Category Archives: 3 Life-Embedded Learning

Weekly Reflection: Changes We’re Missing

As someone who spent much of the 90s writing about technological revolution, I was thinking about how that revolution was just the tip of the iceberg. So much attention was focused on that while all the structures of our society and how we think were being reconfigured.

I began to think about the ideas of the scientist Ilya Prigogine who many may remember was cited in Margaret J. Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe (1992, Berrett-Koehler). I pulled out my copy and read that while it makes sense to stabilize machines and structures as a way to prevent deterioration, living systems (organizations) need non-equilibrium to change and grow because they exchange energy with their environments. Prigogine said living systems are “dissipative structures.” As Wheatley, t explains it, they “dissipate their energy in order to recreate themselves into new forms of organizations” (88).

In ecosystems, for example, external fluctuations in the environment exert great pressure on the system and the system uses its energy very inefficiently, but “as the ecosystem matures, it develops an internal stability, a resiliency to the environment that, in turn, creates conditions that support more efficient use of energy and protection from environmental demands”(92).

Wheatley applies these ideas to organizations. In the factory model, she says, “managers watched for departures from the norm so they could “make corrections and preserve the system at its current levels of activity”(78). Systems that are organized around core competencies but open to information from outside are less vulnerable to environmental disturbances. Their more fluid structure ultimately leads to an internal stability. As expressed by one scientist she quotes (Jantsch), “the more freedom in self-organization, the more order.”

On other words, there is much more happening in education than a change in tools. Trying to impose the old factory model using new tools will not work. Openness, creativity and freedom to innovate are the system of learning that is being born as the old system of education dies.

Weekly Reflection: Mentoring

Mentoring relationships can change lives. But does mentoring always have to follow the same pattern? What we need to learn and how we can best learn it changes throughout our lives, and often we find ourselves challenged in very different ways at the same time.

Although there is much to be said for the lifelong bonds that can form when a seasoned professional takes a young person under his or her wing, the younger generations also can mentor their elders. I believe everyone has something to offer and something to learn. Moreover, some people might benefit more from a series of mentors. At one age, we might need a mentor to build our confidence and help with how we present ourselves while later it might be a good thinker who can help us consider all the angles as we make big decisions. At various times, we may need one mentor to help us master a discipline or profession, another who has connections that will help us identify and get selected for opportunities, and another who helps us see the big picture. Some of us may need mentors to help us with relatively small and peripheral but still important area of our careers.

Imagine an engineer, She works in casual clothes every day but may need someone with good fashion sense to help her look good for a professional presentation and someone else to give her tips for presenting. She may also need a mentor who helps her step out of her comfort zone in an area like writing for publication. She may need a mentor who helps her make her way when she is the only young person or the only female on a project team and another who helps her when the time comes to become a team leader—or to make the transition into upper management. She may need a mentor when she has her first child—someone who is an expert at balancing work and mothering or someone who is the kind of mother she wants to be.

No single individual could provide all those mentoring relationships.

Weekly Reflection: Defining Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a process that we use to arrive at a better understanding of what is true in situations that extend beyond verifying simple facts. The subject might be an artistic or literary work. It can be an assertion or claim made by a specific individual, such as a politician, activist, journalist, author, or teacher. Or it can be a whole philosophy, school of thought, or system.

When we use critical thinking, we observe, compare, contrast, and analyze. We interpret using our own knowledge and imagination (often supplemented by the knowledge or ideas of experts). Then we evaluate against accepted criteria to arrive at a claim about the qualities of the subject.

“Critical” is often interpreted as looking for and pointing out what’s wrong with someone’s actions or words. However, “critical” should be a neutral word. The enemies of critical thinking (other than laziness) are our assumptions, biases, and loyalties, as well as our self-interest.

Additional information on critical thinking.

Fake News vs Real News: A Simplistic Comparison

I think we all know by now that the content found on the Facebook platform is a mix of real and fake news, but we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking in black and white terms. Otherwise, we will start categorizing news we disagree with as fake. Here is how I would categorize the information we see every day online:

Straight News. Accounts of completely verifiable events and statements. Journalists gather facts and evidence from first-hand observation of events and reliable sources. In writing their stories, they strive to present information with adherence to the ethical principles and traditional practices of responsible journalism, which places a premium on fairness, accuracy, and objectivity. Fact-checkers and editors provide further quality control. After publication, reputable media outlets are accountable for any errors that are revealed.

In-Depth Journalism. Articles in which principled writers take a position and make a strong case for that position after thorough and objective research. They follow journalistic and ethical principles, as well as the rules of logic and rhetoric. Their research includes careful examination of all principal documents in the public record (e.g., laws or pending legislation, existing regulations, relevant court decisions, relevant correspondence, speeches and statements), interviews with knowledgeable sources that credibly represent all parties, and thorough examination of opposing viewpoints. They do background reading and interviews to ensure that key facts are surrounded by a relevant “bigger picture.”

