Monday, March 30, 2015

Network skills in the 21st century

I did a session on network skills in the 21st century at a symposium for VOCUS, the students of pedagogy/education. I was the last one and wanted to put them to work rather than listen. I asked them to form groups of three to formulate a short question on network skills and put this question out to their own online networks, as exercise. See a short video ...

Questions were:

  • What is the value of (online) networking?
  • What skills do you need to network properly?
  • What can you share as a student?
  • Would you rather have a good online networker or a face-to-face networker?
  • Consists Facebook after 10 years still?
  • How do you deal with skills that do not yet exist?

I'm a fan of Howard Rheingold who explains in his book Netsmart 'how to thrive online'. (see an earlier blog post of mine about 5 essential online survival skills). He describes the basic skills you need as a professional such as managing your 'attention' (online mindfulness) 'crap detection (know what is nonsense) and online networking. I like the networking perspective because I believe in network learning - social learning. Learning and networking are inextricably linked.

In our book En nu online we already wrote about the half-life of knowledge. The half-life of knowledge is how long it takes before 50% of the knowledge you have gained during your education is no longer relevant. For instance, I have learned to work with wordperfect during my study using MSDOS prompts. I don't remember how it worked, but it doesn't matter because it is no longer relevant. I have also learned to survey land, manually. I have never used that knowledge anyway but I know it is currently done with laser technology. It was quite a surprise to the majority that our knowledge gained in an education is in less than 3 years obsolete (mmm 50% that is). While you can debate whether this is measurable - it is a clear trend that knowledge is becoming obsolete faster, if only because technology propels rapid changes. Hence the need to to learn continuously as a professional is very obvious. A lovely way to keep up as a professional and a way I really believe in is not by attending refresher courses, but by participating in (online) networks. I am convinced that this is a critical skill that will determine whether a professional will be relevant and attractive.

I think students do a point to address the question of whether it is more important to have online networking skills or general network skills. I think the basic skill is networks, learning and focussing and secondly how you can do this online. However, the online part of the networking skills is becoming more important because of the new possibilities such as participating in MOOCs, follow hashtags on twitter and ask questions in online professional groups such as LinkedIn. The scale and speed at which you can network is hugely magnified online. Plus, online it is much easier to look beyond the boundaries of your own discipline by 'lurking' in other communities.

After half an hour I asked people to check answers to their questions in their online networks. There were still few answers through the online networks of participants. I think this is both due to the fact that 30 minutes is quite short (fellow students did not respond even though they are normally very quick responders) as well as the online presence of the students. For instance very few students had a Twitter account. The next time I would rather ask participants in the audience to network face-to-face and practice professional asking of questions.

Here are the slides of the session (in Dutch). By the way - the students told me there is very little attention for digital didactics within their education. That is really shocking isn't it?

denk ik.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"If what you are working on is not worth sharing, why are you working on it?"

Schermafbeelding 2015-03-25 om 16.11.23(This post was first published on my dutch site

Jane Bozarth is the writer of the book Show your Work. She is really a multi-talented person, she can talk without stopping, play ukelele and she can work outloud...We experienced all these talents in the webinar with Jane. Though she started by saying  "I don't have anything to talk about" she continued talking  for 1,5 hours :)..

What is Show your Work? "Show Your Work" = working out loud, it is about narrating your work. She did her dissertation about communities of practice and discovered that there is a gap between what we do at work and what we report in staff meeting. We have a lot of information about what colleagues do, but not exactly HOW they do it.Sharing makes it possible for others to learn from you. Knowledge workers have a lot of tacit knowledge and can use the tools available, for instance a phone with camera to actually share how they are doing a certain job. Sharing doesn't necessarily have to be through digital tools, however, the digital tools available make it much easier to share something rapidly and widely. We're coming to an age where we can't know everything alone. We are now dealing with a more complex environment and it becomes harder to do things alone.

