobe Captivate is also good. These companies really work with the e-learning development companies to incorporate e-learning best practices into their tools. Other than that it is mostly individuals that he learns from. Donald Clark, Cathy Moore with her Action Mapping, Cammy Bean (from Kineo US) or David Kelley.
  4. The book he liked was Drive. The concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose can directly be applied in corporate learning.

Kineo has a tradition of producing very useful promotional booklets. They gave me a copy of the very sensible Designing Mobile Learning (available on the Free Thinking area of their website) . It has ten tips on designing mobile learning:

  1. Always ask “Why make this mobile?”
  2. Use those off the shelf information and communication apps NOW
  3. Bring the informal into the blend
  4. Make sure it’s more than e-learning on a tablet
  5. Make it tactile
  6. You’re in their personal space; you’d better make it worth their while
  7. Make the limited space count
  8. Consider developing templates for efficient design
  9. Extend the impact of your media assets
  10. Find the right place to use mobile learning in your new-look blends

and 10 examples of where mlearning can make a difference:

  1. Make it easy to review the latest news and information
  2. Scan it, learn about it
  3. Just-in-time guides
  4. Performance support and checklists
  5. You know where I am, help me!
  6. Refresher learning
  7. Push reminders
  8. ‘Mobile company uses mobile learning’ shocker… Use the medium they use
  9. The LMS on the go
  10. Talk to me, interactively

David Perring

David is director of research the UK-based and EMEA focused educational technology analysts Elearnity. Elearnity has been working hard at writing vendor perspectives. The summaries will be available for free and the in-depth reports are available for a fee.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The most interesting and exciting thing for him is always working with clients who have interesting challenges. It is fascinating to work for people who have different perspectives but also bring intelligence into the process. For him it is the “freshness of working with 10 organizations rather than with one”.
  2. He is not sure that there will be any more break throughs in the next year. Certain organizations might have find some “inspirational moments”, a lightbulb going on. Maybe some sales forces will start using mobile technology for its real potential, rather than having people use mobile technology in the classroom. He thinks the economic pressures will mean that there might be a lot more technology assisted learning and less face to face training in the years ahead.
  3. He doesn’t believe you will find companies doing interesting things, you will always find people doing interesting things. It is very difficult to find people in organizations who are willing to share the interesting things they are doing: the catalysts for change, the mavens who help organisations reach tipping points.
  4. The book he really enjoyed reading last year was Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler, My Part in his Downfall. Milligan is a comic genius.

We also discussed how great it would be to create more pencasts, using the Livescribe to sketch out and explain concepts. This is something that is still on my list to try out properly.

Rob Hubbard

Rob runs his own company LearningAge Solutions and is the chair of the E-learning Network (ELN). The ELN was present at Learning Technologies and was campaigning hard for effective elearning through “The Campaign for Effective Elearning” (also see: #c4ee on Twitter. He is very worried that people will start to think that all e-learning is cheap and crap. This would be bad for the industry (I see this kind of reaction in my company already). The ELN will therefore start highlighting things that really make a difference. Rob will be a busy man in 2012 because there is a publishing deal with Wiley Pfeiffer for a book from the ELN and with LearningAge he has created a piece of web based technology that implements the concept of “goal-based learning”, which is all about solving the transfer problem and putting learning into practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He hopes that he will be able to do a very big project which uses games and simulations to train thousands of people up to a certain skill level. Another exciting thing is his Rapid E-Learning Design course (I met Rob as a pilot participant of this truly excellent course) which he will be offering for free for the first time this year. Why free? Because it is a great way to meet new people.
  2. Something that really seems to be gathering pace is the concept of gamification. People are starting to take it more seriously and the market is picking up on that, there even was one stand that advertised with “gamify your learning”. He likes how it aligns with the way our brain works: we have always learned through experimenting and getting awards for behaviour that works.
  3. HT2 is doing interesting stuff, but in general he would consider science fiction to be more inspiring than what other companies are doing. One thing he showed me as an inspiration was an an interactive storybook on the iPad titled The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore made by Moonbot studios. It is incredible interactive and it teaches children how to play a song on the piano or how to write with the letters in a cereal bowl.
  4. He is really enjoying The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson which at some level is basically a book about e-learning and performance support.

Laura Overton

Laura is the Managing Director of Towards Maturity an organization that helps companies get the most out of their learning technology. She was incredibly busy at the conference trying to connect “upstairs” (where the conference is) to “downstairs” (where the salespeople are exhibiting) through organising exchanges between speakers at the conference and attendees at the exhibit.

