Mobile devices are not the enemy of learning

Towards the back of his book Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning, published in 2005, author Marc Prensky discusses the potential for using cell phones as a tool for learning in schools. I read the book back in the fall of 2006, and though I agreed with much of what he wrote in the book, I just did not see the potential for cell phones that he did. A huge failure of imagination on my part.

In my Google Reader feeds recently was an item shared by Harold Jarche (@hjarche), an interview with Royan Lee – “a teacher who’s not afraid of technology” – entitled Class, turn on your cellphones.

Interviewer Jesse Brown introduces the topic with the following:

One of the only places where it is still totally unacceptable to instantly learn about anything with a mobile device is in school.

Like so many things that bring about drastic change, the biggest concern that most parents and teachers (and administrators and school board members) have regarding mobile devices in the classroom is a fear of the unknown. They don’t understand it, so it must be bad, it is something to be afraid of and avoided.

If you are a parent or a teacher  (or administrator or school board member) who thinks that mobile devices have no place in school, then you really need to listen to this interview. It may not change your mind, but at least you’ll have a better understanding of what it is you are preventing.

Mr. Lee also takes on what he sees as a huge myth that needs to be overcome, that because students use this stuff so much they actually know how to use it. (See my post Social savvy, yes – tech savvy, not so much for some more thoughts on that.) Starting at 10:25 –

One big myth that we have is that because students are using Facebook on their own that somehow savvy already in terms of using these devices and their digital literacy…. It never ceases to amaze me how untrue this is. It’s almost frightening, especially the older kids who’ve been using it for a while. In many cases they’ve built up some really bad habits in terms of online behavior and posting behavior.

Life is not a game (or is it?)

Games, especially video games, have always been a big part of my life, both when I was young and now with my family. We all know that games are an important part of growing up, and despite the bad rap that video games get they can be a very positive experience, too.

Over the past few years, I’ve also been contemplating the role games, including video games, influence our life and work. In my “to blog” list, I have a draft, started about 3 years ago, called “Welcome to the World of KnowledgeCraft”.

A couple of days ago, Hacking Work posted this TED Talk from Jane McGonical in which she tells us that if we want to solve the world’s big problems — hunger, war, environmental devastation and more — we need to be gaming more.

Time to dust off that draft and add my own thoughts.

Social savvy, yes – tech savvy, not so much

It is easy to look at ‘the younger generation’ and think, “Wow, these kids really know computers and networking.” I used to think along the same lines. I mean, how could they use such cool tools and not want to know how they work, not take the time to figure out what makes them tick.

But when you talk to these kids, you quickly realize that most of them don’t have a clue about how it all works. I had this epiphany a few years ago when I was talking to a couple of teenagers about some piece of tech, probably video game tech, and realized that if something went wrong they would be out of luck.

Disc drive not working? No sound? Internet connection is down? Bummer, dude.

Bruce Schneier puts it very well in a recent discussion about privacy and the individual (which I found thanks to @jmcgee at McGee’s Musings):

The younger generation is very fluent about how to use the internet, but completely clueless about how it works technically. Socially very savvy, technically very unsavvy.

Of course, this isn’t really anything new and I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Just looking back to my own teen years gives me all the insight I really need. Back then the main way to communicate was the telephone. I can count on one hand the other kids my age that knew – or cared – how the telephones worked; you should have seen the looks on their face when I tried to engage them in discussions about DTMF replacing pulse-dialing.

The reason the iPhone is so popular, and services like Facebook, Twitter, etc have so many users is because you don’t really have to understand how they work in order to use them. And that was fine when all you had was the telephone. But, as Schneier points out, today’s online social exchanges are different. All of our interactions on these digital services create an incredible amount of data; data about us, about our interests, and about our connections.

Understanding how the systems that own – and yes, they do own – this data about you work is critical. And not just for the kids, either.

Explaining Twitter

There are many ways to use Twitter, and at least as many ways to (try to) explain Twitter to people who haven’t yet given it a try. The one I’m most often faced with is from an “average Joe / Jane” that isn’t interested in knowing what someone is having for lunch or that they are changing a really nasty diaper. This is what I’ve come up with for them:

Twitter is a way to meet people. That’s it. What you do with it beyond that is entirely up to you.

Of course, this simple answer rarely convinces anyone, so I continue with something like this.

