Several times in my life I’ve heard a saying that goes
“The past is history; The future is a mystery. This moment is a gift — that’s why it is called the present.”
To be honest, previously I just saw it as a clever little saying and then didn’t think much more about it.
It has only been in the last year that I have really been struck with the idea of how powerful it is to live in the moment. (Appreciating the idea, however, is very different from actually living the application of it, which is still difficult for me). I watched a movie called “The Peaceful Warrior” (that I would highly recommend) which helped me see the importance of letting go of some control (or illusion of control) and the value of living in this moment, right now. Most of the time our minds are worried about something in the future which we can’t control or contemplating something in the past, for better or worse – but rarely do we stop and enjoy or even just experience right now, which is really the only thing we have.
I’ve now talked to 4 friends (two from the US – one of which was in India, one from Germany living in Finland, and one from France living in China) who have attended a Vipassana meditation course (absolutely free of charge) where you try to apply this principle through 10 days of total silence and Buddhist meditation – just trying to focus your mind on the experience of now. Each has said that for most people the first days are way more difficult than they would imagine, and even painful (being left with nothing but your thoughts, fears, doubts, regrets, uncertainties and trying to focus on the moment, without talking for the entire time – one of my friends could only last a few days). The three that were able to make it all 10 days said that by the end of the experience their life was changed – one of the most powerful experiences they have ever had.
It is more personal than I usually get on my blog, but over the last two weeks I’ve been experiencing some pretty intense “soul pain” (the kind of emotional grief which can seem at times worse than physical pain). I read some scriptures in The Book of Mormon which talk about the value of “today”, and I thought about my friends who have attended this Vipassana course. While feeling a deep sadness, I started to ask the questions:
How is it possible to value this moment when I am in pain now?
How can I focus on now and not think of past joy and/or hope somehow for a better future than the present moment?
What is there to see of value in this very moment, even when the moment is one filled with pain, sadness, and/or uncertainty?
I had a few experiences (which I might or might not share later) where I came to understand some of the answers to these questions for my situation, helping to provide meaning for being in the moment, even if it was hard and regardless of what happened in the past or what the future held.
One friend of mine shared with me some stories of others in her life who are going through some pretty severe trials, and it reminded me of hearing a poignant thing from President Henry B. Eyring when he indicated that you could go up to almost anyone and instead of asking “How are you doing?” – you could ask “Where does it hurt?”
So that makes me curious for anyone reading this:
How would you answer those questions (e.g. for the hard times you have gone through)?
Do you think it is possible to treasure (or at least value) a moment even when that moment is filled with sadness, pain, and uncertainty? Why and How?
Even when unpleasant, how can you want to experience and be in this moment, as opposed to any other ones that you could imagine?
Being in Africa, and reading about so much corruption, I reflected again on meeting Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday.
Time magazine (in their July issue) did a cover story on 8 lessons from his leadership principles. Coming across an interesting book in the Amsterdam airport about the history of Africa deepened my realization of how unique of an individual and leader he was. Much of the history of the African continent is a sad stream of leaders who have used their positions to exploit their people. In the case of Nelson Mandela it seems that the potential for absolute power did not lead to absolute corruption.
I read his biogaraphy “Long Walk to Freedom,” visited Robben Island, where he was a prisoner for over 20 years, and was later lucky enough to meet him at his home in Qunu shortly after his term as president had ended. His warm, welcoming personality and his self-depreciating sense of humor make him easy to like. His lack of bitterness over the harshness and struggle he went through makes him easy to admire. Sure he’s not perfect, but how many other political leaders do you know of where people will spontaneously make up songs about how much they love him/her? I heard those songs on the streets of South Africa, and still hear people throughout Africa and the world praise his name – and I think for good reason. He is definitely one of my favorite world leaders.
Do you have any favorite leaders? If so, why?
I wonder if anything has more impact on our future than the questions we ask?
First, if we take it on more of a micro-level, imagine going into any random meeting. You will see things differently and have a different experience if you are asking “How can I get out of this meeting as quickly as possible?” vs. “What meaningful things can I learn and/or contribute during this time?” vs “How can I make sure I don’t embarrass myself in this meeting like I did last time?”
The questions we ask reveal some about the assumptions we take into the situation, and also have an impact on the consequent experience we have.
As another simple example, when meeting a person imagine asking: “What does he/she think of me?” vs. “What is his/her life like?” vs. “How can I make this person’s life a little better?” vs “Why am I even talking to this person?”
Depending on which question(s) you are asking (consciously or subconsciously) you will most likely have a different perspective, experience, and outcome.
As I was conducting a review the last 10 years of research on papers presented at the bi-annual CATaC conference (Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication), I was again impressed by the questions we ask in a research context. They are all laden with assumptions (usually unstated) and have an impact on how the research is conducted – including what end up being the findings and recommended future research.
For this paper we looked at:
• Who is asking the questions? (where are they from, what discipline do they represent, who do they work with)
• What questions are they asking?
• How do they go about finding answers to their questions? (what literature do they cite, what methods do they use, what population do they sample, etc.)
• What answers do they find?
• What suggestions do they have for future research?
Additionally, I kept asking myself, what assumptions might they be making in the questions they address?
Even working with great colleagues like Javier and Brooke, it was a ton of work (reading at least some sections of all 199 papers) – but perhaps one of the best things I have done professionally or personally. I now have a better idea for what has already been done in this field, what gaps there are, and what lines of inquiry have been more fruitful than others. On another level, I am more conscious of the assumptions behind the questions I ask and the potential impact they might have. I wonder, out of all the possible options, are these really the most valuable questions?
• In your personal and/or professional life, have you ever had an experience where you noticed that when you changed the questions you were asking it altered the way you saw the situation?
• Do you ever stop to examine the assumptions you are making which led to the questions you are asking?
• Of all the questions you could ask, why did you pick the ones you are asking? Do you think they are the most important or valuable ones you could be asking or is it for some other reason?
