I’m a spoiled adult learner.

INSDSG 602 – Class 3

Those of you who wish I would post more, you’re in luck. Part of my participation grade for the 602 class is to post in my blog about what I’m learning about. For those of you who loved my rant about discussion boards, this is actually an idea I can get behind…mostly because it feels more honest and less doing it for the sake of doing it. Maybe it will even get me back into blogging more frequently.

However, I am a tad behind in my posting duties for class because I won a scholarship to visit Dreamforce and I was out in CA all last week. So, I’m still playing catch up, forgive me.

So why do I call myself spoiled? Because I have to take the one in person class this semester and I had it easy all last year. I have to drive 3 hours round trip to “scenic” Dorchester every week as opposed to doing my classes in my pyjamas. I had to – gasp – buy real books instead of digital Kindle editions. I have to talk to people (well, that’s never a problem).

My point is, the study of andragogy, or adult learning, shows how different adult learners are from children. They have different motivations, they are coming from a different frame of mind, they work differently. We did an exercise in class the week before describing adult learners, which the prof put into a Wordle word cloud. The larger the word, the more frequently it showed up.

Wordle: Adult Learner

There’s lots of theories about how adults learn, even those which look like they’re stolen from J.K. Rowling (I’m looking at you, Illeris), but I think what stuck out to me is that we have a long way to go in our study of andragogy. Education has been around for centuries, but adult learning has only had a few decades of research. It’s also very tied to the American baby boom, as that was the first generation to create a formal need for adult learning. We see learning in general expanding from the silos of LMSs into the open world, and I think the theories around adult learning will spread out as time goes by.

And when it comes down to it, if I really want this degree, I have to be all those things that an adult learner needs to be. Motivated, experienced, self directed. I guess I can suck it up a little.

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Shameless plug. You’ve been warned.

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Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.

This quote made me think of another Einstein…not the person, but the field. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, FIRST HQ released their report on the 2012 Einstein investigation. This was following a very extensive investigation involving all 12 robots in NH a few weeks after Championship. Go read it here. Really, you should. I’ll wait.

FIRST has concluded that there was an individual attacking the network during the matches. This person has come forward to HQ and has since been banned from all events or mentoring in the future. I only know of one other peson with this ban, and I assure you, it’s effective.

There’s a couple of things that I wanted to say immediately after Championship that have since marinated in my mind. I would like to share the following:

  • I would like to personally thank my Galileo crew for being absolutely amazing. Through the hottest of water, they kept their cool and did their job. Reset was flawless, the queuers gracefully took on the job of crowd control, and even the flags showed up in the right places. I did not have to synchronize any of it – they just did it, like they had done on Galileo all weekend long. An old mentor of mine once told me that the field is a stage. I tell my volunteers that Einstein is Carnegie Hall….and my crew put on the performance of a lifetime. I could have hugged them, but we were all a little ripe by that point. We took a picture instead.
  • From a volunteer perspective, Einstein needs some tweaking.  Not a lot of people know that each year, the best field gets chosen by the FTAs to become the Einstein field crew. It’s a huge sense of pride – I’ve been there three times, more than any other. The rules on Einstein from a production standpoint are completely different from any field – and because the VC changes every year, even though we are all well-seasoned veterans, there should be a document that the winning VC can use as their guide. I’m working on that doc, and I’m working with HQ to get it implemented. The team and volunteer experience on Einstein should be the best it possibly can be – and with the right stuff in place, I think we can make that happen easily.
  • We as a community will learn from this. Each season is a learning experience, but not only should we learn to build, code, and wire more robustly, we should learn to treat each other with respect no matter what the pressures are. Many people are already there – and some of us need work. But most of all, we should learn from our experiences and move on.

But back to that memory thing. I read the report, and that afternoon in St. Louis is now one of thousands of FIRST memories. On that day, we didn’t know what was happening, only that it was happening, and that we were going to make it through no matter what. As I read the paper…my mental archives unfolded, scrambled to reshape my memories to link the report to my experience. But my Einstein was a lot more than the field. It was the thunderous sound of hail, the broad smile I caught while watching the FLL winners, the pressure of my fingers wrapped tight around my radio call button, and Chiniqua’s laugh as she told me jokes to keep my spirits up.

