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I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get my students to build more and become invested in their work and learn through experimentation. I think this video by John Seely Brown captures some of the things I’m trying to accomplish in the classroom. To me, however, the challenge appears to be that this kind of thinking requires a complete restructuring of class preparation and student assessment. Time is focused on building, sharing and critiquing things. In some classes, like Web Design and Programming, I can see this being more readily implemented. But what about courses with “softer” skill sets? Can we get students in an intro to MIS course to build, share, and critique things that get evaluated based on their functionality as well?

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I was inspired by this video I recently viewed on YouTube.  I plan on sharing this with my students next semester and hope to find ways to inspire them to view their activities in the classroom and as future information systems professional as creative work  .

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On Improvisation

I’ve been thinking about improvisation a lot lately. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the increasing number of headlines about the economy encouraging us to make due with what we have.  Perhaps it’s my theatrical training trying to find an outlet in the quantitative and largely deterministic paradigm of my research.  Then again, it could be a desire to learn to think better on my feet, or a yearning to push the learning experiences in my classroom to another level, or a desire to experience and enjoy my academic writing in a more fluid, personal, and perhaps human, manner. 

And then quotes like the following get me thinking that perhaps I should be researching and teaching principles related to improvisation to my students:

“Everyone is at a loss, this is the start of a period of huge improvisation. There is no longer any best practice around to refer to,” says Victor Halberstadt, professor of economics at Leiden [in a WSJ.com article on the attitude at the Davos conference]

I think learning to improvise — to follow general principles with available though admittedly imperfect or incomplete resources in an environment of uncertainty — is an increasingly important skill to develop. I’m also trying to figure out how to align my work with principles such as

“teach [others] correct principles and [let them] govern themselves” (Joseph Smith, Jr.)

and

“Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.” (D&C 84:85). 

As I start identifying the connections between improvisation and my research and teaching, I’ll likely post more here.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share.

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Joining BYU Hawaii

 

byuhmedallionsm

The CIS Department of Brigham Young University – Hawaii has invited me to join its faculty, and I am delighted to do so. I will join the BYU Hawaii faculty in July 2009.  I look forward to contributing to the incredible work occuring at BYU Hawaii and to teaching and learning with the remarkable faculty and students there.

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I think it’s out of pedagogical interest rather than a nascent love for programming that I’m sharing another tool for teaching programming. This one, DrawBot (Mac OS X) starts with visual experiments (a reversal from the introductory programming courses I took which focused on text-based activities first before moving into graphical interface activities).  According to the software home page,

“DrawBot is an ideal tool to teach the basics of programming. Students get colorful graphic treats while getting familiar with variables, conditional statements, functions and what have you.”

I’ve been reading some works by phenomenologists like Heidegger lately, and I’m starting to think perhaps much of our pedigogical approach to teaching technical skills focuses too much on abstractions and not enough on rich experiences. If expertise can be developed in some cases through experience and feedback without abstraction perhaps there’s a way I can change my approach in the classroom.

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In this video, Ira Glass from NPR talks about developing the craft of creating great work. His advice is applicable to scholars as well as creative artists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hidvElQ0xE

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image of programming building blocks from Scratch program

I came across some research out of MIT recently featuring an innovative approach to teaching programming to children (ages 8 and up).  One of the products they’ve produced is a application called Scratch. Using this tool, the user fits lego-block like programming modules together to manipulate graphics, sounds, and video on the screen.  The emphasis of the application is on helping children understand and get used to working with programming concepts such as logical structures (i.e, if statements, for-loops), screen coordinates, objects, etc.  without having to worry about syntax. I downloaded the program the other day onto my home computer and showed it to my seven- and five-year old boys.  We were learning how to use the tool together, when after about five minutes, I realized my seven-year old was picking things up faster than I was.  My five-year old also enjoys playing with it and is asking for father-son time so I can teach him to use it.  As a geek, I’m naturally thrilled. As an educator, I’m intrigued by the implications of how this will help children develop math and logic skills, and as a father, I’m thrilled for another way to spend time productively with my children.

In my undergraduate program, I remember that the programming courses were something of a barrier for business students who were interested in information systems, but did not have any background in programming. Perhaps tools like this could be useful on the college level as well.

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rickzI came across an informative post on the OCIS doctoral student blog providing some helpful suggestions for preparing for job interviews. The photo included in the post alone (duplicated here, image source: rickz on flickr) was worth the link.

I think I’ll dedicate a future post or two to answering the sample questions included in the post.

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I had to put together some instructions for our secretary to enter a considerable amount of data into a series of web-based forms.  My first impulse was to create a series of screen shots, dump them into Microsoft OneNote and annotate the screen shots with the instructions. (I’ve done that in the past for a similar type of task.)

However, I caught myself, picked up a pencil and some scratch paper, scribbled out the instructions, and wrote the date at the bottom of the page. I took the paper upstairs to our secretary, and she was able to follow the instructions perfectly.  The tech-heavy solution would have generated some glamorous pictures. But it would have used up a lot more time and paper to accomplish the same job. It would likely have been more difficult to follow as the instructions would have been spread across several pages as well. I’m finally learning that, particularly when delegating, it’s important to keep things as simple as possible.

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I just read a summary of an interview with an accomplished artist that illustrates my last post. It appears that Chuck Close attributes his genius to consistent hard work. He also describes how he is able to structure his work so that it is achievable in discrete chunks. I think there’s something to be said for studying the work and living habits of people who have accomplished great things.

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