As a side line of thought:
• Do you think we ask ourselves enough questions? Why as we age do we seem to lose some of the curiosity of children and ask less questions?
• If not all questions are created equal, how can I lead myself to asking better and better questions?
Shouts with a call: “Stop lying”
Response (by the crowd): “Dalai Lama”
What are some human tendencies in responding to conflict?
While walking this morning along the streets of Oxford (to a conference I am presenting at this weekend), I saw a group of people gathering and asked what was happening. They said the Dalai Lama was coming. So, like any tourist, I wanted to see him and get a picture if possible. I came back in an hour when there was a much larger crowd and heard people shouting something in a chant.
I will soon post here some pictures from the event. I didn’t end up getting a picture of the Dalai Lama, but I did get a lot of conversations that were perhaps even more valuable.
I assumed the shouting were either from Tibetans protesting China or Chinese protesting the Dalai Lama. Then I looked over the crowd and started to realize it was separated into three parts. Only a part of the crowd was holding Tibetan flags on one side, there was a small gathering around a Chinese flag in the center, and then a large group on the other side – many of which were dressed in long Buddhist robes – holding signs that said the Dalai Lama was lying. This is where the shouting was coming from. Buddhists protesting the Dalai Lama?
So I went back and forth between the different groups in the crowd in order to get a better understanding of what was happening. I have captured the conversations that came from it, and I think you will it interesting how people reason and make sense of the situation.
The situation itself is interesting, but the conversations around the protest is what I am more interested in discussing and hearing your thoughts about. They surprised me in some ways, and helped me understand a little more how people deal with conflict: always questioning the motivations of others (especially repelled by any sign of hypocrisy), making quick judgments based upon assuming negative motivations, asking so few questions (and usually only the kinds of questions which help them justify their previous opinions), and then giving labels for the people they feel are opposed to them.
Conversation #1 (To a person with a Tibetan flag)
Who are the protesters, and what is their concern?
“They are all just a bunch of communists.”
Conversation #2 (Walking over to a protester who hands me a pamphlet)
What are you protesting? What do you think the Dalai Lama is lying about?
“He is lying because he says he is hypocritical saying he supports human rights, but he suppresses them amongst his own people. He has outlawed people from being able to practice something called Dorje Shugden (a prayer to a certain Buddhist deity) – said there was an evil spirit in it – and if people do practice it then they have had their houses burned down, and some people have even been killed.”
Why do you think he outlawed the practice?
“For political reasons. He wants to unite Buddhists, and while politically that might make sense, spiritually it is very destructive.”
Oh, someone told me that you were communist protesters
“Yeah – they don’t really know what they are talking about.”
Conversation #3 (Walking back to someone with a Tibetan flag draped around them)
What do you think they are protesting about?
“Oh, they are angry that about the practice of a certain kind of prayer that the Dalai Lama has spoken against. It is a complicated split in Tibetan Buddhism. But they don’t even know what they are talking about. Go over there and ask them, and most of them are just westerners and don’t even know why they are protesting. They don’t even know what they are talking about. You don’t see any Tibetans over there, do you?
The Dalai Lama just said that he wasn’t going to practice the Dorje Shugden anymore, but he does allow religious freedom to people, but just asked if they follow him not to practice the Dorje Shugden as well. He doesn’t say that they can not practice it, just that he finds an evil spirit about it.
You don’t see any Tibetans over there, or hardly any. They don’t even have any intelligent chants. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were paid to come together. You know that happens. Paid mob.”
[And she handed me a statement from the Tibetan government describing their view on what had happened.]
Conversation #4 (Walking again over to a different protester)
What do you think the Dalai Lama is lying about?
“He has suppressed the practice of Dorje Shugden – even though his spiritual leaders practiced it. In Buddhism, you are supposed to follow your spiritual leaders. Now, people in the Tibetan communities of India (where they are living in exile) are forced to carry cards that indicate that they do not practice the Dorje Shugden. If they do not have the card, they get persecuted – and even their lives are in danger. There are even stores that say above the entrance that if you believe in Dorje Shugden then you can not shop there.”
Why did he think the Dorje Shugden was an evil practice?
“Oh, it was just some dream he says he had. Stupid. Really he is both a spiritual and political leader, and so he makes certain decisions for political reasons that are devastating spiritually. Westerners understand that you can not do this, that it is unhealthy and wrong, and so we are speaking up to try and get his attention. We do not hate him, we love him, we have peace in us, and we cheer at the end of each chant to show it is a peaceful rally. But we just want him to listen and he is not even open to dialogue. It is not democratic at all, but more like medieval ages in the west when the rulers made spiritual decisions for political reasons and then forced them on people. That is the problem when someone is both the spiritual and political leader. In the west we know that is wrong, but that is where they are stuck. It is not a democracy at all, he won’t even discuss it with people. Western media is just so nice to the Dalai Lama, not recognizing the hypocrisy – but we are trying to change that with demonstrations like this.”
Why do you think there are not more Buddhists protesting?
“There is a couple, but they are putting their life at risk by being here. The Dalai Lama has a group that will find him out and punish him if they can. All the ones over there feel they need to be submissive to him no matter what, they think that he can’t be wrong because he is their spiritual leader, and the Buddha. [He did a mock bowing motion]. Crazy. In the west we know that is not right.”
Conversation #5 (To the Tibetian on the protester side)
Why are you protesting?
“I went into the monastery when I was 12. I was there for 40 years, but because I did not want to agree and so I was cleared out. After 40 years! That was my home. If I had a family in India, and they did not have the passes, then the children would be cleared out of their schools, they would be cleared out of their community.”
Why do you think that the Dalai Lama felt this Dorje Shugden was evil?
“There are four branches of Buddhism in Tibet, and he is only the spiritual leader for only one of them. He wants to weaken the strongest branch, if he can, so that he can be a stronger leader by making all the branches more equal. The main thing is that in the west is freedom of speech – and he does not allow that.”
