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Creative Agni eZine, Sloth & Froth, and Some ID Fiction.

The Creative Agni eZine notification was sent out today. I know that it should’ve been done earlier, but I just couldn’t get down to wrapping it up until this morning.

If you haven’t subscribed to it, you can do so here.

I should say that there are two posts (among many others) that I would really love to share with my blog-readers.

  1.  A Short Story – Dushyant & Shakuntala – Why Love kills Logic?
  2. Sloth & Froth Comics – Teamwork Training and Decision-making

While you are there, you can also explore rest of the site and also meet Coffeebeans the Pup.

 

 

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Norway Killings by Anders Breivik – Is it just the tip of the Iceberg?

Anders Behring Breivik is a name that the world won’t forget in a hurry, even though it may be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Breivik who rationalized his killing spree through a 1500-page manifesto in which he spoke of how the vote-seeking politicians were instrumental in the spread of multiculturalism in Europe, doesn’t comes across as a brain-washed fanatic, the kind we’ve learned to associate with the acts of terrorism. Yet he killed about 90 young Norweigians. Why?

Though I don’t know the answer to this question, and I believe that nobody really does – except of course, Breivik; but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that it lies in the fact that now-a-days societal changes are happening too fast.

If we glance back at the history of the world, such changes were slow. If we specifically look at the Indian example, the spread of Islam happened over a period of 500 years, and by the time the British arrived in India, Islam had ceased to be a foreign religion and their culture had already meshed with the Hindu culture, initially through force, then through inter-religion-marriages leading to ethnic mixing, and then through the political moves of the Mughal rulers. So by the 18th century, the Muslims along with the Hindus began calling India their home. Thus, when the British arrived, they were the outsiders, while the Hindus and the Muslims were the insiders – regardless of their own differences.

500 years is a long time to accept another culture, and even become amenable to its ills. When your mindset changes over a dozen or more generations, you don’t even feel it.

You can possibly surmise the reasons why the assimilation took so long. The reasons were simple: Low population, no technology, and of course, the kings, who didn’t have to establish the vote-banks.

Now we experience whirlwind changes. Take the example of the unrest in Middle-East. It spread so quickly, because it was aided by technology. The case of islamization of Europe is similar. It’s happening too quickly for people to adapt. It isn’t easy for a culture to give up its values in a matter of decades. It requires centuries.

However,

  • with technology, people don’t have to walk on foot for years to reach another country;
  • with greedy politicians who are looking for votes, people don’t have to learn another language nor customs to become part of the host-country’s society; and
  • with the world not wanting to take stronger, collective measures against fundamentalism, people don’t have to give up being fanatics!

So the kids growing up in these host countries feel that they are being treated as step-children by their own country – and because the leaders of these countries are busy looking at their vote-banks, one of these kids begins to think that if the society is ready to condone the terrorist acts done by one or more members of these “pampered” communities, they too have the right to do the same, and save their own culture from losing its identity.

I think that we are looking at just the tip of the iceberg. We shouldn’t think that in a population of 6.7 Billion, there won’t be another such misguided soul. I also think that the only way to prevent more incidents of this kind could be to review all religions and communities and weed out the irrationalities from them. The question is – who’d bell the cat? It has to a collective effort from the political and religious leaders of the world, who will have to throw away their personal axes and write a new world order, with common goals and methods, and with a structure that is rational not fanatical.

We cannot accept intolerance as a given for one group of people and close our eyes to it, and treat it as an exception in another. Intolerance begets intolerance. It’s contagious too. It won’t disappear from the world, unless it’s weeded out from everywhere.

 

 

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I Need No Education – A Suicide Pact for the Future.

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
– Albert Einstein

With each passing year, and with each new educational “reform” I believe in this pity statement a little more.

We have to realize that education prepares the society for what lies ahead, and what lies ahead includes challenges and competition. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – when a child learns to walk, the parents don’t give him or her a pair of crutches – but that’s exactly what we are doing to our education system. We give degrees to kids who don’t possess the knowledge to deserve that degree and when they walk into an organization for an interview, we crush their hopes that we ourselves had helped them build, by telling them that they don’t have the skill or the talent.

Let us look at the duality inherent in our system through this case.

A busy career-focused manager in her forties is a mother of a 10-year old. The boy who studies in a primary grade gets homework assignments and is learning to learn. The father of the child works in another organization and his job requires him to travel, which obviously means that he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with the child.