What is done is done, and the best part of FIRST is that with the end of every season there is another on the horizon. My countdown to January has begun.


The discussion board is dead.

I’m not going to bury the lead here: I think it is lazy for e-learners to rely on integrated discussion boards as a complete and authentic discussion solution.

Last semester I was in two classes that were completely online. Both have a “discussion” part of the grade that I was failing miserably at. Why? Because the discussion is so forced. Each of them require I post by Wednesday and then by Sunday I have to respond to five classmate’s comments. While I don’t mind at all posting to the board with my thoughts on the reading, I think what bothers me most is that most everyone is phoning in the responses. I don’t think my classmates are bad people, or that the intent was poor.

But I do think it is lazy. Here’s why:

  • In an ID program, you are failing to explore new technologies by relying on the pre-baked board. So maybe you don’t have a choice in the LMS that your program chose, I understand. And I’m familiar with the school policies that require a participation grade. But to rely on the technology that comes within the LMS is like sitting on the sidelines when the rest of the world is dancing. There are so many more ways to have discussion! Web chats, video responses, the list goes on and on. And by exposing new Instructional Designers to the many ways to get discussion across over the internet, the more they are likely to adopt it in their future portfolio.
  • The internet is no longer a closed-wall universe. Back in the early ages of the internet, it was almost required to have a discussion board. But as sites become more social and there are more and more places to login I follow an acquaintance on twitter who was encouraged to post discussion on twitter with a particular hashtag. I
  • Focusing the grade on the original response does not encourage discussion. If the rubric explicitly states that I get full credit if I respond to five students, then I will respond to five students. If that student responds back, I will not get notified until I log back in again. When am I most likely to log back in again? Next week, when I have to respond to discussion again.

Please don’t get me wrong and think I hate discussion boards, because I think they still have lots of use on the internet! I’ve been involved in the same board for over a decade and keep coming back because the discussion is thorough, the technology on the board alerts me and allows me to rely via email, or through an app.

Sure, whining on the internet is about as old as the discussion board itself, so how do you stretch discussion beyond the board?

  • Make comments public. Most people try to put their best foot forward when something is being publicly scrutinized. Students will do the same, and even better, if they can take it with them in an online portfolio, then there is a double benefit.
  • Encourage discussion with a broader audience. Allow students to comment, but make them engage their own audiences instead. Have them command their own discussion and show how their friends and colleagues respond. This encourages students to build their networks and utilize them in constructive discussion.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, but I think it’s time to get back into blogging. I should be commenting on my current classes to make sure I get the full points allotted, but I felt the need to finish it instead. Funny how that works sometimes.


The success of Twitter hashtags with students

I’ve decided to consolidate the blogs The Edu-Engineer and Tres Boucher so that I can provide a richer experience. Part of that includes moving all the posts from Edu-Engineer over to Tres: here’s one of many.


The success of Twitter hashtags with students
Originally posted June 15, 2011

I’m going to talk about my off-duty activity for a moment to show the power of hashtags with students. I’ve been involved with the competitive robotics circuit since 1999. Competitive robotics usually involves one or many people building a robot to compete against other robots. I’ve been involved with FIRST and it’s competitions for many years but I am a fan of them all – Battlebots, Vex, National Robotics League, National Underwater Robotics Challenge, you name it, I’ve probably seen it. If you’re looking to get a student excited about science, this is by far the best way to do it.

Here’s Morgan Freeman talking about FIRST in a video for those of you who like visuals:

The hashtag #omgrobots, like most great ideas, started out of the blue. It started at the FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff in 2010 to serve as the backchannel for the people who were either in the audience at the site in Manchester, NH or watching the live NASA TV feed across the world.

Capturing the Data

Did you know that hashtags were never a design feature of Twitter? The idea of using a hashtag to search tweets was popularized by Chris Messina, a developer advocate at Google. If you’re interested in capturing Twitter stats, you’ll need to go outside of Twitter as they only search tweets for a certain amount of days. I highly recommend TwapperKeeper, who offer freemium archive services for every tweet based on a twitter handle, subject, or hashtag, and also provide stats through another service called Summarizr. The #omgrobots archive is open to the public for anyone to view.