Public Relations & Advocacy Communications. Information that often imitates journalistic forms and style but is designed to shape public opinion about an organization or group and the causes, positions, or products it represents. PR professionals study their target audience and craft messaging that will persuade them toward desired beliefs or actions. PR and communications professionals typically strive to portray their subjects in the best possible light without making overtly false claims or omitting key facts. Readers realize the bias when they’re looking at company literature or op eds written by a CEO. But sometimes it’s not apparent what interests are behind the content. Exxon or Dow, for example, may sponsor a documentary about Alaska that has nothing to do with their oil pipelines and disposal of chemical waste. But the subtle message is that they are environmentalists who would not do harm. Moreover, journalists may get story ideas from press releases and use material from a company as background in their stories. Often, due to budgetary reasons, news organizations rely too heavily on media releases or inside sources.

Junk news. Sensational, often misleading headlines followed by shallow, poorly sourced content that echoes the emotions and prejudices of targeted groups without adding anything new to what is already reported elsewhere. Its purpose is to generate ad revenues, often for junk products. The information in junk news is not fake, but its production typically bypasses the quality controls that exist in reputable newsrooms. To produce junk news, the “writers” selectively assemble facts and quotes from reputable news sources, but they often ignore important context, opposing evidence, and background that would weaken the grand narrative that the targeted audience chooses to believe.

Propaganda. Content in which language, structure, and facts have been purposely manipulated to mislead, sway, divert attention, obscure truth, and/or cloud judgment. Typically, its purpose is to serve the interests of those holding or seeking power by promoting (propagating) an alternative to the predominant narrative. Not all propaganda is patently false. More often, propagandists present accurate facts but cite sources and select details that make the preconceived claims seem more logical, well-supported, and emotionally compelling than they are. They may use words, forms, images, and music that underscore the effect they are seeking. In short, propagandists persuade an audience to reach a conclusion based on emotion, psychological manipulation, or faulty reasoning rather than relevant evidence.

Fake news. Fabricated stories with little or no basis in facts that are represented as news. Fake news stories may be used as clickbait to build traffic for ads or for disinformation purposes. Fake news often can be disproven simply by googling claims of fact, using a trusted fact checking publication, and thinking about the reliability of sources. Many people don’t take those steps, however.

Life-Embedded Learning: Essential Questions

  1. >What is one area of your practice that would benefit from a period of learning?
  2. What material items would you need?
  3. What books would you read?
  4. What other learning resources would you use (e.g., workshops, online courses, tutorials, manuals)?
  5. Whom do you know with the most expertise in this skill area? Who else could advise you?
  6. How much time will it take to: a) Acquire the basic knowledge needed to ask good questions and make a plan for using the skill? b) Acquire enough competency to do a small, simple project for yourself or for free for someone else? c) Become capable of doing a bigger project with some guidance? d) Become skilled enough to incorporate the skill into your practice in a minor way? e) Become skilled enough to complete projects that require the skill in order to be successful?

Is “Rich” iPresence Possible?

By Deborah Vrabel

Books relevant to the topic of Rich iPresence have been central in my reading this month. I just finished four that affirmed the concerns I expressed about fragmentation but also made me examine this project more critically.

The books:

  • Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us by Andrew Keen (2012)
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicolas Carr (2010)
  • You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (2010)
  • Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans by Simon Head (2014)
  • The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in A World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris (2014)
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle (2011)

Each of these authors warns that we underestimate the extent to which information technology shapes and controls our minds, individuality, relationships, economy, and culture. Reading them made me question whether iPresence could be rich at all.

Andrew Keen is an early Internet entrepreneur, the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast, and the author of The Cult of the Amateur. He says we are trading our precious privacy and solitude for the empty status symbol of social media visibility. Heavy social media users, he says, are like “lab rats, constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” Those who are adding content to Facebook are not the site’s customers, he says. They are the product it sells to advertisers and marketers who want the personal data we readily provide for free.

Lanier is a pioneer in the field of virtual reality who has witnessed the rise of Silicon Valley firsthand. He says the predominant digital culture marginalizes authorship at the cost of individuality and creativity. He says the Web is dominated by “derivative expression” instead of work that is “genuinely new in the world.”

Carr is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has published books and articles on technology, business, and culture. He says heavy use of online media reprograms the brain making it better at scanning and surfing but diminishing concentration, depth, memory. “When we go online,” he says, “we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.”

Head is an Associate Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford and a Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. His focus is on the systems being used to monitor and measure workers, but he also spotlights how technology is being used to devalue the capabilities and experience of workers and middle managers, increasing economic inequality.

Turkle is the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and a licensed clinical psychologist. Her central idea is that we are reaching a point in history she calls “the robotic moment.” People are gaining emotional and philosophical readiness to “consider robots as potential friends, confidants, and even romantic partners,” a time when “the performance of connection seems connection enough.”

Harris is a journalist (or, as his magazine began to call him as it shifted from print to digital, a “content creator”). He calls attention to the fact that those of us born before 1985 will be the only people in history to know what it was like both before and after the Internet. Therefore, we are responsible to ask “What will we carry forward?” and “What worthy things might we thoughtlessly leave behind?” His central answer to the second question is that we may end up paying a high price for “the loss of lack, the end of absence.”

These thoughtful, well-researched works challenge me to think more deeply about how I and others who see the Web as an opportunity to express original ideas, engage in complex dialogue, and learn can counteract the negative side effects the authors reveal. Making iPresence “rich” may not be the road to fame and revenues, but I now believe it’s a worthy endeavor.