I love my iPad. At first, I was wary. I was “testing” it out. I wanted to see whether she would be viable. Believe me, I have used my share of devices like palm pilots and treos, all with little keyboards I carried around in my backpack to meetings. But I always slipped in my process at some point. Tired of the tool, and pulled out my little lined notebook. I have also owned a Kindle. That didn’t last long either, as the hardware seemed old school and the device so one-track minded.

Not so with my iPad. In fact, my love and respect for it has grown (probably along with the apps). I am beginning to believe that this little thin device may be well on the road to being a game changer for computing and for educational technology. Here are a few things that really work for me:

  1. So thin and light — I even got a special small timbuk2 bag (the Freestyle) to go with it. I spent all last week in L.A. at the Sakai Conference. I did both my presentations from the iPad and I left my laptop at home in Berkeley.
  2. Small apps that provide very focused functionality keep me focused. I am learning to jump quickly between them, and the good ones are starting to build more integration points.
  3. The cloud rocks. I use Evernote everyday for all my meeting notes. I can access them on my phone, my iPad, my laptop. I am never without my information and paper is printed rarely. iAnnotate also helps with this process.
  4. It is my friend. It helps me find my way, find good restaurants when and where I need them, access email on my way to the snowshoe trail in Tahoe… It is my personal assistant, connecting me to the information I need when I need it and my colleagues and more.

Also, Some apps are developing collaboration tools using bluetooth or the network to share screens and co-edit. This has many applications in the classroom. I am thinking we should buy a fleet for our new Active Learning Classroom Test Kitchen. What do you think? Can any of you share use cases for within the classroom? Love to hear from you.

Trent Batson has a good article on Campus Technology today, “Tipping Point for “Content” — Dynamic Interaction, Not Static Stuff.” There are some nice quotes from Michael Korcuska, the Sakai Foundation Executive Director, on the changing role of the “publisher” (It might be OER rather than a traditional publishing house) providing more interactive experiences, and that being the value of the future. It parallels a recent discussion held by the Content Group at the Open EdTech Summit in Barcelona. One of our 10 assertions (there will be a white paper representing the Summit outcomes sometime in the future) was that Content is not static and that, in fact, it is multi-directional. What we meant by this is that it is no longer solely owned by Publishers or the instructor.  That it is the learner,  and the learners interactions with the content and their ability to make connections and enhance and inform that content is the next wave. Web 2.0 has helped begin that process, but it may be Web 3.0 that really begins to define the ways in which those interactions and contexts are managed and manipulated and built upon by learners to follow. It may  dramatically change our perception of the role of “repositories” before it is even fully birthed…  It is also this change that may be one of the final gentle (?) pushes of the Sage on the Stage to the Guide on the Side.

So what is the role of education in this new world? It is to help foster informed inquiry. It’s all in the question!

Positive Deviance

November 1, 2008

I attended the Frye Institute’s Alumni leadership workshop prior to Educause ’08 last week. The best part of the session was the morning when a small group of about nine of us set off to explore open source, open content, and collaboration. The conversation quickly headed down the path of ways in which the trends toward Open technologies (and we can include web 2.0 here) and open content are enabling stronger and more meaningful collaborations.

During the course of the conversation, Gardner Campbell introduced the concept of Positive Deviance. I don’t even remember how it came up, but it hit me like a great new hot salsa. I wanted more. It seemed so pertinent to challenges we face as managers in fostering innovation and encouraging creativity. But instead of being some great new “System” (yes, with a capital “S”), it is something that emerges through individual characteristics.There are people who do amazing things without batting an eyelash. They do not fit the norm, they make great things happen. And, like that new hot salsa, we want more of them. We need them helping to lead the way.

So I have started to do a little research on the subject (that is research with a lower case “r”). It has a fascinating history in the health services in developing countries but can also be applied to organizations. The University of Michigan Ross Business School states,

“A growing number of scholars believe positive deviance may be important for promoting subjective well-being and long-term organizational effectiveness.”

In an article in Fast Company, Jerry Sternin, the fellow responsible for testing out this theory in Vietnam back in the 1990s, says,

“The traditional model for social and organizational change doesn’t work,” says Sternin, 62. “It never has. You can’t bring permanent solutions in from outside.” Maybe the problem is with the whole model for how change can actually happen. Maybe the problem is that you can’t import change from the outside in. Instead, you have to find small, successful but “deviant” practices that are already working in the organization and amplify them. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is already alive in the organization — and change comes when you find it.”