As of Feb 13, 2011 (when I started the archive, 121 days ago) the hashtag has been used 5,725 times, an average of 47 times a day. Although this does include the entire competition season plus the Championship, this archive does not include one of its highest use days, the Kickoff itself. Even with the usually very slow off-season occurring for over a month now, the average is still very strong.

What I am most proud of is the cross of the hashtag into promoting other events, such as Soledad O Brien’s “Don’t Fail Me” CNN education special on May 15th, or the showing of the documentary Bots High at SXSW. It also was used by other competitions, such as the Vex Robotics World Championship and the Battlebots / BotsIQ National event.

Here’s some tips to grow your hashtag with students:
– Provide exclusive information.

This is key at live events, and a great way to build your audience. Since the Kickoff is the place where the year’s FRC game is revealed, there’s lots of things going on off-camera that the twitter universe is dying to know about. Even if it’s taking a picture of the giant black curtain covering the game, people not at the event will eat it up. Using a hashtag allows people to be part of the conversation without first having to follow the heavy hitters in the community.

Get influencers to start using it. #omgrobots has been used by @iamwill (Will.i.Am of the Black Eyed Peas), @Soledad_OBrien of CNN, @PopMech (Popular Mechanics), and @ConnectMinds (the Connect a Million Minds Project sponsored by Time Warner), as well as many FIRST official twitter users, such as @FIRSTweets. But that didn’t happen overnight. This first means start using Twitter heavily with people in your community. Provide meaningful discussion and engage your community (personally, this is my favorite part and should be easy if you like your topic). Eventually, as you start to use the hashtag more, more people will pick it up and use it.

– Introduce it to newcomers. At the 2011 Championship this year they filmed a FIRST TV special which is slated to air this August. The host, actor Ryan Devlin, is a relative newcomer to the community and was trying to engage the audience by reading tweets sent to him on stage. Once he was introduced to #omgrobots, he started using it and was able to both understand his audience faster but also gain credibility by the community by talking in what the NY Times calls “their secret handshake”.

Tweet as if your grandmother is following you. FIRST Co-founder Woodie Flowers encourages students to “act as if their grandmother is watching”, which is good practice anywhere on Twitter. As robotic competitions have moved to use more official hashtags for their events, #omgrobots has become the official backchannel of competitive robotics. I encourage this because as Twitter use becomes more official within robotics, there still needs a place for the community to be less official and grow. That being said, just because you’re allowed to take your shoes off, does not mean that you should wear socks with holes in them. Many people read the #omgrobots feed and can still read your tweets – strive to be funny without being mean.

Meet in meatspace.
Opening ceremonies on GalileoAs a Volunteer Coordinator at the FIRST Championship I have the honor of being able to choose the crew on my field. The four fields, Curie, Newton, Archimedes, and my personal favorite, Galileo, all compete to become the Einstein field, which is the crew that works the Championship final rounds. We choose our crews carefully so that they work well together and have a great time while donating their time to FIRST. This year I was able to get a bunch of volunteers from Twitter who I was then able to hang out with for 3 days. These kids and mentors are from Michigan, South Carolina, Washington, California, Connecticut…they are all very smart, and it’s so great that they were able to network and see how we’re changing the culture all over the world. For you, this may mean putting together a meetup, or all getting together to watch an event…whatever works for you and your community.

For technologically-savvy students, hashtags are the chatrooms of my teen years. As mobile and tablet usage increases, especially among youth, the conversation just keeps on going, and travels with them. The question is, how do we as an industry keep up?

Now that I think about it, I’ve been tracking for the majority of 2012 – I should do an update post.


Spring, Running, and Zombies…..a review.

Since we had an unusually warm winter spring has come sooner than expected, which means I’m running on the road sooner than expected. I’ve had just the running app to test out since then that I must admit is pretty cool. It’s called Zombies, Run! and is available in the app store. They’re currently working on an android version now. This app started out as a kickstarter, but I got in on the pre-order after I read a blog post about it.

Now, I’m not a huge zombie fan, but I love the idea of the gamification of running. Sure, many apps out there try to get you to get your friends to join and compete against each other, but that’s putting it back on me to talk their app up. What I love about this is that I can get started right away, no cajoling required.