Why do people share how to fish and not how they fix things at work? Jane is also puzzled when people don't think about sharing at work. She observes that some people record a video on how to fish and share it on Youtube in their free time but don't do the same at work. One of the reasons may be that "How to" information is easy to find on internet and complex issues, the tacit knowledge are much less shared. Brown and Duguid have written extensively about this aspect of tacit knowledge. Jane illustrated this with the example of a person who got a lot of things done within her organization and documented his work before he retired. However, nobody every became as good as he was despite the documentation. The reason is that the little tricks of the trade are very important and those are not easily captured in documentation. Interviews and questions may help to get tacit knowledge out. However, we are not very good asking the right questions to colleagues either, we don't probe on how somebody managed to do something. We talk about our work all the time, but rarely about 'how did you do this?' Visuals can be helpful too, a cookbook with recipes is explicit knowledge, videos or pictures already provide a view into the tacit knowledge.

"if what you are working on is not worth sharing, why are you working on it?" We all have the experience of doing something and afterwards finding out somebody has done that before. Often in organizations people don't take the time to share. The reason for this is that people don't have the mindset of sharing. In fact in every project you should take a pauze and reflect whether there are other people who might be struggling with the same issues? This doesn't mean that you share every pencil you sharpen.. but "if what you are working on is not worth sharing, why are you working on it?" (a quote from Steve Nguyen working at Yammer).

Starting Working Outloud in organizations In an organization you may start by identifying the people who are already doing it. We may help management change the questions.. "what was your most difficult, successful phone call today?" "what did you learn this week?" in stead of "what did you learn from this project?" A big challenge of working outloud in organization is making sure everything is findable. It helps to have some known spaces like Yammer. It is good to get better in tagging. A search function is also important. Within an organization you may help people in their decisions what to share where; what to share via mail, something else via the internal Yammer and other things in public.

Sharing successes or failures? Sarah Brown Wessling was teacher of the year and got video taped during a lesson when everything went wrong in a drama/literature class. She didn't stop the video but continues and later explains what went wrong. She published it publicly on a teacherchannel. This may be very useful for new teachers. It was possible for her to share this in public because she is very confident, she has been rewarded. It needs quite some courage to do this in public. Doctors who organize a morbidity and mortality meeting to discuss a patient who died also talk about failures, this is part of their professional culture. It is part of working and learning outloud, however it is not share publicly.

Tooling It doesn't really matter what tools are used.Virgin media provided everybody with snagit to take screenshots. Yammer can be a great tool. There is the example of copying machine repair persons who send pictures to others. Even email is possible. Hurray!
A last tip from Jane before she ran out of words: "Remember- it's about showing the WORK, not necessarily photos of your face. That might overcome shyness."
Tip: read also the blogpost 'zoek the learnnuggets' by Marjan Engelen..

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Multitasking, Ritalin and online mindfulness

I have watched a documentary about 'our distracted brain'. I hardly dare to say it outloud but in between watching the documentary I was chatting on Skype, answering emails. Nevertheless I enjoyed it and it made me think about singletasking and focus. It is interesting that I still see myself as a very focussed person but I know my habits have changed a lot since I'm working a lot online. I really think that I can multitask at times and that this is very efficient. I will try to improve this by being more aware of when something needs my full attention. However, I am good in focussing I believe because I was always capable of studying with the radio on. When there is a party, I only know what the person I was talking to was saying and missed everything else in the room.

1. Multitasking only works for routine tasks 
A wonderful multitask exercise is to count from 1-10 outloud. Thereafter, say the alphabet from a-j. Then try to combine the two: A1, B2, C3, etc. You'll find that it takes very long to count in the last exercise because combining the two is more complex. With complex tasks, it is not efficient to multitask. Multitasking works especially if one of the tasks can be performed routinely. Therefore, many people think that they can drive and phone. This is also true in itself, however, driving and phone becomes problematic when the driving gets tough, then you should focus all attention on the road. There are many situations where multitasking is OK and can work smoothly, eg driving itself is multitasking - you have to worry about traffic, foot pedals, turning etc. Multitasking works only with more complex tasks if you are a supertasker. However, this is only a small group of people (2% of the population). Furthermore it is a pity, you can not train multitasking.