The child is a normal, happy child, who hasn’t been bitten by the competition bug, and he doesn’t mind that his performance is really top-of-the-band. But the parents do. They want their child to perform, and so they continue to chide him, often indirectly (“Do you want help with that subject?” “Another tuition perhaps?”) and while they are at it – they also want their kid to learn how to play the Casio/Guitar/Violin etc.

Note that the child is stressed not because he has to learn what’s there in his books but because of those ten other things that his parents want him to do, so that they could brag about him in the society.

Now imagine the worst. The kid doesn’t pass. Ignominy of the ignominies. The parents have to hang their heads in shame. The kid might not feel shame, he might just be sad, but the parents feel it all – and through them the child feels it. And then the kid realizes that his parents are ashamed of him – and he ends his life.

This of course is a fictional scenario, but one that has been written after reading a lot of news reports on this matter.

The truth is that the society, which is made of grown individuals, has already found a way out. Though there might be exceptions who may think otherwise, but all parents have to educate their children and the education system doesn’t change itself because one quirky parent wants to raise a child with strong conviction and correct values – this applies to all of us.

Dos – As practiced by the Teachers as well as the Parents.

  1. Don’t let a child fail. Do whatever it takes to ensure this. Keep the questions at BL1 and 2, Let the exams be all objective type, let there be no penalties for incorrect reasoning, as long as the answer is correct…I could really go on and on about this…as this really is going to paralyze our society one day.
  2. Always praise the child for every crooked line he/she draws (or any other silly thing you can think of)
  3. Make sure that the child has enough tuition/vocational training programs to keep him occupied while you work.
  4. Tell the child that he or she is the best.
  5. Always be there to help the child out of every tiny problem.
  6. Help the child in doing the class-assignments – or do them yourself – or pay someone else to do them for the child.
  7. Simplify “being educated” to “getting a degree.”
  8. Value “degree/certification” over “skill and learning.”
  9. Follow the principle, If you pay the fees you get your certificate, instead of following the old, tattered principle, if you learn, you get your certificate. (Note that this is closely related to the first point.)

Don’ts – Again, as followed by the teachers and the parents.

  1. Don’t let the child realize that the world out there will accept real performance.
  2. Don’t tell the child, even a grown-up teenager that goodness and badness both win or lose…it isn’t that goodness always wins and badness always loses.
  3. Don’t let the child understand that earning money even by doing the simplest of chores is good. (After all it could be bad for the image of the school and also of the parents.)

Do you see the problem?

We are taking the easy way out. We are being selfish. Instead of doing what’s needed, which is setting up the right value system for our next generation, instead of acknowledging that the world of tomorrow will be a tougher place to live in, we are stressing out the kids by pushing them to perform in areas that won’t matter when they grow up.

The essence of these changes is that they:

Allow the parents and the teachers to breathe easy by removing the imminent threat of suicides, without striking at the root-causes, which comprise the incorrect value-system and the self-esteem needs of the parents.

Push the threat of nervous-breakdowns and suicides further into the child’s future, when he is grown man or woman – but then…who cares what happens to them when they grow up? Not our responsibility anymore, are they? The parents would’ve grown old by then, the teachers would’ve retired…and they’d all wring their hands and say, “we did the best we could – but it’s the bad-bad world that led to this.”

 

 

 

 

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Is it just Around the Corner?

It isn’t everyday that you read a book that makes you feel grateful for not being born sooner or later, but exactly when you were born. It is only once in a long while that you come across a story that makes you look for that inflection point in the history of humanity, which made the world become what it is today.

This isn’t a review that I am posting today. It isn’t even a suggestion or a recommendation that you read this book. It is a short Thank-You-Note to Aldous Huxley who penned “Brave New World”, and made me feel grateful for being what I am and for what I have been given – the freedom of choice. I don’t want to discuss the extent of this freedom; I don’t want to flick out a tape to measure it; I just want to experience it.

Huxley had written this novel in 1931 – a time when Behaviorism had matured, its spread aided by the industry; and a time when scientific advances were being announced every day.

Conceptual Summary of Brave New World

Let me quickly summarize the concept of “Brave New World” for you.

The world has “evolved” (degenerated?) where humans are mass-produced under controlled conditions, using the Bokanovsky process. The humans come in different varieties or castes, each variety suited to accomplish the task that it would be required to perform. Thus the humans range from Alphas (the highest caste) to the Epsilons who are nothing better than zombies. The production as well as the education of humans is the responsibility of the State. Sex for procreation is a taboo, people are expected to spend all their free time in the company of others, and ideas of individuality are considered dangerous.