Why do you think more Tibetans don’t stand up to this?
“They just don’t understand.”
Conversation #6 (Then talking to a couple of Chinese representatives who gave me a pamphlet about how beautiful Tibet is)
Why are you here?
“We just want China to be one – to be united.”
Why do you think Tibet want to be free from China?
“I really don’t know.”
What percent of people in Tibet want to be free of China?
“I don’t think there are many left in Tibet that want to be free anymore. It is just a small percent. But they are doing violent things, surrounding the Olympics, and that is not good.”
What do you think the Dalai Lama wants?
“I think they were just in power before China took over, and so they just want the power again.”
They say that you might be getting paid to be here. Is that true?
“No! We are just here. That is not the reason we are here! Just look at the flag – we don’t even have enough money to buy a good flag.”
What do you think about the recent talks between Chinese government and the Dalai Lama?
“We support them. It is a good thing, and we hope it continues. The Dalai Lama just keeps speaking the same things – and there is no progress. We want to see things improve.”
Conversation #7 (Walking once again to the Tibetan side and talking to a caucasian woman holding a Tibetan flag)
Why do you think the people over there are protesting?
“I can’t imagine!”
Why do they say that the Dalai Lama is lying?
“They’re just horrible people! They are shouting horrible things! I’m Roman Catholic, but I know the Dalai Lama stands for peace! I don’t know why they would do such a horrible thing!”
Why does Tibet want to be free from China?
“I would want to be free from them! They’re barbarians – they murder their own students. They are just horrible barbarians.”
Conversation #8 (To a Tibetan man holding a Tibetan flag)
Why does Tibet want to be free from China?
“The Chinese do not allow any religious freedom. They make it so that we can not pray and practice as we would like to.”
Why do you think the people are protesting?
“They are upset about some direction that the Dalai Lama gave on changing something. But it was even his own practice, and he recognized that he needed to change too.”
And then I had to get back to the conference…
I’m sure there a lot of nuances in the actual conflict which I am not aware of. But I don’t want to discuss the conflict itself – I am more interested in discussing the approach to the conflict that was taken by people on different sides of the argument.
First let me say that I am aware that people frequently can have less-than-the-best of intentions – and so it makes sense that as humans we are always questioning the motives of others.
My questions for you:
- At the same time, doesn’t this tendency to quickly label the intent and intelligence of others frequently lead to unnecessary labels/judgments and miscommunication?
- Do you agree/disagree – or see anything else in these conversations?
- Any suggestions for how to get around skepticism, quick labeling, and the resulting miscommunication?
Since I heard Seth Godin (a “guru” in online marketing) speak yesterday morning, I have not been able to stop thinking about some of his key messages. I’ll explain why I keep thinking about them at the end of this entry. I’m also very interested in your comments – what do you think are the best ways to get a message to spread?
The Old Way to Spread a Message: The old model of marketing was to try and interrupt as many people as you can with impersonal messages (through TV advertisements, magazine ads, billboards, etc) – and if you spent $1 getting your word out by interrupting people and made $1.10 in return, then you could spend it interrupting more people. Most CEOs and marketing people think that this same approach applies on the Internet and with online communication. Although this same (and frequently annoying) approach might still meet some degree of success online (in buying sponsored key-words, sending emails, putting up banner-ads) – ultimately the old model will fail in this new medium when head-to-head with what actually works.
The reality is that there are so many channels of information sources now that people can often ignore a company, even when it is spending billions of dollars in trying to interrupt you. Unless it is directly relevant or at least mildly entertaining, then they do not have time and they do not care. You can keep polishing your message, but it is simply a little pin in a wicked-huge haystack!
The main point:
Create something worth talking about. If you do not have that step, the next step will not mean much at all. (You can not buy attention, not effectively, not widespread.)
Ideas that spread, win.
In the middle (the majority) people strive to be average (only we live in a world where everything is usually good enough and we don’t have much time so we usually just pick what is either cheaper or closer), but on the edges people wait in line.
Definition of remarkable = worth making a remark about. If people remark about it, then the idea spreads.
Be remarkable (if you do not do this, do not go to step 2) – tell a story to your “sneezers” (the early adopters and innovators) – they spread the word (do what used to be your job) – get permission (the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages – the kind that if they don’t come then people complain about not getting them).
There are two ways to get married: 1. Go to a singles bar, and the first girl you meet ask her right away to marry you. If she says no, then go to the next girl and ask her. If she says no, then go to the next one until you can find one who says yes (i.e. impersonal widespread invitations). 2. Find a girl, date her and get to know her, when you see there is a match then ask her to marry you (i.e. building a meaningful, welcome relationship). Most of marketing takes the first approach. The better thing to do is to create products, services, messages that people actually care about, and want to talk about and have more of. And of course, web analytics is one tool (of many) that can help people determine who is on the site, what do they care about, and how to customize the experience more on a one-to-one basis.
To read more of the details of Seth’s talk, you can read Kirk’s or Rob’s blogs (as they describe more of his talk) – or look at Seth’s new book: Meatball Sundae
Personal Application: I started to think about an idea that my sister and I have been working on for a couple months now. Originally we were just thinking about it in terms of a really cool children’s book (which I think could be a bit hit). After Seth’s talk, I started to think of other ways to use the technology available to customize, enhance, and easily spread it in a way that would make it something worth talking about. Does anyone who has programming skills want to find out more and see if you want to help me develop the idea?
Questions: Do you agree with Seth that the Internet has changed our lives in the ways mentioned? What do you think are the best ways to get a message to spread?
Two quotes and two question:
“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” ~Albert Einstein
“I think that we reject the evidence that our world is changing because we are still, as that wonderfully wise biologist E. O. Wilson reminded us, tribal carnivores. We are programmed by our inheritance to see other living things as mainly something to eat, and we care more about our national tribe than anything else. We will even give our lives for it and are quite ready to kill other humans in the cruelest ways for the good of our tribe. We still find alien the concept that we and the rest of the life, from bacteria to whales, are part of the much larger and diverse entity, the living Earth.”
