Critical Thinking in the Age of Disruption: Executive Education at the University of Auckland


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One of my goals this year has been to try and put together a kind of DIY MBA for myself.

Not really a proper MBA, mind you… who’s got time for that? I like my marriage.

What I mean is more of a collection of training and inputs from sources outside of what I would normally have access to on my own. Things to help me think differently.

My first step was to take a course in Service Design Thinking through the Exec Education programme at Auckland Uni.

The university has changed a lot over the nearly 20 years since I studied and worked there, but it still feels very familiar to me.

I like it there and I really enjoyed engaging with the Service Design content. I had done a little bit of reading beforehand, but much of it was new to me.

Professionally, those two days have laid the groundwork for a methodology that I can implement over the next couple of big projects I’m hoping to be involved with.

Because the first course was such a buzz, I enrolled in a second one in March. This time the focus was Critical Thinking.

My relationship to critical thinking is different to service design, however. Service design was a new subject area for me personally.

Critical thinking though is something that I’ve been reading about and working on for a long time. At least since my studies at Auckland as an undergraduate.

One of the things that really resonated with me with regards to this course was what provoked it. This was two things according to the course facilitator:

  1. The requirement for you (i.e. me) to change.
  2. To enable you (i.e me) to influence, lead and coach others.

This pretty much sums up where I’m at right now.

I’m aware of the need to foster a kind of radical open-mindedness about what I need to be working on. This applies personally and professionally.

As Bob Dylan almost said: “The times they are a-changin’ and in fact accelerating more rapidly everyday…”

For me, this means I need critical thinking skills more than ever. So the course seemed a good opportunity to brush up on things I thought I knew but also expose myself to some new thinking about thinking.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the course spent a lot of time defining critical thinking. So I’m not going go over that ground here apart from to say there are some really great definitions out there and lots of frameworks that people can tap into.

What I want to get to is some of the key takeaways for me that made the two days really worthwhile.

Here’s one: The connection of critical thinking to the age of disruption in which we live right now. Here’s an illustration:

The largest taxi company has no taxis – UBER.

The largest accommodation company has no real estate – AIRBNB.

The largest telephone company has no infrastructure – SKYPE.

The largest retailer has no inventory – ALIBABA.

The largest movie theatre has no movie theatres – NETFLIX

Eric Schmidt – Executive Chairman

Alphabet Inc

2018

 

If you don’t recognise where the reference is from, Alphabet Inc is the company that owns Google.

Here’s another below. This relates to the need for all of us to become better critical thinkers:

As we enter what has been termed the 4th industrial revolution (a period of rapid and fundamental change brough about by the convergence to the internet and technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics) there are a few skills that are becoming more valuable over time.

The 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Future of Jobs Report

World Economic Forum 2016

I looked up this report… Here are there conclusions in summary form, by 2020:

  • Over one third (35%) of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed.
  • Advanced robotics, autonomous transport, artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced materials, biotech and genomics will transform the way we live and work.
  • Some jobs will disappear altogether, others will grow and there will be jobs that don’t exist today that will be commonplace.

Based on their compared the top 10 skills needed by global employers in 2015 when the survey was done, to their predictions. Here’s what you get:

In 2015

In 2020

1. Complex problem solving 1. Complex problem solving (no change)
2. Coordinating with others 2. Critical thinking (+2)
3. People management 3. Creativity (+7)
4. Critical thinking 4. People management (-1)
5. Negotiation 5. Coordinating with others (-3)
6. Quality control 6. Emotional intelligence (new)
7. Service orientation 7. Judgement and decision making (+1)
8. Judgement and decision making 8. Service orientation (-1)
9. Active listening 9. Negotiation (-4)
10. Creativity 10. Cognitive flexibility (new)

Keep in mind these are just predictions, but it’s interesting for lots of reasons. One is that the need for critical thinking isn’t going away. It’s just going to increase.

Another thing is that this need for critical thinkers is going to be coupled with a need for the same people to be highly creative and good a solving complex problems.