Her answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. One of the things Towards Maturity is looking at in 2012 is how to use all the data they have for practical change and to stimulate thinking. They will start doing some sector views. Next week they are launching a series of in-focus reports on particular issues that they know are holding the industry back. One of them is the cycle of indifference to change. One research report will be focused on business leaders asking them to demand more and be less satisfied. She hopes this will stimulate some new dialog between business and learning. She would not consider herself a technologist, instead she wants people to act: it does not matter what technology they use as long as they get better results.
  2. A lot of people expect social learning to break through. She doesn’t think that will happen this year, especially the use of external social media (i.e. Facebook) will not work. Mobile learning is really on the verge of break through. User-generated content and an openness to that is an interesting thing too. They have seen quite a bit of growth in that.
  3. She naturally has something good to say about all the Towards Maturity ambassadors. She likes the e-learning vendors that are really looking at the business issue. They come up with business solutions rather than with elearning modules. Things like natural assessment, storytelling, experiential learning. Concepts rather than the technology.
  4. She thought Nudge, a book about influencing and persuasion, was great.

Ben Betts

Ben has his own company H2T and inhabits the edge between academic research and innovative education technology practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He is the most excited about Mozilla’s Open Badges project. He hopes it can help bridge the gap between Open Educational Resources and traditional formal accreditation. Anybody or any organisation can become a badge prodider (it will be one of my goals to start handing out Hans de Zwart-related badges before the end of the year), so he could already see something similar happening as in LinkedIn, “I recommend you and you recommend me”. I could see how you might get a meta-badge ecosystem with accreditors accrediting accreditors (Where would the buck stop? At Stephen Downes?). In 2012 he will also finish his doctorate thesis which is currently titled “Improving Participation in Collaborative Learning Environments” (I hope he doesn’t follow Dougiamas’ footsteps on this one).
  2. There was one word that he thought would be the word to watch for 2012. Unfortunately he could recollect it and then had to go for “Curation” (which he think is probably last year’s word).
  3. He quite likes what Epic is doing with Gomo, although they still have some way to go. Another great company is of couse Mozilla. He wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by Apple’s iBook announcement.
  4. The most interesting book for him was probably the biography of Steve Jobs. He is currently reading Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Also good was A Theory of Fun for Game Design which shows that having learned something is the definition of fun in a game. Another great book was Business Model Generation (I just read that too). Finally he would like to recommend Resonate by Nancy Duarte, which is basically “stuff you already know put really complicated” (mostly about telling stories), but it the best example he knows of how a book should be layed out.

Concluding

I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the exhibit, but did do a very quick walkaround and found companies I just want to highlight:

  • Toolwire is going to evolve what they call Learnscapes into gamescapes, using their normal interface and turning it into a realtime multiplayer event.
  • I have never written about Lynda on this blog before. They provide videos teaching people how to do things with software applications (think about teaching you a particular effect in Photoshop for example). You can pay per video or get a subscription. They are hugely successful. I consider them another example of a thing that “geeks” have managed to get right, without the rest of the world noticing. Why aren’t they an enlightened example in the corporate learning world? Related to this I will create a theme for myself this year: Open source communities have been the first to find solutions for certain problems (collaboration at scale for example). What can businesses learn from this?

It was a great privilege to be able to speak to these eight people in a single day (I could have talked for hours with each and everyone of them…) and it takes an event like Learning Technologies to bring these people together. I will have to find a good reason to go again next year. Maybe a speaking engagement?

Make Sure You Read This: Hackers by Steven Levy

Hackers

Hackers by Steven Levy

Wow! This is a masterful book.

Levy reports on three different eras that have shaped modern computing:

  • The group of hackers at MIT in the early sixties who were the first to use computers for anything other than computing things (the first computer game, the first chess computer, the first time that a computer is connected to a robot, etc.) and created a culture, the hacker ethic, in the process.
  • The people around the Homebrew Computer Club in California in the early seventies who were the first to create hardware at a scale that could work for hobbyists and in households
  • A group of Apple and Atari enthusiasts (fanatics?) who invented whole new genres of gaming and birthed the modern game industry in the early eighties.

Levy is an excellent writer (you have read In The Plex, haven’t you?) and through his writing I was immediately and completely awed by the brilliant playfulness of these geniuses.