Ivan Pavlov, Sigmund Freud, and Henry Ford have become icons in this world of the future. The calendar begins with the year of Ford’s birth (the story is set in AF 632 or about 530 years from now.)

Education of all the castes is carried out partly while they are asleep (by making them listen to numerous repetitions of such statements that define the desired behavior) and also makes tremendous use of behaviorist principles (repetition, reward, and punishment.)

The Wake-up Call

The goal of the story is to contrast the life-style and philosophy of the Reservations (places that refused to change) and the world – and it is this contrast that wakes you up. You find yourself wishing that the world had taken a midway approach, and then you realize that you sub-consciously begin to see yourself in both the worlds, wondering how “A Brave New World” is a very real possibility – and how you need not wait 500 years for it to happen.

Returning to my ruminations…

 

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A Manifestation of Approval-seeking Behavior – Do you like the new look of my blog?

I hope my readers like the new look of my blog.
I hope they approve of it.

Do you see a similarity between me and Charlie Sheen? Both of us are seeking approval – he of his audience, and I of mine.

Most of us succumb to the need to seek approval only once in a while, but there are some of us who are habitually seeking approval, primarily because we are worried that we might not come up to the expectations of others.

Approval-Seeking Behavior – Some Examples

Here are some examples that illustrate general approval-seeking behavior in humans.

  • A woman dresses up for the evening, and looks for approval in her husband’s eyes. (The husband continues to look at the TV and… approves!)
  • A child gets a puzzle right, and looks at the mother for approval. (The mom who’s got to do the holiday shopping, take the sick dog to the vet, and cook dinner; doesn’t pay attention – check out “The Middle”.)
  • A mother cooks dinner for her son, and waits for the son to say something; but the son is oblivious to his mother’s need for approval.
  • An executive designs a PowerPoint presentation, and seeks approval from his boss (You know all about this one – don’t you?)

When we do something, we want an approval from someone special/specific…from someone who matters.

Approval is sought only from those who Matter

I am reminded of a situation from Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged.” If you’ve read the book you’d remember Dagny Taggart telling Hank Rearden that she had finally discovered what Dr. Robert Stadler wanted from her. She tells him that for some reason, he wanted her to approval the course of life that he (Dr. Stadler) had chosen, because he believed that among all the people who hadn’t disappeared, she was the only one whose opinion mattered.
(If you haven’t read the book, please excuse my using this example here. However, I’d recommend that you find your car-keys and rush to the nearest bookshop. You have to read “Atlas Shrugged.” It will help you analyze the forces that drive the complex machinery of the human society.)

Approval-Seeking in Learning and Training

Despite its clinical undertones, approval-seeking behavior is present in most of us – and for this reason, those who are associated with learning, should look at it more closely. There is a strong possibility that our learner might be seeking some sort of approval from us. For instance, a pat on the back for working hard on an assignment, or a positive stroke of some sort for answering or even attempting to answer a question correctly.

The learner seeks the trainer’s approval because the trainer matters. In other words, when the learner attempts to elicit approval from you, he or she does so because you are important.

As trainers, it is a good idea to train our minds for becoming more sensitive to the approval-seekers. We should practice the fine art of picking up clues that the learners are sub-consciously throwing at us. Remember, we aren’t talking about the Charlie Sheens of the class here, but about normal learners, who want you to tell them that their efforts were worthwhile, and that they were noticed and appreciated.

Now…
What was I saying when I started this post?

I hope my readers like the new look of my blog 🙂

 

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Announcing the birth of the Creative Agni Instructional Design and eLearning eZine

I’d like to invite the readers of this blog to the Creative Agni eZine site. It was designed in my after-work hours. Those extra hours took their toll on my neck and shoulders, but when I was done, I felt that  it was all worthwhile 🙂

The Creative Agni eZine has the following five sections.

  • ID Fiction
  • The IDEAL
  • ELearning
  • The Creative Lounge
  • Sloth & Froth

Do visit the eZine site here. If you like what you see there, subscribe to the Creative Agni eLearning eZine 🙂

 

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Walking the Tightrope between Structure & Flexibility – from Design to Implementation

In my previous post, I raised a question that was inspired by an IDCWC Online Course Participant. The question was, “Is Design an Inhibitor?

I received a detailed thought-provoking response to that question from Tricia Pottratz. You can visit her new but promising blog “Tricia’s Teacher Toolbox” here. Thank you, Tricia.

Here are Tricia’s thoughts.

