How do you write really good instructions? Lego versus Meccano


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If you’ve read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, you’ll know that one of the questions that Sophie receives during her mysterious philosophical journey is this:

  • “Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?”

The writer didn’t ask why Meccano was the most ingenious toy.

And clearly, the answer has to do with the creativity that Lego inspires. But I also think part of the ingenuity of lego is to do with the instructions.

I should declare my biases up front. I’m 45 and I’ve been playing with Lego for a long time.

This includes for the last 17 years with three kids. Two girls and a boy. In this time I’ve tried a handful of Meccano projects compared with countless lego kits including Duplo.

Meccano, if you don’t know, predates Lego. My Dad grew up with Meccano before they invented Lego.

Think nuts and bolts and metal struts. Except now it’s plastic.

Meccano used to be the bomb. At least in 1950. Or something. But man… now Lego is the bomb. Lego rules over Meccano.

And not just in terms of versatility. I’m talking about how they write instructions.

Giving clear instructions is really hard. You’ll know this if you’ve ever had to follow anyone else’s.

First off though, you have to pitch your instructions at the right level. And that means you need to know who you’re writing to. The audience in other words.

Lego totally nails this. I have total confidence that if I buy a Lego kit that says for age 8 to 10 it will absolutely work for this age group.

The Meccano set my wife came home with the other day was for my son.

He’s just turned eight. Which seemed perfect because that’s what the kit said on the packet. For 8 years old.

Normally, he can concentrate for hours on stuff like Lego. And to give him credit, he persisted for a decent amount of time.

But eventually, he gave up in frustration. There were tears… there were raised voices… Crying etc.

So I gave it a go the other day. The outcome was basically the same.

Not only would I need four hands to complete the task, it was like I couldn’t understand the instructions and there seemed to be pieces missing or that didn’t match.

Comparatively speaking, there is no comparison. Granted, it’s not all about the instructions.

But if you want to learn how to write instructions, you need to go no further than the Lego best practice playbook which must read something like this:

  1. Understand the audience.
  2. Pitch the instructions at their level.
  3. Use colour, diagrams, images.
  4. Include all the resources the audience needs.
  5. Use words only when necessary.
  6. Love the product.

APPROACHES – New Content for the new NZCALNE Assessment 2 with ALEC


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As we’ve said elsewhere, this is a transition year from the old NCALNE (Voc) to the new NZCALNE (Voc). We’re in the middle of writing new material which will be available in a new format on Pathways Awarua shortly.

The first draft of this is available here on my blog. If you’re up to the second assessment task in the new and improved NZCALNE (Voc) here’s what you need to know below.

The new Assessment 2 still focuses on concepts on approaches from a Māori perspective, but because of the new structure, we can include other concepts from mainstream adult teaching.

There are only two areas to compete in the new assessment task. Down below you’ll find all the links you need for all of the content including:

  • Approaches: How should we look at teaching and learning?
  • Concepts: What are some other key ideas you need to know?

Follow the links below

Approaches: How should we look at teaching and learning?

Concepts: What are some other key ideas you need to know?

If you’re stuck, please get in touch with us by email here: assess@alec.ac.nz or by calling Graeme on 0800-ALEC-1-2

 

New Adult Literacy and Numeracy Standards Released for the New Qualifications


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Well, it’s taken a while… but it’s finally official. Here’s what you need to know:

  • We have a new suite of unit standards for adult literacy and numeracy education.
  • These new standards are for the new qualifications including the New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy & Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace).
  • The old standards are now expiring, but are still fit for purpose for assessment until 31 December 2018. So there is roughly a two-year transition period.
  • The content for Unit Standard 21204 has been broken up.
  • The new NZCALNE (Voc) will eventually replace the current NCALNE (Voc), just like the current NCALNE (Voc) replaced the original NCALE (Voc).

In terms of the new NZCALNE (Voc), there are four new standards. These are:

  • Unit 29622. Describe adult literacy and numeracy education in Aotearoa New Zealand. 5 credits
  • Unit 2962. Design strategies to embed adult literacy and numeracy in the delivery of a training or education programme. 10 credits
  • Unit 29624. Plan and facilitate embedded adult literacy and numeracy skills development in a training or education programme. 15 credits
  • Unit 2962. Use assessment to strengthen adult literacy and numeracy teaching and learning. 10 credits

A caution:

  • These standards are not the roadmap to delivering the new qualification. But they do provide a clear guide to what content the new NZCALNE (Voc) should assess as part of programme delivery. It will be up to providers to determine what that delivery roadmap should look like.

