Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
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.
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.
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)
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:
- Get the book (this is the edition I will be reading).
- Tell me a little bit about yourself.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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 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 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”):
- Whoever comes is the right people
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
- Whenever it starts is the right time
- 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!
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 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:
- Conversations (the “best learning technology ever invented” according to Jay Cross) and networks
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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.
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.
- Berevaar – Terry Pratchett (Goodreads/Amazon)
- The Diamond Age. Neal Stephenson – Neal Stephenson (Goodreads/Amazon)
- De kaart en het gebied – Michel Houellebecq (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Heldere hemel – Tom Lanoye (Goodreads/Amazon)
- Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga, #1) – Orson Scott Card (Goodreads/Amazon)
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)
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:
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?
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:
- To what extent does my own background block me from understanding the behaviour of this student?
- Are my own values greatly different from those of the student?
- To what extent have I made an effort to understand how things look from this student’s point of view?
- To what extent am I rewarding or penalizing the student for his acceptance or rejection of my interests?
- 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!
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:
- 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!
- All information should be free.
- 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.”)
- Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
- You can create art and beauty on a computer.
- 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!
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.
A little while back I used my company‘s global learning community of practice to ask its members who their learning gurus were. It was an interesting exercise because it gave me some insight into which people and ideas have influenced the current learning practice in the company. I was expecting names like Stephen Downes, George Siemens or Jay Cross to come up, instead we had an interesting discussion about the word “guru” and people mentioned names like Robert F. Mager (famous for the question: could they do it if their life depended on it?), Betty Collis and Peter Senge.
One of the books that was mentioned in the discussion was Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training by the Robinson couple. This 1995 book (hello CD-ROMS!) seems to be a bit of a classic in the field. The blurb on the cover says: “The world is changing and HRD must change with it. Every HRD and training professional who wants to have a job past the year 2000 should read this book.” Reading the book it struck me how many of its lessons were still not in regular practice in many businesses today (i.e. the blurb was wrong!).
The book tries to explain how the traditional role of the trainer (focus on what people need to learn) can be progressed to the role of a performance consultant (focusing on what people need to do to perform well). A trainer (and the learning function as a whole) describes and solves training needs. A performance consultant looks at business, performance, training and work environment needs. The idea is to have the learning department be part of the business conversation. By breaking out of the conspiracy of convenience (see barrier 3 in this Charles Jennings post) learning professionals would be able to create a “Performance Relationship Map” to really impact business results:
Using this map you can see that what the operational results should be, drive what the on-the-job performance should be. These can then be compared to how they currently are and internal and external causes (the environmental factors) can be identified. This very simple model is probably in the tool kit of any organizational effectiveness consultant, but is still not something many people in the learning space would explicitly use.
The book then describes how to get the information to fill in this map. What I really liked is how they decided to use the people who excel at their work, the best performers, to find out what performance should be like and define the benchmark to measure the current performance against. This is a simple trick that learning designers could start doing right now: don’t go and find the Subject Matter Experts to ask them what people should know about a particular topic, instead ask people who are great performers what it is they actually do and ask their managers why they are such great performers. That is a much better starting point for designing a learning intervention.
The majority of the book is devoted to building the performance relationship map. What really surprised me that once you have identified the gaps, the proposed solutions for closing the gap are still so traditional. Even though the authors quote Geary Rummler saying “Pit a good employee against a bad system and the system will win most every time” and even though they come up with the equation Learning Experience x Work Environment = Performance Results, they fall way short in their solutions for closing the performance gap and don’t actually look at changing the system.
They don’t talk about new models for training and learning. How the work environment could be changed receives half a page in the book (find it at the bottom half of page 269). It is a bit odd that you would spend a whole book explaining how to do a needs analysis and then write in chapter 11 (of 13): “If all we did was obtain data, Performance Consultants would be of limited value. The ultimate test of a consulting project is how the information is actually used to make desirable changes.” This means they have left the most interesting questions open. Could I maybe get your recommendation for literature that would give me more information about the next step: how to close a performance gap? I would prefer books that have taken the rise of educational technology and the Internet truly on board.
Bonus: One nice reference that I came across in the book was to The Consultant’s Calling by Geoffrey M. Bellman. The Robinsons quoted the following passage (in the context of defining what a contract might mean):
I attempt to create a contracting process with my clients that is alive and adaptable, not one that is fixed in ink. I encourage trust between client and consultant. I see anything that smacks of mistrust – as defensive legal contracts can do – as damaging to the partnership I want to establish. I favor written communication that records what we decided so we don’t forget our responsibilities. I keep files tracking the work the client and I are doing together, but I balk at anything written that suggest we need to protect ourselves from each other.
BTW, this was post number 100 on this blog! I seem to have finally found some persistence…