Think about the last time you went to a party, or out to a club. Chances are you went with a friend, or a group of friends, and didn’t know everyone there. But by the end of the night, you knew more people than before and maybe even made a connection on a personal or professional level with someone. Twitter is exactly the same, only different.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will get to see the conversations I’m involved in, and you can join in whenever you want. If you decide that the other person in the conversation is interesting enough to talk to without me around, you can follow them. You will then see who they talk to and what they talk about, and I guarantee that you will find someone that shares your deep interest in something.

The more conversations you get involved in, and the more you follow, the more you will see the different ways that you can use Twitter for whatever you want to use it for.

This is pretty much how my own use of Twitter has evolved. There are a gazillion ways to use it, and there are some uses that hold no interest for me. (I also don’t care to hear about that nasty diaper on Twitter – that’s what Facebook is for.) But I’ve found ways to use it that work for me, so can you.

You just have to start.

It’s not about easy; thoughts on a world without e-mail

I’ve been following Luis Suarez’ (@elsua) thoughts on a world without e-mail for quite a while now. His arguments have always made sense, and yet I’ve always had this nagging feeling of, “Yeah, but….”

Last week I had a chance to view/listen to a recent presentation Luis gave about making the jump from e-mail to social media tools, along with the mind map – no PowerPoint, either! – that goes with it, appropriately subtitled E-mail is where knowledge goes to die. I think I finally understand.

After listening to the presentation, and talking with some co-workers and others about it, one of the most common comments I heard was, “That sounds great, but it looks so hard. Why would I want to do make my life and my work harder?”

It was then that I realized that when most people who are tied to e-mail hear this argument about social media vs. e-mail, they apparently think that moving their work is supposed to make doing their job easier. But that’s not what it’s about at all.

Using social media isn’t about easy, it’s about better. More effective, more productive, less wasteful; however you define “better”.

In e-mail, there is no learning, no opportunity to learn.  In fact, e-mail practically screams “non-learning environment”. Despite what it is you are actually trying to accomplish in your work, you spend a good amount of time trying to stay out of “mail jail”. When someone new joins your team or your project, they will never catch up. How can they, when all the knowledge has died in e-mail archives that are “somewhere else”.

With social media, nearly every transaction is a learning opportunity. Sure you’ll spend as much time sorting through all your social media contacts and messages as you do processing e-mail. But with social media, you are forced to make sense of the information, all the while creating and sharing new knowledge about whatever it is you are working on.

Of course, if you don’t care about learning, about improving, about becoming more effective, then sticking with e-mail is fine.

A checklist for checklists

It’s easy to say, “Make a checklist for your complex process and use it”. It’s another thing altogether to actually make a checklist that is good and that works.

One of the things that I like most about The Checklist Manifesto is that it recognizes and addresses the challenges inherent in designing a good checklist. In fact, a good part of the story revolves around making the WHO surgical checklist a good one. In the acknowledgements section of the book, Gawande credits Boeing engineer Dan Boorman (who is also mentioned in the book) as an “essential partner” in the ongoing development of new checklists, and from the looks of it they’ve been hard at work.

Most relevant to my ongoing thread here is the Checklist for Checklists, pictured below. If you have decided that checklists can help you, this is an excellent place to start as you begin the process of developing your checklists.

Simplifying the execution of complexity

My review of Atul Gawande’s latest book The Checklist Manifesto focused, by design, on the broad scope of the book. Within that “big picture” lesson, though, are many smaller, more specific lessons to be learned.

For example:

No, the real lesson is that under conditions of true complexity – where the knowledge required exceeds that of any individual and unpredictability reigns – efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail. People need room to act and adapt. Yet they cannot succeed as isolated individuals, either – that is anarchy….

[U]nder conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success. There must always be room for judgment, but judgment aided – and even enhanced – by procedure.

During this discussion, he refers back to what he had learned from the skyscraper-building industry, that they had figured out how to put an understanding of complexity into a series of checklists. That they had, in Gawande’s words, “made the reliable management of complexity a routine.”

What makes this even more fascinating is how the checklist, the lowly checklist that Steven Levitt had no interest in (until reading this book), can help simplify the execution of complexity even when the team members have never before worked together.

Just think what they could do for a team that works together all the time.