Category Archives: work

Learning, Education and Snow Days

There has, as you can imagine, been lots of talk about snow days here in the Commonwealth. Jon Becker mused about how odd it seemed to have a university close despite widespread connectivity. He asked a powerful question: “Are we not supposed to work?” The comments provided examples of both K-12 and higher education organizations that managed to continue work and learning despite not being able to physically meet. My own comment was bit tongue in cheek: I teach online for two universities that were both officially closed. Our learning went on as usual. If my students, most of whom were themselves out on snow days, chose not to work on the days the schools were closed, that is up to them.  I suspect, however, most of them used the time to get caught up.

National Public Radio revisited a report from 2015 on students in Delphi, Indiana, who were expected to log in from home on snow days. Teachers had prepared ahead, creating digital versions of lessons and engaging with students. The article described some of the issues around e-learning that will resonate with anyone who has taught online: some content is harder to teach online, not all students have access, and tech support can be difficult. I was most interested in the “diminishing returns” described by the superintendent:

But he admits there is a point of diminishing returns, which he noticed during a recent string of snow days.

“You know, the first day we had about 100 percent of the kids involved in e-learning,” Walker says. “Well, then, after the fourth day, we were down to about 55 percent of the children.”

On the fifth snow day, Walker gave kids and teachers a free pass: No e-learning today.

I wonder why there was a fall off in participation? The novelty wore off? The sense of community was reduced? Or, did students have a sense that the work didn’t count? The edict that there would be “no e-learning today” reminded me of Jon’s tweet: an educator is banning learning? What if they wanted to continue?

K-12 educators  seem torn about snow days and formal learning. In a tweet chat last evening, the topic, not surprisingly, was snow day learning. Some teachers felt like these days should be breaks for the kids: have fun in the snow, hang out with family, and just take a break from the rigors of school. Others indicated they had communicated with their students and parents, sharing ideas for how to keep the learning going despite being out of school, whether it was encouraging elementary kids to read or high school kids to apply their physics learning to snow.

As with the students and teachers in Indiana, there were some constraints. Not all students had Internet access and even for those who did, accessing the school ecosystem could be difficult on a non-school device. Some questioned the use of non-school communication systems like Twitter as being against the AUP.  And, ultimately, making kids and teachers work on a day off still didn’t make the day “count” towards state attendance requirements so there was a sense that it was all just optional.

That last problem underscores the disconnect between bureaucracy and technology as the latter moves much more quickly than the former. Ultimately, if snow day learning is going to catch on in K-12 at least, bureaucracy is going to need to catch up.

Getting the Most from the Tools

I had something of a revelation over the course of the past few days: I am NOT taking full advantage of the tools I am using to make my life easier. Somehow, I have gotten stuck at a somewhat superficial level of use: I use the tools but they don’t work for me.

My main teacher was Tim Owens. I approached him with a question about the CSS for this blog. By the end of solving that problem I had learned that I no longer had to ctrl-click to get the menu, that I could use Chrome’s Developer view to not only view but link to the problematic code, and that it was worth using the CSS file to customize my blog rather than editing the existing file. Oh, he also turned me on to 1Password.  I walked wondering what else I was missing.

Then, I checked out the posts from today’s Reddit AMA with three MIT computer scientists. There’s a lot there–for instance, they recommend Scratch as a great starting programming language–but so far, I’ve only gotten through the answers to the question about the tools they use to organize their lives. I have a little bit of a fascination with how people work.

Evernote was by far the most popular tool and I feel like I know a fair amount about using it. But I realized that knowing and doing are two different things. I am not afraid to say that I still use a pencil/paper to do list but I think it’s time to leverage Evernote to become more effective in the planning area.

Then, I saw the post on the AMA about getting a text message with reminders from Google. I don’t use Google tasks but I think this feature might convince me to start. I have been learning more about the joys of texting. I have tried to be less obsessive about checking my email, particularly on the weekend, so getting a text message to remind me to water the plants that I’ve brought in for the winter would be very helpful.

As for email, I am definitely a bit obsessive, and I sense the need to get it under control in terms of the role it plays in my daily life.  And while I don’t think it causes me stress, it does interrupt my flow and, maybe more importantly, it enables others to use email as an “emergency” communication tool. Because folks know I am almost always in email, they send emails when they really should call or text. My worry that I’m going to miss one of those emergency emails makes me even more obsessive.

I tweeted today that my first 2015 resolution was to check email three times a day. But I may start right now and then have a head start on the new year.

My other resolution is to schedule time each week to explore the tools I’m using and learn more about how to use them to support my productivity.

Doing Good

Tim Stahmer’s post about Apple choosing to do good over making profits reminded me of my recent reading of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. I loved the book for lots of reasons and have been stumbling over real world connections right and left since I finished it. Tim’s post makes one of those connections.

Pink discusses the seemingly anti-capitalistic idea that businesses can make money AND do good at the same time. He highlights Tom’s Shoes whose business model includes donating a pair of shoes for every pair they sell.