The hacker ethic is something that still today has tremendous value. Levy teases out these principles from the MIT culture that he investigates:

  1. Access to computers—and anything that might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust Authority—Promote Decentralization. (From the book: “Bureaucracies, whether corporate, government, or university, are flawed sys-tems, dangerous in that they cannot accommodate the exploratory impulse of true hackers.”)
  4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
  5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  6. Computers can change your life for the better.

Paragraphs like this:

As for royalties, wasn’t software more like a gift to the world, something that was reward in itself? The idea was to make a computer more usable, to make it more exciting to users, to make computers so interesting that people would be tempted to play with them, explore them, and eventually hack on them. When you wrote a fine program you were building a community, not churning out a product.

made me understand more fully why Richard Stallman is so pained thinking about what we lost. Greenblatt is also pretty vocal:

The real problem, Greenblatt says, is that business interests have intruded on a culture that was built on the ideals of openness and creativity. In Greenblatt’s heyday, he and his friends shared code freely, devoting themselves purely to the goal of building better products. “There’s a dynamic now that says, ‘Let’s format our web page so people have to push the button a lot so that they’ll see lots of ads,‘” Greenblatt says. “Basically, the people who win are the people who manage to make things the most inconvenient for you.”

Some things haven’t changed though. Go to places like Fosdem and you realize that the following is still the case:

It is telling, though, to note the things that the hackers did not talk about. They did not spend much time discussing the social and political implications of computers in society (except maybe to mention how utterly wrong and naive the popular conception of computers was). They did not talk sports. They generally kept their own emotional and personal lives—as far as they had any—to themselves. And for a group of healthy college-age males, there was remarkably little discussion of a topic, which commonly obsesses groups of that composition: females.

There is a lot of hacker wisdom:

[..] An important corollary of hackerism states that no system or program is ever completed. You can always make it better. Systems are organic, living creations: if people stop working on them and improving them, they die.

This book was written in the mid eighties and discusses some topics that are still relevant today. Read the following paragraph and think about the current battle between Android and iOS: hackers insist

[..] that when manuals and other “secrets” are freely disseminated the creators have more fun, the challenge is greater, the industry benefits, and the users get rewarded by much better products.

We also encounter Bill Gates and Steve Jobs right at the start of their companies. I thought it very was very funny how already then they showed something of their later self: Gates was complaining publicly in 1976 how everybody was just copying his version of Altair Basic without paying for it and Jobs was already purely focused on marketing, the user experience and what the actual hardware would look like (even when you opened the Apple 2, it had to look neat and accessible).

We absolutely have to thank O’Reilly for republishing this classic!

Written by Hans de Zwart

28-08-2011 at 19:09

A Review of the “Moodle 2.0 for Business” Book

 

Moodle 2.0 for Business

Moodle 2.0 for Business

Packt is a new type of publisher. They have found a model that allows them to publish books (likely on demand) in what other publishers might call niche markets. They are usually the first publisher to have a book out about a particular open source product. They leverage the enthusiasm that exists in these communities in how they recruit writers, they stroke people’s egos by asking them to become (technical) reviewers of the books and they do most of the hard work that is necessary to create a book in countries that have lower wages than (Western) Europe and the United States. All of this means that the quality of the books is a bit hit or miss.

Another trick up their sleeves is the way they promote their books. They seem to understand the Internet well and offer bloggers review copies of books. I was offered a free copy of Moodle 2.0 for Business, Implement Moodle in your business to streamline your interview, training and internal communication processes by Jason Cole, Jeanne Cole and Gavin Henrick in return for a review. So here goes!

Most books about Moodle assume an educational setting. As I know a lot about Moodle and am starting to understanding corporate HR more and more every day, I was curious to see what I could learn from this title. The authors of the book have a very deep understanding about Moodle and have all used it for years (as they write “The authors of this book have collectively spent more than 5,000 hours experimenting, building, and messing about with Moodle”). They are active members of the Moodle community and work for a Moodle partner. In many places their hard-earned experience comes through like when they point out a fundamental flaw in Moodle richly complicated roles and permissions system on page 194. The books contains a few suggestions and warnings and I would recommend any reader to heed to them.