Wikipedia provides a more general view:

“Positive Deviance (PD) is an approach to personal, organizational and cultural change based on the idea that every community or group of people performing a similar function has certain individuals (the “Positive Deviants”) whose special attitudes, practices/ strategies/ behaviors enable them to function more effectively than others with the exact same resources and conditions.[1] Because Positive Deviants derive their extraordinary capabilities from the identical environmental conditions as those around them, but are not constrained by conventional wisdoms, Positive Deviants standards for attitudes, thinking and behavior are readily accepted as the foundation for profound organizational and cultural change.”

The Postive Deviant Network names Seven Characteristics of Positive Deviants:

  1. Passion
  2. High Moral or Social Purpose
  3. Seeing Holes vs. the Net
  4. Moving Towards, Not Away
  5. Rapid Cognition
  6. Checking the Edges
  7. Low Regard for Social Convention

“Don’t teach new knowledge — encourage new behavior.”

If you are interested in learning more about these 7 characteristics, visit their web page (doesn’t work well in Firefox unfortunately) which has more detail about each characteristic.

I have more to learn about this concept, but I fully expect to continue to find some wonderful insights and ideas as I reflect upon and apply some of the concepts within the work environment at UC Berkeley. Thanks, Gardner, for the tip. Nothing like a little collaboration to expand our world! And of course, thanks to the open WWW for enabling me to find all this great information and thanks to those positive deviants that started it…

Is there a perfect storm brewing for the Sakai Project’s goals of improving the user experience? I am very impressed with the confluence of ideas and action in the Sakai UX improvement initiative, the Fluid project, and CARET’s Sakai Web 2.0 project. These initiatives show the community prioritizing the user experience need and coming at a shared problem from many angles, each contributing pieces of the design activities, technology, and community building. After spending the morning perusing the sites and catching up on the happenings that I am more optimistic regarding Sakai’s ability to reach user delight than ever before.

In addition to bringing good ideas and changes to the Sakai product, I am liking where it is heading in the communication department. Nathan Pearson, the UX lead for the UX improvement initiative has used Flash demos with voice over to share his design ideas with the community. Working rapidly and iteratively, he has taken the approach of share earlier rather than later, iterate and improve. He has had a lot of good research and documentation to launch from, but he also uses his design expertise and general design best practices to move forward with some best guesses which can then be tested. This can feel risky to many designers, but if the promise of being able to iteratively improve is real, then it is well worth it in terms of getting buy in and concrete visuals. In the open source and community source projects, this may be the best way to be successful with design and usability.

If you haven’t seen his presentations, check them out:

Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6

Nathan’s approach and Cambridge’s approach with the Sakai Web 2.0 project represent a value that is hard to come by in higher education, partly because of tight budgets which means all work must be efficient and produce a product for our end users, partly because of the reluctance of our universities to invest in R&D within its administrative units (even when supporting the academic endeavors of the campus), and partly because of our tendency to invest in a narrow range of skills (the ones that we think will shorten the time to delivery — such as programmers — and limit overhead costs — such as project managers). That said, even a range of skills doesn’t guarantee good product. I think perhaps a value of risk taking, exploration, and getting stuff in front of users for feedback will be terribly important.

Jutta Treviranus and I will be leading a discussion on some of these ideas and challenges regarding building the right organization and culture at the 9th Sakai Conference:

Mara Hancock and Jutta Treviranus will lead a discussion that explores the culture, values, and structures within our departments and institutions that enable a User Experience (UX) approach to flourish and bring transformational change to our services and open source systems.

Using the Fluid/Sakai partnership as an example they will look at the range of roles, skills, and methods that precipitate and enhance the inclusion and embracing of UX in the development process. They will lead the group in the investigation of ways in which the Sakai foundation and contributing institutions can enhance and extend their staffing models and capabilities to create a creative, flourishing, and inclusive development environment.

Hope you can make it and help us explore these issues. Meanwhile, thanks to Nathan Pearson, the CARET team at Cambridge and their friends working on the Sakai Web 2.0 project for adding some additional wind to the perfect storm.

UC Berkeley webcast has a new distribution partner in YouTube: http://youtube.com/ucberkeley. The site was officially launched on Wednesday, October 3, to a great community (global) response. There were many notices of this across the blogosphere and Web. Ben Hubbard, our webcast program manager at UC Berkeley is tracking many of these on his del.icio.us site.

We see this as the beginning of a very interesting relationship. Integrating educational content into YouTube, firmly a leader in the web 2.0 world, begins a unique experiment in building informal learning communities around formal learning activities. Not sure exactly where this will take us, but I expect there to be some tensions along the way and some breakthroughs. I’ll keep you posted.