The good news:

  • As ALEC already has consent to assess the ALNE standards to level 6, we’ll automatically get this consent extended to the new standards.
  • We submitted our course approval documentation to the NZQA months ago for delivery of the new qualification but it’s been in limbo land pending the release of these new standards. This is now underway again on the NZQA side and we’re waiting to hear on its status.
  • I’ve worked on both the new qualification and the new standards as part of the subject expert group. This means any new content will incorporate the best of what ALEC has had to offer to date, as well as our most current thinking and knowledge about embedding literacy and numeracy into training.

The plan:

  • Our plan is to begin delivering the new version of the qualification with the new standards as soon as we can. Hopefully, this will be by the start of the academic year in 2017. This will depend on how much longer the course approval process takes and then how quickly we can move to develop the new content required.
  • We’ll keep you updated here on any progress.

Any questions? Please let me know.

 

 

What do entrepreneurs do that you could do if you work in education? Part 3: Tools


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Tools for your (mostly) digital toolbox

The other day I outlined some of the ideas, approaches, and tools that I’ve started using in my work in education that have made my life easier and more manageable.

Mostly, I’ve borrowed these concepts and tools from the world of start ups, entrepreneurship, and design.

Then I suggested a short self assessment activity that you could do if you were interested in pursuing this direction yourself. The purpose here is just self awareness.

If you’re perfectly happy doing what you’ve always done, then please carry on. In fact, click away now and look at some more cat videos.

However, if you think that there might be better ways of working and you’re curious about what some of the tools might be to help you with this, then please read on.

Project and task management

Basecamp

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  • What is it? Basecamp is a web-based project management tool.
  • How do I use it? You create projects that are based around groups of tasks that you can assign to different people and dates. You can also use it to store emails, attachments, and documents. It’s simple to use and extremely powerful.
  • Anything free or cheaper? I haven’t tried it but it looks like you can get basecamp free as a teacher if you have a look here. There are many other different kinds of project management applications available.

Moleskin Notebook

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  • What is it? It’s an overpriced, but very durable hard cover notebook with an elastic band around it to hold it together.
  • How do I use it? Because I do so much work online, this is my attempt to make sure I keep using paper. I use my notebook for managing smaller day to day to-do lists and tasks as well as for ideas and taking notes.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Of course. Any notebook will work, or make your own out of scrap paper.

Cloud-based productivity tools

Google Apps for Work

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  • What is it? Custom email, cloud-based file storage, shared calenders, word processing, spreadsheets and more online from my phone, laptop, and iPad. Basically, this is Gmail, Drive, gDocs, and gSheets.
  • How do I use it? 4 dedicated ALEC email addresses used by my team, Drive for shared documents, gDocs and gSheets for collaborating and writing.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Your basic gmail account is free and includes most of this, but you have to pay if you want to deploy across and organisation.

Evernote

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  • What is it? Online storage and notes.
  • How do I use it? I use Evernote like a virtual filing cabinet, particularly for things that I’ve finished with that I don’t want to delete, but I don’t need paper copies lying around for. It’s also a great task manager and place for compiling research or notes for projects. I also use it for clipping documents from websites that I want to save for reading later. Evernote is massively powerful and I like it, but I have run into issues trying to use it which I’ve written about here and elsewhere.
  • Anything free or cheaper? It’s already free, unless you go premium for more storage.

Dropbox

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  • What is it? Online file storage.
  • How do I use it? I use Dropbox as an alternative to Google Drive and for file sharing with others that I’m collaborating with. It’s also my archive for lots of old course materials and hard drives dating back about 10 years.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Basic account is free but you’ll need to pay if you want increased storage. I pay US$100 per year for a TB of online storage.

Other digital creative tools

USB Microphone

Yeti mic

  • What is it? It’s a microphone that is designed to connect directly to my computer via a USB cable. I like the Yeti Blue USB mic shown here which I’ve reviewed before. But I’ve also been coveting this one for a while now as well.
  • How do I use it? I use the mic for recording audio for podcast style recordings and for laying audio tracks over slideshows that I can then upload to YouTube.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Chances are that the computer you are using already has a mic built in. Also, so does your phone. The quality on these may vary as well. Have a look online – there are plenty of USB mics cheaper than the Yeti.

Audio editing software

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  • What is it? Here I’m referring to software applications that allow you to record, mix, and master digital audio.
  • How do I use it? I use this kind of software to create podcast style audio tracks like these for the training I do and for this blog.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Yes. I also use and really like a free piece of software called Audacity. It doesn’t look quite as racy as Gargeband, but It’s very powerful and as good as anything you can buy. You can download it here for free.