The books kick of by trying to to answer the “Why Moodle?” question. It nicely lists five learning ideas that form the core of Moodle’s educational philosophy (I must have mentioned them before many times, but they are worth repeating):

  • All of use are potential teachers as well as learners – in a true collaborative environment we are both
  • We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing for others to see
  • We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers
  • By understanding the context of others, we can teach in a more transformational way
  • A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within

The authors also mentioned the 2008 eLearning Guild survey about Learning Management Systems: “Moodle’s initial costs to acquire, install and customise was $16.77 per learner. The initial cost per learner for SAP was $274.36, while Saba was $79.20, and Blackboard $39.06″. Even though I think the survey is comparing apples with pears, I still think it says something: Moodle could be a way to get more functionality out of the same budget. Another good reason to choose Moodle is is that it “makes it easy to try things, figure out what works, change what doesn’t and move on”.

The meat of the book is a set of chapters which look at different parts of the HR process finished with a case study of a company or organization which has done something similar (see here for an overview of all the chapters in the book). Through these chapters a lot of the different Moodle functionalities are explained in very concrete terms. Many of the examples make quite creative use of Moodle. One of the first chapters for example deals with the hiring and recruitment process. Moodle is used to capture people’s resumes, rate the resumes, let people choose an interview slot and assess people with a simple online test. The authors have a pleasant tone and are not afraid to share their own failures to make the reader learn (like when they set up quiz questions in the wrong way, page 47).

Some of the case studies give real insight into the path that these organizations have travelled. I particular like the enlightening example from the Gulf Agency Company (GAC) corporate academy starting on page 164:

After a less than successful strategy of purchasing off-the-shelf SCORM content, GAC has now move to developing courses with a combination of internal subject specialists, HRD e-learning consultants, and facilitators. The course content is uploaded into Moodle course page with GAC-specific assignments and discussion forums added. There is a clear strategy to ensure that the learner does not simply click through a series of screens without context or interaction. Interaction and collaboration in courses is now a fundamental part of the learning process, with the courses tightly integrating content, tasks, and collaboration.

Through these chapters we get some good explanations of functionality that gets glossed over in many of the other books on Moodle. There is a good explanation of the database module, outcomes (a Moodle word for competences) are explained, the new way of setting conditions for accessing particular parts of the course and for considering a course complete get good attention and they have found some useful examples for relatively advanced role configurations. On the slightly more technical side they give sensible advice on how to install modules (page 209) and I love the fact that they explain how you create your own language for the interface (something that is usually very hard to do in other systems) on page 285.

The book ends with a few chapters that show you how you can integrate Moodle into application landscape. There are some good explanations about using webconferencing/virtual classrooms, the portfolio and repository APIs are used and they show you the first steps towards integrating authentication and enrollment.

The book has some minor areas that could be improved. It is written by three authors and seems to keep switching perspectives between the author as “we” and the author as “I”. Also, ocassionally the case studies become too much of an advertisement for a Moodle partner: “The uniqueness, and in some ways, complexity of the project meant that A&L were keen to engage with a service partner that had extensive knowledge of Moodle to enable them to bring the project to a succesful completion. Ennovation not only had the Moodle knowledge and experience that A&L were looking for, but also a proven reputation in the legal sector with their long term customer, the Law Society of Ireland.”

There are also a few things missing that I was hoping to read more about:

  • The explanation of the portfolio and repository APIs wasn’t conceptual enough. I am not just sure that the average reader will be able to generalize from the exampls and see what a gamechanger this type of technology can be when it is embedded correctly in the organization.
  • There is small battle going on in corporate Moodle land. Multiple service providers are creating their own more commercial “distributions” of Moodle with extra functionality that is relevant for enterprises: Remote Learner publishes ELIS, Moodlerooms has joule and Kineo and Catalyst have come together to create the aggresively marketed Totara LMS. The book never mentions this (I can think of good reasons why this is the case), but it is highly relevant to know more about these systems if you are considering using Moodle in your organization.
  • Related to the previous point is reporting. Moodle is not known for its strong enterprise reports and this is something that many organizations commission some functionality for. It would have been nice if reporting had gotten a similar treatment as web conferencing. Maybe we can get that in the next updated version?

All in all this is strongly recommended reading for any curious person who uses Moodle professionally in an organization, no matter the level of their expertise.

Get it here if you want to let Packt know that you’ve read the review, they use this link to monitor which blogs give them the highest amount of traffic and might ask me to review another book if this link gets clicked on often. Get it here if you don’t want to pay any shipping costs and don’t mind me getting a 5% percent commission. Get it here if you like Amazon and don’t mind me getting a neglible commission. Get it here if you don’t like be tracked, live near London, love bookstores and are willing to call first to see if they have it in stock. Seriously, Foyles is a treasure.

Written by Hans de Zwart

26-07-2011 at 06:38

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