Another connection related to Pink’s description of the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow was one of my favorite reads in graduate school. Turns out it is one of Pink’s favorite books about work:

Flow is the mental state when the challenge before us is so exquisitely matched to our abilities that we lose our sense of time and forget ourselves in a function. Csikszentmihalyi’s contemporary classic reveals that we’re more likely to find flow at work than in leisure.

As part of his work, Csikszenmihalyi (Chicksa-ma-hi).researched happiness using a somewhat unique method that took advantage of the technology at the time. According to Pink:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did more than discover the concept of “flow.” He also introduced an ingenious new technique to measure it. Csikszentmihalyi and his University of Chicago team equipped participants in their research studies with electronic pagers. Then they paged people at random intervals (approximately eight times a day) for a week, asking them to describe their mental state at that moment. Compared with previous methods, these real-time reports proved far more honest and revealing.

I think Flow is a relatively well-known concept so I was a little surprised when a recent report on National Public Radio described “new” ways to research happiness using an app that pings you several times a day and asks you to complete a survey failed to mention the connection with this earlier work. The researcher’s findings are similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s:

KILLINGSWORTH: So when I look across all the different activities that people engage in, they are universally happier when they’re fully engaged in that activity and not mind wandering, no matter what they’re doing.

The last, and perhaps most interesting, connection I made with Pink related to a comment he makes about contemporary businesses. They are, according to Pink, living in the past, and not even the recent past:

Big Idea: Management is an outdated technology. Hamel likens management to the internal combustion engine—a technology that has largely stopped evolving. Put a 1960s-era CEO in a time machine and transport him to 2010, Hamel says, and that CEO “would find a great many of today’s management rituals little changed from those that governed corporate life a generation or two ago.” Small wonder, Hamel explains. “Most of the essential tools and techniques of modern management were invented by individuals born in the 19th century, not long after the end of the American Civil War.” The solution? A radical overhaul of this aging technology.

This accusation is usually flung at schools: they would be familiar to people from earlier generations. And, ironically, that accusation often comes from businesses who are, according to Pink, themselves outdated and who are not always successful at adopting new technologies. Pink describes the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) adopted by companies including Best Buy. The focus is on the work rather than the seat time (hmm….again sounds familiar). But, as Best Buy began to struggle, the new CEO disbanded the practice, returning to a more standard top down management, 40 hour work week model. This, along with Yahoo’s decision to end telecommuting, is seen as a step back for flexible work arrangements despite evidence that it can boost worker satisfaction and productivity.


Consumed (weekly): ROWE Resources

I’ve been reading Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. I’ll post more about the book but here are a few links about the Results Only Work Environment that Pink discusses as the future of work. Not everyone loves it…

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Changing the Way I Work

Thanks to Curt Rees for pointing me to this article by Matt Boyd about avoiding burnout. The 11 suggestions range from working weird hours to changing scenery to writing it out and I found that there are a couple I’ve started implementing in this new year.

In particular, I’ve been focusing on doing micro-work (without knowing that’s what it was called) at weird hours. Maybe not as weird as the writer seems to suggest but weird as in late Friday night before heading to bed or early Sunday morning while I’m watching the news shows.

Boyd defines micro-work as follows:

Micro-work is the idea of an always on mindset where you do bits and pieces of work throughout your natural 16 hour awake cycle. This way, you can mix in a healthy dose of daily activities while still accomplishing a whole lot.

I have daily morning routines that include checking email and touching base with my online students. I’m also a fan of Brian Tracy’s “live frog” theory of getting things done so I usually have at least one or two items on the to do list that need to be done before the lunchtime dog walk. (In looking up the reference I discovered there is now a live frog app.)

Once I get past those routines and frogs, the day opens to possibilities beyond work. But then, about 9 PM, I find myself back in my chair, laptop in hand, considering the to do list. That’s when I like to at least get started on the next morning’s live frog. It’s taken me a long time to realize that working independently from home means that I don’t have to follow the classic work schedule. Just because other people are battling the morning commute so they can be behind their desks by 8 AM doesn’t mean I have to. After all, my commute, including the stop at the coffee shop, is about two minutes. 

Rees pointed to the “strategic procrastination” tip: I don’t really think about my work flow as procrastination but simply knowing when I need to start working on a long term project. For instance, I’m doing a workshop for school administrators in early March. I’ve already created the folder and copied potential resources into it but I’m just not ready to start the final presentation. It will take about two days of work and I have plenty of time. For now, I’m letting it percolate: do I want to play a game? use a special group project? organize the day around a theme? These are questions I can be contemplating even when I’m not working specifically on the project. So, it may look like I’m procrastinating but it is very much strategic.

I tweeted the article with the question about how this could apply in what Boyd calls the “classic 9 to 5 grind.” And I continue to wonder how we prepare our students to live in a non-classic environment?