Tablet and stylus

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  • What is it? It’s a drawing tablet and pen made by a company called Wacom. It’s expensive, but it’s fantastic to draw with.
  • How do I use it? I use it to draw illustrations for slides, blog posts, and other print or digital content.
  • Anything free or cheaper? If you already have an iPad or other tablet there are all sorts of cheap or free drawing apps you can download and use with just your finger or a cheap stylus. If you want to buy a stylus you can get one for around $20 from an office supply or computer shop.

Drawing software

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  • What is it? A software application that you use with the tablet and stylus. I’ve just made the shift to Adobe Illustrator which is now a subscription-based service as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.
  • How do I use it? I use it for creating and editing vector-based graphics and illustrations. It has been, and still is, a steep learning curve.
  • Anything free or cheaper? I started with a free drawing and digital mark up app that I still use called Skitch that you can download on your computer, ipad or phone and that integrates with Evernote. From there I went to a free, open source Illustrator equivalent called Inkscape which I used for a long time.

Video and image capture

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  • What is it? Currently, I just use my iPhone for any and all images. I’ve used a much older Sony HandyCam for video work, but my iPhone can do this pretty well also, I’m at the stage where I need to probably upgrade. Currently, I’d like to get something like the camera below which would do high quality video capture as well as take excellent photographs. I’m also considering getting a dedicated video shotgun microphone to use this with. This is a significant investment and I’ve been putting it off.
  • How do I use it? I use the camera on my iPhone all the time. I don’t like using the Sony HandyCam as it doesn’t play nicely with the video editing software.
  • Anything free or cheaper? Most people have a built in video camera on their smartphone. These can be cheap and cheerful, but it’s a simple way to get started creating multimedia content. Using a good mic is probably more important. People will suffer through poor video content as long as they can hear what’s going on.

Image editing software

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  • What is it? Software and apps for editing your photographs and digital images. I use an app on my iPhone called Camera+ and I also occasionally use iPhone which comes preinstalled on my Mac.
  • How do I use it? I use Camera plus for cropping and editing photos. It also comes with some nice filters which I also use. For example, the sepia tinged photo of my desktop with the Yeti microphone further up the screen was shot on my iPhone and edited in Camera+
  • Anything free or cheaper? iPhoto is free as long as you have a Mac. There are plenty of cheap photo editing apps for your smartphone.

Video editing software

FCP

  • What is it? This is a specific software application that I use to record, edit, mix and master my video files. I purchased Apple’s Final Cut Pro last year. It’s easier to use than the audio software and I like it a lot.
  • How do I use it? I use this for editing and mastering video footage which I can then upload to YouTube. The quality depends on the quality of the video footage captured. I’ve been a bit disappointed with what I got from the Sony HandyCam, but you can have a look at some video footage that I edited with this software here. Like with any of these applications, I’m not an expert and I tend to work out how to do things “just in time”.
  • Anything free or cheaper? If you already have a device that can record video, you probably already have some built in video editing capability. There are plenty of apps you can download that will help with this for a reasonably low cost.

What do entrepreneurs do that you could do if you work in education? Part 2: Self assessment


We ship widgets

In my last post I discussed some of the things that I’ve borrowed from entrepreneurial and design thinking. These have worked successfully for me and allowed me to gradually change how I think about my work and allowed me to survive and thrive in a chaotic and uncertain work environment.

Like I also said, this is what has worked for me. I think it could work for you as well, but you need to adapt what I’m saying here to your own context.

I want to do two things to take it a couple of steps further.

One is provide an informal way for you to assess how far down this track you might be yourself. And it’s fine if the answer is “not at all”.

The other is to illustrate what I’m discussing here with some examples of the kinds of resources, tools, and apps that I use. You can find more on this in Part 3.

So first of all, here’s a short self assessment exercise. It’s fine if you don’t know the answer to any or all questions.

Also, my context is education and training that is funded in some way – either though government funding, user pays funding, or some combination of both.

Short answers only please. You can write them in the comments section.

  1. Define “customer” in one sentence.
  2. Describe your particular customer(s) in five words or less.
  3. Define “business model” in one sentence.
  4. Describe your (or your organisation’s) business model in seven words or less.
  5. Define “iterate” in five words or less.
  6. When did you last brainstorm, prototype or iterate some component of your education or training work?
  7. What was it?
  8. What systems have you designed?
  9. What do you use to manage tasks? A task is anything you need to get done for your work.
  10. What do you use to manage projects? A project is any number of tasks you need to complete for a bigger purpose, e.g. enrolling a learner, teaching a course, designing a new resource
  11. List any cloud-based productivity tools you use?
  12. List any digital creative tools do you use?