2. The influence of social media - we get more and more stimuli We now have to deal with much more media stimuli as before. The information that we can swallow (but not digest?) has grown tremendously. In social media, f you've been absent from Facebook or Twitter for a whole day you have the feeling that you are missing something, there are many new messages. You got to go to learn that it is never 'finished'. In the end you have to learn to balance between being distracted and concentrate and focus amidst all those stimuli. I have to say that I am really relaxed. I follow so many people on Twitter that I simply dip in when I have time. I never feel like reading all the messages.

3. How do you force yourself to single-task? With all the social media stimuli, it is much harder to force yourself to single-task. The single-tasking is more difficult nowadays because you have to turn off all distractions. People with lots of dopamine in their brains can concentrate well. The Ritalin / Concerta medicines prescribed for ADD-ers ensure that more dopamine is available in your frontal cortex so that you can focus better. The number of prescribed pills for ADD has lately tripled over the past five years. But other students are already sometimes taking Ritalin pills to study well. A survey of 1,500 students in the Netherlands indicates that approximately 2-3% does take the pills to improve their capacity to concentrate.

4. And if you want single-task without taking Ritalin? For those of us who want to improve single-tasking without Ritalin, there are other possibilities.
  • Mindfulness training and meditation. These are forms to learn to shut your brain or part of your brain down. You learn to concentrate better. What you do with mindfulness is give your brains a rest.
  • Turning all the stimuli in the form of bleeps, pop-ups etc. off. Turn off your phone, email notifications off. Use special programs like MacFreedom to block your internet if you can't control yourself and know yourself.. 
  • Take control over your time back into your own hands. Through better planning you can focus better. Or use the pomodoro technique to concentrate. 
  • Read from paper (this advice will not be a fun one for organizations that just introduced the paperless office :). The advantage of reading from paper read is that there is no distraction. You may choose to read a paper book or article so you can focus more easily. I sometimes go downstairs with a printed article to read as a sort of mental break in my work. 
  • Unplug. Make sure you find a balance in your offline life. Go into a digital detox. Or like Clay Shirky- unplug your students while you are lecturing. 
5. Does our brain change as a result of all the media stimuli? Our brain is overloaded with daily whatsapp, emails and tweets. We get a lot of information and often we respond quickly. What does this do to us and with our brains? Does it changes our brain and will our children's ability to read a longer text suffer? "I am convinced that our brain is changing" said Roshan Cools in the documentary. Our brain is plastic, flexible. Think for example of what happens with addiction to drugs; as a result of heroin or cocaine entering our body, the brains change. The brains learn to cope with drugs. This demonstrates the plasticity of your brains of an individual. We adapt to our environment. Everything we learn is changing our brains. Whether and how this influences ithe brains of future generations is not yet known. It is likely that the brain adapts to the circumstances, but it is quite possible that the brain will become better at focussing among all those messages.

6. Let's not ignore the art of dialogue .. Sherry Turkle is wrestling with the same questions. She is a psychologist and excited about the potential of social media in the hope that it helps us advance in learning about our online identity. At the same time she warns in her TED talk for short messages and the effect on our communication. She is excited about the new opportunities, but they also see the bizarre appeal of smartphones. People go online during a meeting but also during funerals. Parents send mails during breakfast. She warns of the effect on our way of reflecting. She calls it the 'goldilocks' effect. We communicate mainly in small, short messages via SMS, tweets, facebook and LinkedIn status updates. If we are not careful we are losing the art of conversation and really engage in dialogue. If we loose the art of dialogue forever we are not on the right track.