(Conditioned by a Tribal Mindset, The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climatic Crises & The Fate of Humanity, James Lovelock, 2006)
- Do you agree/disagree with either quote?
- What do you think helps contribute to a consciousness that can transcend tribal/national limitations?
Paul Rusesabagina spoke on Tuesday at BYU. I liked how he titled his presentation: “Hotel Rwanda: A story yet to be told” – because the story is not over yet, and each of us can be a small part of making it a better story than it otherwise would be.
In both Rwanda and Burundi there was a genocide of nearly a million people in the last two decades (15% of the population). Paul Rusesabagina stands in stark contrast to the ethnic violence as an example of someone willing to risk his own life to stand against the prejudice and senseless violence that erupted there.
He argued that the majority of the ordinary people do not hate each other so much, but that very poor leadership will take advantage of differences in order to divide and conquer.
He shared some powerful and sobering stories of the past and current situation.
For example, imagine trying to rescue dozens of people from an ethnic group (different from you) who are being called “cockroaches” and exterminated – police stop your car, they call you a traitor, and demand you to take their gun and shoot everyone in your car or else they will shoot you. You know they are serious because you see dead bodies scattered around you. What would you do?
Paul Rusesabagina faced this exact situation, he did not back down, did not give in, and through quick thinking was able to tell the guards that he understood they were tired and frustrated, but that there was an alternative situation, another option to solve the problems they face. He said he learned through this experience that as long as you can get people to speak with you, then you can always negotiate an alternative course of action. He was able to save the lives of not only these people, but over a thousand others who took refuge in the hotel that he managed.
Towards the end of his speech he encouraged all of us there: “Don’t stand by. Stand up, and do what you can, do what you can to help Africa. You can do something.” He said that if you don’t stand up for what is good, then the world will fail, but that we are the hope of the world if we do stand up. He said that if you want the world to get better, you can make it better. If you want it to stay the way it is, it will stay.
The question I ask myself is:
How can I stand up? What best could I do that would actually make a difference?
Listening to him made me think about the conference I am helping organize in Africa (Uganda) this summer – Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). It seems like a small drop in the ocean of what could be done to assist those in disadvantaged situations, but at least it is something.
I am always keeping my eyes and mind open for other meaningful things that I could be involved in, or even just be aware of and support in some way – so if you can think of anything, then let me know. I feel like getting involved in things that help are usually reciprocal and end up benefiting all involved.
I have been involved in a lot of interest and discussion lately about
1. How can I frame good research questions in Educational Technology?
2. How can I match them with an appropriate methodology?
There are a lot of sources you could use to answer these questions (and I am interested in what other people know in response to these two questions too, and what are the best resources you can suggest to others).
As a starting point for the discussion, here are two short articles which helped clarify some things in my mind as I was preparing to conduct my own dissertation research.
1. Explore, Explain, Design
2. A Model of Technology Capable of Generating Research Questions
For any who are interested in participating in an online discussion about these questions, please post your questions in a comment response to this blog post. Also please post any insights or questions in response to these two articles.
I have also invited the author of these two articles (Dr. Andy Gibbons – very well known in IDT) to be available to help read and respond to some of the questions/comments that you post, according to his availability. Potentially we will also have a chance to do a live online meeting with him at some point within the next couple months (I will post more as I know it).
This discussion is intended to help any who are in the process of deciding what and how to do their research. I have a feeling that we can all learn a lot from this discussion.
Today Maxim Mozgovoy, from the University of Joensuu, defended his dissertation titled “Enhancing Computer-Aided Plagiarism Detection” against his opponent Prof. Kinshuk, from Athabasca University. After responding to 18 slides-worth of pointed and well-thought through questions, Maxim had a look of relief on his face as Prof. Kinshuk announced that he would recommend Maxim and his dissertation work worthy of the position of a doctorate.
The floor was then opened for questions from the audience, and as is typical in Finland no questions were asked. Had it been part of Finnish etiquette for people to ask questions and had I known more about the computer science discipline, here is what I would have asked:
“Your opponent questioned how you would distinguish your work as research instead of simply as software development, and I have three related questions to this. Your research questions on page 9 can be answered a hundred different ways. It is typical in most fields to document your particular approach to solving the problems/answering the questions, making explicit some of the strengths, limitations, and assumptions and some justification regarding the framework you chose for as the way that you wanted to go about answering those questions. (1) Did you have a framework (sometimes called a methodology) for answering your research questions? (2) If so, what was it? (3) If so, why did you not write a section about it in any of your papers or in the dissertation as a whole?”
Afterward I talked with Erkki and Kinshuk about this, and they indicated that it is much less likely for those in computer science (specifically when dealing with algorithm development) or mathematics to have such a section. Although it is more typical to have a methodology section in hypothesis-based research, I still wonder if it would be good in any dissertation to at least make some effort to understand and explicitly state what assumptions (along with their underlying strengths and weaknesses) went into the approach chosen for the research.
Today I sent an email where I raised this discussion and these questions on the ITForum Listserve. I will try to summarize the best comments I receive from them as they come, but I am also interested in anyone else’s thoughts and feelings.
I realize that this email ventures into the realm of one of the two forbidden topics in polite conversations – but if it makes any difference, at least I’ll try here not to mention the “p” word ( i.e. politics). 🙂
</end – my weak attempt at being funny to try and defuse a potentially sensitive topic>
In studying cross-cultural issues over the last several years, I have been fascinated by the impact culture has in how people define themselves, their relationship with others, and their perspective of the world. Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like at the heart of education, we are interested in these same issues? Or can someone define the purpose of education in a way that is completely unrelated to these issues ( e.g. identity, relationships, world-view, etc)?
Although we rarely talk about it in academic settings, it seems that one of the most pervasive influences in how people in various cultures and sub-cultures develop identity and purpose is their faith and religion (including, of course, even the belief in no God).