I have been thinking about the personal responsibility and identity issues that reveal themselves on the web and in virtual environments. I haven’t done any research on this issue, although I am sure there is plenty. Mainly, my opinions are stemming from my personal experience with contributing to a number of different social networking tools such as facebook, this blog, LinkedIn, as well as a large number of email lists and open source communities.

One of the elements we talk about a lot in education and online tools is how students who are shy, or simply not comfortable voicing opinions in-person, find it easier to express themselves on the web or in a mediated virtual environment. This doesn’t surprise me, as someone who is fairly shy myself. For this reason, the potential alienation derived from virtual communication has never really concerned me. I can carry on a virtual conversation and in-person conversation with the same agility. In fact, sometimes it is easier to engage initially virtually as a way to ease into a community. What doesn’t change for me is my essential persona. I am always Mara Hancock, and the words – whether typed or spoken – are my own.

Watching my son – who is not shy – “talk with my friends” via IM every night I have been equally unconcerned. What is strikingly different though, is that he is not talking to “Derek who lives two blocks away,” he is talking to “PidgeonToes” or “MrRogersRIP” or “DragonGirl.” Peering over his shoulder, I have to ask, “who are you talking to?” I can never remember which alias goes with which kid. My IM alias is incredibly boring, “mara_hancock,” betraying my age and essential unhip self.

Recently, I have received several cranky comments on my blog. I have it set so that I can review and moderate comments, which I usually do happily and quickly. I am more than willing to post comments that are controversial or promote dialog. I believe that is part of the responsibility that comes with choosing to publish in this medium. Most of my peers are professional in their manner and bring interesting ideas to share. However, these recent comments however are clearly people venting. They don’t compose their argument or message and tend toward the use of profanity. These things, while concerning, don’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that they do not sign their real names. I have no idea who I am talking to, I have little context with which to assess this person’s perspective or opinion.

Now, I grew up in a relatively liberal family with a strong work-ethic and sense of personal responsibility and values. I know that my opinions are sometimes controversial, but if I believe it important to express them in a public arena (and the web is public), then I also believe it is important enough to sign my name next to them. I think about this when I sign petitions, when I sign letters and emails, and when I write in this blog.

So, if you would like to have your comments included on this blog, please, let me know who you are. You know who I am. It’s like shaking hands.

For those of you who are interested in inclusive software design and don’t know Jutta Treviranus, you should. As the director for the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC), she leads a creative and inspiring set of projects. Yesterday, at the Sakai conference, Jutta spoke on Inclusive Design and, along with Colin Clark and Daphne Ogle, on the Fluid Project. Jutta’s message about inclusive design is incredibly inspiring. Working from a core set of values that focus on and embrace diversity rather than simply what we generally consider accessibility for large physical disabilities broadens the discussion and increases recognition of the wider impact (Electronic Curb Cut Effect) these solutions can have. In fact, this can and should lead to more innovation rather the make-do solutions (solely complying with accessibility guidelines) which most often result in a less than rich experience. A key take away is to beware of the risk of creating user experiences that are accessible to everyone but optimal for no one.

The Fluid project — just starting out — affords some great opportunities to make a big difference in improving the user experience for all users of open source software. One of the things to remember about the project is that it is emphasizing the embedded resources philosophy: in order to create real and sustainable change the resources and participation should come from the core of the open source community on which they are working. The first activity, the lightbox component, has started by taking a fairly discrete new (hence in an early iteration) Sakai tool, the Image Gallery that is being worked on by UC Berkeley ETS. It started with the rich accessible version, and Colin Clark demoed that. I played with an early version of it over the weekend and was thrilled to find out that I was actually delighted by the experience.

Daphne Ogle talked about some of the plans for the User Experience efforts. Starting this summer they will be launching UX Inspections to “identify current user “pain points” by performing heuristic evaluation and cognitive walk-throughs of uPortal, Sakai and Moodle.” Some of the other ambitious and exciting UX deliverables will be:

  • Designer toolkit — shared design resources
  • A living library of flexible UI components that can be used across applications
  • Integration into core parts of Sakai
  • UI Design patterns (to be applied across OS projects)
  • Component library
  • Component design artifacts to talk about the components themselves — give ourselves way to talk about them within our own context — truly inclusive/personalized
  • Create a design patterns taxonomy / folksonomy

I am enjoying reflecting on the idea of folksonomy as an accessibility strategy. This concept immediately resonated with me, thinking about how many times I have struggled with the information architectures of various sites or wikis (likening them to having to understand someone else’s mind). I think this can also be applied through the creation of various “viewers” that could be combined with tagging and annotation environments which would allow for personal context organizations of someone else’s content.