I wish I had read the deeper instructions beforehand or had this piece included in the tutorial, but most missions are 20-30 minutes long. I didn’t know this going in and realized that I was way beyond my turn-back point in my run. Not a bad thing, but I would love to set a midpoint time that tells me to head on back. I hear they’re working on audio cues for time, so I’m happy to hear this should be resolved soon.

Also good to know is that if you have the GPS enabled, you can take part in zombie chases, which are basically sprints up to 1 min against a pack of zombies. The faster the beeping, the closer they are, so it’s a great way to get an interval in there.

Basically the gist of the run is story -> song -> story, repeat. The quality of the story voices is great. It’s got a Jericho-ish feeling to it (no, I haven’t seen Walking Dead yet, although I’ve already been told I need to), but I really wish the quality of the voice while the music is playing (the one that tells me I’ve picked up an item) was better. No matter how far I turn up the volume it doesn’t seem to improve. I’m sure that’s also on the way – Runkeeper made great improvements on their voice in their later revs, I’m sure they can do the same.

When you get home, you can allocate the supplies you picked up into different areas of the compound and build it up. I’m interested to see where this goes. They’ve also slated improvements such as RunKeeper integration, celebrity voices, and other fun things, but I have to say at first blush this app is pretty great. I’ll spend anything to keep my running habit up!


Training Adults: The Art of the Long Program

I’ve decided to consolidate the blogs The Edu-Engineer and Tres Boucher so that I can provide a richer experience. Part of that includes moving all the posts from Edu-Engineer over to Tres: here’s one of many.

Training Adults: The Art of the Long Program
Originally posted Aug 9, 2011

It’s August. For the past four years, that means I just wrapped up multiple back to back week-long training sessions that take up most of July. Usually that means that I’m with about a dozen teachers in our training room teaching on a variety of topics during the day and entertaining them in the evenings.

Figure skating

Let’s switch to winter for a second. I’m not a huge figure skating fan (I’m more of a bobsled person myself), but I know people who love watching long program/free skate figure skating. They prefer it to the shorter competition, naturally called the “short program”, because it allows the skater to include all of the technical jumps with some extra time for artistic flourish.

But how does this relate to training? In my opinion, training adults over the course of a week requires different tactics than when training over the course of a day or two. A shorter training needs to be “just the facts”, but long training can add some flourish. This is a great thing, as you’ll want to flourish a little to make sure your trainees are interested all week long. Here’s some tips I’ve accumulated over the years to help keep attention and retain information:

Break it up. One of the worst things that you can do is to sit someone in a room all day and train on one thing. Instead, keep it light and switch up the subjects. We train on software in the morning and hands on activities in the afternoon specifically to keep trainees active after the inevitable post-lunch coma.

Channel your speaking heroes. Who do you consider to be a good speaker? Search the internet and study how great speakers talk. The TED talks are a great place to begin, as well as watching comedians. Watch them and ask around the 7 min mark: why am I still engaged in their speech? Is it a great slide show? Is it the stories that they tell? I don’t remember where I picked this up, but when I discuss creating unique usernames I always casually throw in the user ID “8675309” as an example. I love watching my group smirk as their brains get the reference. If they’re smirking, I know they’re still listening.

Keep the flow. You know that awkward moment while showing off software when the internet is loading and you’re left staring at your audience? Instead of utilizing that time, we apologize for the internet or stand there and wait. This is core time when you can bring up refresher information, reinforce where the user can find this page in the system, why this piece is important, etc, etc, etc. During pauses I like to borrow a tactic from yoga teachers, especially Bikram yoga, who talk constantly through the move. As you’re holding that toe stand, they’re utilizing their voice to keep you focused on the task at hand and hold it that much longer. By talking and keeping it interesting through those quiet moments, your audience will stay with you.

Don’t teach them everything they need to know. I would rather have someone know where they need to go for assistance after the training than to feverishly take notes on everything. Self-directed training is growing in leaps and bounds as the internet generation joins the workforce, and I try to encourage searching and creating a knowledge network in my older learners. As companies it’s a waste to put training materials on the internet and create communities if our target market doesn’t know that it is available.Plus, if they’re not taking notes, they’re more likely to ask questions and be engaged.

I think the best “long program” sessions act more like conversations, where as I’m talking they’re asking questions about how to utilize it in their personal situation. What tactics do you use in your training sessions to keep your trainees engaged? How do you measure success during training?