I have recently witnessed several disturbing scenes in which religion became the point of stereotyping, skepticism, and conflict (something not uncommon in the history of the world) – which leads me to the questions that I have for all of you:
- Is it possible to discuss the role of faith in education (or religion in general) in a safe way in which people don’t feel threatened? (If so, how?)
- Is it possible to discuss these issues in a way that people can set aside (at least for a moment) any personal agenda or need to convince/persuade/defend – but rather to simply seek for increased mutual understanding and respect?
- From what you have seen/experienced, how can arrangements be structures so that people of very different belief systems can understand/respect each other, peacefully co-exist, and even collaborate with each other on joint projects intended to make the world a better place?
I realize that this is a deep and sensitive topic, and I realize that in even asking the questions I am making certain assumptions (which, by the way, you are also free to challenge if you wish).
I have some initial ideas of my own in answer to these questions, but I am very interested in any comments that you all might have. Please don’t feel like you need to be an expert in the topic to respond, initially you can just share your personal strategy, thoughts, reactions, etc.
Even you don’t have any answers to the questions, I am almost equally interested in your general reaction to being presented with questions like these.
I present today at the European Distance and E-learning Network’s (EDEN) 6th Open Classroom Conference. The theme of the conference is “Real Learning in Virtual Worlds”. I have already learned some valuable things and will blog them throughout the conference, but here is one of my initial reactions.
I have sat through a few of the normal boring sessions, occasionally hearing the typical sweeping rhetorical fallacies such as “Video conference is more effective than face-to-face methods”; “Books are worthless and should be done away”; “ICT improves the effectiveness of learning”; and so on.
I suppose that since the jobs and livelihood of these people is tied to ICT in education that I should not be surprised to hear marketing jargon and messages like this instead of scientifically critical and contextualized statements – but I get weary of hearing them (including when they have come from me in the past).
As one example, the “no significant difference phenomenon” seems so well established with regard to media comparison studies that we really don’t need any more media comparison studies or statements. Rather, much more interesting and productive are discussions and experiments with novelties in pedagogy, educational ideologies and approaches (enabled through various media). Especially when they are contextualized to specific situations, assessed in the best way we know how, and published in an open and replicatable way.
- What specific problems exist in previous teaching/learning situations?
- How do the new approaches solve those problems?
- What do we give up in exchange for these “solutions”?
It would be unfair to say that every presentation has been uninteresting or stereotypical, and I have met quite a few people doing very interesting things, but I just wanted to vent my pet peeve. I’ll email more later about things I have learned and enjoyed.
On the positive (and somewhat random) side – (1) the sun was out all day yesterday, and (2) when I came to a cross-walk on a busy street in Stockholm I was pretty surprised when all the cars from both directions stopped so that I could cross. 🙂
As a part of the IMPDET Cross-Cultural Research Group, we have started a “Reflection Wiki” that allows us to post situations in cross-cultural interactions that we wish we had more perspective on – to check if our initial interpretations of the situation were accurate or misleading.
The hypothesis behind it is this: In most interactions we probably make too many assumptions about the meaning behind what people say or do. Cross-cultural interactions magnify this. So the hypothesis is that perhaps more meta-communication tools can help us learn more about what others really mean, and also more about ourselves.
I wanted to cross-post one of my first entries here, in case anyone else reading it (especially anyone from Finland) might have some insight into the phenomenon I describe.
In Finland I notice how no one really smiles at each other in public places. On the street, on the bus, in the halls of the University – quite often people don’t even make eye contact, much less smile at me or say hi. My Finnish friends are extremely welcoming, kind, hospitable and friendly, but it is just strangers and new acquaintances that are more stand-offish than I am used to.
I didn’t even realize I had this expectation, but I guess from growing up in the US I did have the expectation that if people are nice and friendly then they smile and say hi, even to strangers. (My subliminal expectation: nice + friendly = smile at others, or at least acknowledge their presence with a nod or something)
My gut level interpretation and emotional reaction is that, in general, people are not as friendly, nice, happy, etc… with strangers here, and that they are less interested (at least initially) in becoming friends with me or letting me get to know them. But cognitively I tell myself that might be more of my emotional reaction, when I don’t really know what is going on in their minds, or what the meaning is behind the unwritten rules of public conduct.
I talk less to strangers than I otherwise would.
To anyone else who has been to Finland – Did you feel the same when you first spent time in Finland, or is it more like what you are used to in South Africa, Sweeden, Spain, etc.?
How did you see it? How did you respond?
To anyone from Finland – From the Finnish point of view, what do you think might be the deeper meaning/reasons why behavior is like this in public in Finland? What might I be missing in my gut-level interpretation from my cultural expectations?
To anyone – Any other insightful thoughts (or funny comments)?
I’m currently reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).
This blog entry contains: (1) key insights/quotes from the book, that I follow up with (2) key questions of my own and (3) a request for participation in an upcoming research initiative.
“Due to deep changes in technology, demographics, business, the economy, and the world, we are entering a new age where people participate in the economy like never before. This new participation has reached a tipping point where new forms of mass collaboration are changing how goods and services are invented, produced, marketed, and distributed on a global basis. This change represents far-reaching opportunities for every company and for every person who gets connected.” (p. 10)
“In an age where mass collaboration can reshape an industry overnight, the old hierarchical ways of organizing work and innovations do not afford the level of agility, creativity, and connectivity that companies require to remain competitive in today’s environment.” (p. 31)
Tapscott & Williams articulated four defining principles that they feel define how 21st century companies will compete, which are (in some instances) drastically different from old models. These four principles are: (1) openness, (2) peering, (3) sharing, and (4) acting globally.