Having designed many classes myself, I understand where you are coming from.  Curriculum seems to take on a life of its own.  Once written, it becomes what the instructor deems it to be.  I think a big part of that comes from two sources: who you are designing for and what your objectives are.  I work for a multi-million dollar for-profit corporation with campuses all across the United States.  Before our small campus was purchased, instructors had the academic freedom to modify curriculum to meet their needs while still teaching to the objectives. The key was in keeping the objectives simple and few.

Since the buyout, the curriculum has evolved.  The first revision was similar to the original, but the coming revision is vastly different.  Sadly, the objectives are many and room for changes is few.  The idea is to create uniformity across the company; however the result is that the company’s curriculum does not leave much room for interpretation or regional flavor.

The solution depends on the parameters.  If you have any flexibility or say in the curriculum, I would suggest creating simple objectives, which leave the instructor the room for interpretation.  A really good article at http://itdl.org/journal/sep_05/article03.htm suggests that to be effective at brain-based learning, instructors should incorporate 4 basic things: memory and retrieval, learning styles, attention, and emotion (Clemons, 2005).  I find that in order to accomplish those goals it is important to offer a variety of media and classroom activities that vary in size and scope.

The other two-edged sword in education is the rubric.  As an instructor and as a student, I love the fact that it sets specific parameters.  The dilemma is still the same: the more specific the objectives, the less creative the project.  I have found that the only way to overcome this is to allow for students to develop the rubrics themselves.  After all, if you give a template, they will only follow the template.  This line of thinking also works in the classroom: if the students design the projects (based on the learning objectives) they become more emotionally involved and willing to go further with the project than I would have ever expected.

A friend of mine also suggested going with a tiered learning system. Her argument is that it gives options for the students while still ensuring the quality of the project is within the set parameters.  My problem with tiered learning systems is that it is not always feasible and can create conflict in the classroom.  I am more for offering options with a similar difficulty level instead of varying the levels.  In that way the “slower” student does not feel like they are being singled out and the “quick learner” is not feeling like it is unfair in the classroom.

Have you ever had any luck with tiered learning in the classroom?  If so, I would love to hear about it.

Sincerely,

Tricia Pottratz, BS, LMP

I attempted to address Tricia’s question by sketching a paradigm with two basic assumptions. 1. The learners are all adult learners. 2. The learners constitute a heterogeneous group, especially in terms of their existing skills and/or their ability to learn.

I believe that the answer has to be chiseled out from the goal of a training program. What is it that you want to achieve for your group? Notice that I don’t speak of what the learners want to achieve, but what “you, a representative of the learning provider” wish to achieve.

Let me illustrate through three simple examples:

1. You wish to orient the learners towards a new corporate policy.
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This is a lower level goal of awareness generation. You might want to use a tiered system here. You can create your learning groups on the basis of individual motivation and learning ability. At least everyone would take away something. As you won’t be grading their performance in this sort of program, you will possibly see a lot of happy faces at the end of your training.

2. You wish to train the learners on a specific role-based skill so that they can do their job proficiently.
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I don’t think that a tiered system will help you achieve you goal in this case. You need everyone to reach approximately the same level in the new skill. Eventually everyone might not reach the desired level, but then you’d like to see the distribution of marks and ensure that only those who reach the required level of competency are certified to do the job.

However if your program is flexible enough to accommodate the slow learners by allowing them additional practice/time, tiered learning may work. (We should also review the impact of this on learner motivation and individual egos.)

3. You wish to train the learners for a skill that demands accuracy and precision (for instance: a career in medicine?)
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Attempt to take all the learners to the same level, and use the rubrics wisely to grade the post-training skills. Sometimes the assessments have to be done against very specific objectives. I think that creativity is related more to the content-type than to the specificity of the objectives – especially when you create the learning and reinforcement activities.

I should also mention that I completely agree with Tricia’s belief that allowing the learners to participate in the creation of the assessment rubrics is a double-edged sword. I think it could work well with a group of mature and motivated participants, but not otherwise.

I know that heterogeneous groups are a reality and this reality contradicts the dream that every trainer and instructional designer has, which is 100% learning effectiveness.

A Note for the regular readers, who might’ve been wondering why my previous two posts have been replete with ATDs:  I guess my excuses are the same as the ones given by everyone else – I was too tired and a little ill, and then I was busy trying to meet the deadlines for my deliverables and delivering on my promises – but then, excuses don’t help, do they? So, I spent some time going through whatever I had written and removed the ATDs …thanks to a cup of coffee and the zoom-in capability of my new laptop. I prefer not to get my stuff edited (for better or for worse, this is how I write,) so bear with me…and ignore the bad to focus on the good 🙂

 

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