I’m going to be discussing my answers to these questions in my workshop next week and I’ll post a follow up with answers shortly.

In the mean time, if you are unfamiliar with any of the terminology used in the eleven questions I and you’re interested in what I’m saying I suggest you get online and do some research.

What to do if your adult learners have dyslexia


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This is another issue that comes up from time to time in our training. Effectively diagnosing and working with dyslexia falls outside of the narrow range of skills that we tend to focus on with our literacy and numeracy professional development and training with trades and vocational tutors.

However, it does come up in discussions with trades and vocational tutors. Here are seven short videos from the National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults. Here’s the playlist:

  1. Defining dyslexia
  2. Diagnosing dyslexia
  3. Tailoring the instruction and dyslexia
  4. A strategic approach to dyslexia
  5. Coping with dyslexia
  6. Living with dyslexia
  7. Multiple perspectives and dyslexia

I’d appreciate any feedback if you find these useful or not. Let me know in the comments.

How do you feel about data-driven decision making in education?


data-overload-2Our education system is built around outcomes. This is a good thing. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

You work out what kind of outcome you want to see, hopefully check to see what your learners already know and can do, you might find or develop some resources, then you do some teaching, your learners do some learning and practising, and then you check again to see if what they know and can do lines up with what your intended outcome was.

If it doesn’t line up then you know you need to make some adjustments and you carry on. This is how innovation in business works as well. It’s also roughly how the scientific method works. It’s a kind of hypothesis testing model – to put it in fancy terms. It’s also how research works.

Here’s the next thing: All around us, in all parts of our lives technologies exist that measure and record what we do. Computers love counting stuff and they just keep getting better and better at doing it.

This generates data. Sometimes massive amounts of data.

On it’s own this data is meaningless. And if the data is crappy in the first place then it’s not much use. Garbage in = garbage out. However, if you have good data and you can make sensible statements about what it means (or might mean), then you are better placed to make decisions about current and future actions.

Decisions based on reliable data tend to be better than decisions based on what feels good, what we’ve done in the past, or some idea others have put into our heads.

For example, if you watch sports you will have noticed that massive amounts of sports-related data are now available to commentators, critics, coaches and others. A clever coach can use this data to make strategic decisions about how to train a team.

This is data-driven or data-informed decision making. And this is not to diminish the role of intuition and experience. But having good data should help us make better decisions.

You’ve probably figured out where I’m going with this.

Take a look a what’s happening in education. More and more data is being collected by different organisations and agencies about everything to do with learning and teaching. Some of this data is quantitative like assessment scores. Other data is more qualitative, like from provider evaluation and audits.

For better or worse, the data collection and the data is unlikely to go away. In fact, funding organisations are already using data to make decisions about how they allocate limited resources in education. If anything, this data-influenced decision making is going to get more finely grained as the data collection becomes smarter.

So what are you going to do about it? What am I going to do about?

One way forward is to get ready to feel threatened by the data, to embrace the suck, and to start thinking about how we can use whatever data we already have access to ourselves in order to take some ownership over the process.

As a tutor or trainer, you may not have access to massive databases or be a number crunching ninja, but if you work with foundations-focused learners in NZ you do have access to the following tools for your data-informed decision making toolbox:

  • The TEC’s Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool: This tool is a broad brush diagnostic, but it can give you some finely grained data to use to inform your teaching if you dig into it.
  • Your own contextualised literacy and numeracy diagnostic and other assessments: If you teach in trades or any kind of vocational training area you should also have your own foundations focused diagnostic assessments that attempt to drill down into what your learners know and can do. You can use this data to inform how you are working week to week with your learners.
  • Making your outcomes explicit: It’s hard to measure your own stuff if you haven’t first figured out what it is that you’re trying to do. The more explicit you can be with your outcomes (whether for course content or underpinning literacy and numeracy) the better.
  • Your own ability to map the literacy, numeracy and other demands of your training: The Learning Progressions for adult literacy and numeracy are a free tool for mapping literacy and numeracy demands. It’s easy to get started and it’s built into the professional development work that we do with tutors.
  • Learning plans: Using learning plans with your learners is another way of gathering data over time.
  • Self evaluation data: All NZQA accredited training providers are required to conduct ongoing internal self assessment and internal evaluation, as well as take part in external evaluation. This means, that as a trainer or tutor, you should be looking reflectively and critically at what you do on a regular basis and allowing this thinking process to influence your decisions. Probably you do this anyway, but make sure you are leaving some kind of evidence trail that you and others can go back to.