Regarding the last principle, “acting globally” —
“Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat brought the significance of the new globalization to many. But the quickening pace and deep consequences of globalization for innovation and wealth creation are not yet fully understood.” (p. 28)
“The new globalization is both causing and caused by changes in collaboration and the way firms orchestrate capability to innovate and produce things. Staying globally competitive means monitoring business developments internationally and tapping a much larger global talent pool. Global alliances, human capital marketplaces, and peer production communities will provide access to new markets, ideas, and technologies. People and intellectual assets will need to be managed across cultures, disciplines, and organizational boundaries.” (p. 28-29)
“Winning companies will need to know the world, including its markets, technologies, and peoples. Those that don’t will find themselves handicapped, unable to compete in a business world that is unrecognizable by today’s standards.” (p. 29)
When orchestrating people and intellectual assets “across cultures, disciplines, and organizational boundaries” — what difficulties will arise?
I assume mis-communication, ethnocentrism, and a lack of trust will be just as alive and frustrating as they frequently have been throughout time. Even with a relative absence of malicious motivations, cultural differences alone often make effective communication, trust, and understanding difficult — and generally do so in ways that are initially invisible to ourselves (because of how easy it is to assume that others either are or should think/work/feel/see/be like us).
The truth is that these technological infrastructures will connect people who are coming from very different world-views and expectations regarding relationships and rules around things as simple as when to communicate, to whom to communicate with, what to communicate about, and how long to continue the communications.
Lauzon (1999) made the argument “that one of the main challenges as we enter the new millennium will be ‘learning to live with difference’ (p. 274)” (quoted in Wang and Reeves, 2007, p. 14). Wang and Reeves (2007) further argue that, “both history and the current state of the world affairs indicate that living with difference is easier said than done” (p. 14).
So how can new collaborative technologies and ideologies be framed in a way that mitigates the negatives and maximizes the positives?
How can people from different cultures and disciplines come together in a way that they (1) trust, (2) understand, and (3) collaboratively create with each other?
I will be in Finland at the University of Joensuu this September coordinating a cross-cultural multidisciplinary research project that aims to help get more answers to these and related questions. I will be coordinating a team of PhD students (from China, Africa, Europe, etc…) on an educational technology initiative, where we will study: (a) the dynamics of the multinational multidisciplinary team itself, and (b) cross-cultural implementation issues and implications.
If you either know of a PhD student – or are one yourself – who is interested in participating (either for credit or simply for the experience), please read the attached description of the research and send me the required information.
Request for Participation in Cross-cultural Educational Technology Research
I had a friend ask me how to use web analytics to improve the website for his business. Here are some very rough thoughts I had this morning. Keep in mind that certain web analytics vendors provide more on some of these features than others.
I am posting these ideas to my blog so that I can get feedback from other web-analytics users or professionals on their thoughts. Again these are rough thoughts…some might be more obvious than others.
Ten of the top ways web analytics can improve your website’s business (in making data-driven decisions):
- Significantly increase knowledge of who visits the site and improve understanding of when they come and what they do while they are there (time spent on page, pathing traveled, etc.)
- Distinguish between first time and returning customer behavior
- Utilize exit page and fall-out reports to identify what parts of your conversion process are difficult or uninviting
- Increase knowledge of where visitors are coming from (what search term, web-site, bookmarked, etc) – as an indication of what they are looking for and how to increase the relevance of your messaging
- Maximize available data on marketing ROI – conversion rates from different referral strategies (natural and paid search engine key-words, affiliate marketing, viral marketing, banner adds, email campaigns, etc..)
- Easily find broken links – increase usability
- Increase sophistication of segmentation and targeted messages – increase relevance
- Use A/B and Multivariate Testing to derive data on hypotheses of how to improve any aspect of your site
- When using Flash – gauge other usability issues through more nuanced data (e.g. how many times did users scroll over an item with their mouse before clicking it, how much of the video did they listen to, how long did they wait before realizing they needed to click on something, etc…)
- Leverage the power of the computer algorithms in taking into account wide variety of information about the user and predicting what is the best “creative” to serve (e.g. see Touch Clarity’s services – now acquired by Omniture)
Those are the first ten that I thought of.
What other ideas do anyone have from their own research/experiences?
I wanted to post a summary of a discussion that I have been engaged in via email to see if anyone else had a helpful perspective on some questions that David Wiley sent to me a little over a week ago, perhaps because of my involvement with the eCANDLE project through the Rollins Center for eBusiness. I received some questions regarding my impressions regarding the most useful form of mobile learning for sharing OpenCourseWare (OCW), and in addition to giving my first impressions, I emailed several colleagues that I have worked with from Asia, Africa, and Europe in order to get their take on it as well. I will post here a summary of the questions, the responses so far, and also ask for any additional insights that anyone reading this blog might have.
When thinking about doing something with eduCommons (an OpenCourseWare management system designed to support OpenCourseWare projects) and mobile devices/mobile phones –
Which of the following ideas seems most useful / have the most posistive impact in places you have worked?
Which seems the like a waste of time?
What other ideas do you have about getting open content to people using mobile devices?
– Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline
– View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones (web browser on your mobile phone)
– Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
– Send an SMS to a service and have the service call your phone and read the content to you using text-to-speech technology
My Initial Response:
From the USA
OK, here’s my first round of gut reactions – but feel free to take this all with a grain of salt. We’ll see if some of the people I emailed disagree with me.
As things stand, my initial feeling is that this is most likely the best option of the ones you mentioned: Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline.
One important note you probably already know, but which is good to mention – people are not interested in merely receiving open content (via mobile devices or whatever) but also interested in (1) contributing content – and (2) using whatever device to connect with people about the topic.
Although the stats say that there are 400 million mobile phones in China in 2006 and 6.1 million of them enabled to access the Internet – the costs are prohibitive. From what we found last summer in China, as things stand today if people do access the Internet with their mobile devices, it is only briefly to download ring tones, etc… (although we predict that will change)
As you are probably aware, the payment structures are different throughout most of the world – the majority of people buying cards that give them a certain amount of pre-paid minutes. Even, then most of what they do is text each other, because it is cheaper. That is why the SMS ideas seem more feasible than accessing the Internet (especially when people would rather text than even talk simply because of cost). It is interesting how they even have ingenious systems in certain areas for calling and not answering but letting it ring so many times – and the different amount of rings conveys a different message (in order to save money).
Unfortunately in many areas of the world there is not enough competition to drive rates lower, and so there are monopolies in certain countries, which seem to have jacked up both cell phone and Internet access prices.
Having said that, I went to a rural school in South Africa that was selected for a series of very interesting studies (sponsored by Nokia I think) using mobile technologies for very similar things that you are speaking about – only there was more participation involved on the part of the students. For instance, students contributed to a kind of Wikipedia, but with voice. I know there are also projects in place to have text-to-voice things like you mention.
I could be totally wrong, but I think the least helpful for now (and perhaps this depends on whether you are in developed Europe vs India, China, etc) is to View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones (web browser on your mobile phone). But I am thinking of the developing world – where maybe in Europe this might be useful – but I don’t know enough about how Europeans currently use their mobile devices.
My recommendation is to find a specific need (like that doctor in the story I sent you) and have both searchable data bases of useful chunked content to be used in-situ as well as easy connection tools to a knowledgeable community also accessible in-situ – and with that capitalize on the specific usefulness of mobile devices for a niche group in a specific area of the world – and then build from there.
If it is not being targeted for something very specific and directly relevant like that, then more often than not people are just looking for degrees. The emphasis on degrees can not be over stated. They will get material from wherever will give them a recognizable degree, and in their spare time they will seek entertainment from their mobile devices more than seeking additional learning.
Here’s a fairly good mobile learning reading list:
Responses from Africa:
This idea is very feasible in Ethiopian context. Firstly many people are now having mobile phones. Now they use it only for communication.
I have prioritized the ideas the following option is good for the local community; to provide general education. If it is feasible to develiver the content on TV so that those who are interested can watch contents from their home TV.
1. Send an SMS to a service and have the service call your phone and read the content to you using text-to-speech technology
The following two ideas are more feasibile for university students.
2. View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones web browser on your mobile phone)
3. Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
One serious problem I observed in Ethiopia context is that people don’t have access to information that can change their life, even a simple thing, a health care information, business inforamtion, etc. Now I understand that culturally contextualized inforamtion is of great value to a community than the general information available on internet. Therefore, use of mobile technologies will create more access to inforamtion and educational opportunity. Now there is a good trend in the penetation of telecommunication technology in Ethiopia. People in remote village have now a telephone service.
[Mobile learning] is a new idea, my universtiy and government institutions are interested to support the project. I am also interested to work on it.
From South Africa…
To answer your questions, it really is not that simple! To a large extent your target audience is going to determine what the most useful will be. In rural or underdeveloped areas phones with less functionalities seem to be more prevalent and one would like to reach the largest audience so sms capabilities will ensure that with WAP then being a waste of time as you are excluding a large part of your audience.
You need to remember Africa has its own set of connectivity problems and deals with challenges like poor rural connectivity, lack of reliable electricity supply, availability of PC’s (as well as, often, the know how to support a network and the hardware) Where in developed countries you are immersed in a connected and interconnected environment; that is not the case in most of Africa. Their mobile phone is their connection, often their only connection. If you don’t have WAP functionalities or any other mobile device, the first two options become rather irrelevant. The MobilED project has concentrated on rural African and have worked with the most common capacity of phones ie voice and sms. So the last two options fall within that margin. The cost implication is relatively high as you have to sponsor the cost of the call back. In South Africa specific that becomes a bit hectic as our cell rates are substantial.
Looking forward to discussing this further.
Response from Europe:
These answers are subjective but I suppose that is the point, right? I understand the question concerns the order of positive impact from highest to lowest, therefore (1 highest, 4 lowest):
1. Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline.
2. View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones (web browser on your mobile phone)
3. Send an SMS to a service and have the service call your phone and read the content to you using text-to-speech technology
4. Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
These days and in the near future more and more people will use high-bandwidth networking features in their mobile devices, thus downloading high quality multimedia content won’t be an issue anymore. I left SMSs on the last two places because:
* they are cumbersome to write
* they are too short (case 4)
* they are probably more expensive in the long run than fixed price high-bandwidth subscription.
* their media capability is limited.
I suppose one option would be to use MMS technologies instead of SMS in order to provide higher level of multimedia.
Which ideas sound the most useful?
The first one, but I would go further and do things online.
/Which are most likely to be a total waste of time? /
Last two (SMS based) because technology is becoming obsolete. WAP based solution is also somewhat old-fashioned and if I was doing this work, I’d definitely put hands on high level multimedia content which can be even used interactively online (perhaps collaboratively with other system users).
/What other ideas do you have about getting open content to people via mobile devices? /
As I mentioned, high speed fixed price mobile networks are soon available on most of the handsets. It is therefore just up to our imagination in which format we want to provide the content. Interactivity is one key issue in the future; you can do quizzes, learning games and even evaluations over the mobile network.
One usability problem in today’s mobile devices is the screen size and low resolution. However, this problem will soon be solved with mobile projectors and/or rollable/wrappable screens. Mobile projectors are able to project a high resolution image on any light-coloured surface, thus you can set up your personal movie theater almost anywhere. Another
usability challenge is the text input, but I see that there are several solutions coming up within few years. External Bluetooth-based QWERTY-keyboards already exist and perhaps text-to-speech technologies can provide the next “killer app” on mobile devices.
There are many other interesting examples on the future mobile technologies out there, but unfortunately i don’t have time to go through all of them here. I just want to stress that you shouldn’t think of providing content via the channels that are currently used by everybody; you should develop means to provide the content via channels of the future.
Ok, Im not sure how helpful these answers are for you, but I will certainly give more information if you request it.
Response from Asia:
Very glad to hear from you.
I am not sure until now whether or not I can go to Guangzhou for GCCCE2007. I hope I can go there to see you again.
As for your questions, I don’t give you exact answers.
I have been to more than 100 universities since last year, the mobile devices are not yet considered to be used to learning. But I think it will do in future.
The following idea sounds most valuable, I think. Because the present mobile devices like iPod has as huge storage as a computer. So, we could download the content in the iPod and read them at any time.
– Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline.
This idea is also useful. It may be used to search the latest content.
– Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
Question for You:
Although the current OCW content may not be the most useful to your audience, imagine whatever content would be the most interesting / relevant and simply consider the technological capability…
Does one or more of these sound interesting?
Is there something else you wish you (or people in your area) could do in terms of getting content on your mobile phone or other mobile device?
I’m here in Sydney right now. Beautiful city. 20 million in the whole of Australia and 4 million of them live in this one city.
I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Catherine McLoughlin, who is interested in exploring more regarding cultural differences in approaches and attitudes towards ethical issues in academia such as plagiarism and cheating. What are the different ways in which people are predisposed to think about these issues? How do these cultural influences affect the behaviors of students from different countries? Which ethical behaviors might be considered universally unethical (even though people do them from different countries, they are still inexcusable), and which might be relative depending on where you are coming from (there are valid differences where people think they are acting in an ethical way, even if it does not appear that way to an outsider)? How can people administering academic courses cross-culturally address academic integrity in the best ways possible?
Does anyone know of any existing resources or research which might address some of these questions?
I attended a seminar today by David Whetten in which he gave three key suggestions for making scholarly research more easily publishable by making it more systematic, by learning to think systematically.
Before I forget them, I want to record his three suggestions here, and then over the next few weeks ask the questions I need to in applying his suggestions to the main topic of this blog: the relationship between culture, instruction and technology.
His three suggestions were as follows:
1. Because writing for publication is like joining a conversation in progress at an academic conference reception (example from Anne Huff), listen to a topic that sounds interesting, join as a listener (enough to understand the themes, terms, context, actors), and then propose your “unique” contribution. Implication: Goal of scholarship is to add to scholarly conversation (change the mind of experts) NOT craft scholarly soliloquies (e.g. “I learned a lot…”). You start this by selecting the 3-7 best articles that represent the current conversation in that specific field/topic area, and then tape them above your computer.
2. Lay a solid foundation for dissertation to make sure it is systematic and worth all the effort in the following years: Meeting #1 – Discuss only the research question (Why this question, why these concepts, why these relationships); Meeting #2 – Discuss only 2-3 page outline (Study, Rationale, Methods, Conclusions); Meeting #3 – Discuss formal research proposal. But DON’T start with the formal research proposal.
3. Use graphical modeling to understand the context of the research. Begin by making two models reflecting the context/purpose of the project. The first is a BEFORE picture, the current conception/ explanation of X. The second is an AFTER picture, the expected conception with your added contribution/ explanation of X. Include these elements in the model: What (Constructs), How (Relationships), Why (Conceptual Assumptions), and Who/When/Where (Contextual Assumptions).
Dave Whetten made it clear that these suggestions refer only to one of many types of scholarship, and that perhaps the most exciting type of paradigm breaking research will not happen in this way. But his main point is that a large part, if not a majority of scholarship from PhD students and young faculty members should be this kind of systematic thinking in paying the price of understanding and then joining existing conversations and adding insight and value through your particular contribution.
by Clint on 10/23/06 In response to suggestion #1, it is difficult to decide which the most important writings in an area are, but here are a few of what I think are key articles/books in this conversation:
Aykin, N. (2005). Usability and internationalization of information technology. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.
Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations. Software of the mind. London: McGraw-Hill.
Neuliep, J. W (2006: 3rd edition). Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach.
Ong, W. (2002). Orality and Literacy: The technologizing of the world. New York:
Nisbett, R. (2003). The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners think differently…and why. Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-5535-6
1st, 2nd, and 3rd Annual Symposia on LDS Intercultural Communications and Language Concerns, 1973, 1974, 1975.
Identity by Joseph Shautes, Hiro Tsujioka, and Miyuki Lida, ISBN: 0-19-438574-4 (with student CD); for the teacher: 0-19-437972-8. By Oxford University Press, 2004. Has excellent combination of exercises, audio files, information for both students & teachers on identity, values, culture shock, culture in language, individualism, politeness, communicating styles, diversity, social change, and the global community.
Article in AECT’s TechTrends Nov./ Dec. 2003 (Vol.47 No.6): “Culturally Sensitive Problem Solving Activities for Multi-National Corporations” by Kezia Arya, Anoush Margaryan, and Betty Collis, pp. 40-49. This is a guide of how researchers in the Shell Corporation worked with ethical belief systems, cross-cultural perspectives and methods, culturally sensitive problem solving, and effective ways to carry out solutions. Has many good tables that can be adapted for your projects.
While reading an old conference proceeding, I came across a quote that I resonated with. Lael Woodbury said this: “I know how surprised I was when I was first introduced to the problem of intercultural communications, and how grateful I am that I have been sensitized to it… I’m really quite conscious now of the problems that I hear cited over and over again. Frankly, I’m a little weary of hearing them…I don’t know how to use it or what to do with it…Can we now move beyond the stage of saying we have a problem [the sensitizing process], giving examples of a problem, and hoping that someone, somewhere will do something about it?” (Crossing Bridges of World-wide Understanding)
Part of the issue is sensitizing – and I actually think quite of that is still needed. But so much more beyond that needs a systematic plan of research, or else I can imagine many people getting frustrated because they do not know what to do about it, throwing their hands up, and simply going back to work as usual – because although it is ineffective it was manageable.
I have been developing a systematic plan surrounding certain questions that I want answered, either through my own or others’ research. I am curious what the key questions are in the minds of others in this specific field of the interaction of culture, instructional design, and emerging technologies?
In conjunction with that, I would love to know (and I am working on identifying) what research currently exists in partial answer to those questions, and what additional research we could collaborate on in order to fill the gaps.