Things that disappeared off the list for 2020 include quality control, judgement and decision making and active listening.

I don’t think that these are going away anywhere. But some of this will simply be automated and overshadowed by the need for a different skillset.

Also, new to the 2020 list is emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

Food for thought: I’m writing this right now in 2018. This means we’re somewhere in the middle of these two lists.

  • How well prepared are you? Not for the next 20 years, but for the next two years?

If you want to brush up on your critical thinking skills there are plenty of great books and online materials.

However, if you’re after something more “hands on” that can set things in motion for you, you’ll find it hard to go past the Critical Thinking in the Age of Disruption short course at the University of Auckland.

 

Under the hood: Fonofale Pasifika


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The Fonofale is a holistic, Pasifika model of health and wellbeing. As with Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā it comes from the healthcare sector.

Where does it come from?

The Fonofale Pasifika model was created by Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann (2009). Pulotu-Endemann is a Samoan-born, New Zealand-based academic and nursing professional.

What’s it for?

As with Te Whare Tapa Whā it’s designed to help you think about health, education or other aspects of life in a more holistic way.

What is it?

It’s a visual representation of Pasifika values and beliefs. We use the Samoan fale or house to describe the important factors of healthy development.

Here are the parts:

  • The foundation. This is the extended family – the foundation for all Pacific Island cultures.
  • The roof. The stands for the cultural values and beliefs that are the family’s shelter for life. This can include traditional as well as western ways of doing things.
  • The Pou (posts). These connect the family to the culture. They also depend on each other. They are
    • Spiritual. This relates to the sense of wellbeing that comes from Christianity or traditional spirituality or a combination of both.
    • Physical. This relates to the wellbeing and physical health of the body.
    • Mental. This relates to the mind including thinking and emotional wellbeing as well as behaviours.
    • Other. This includes other things like gender, sexual orientation, age, social class, employment, and educational status.

The fale is surrounded by a protective layer. This includes:

  • Environment. This relates to the relationships that Pasifika people have to their physical environment. This can be rural or urban.
  • Context. This dimension relates to the “big picture’ for Pasifika including socio-economic or political situations.
  • Time. This relates to the actual or specific time in history that impacts on Pasifika people.

How is it relevant?

It’s relevant because you can use your knowledge of the Fonofale to enhance your teaching. As with Te Whare Tapa Whā, this knowledge is not limited to just working with the people groups it represents.

This approach is also relevant because it will help create a learning environment that is culturally safe for Pasifika learners.

What does it mean for me?

If you identify as Pasifika, the Fonofale is a framework that allows you to talk about how you probably already work with your learners. If you are not Pasifika, the framework allows you to see your learners, particularly your Pacific Island learners in a different way, perhaps closer to how they see themselves.

Here are some questions from the learner’s point of view to help you focus on each part of the Fonofale model:

  • Do I have support from my family to do this course? (Family).
  • Does this course connect with my Pacific cultural values and beliefs? (Culture).
  • Do I have the resources to do this course? (Physical).
  • Do I believe that I can do this course? (Spiritual).
  • Can I cope with the workload? (Mental).
  • Is there anything that’s going to get in the way of my goals here? (Others).
  • Are my surroundings, including home and work, going to help me achieve? (Environment).
  • Can I afford to do this at the moment? (Context and time).

It may not always be possible to always attend to all dimensions of the Fonofale for all of your Pasifika learners. But one big implication is that if you have learners who are struggling, or who are not engaged, then the Fonofale may help you work out where the problem is and how to deal with it.

But one big implication is that if you have learners who are struggling, or who are not engaged, then the Fonofale may help you work out where the problem is and how to deal with it.

Do you mind if I chop off your legs?


Prokrustes

This is one of the problems working in education. We keep trying to cut off people’s legs. Or their heads.

What do I mean? Here’s a quick story:

A long time ago, in Greek mythology, there was rogue smith and bandit who lived along the way to Athens named Procrustes.

He’d lure in guests with the promise of a nice meal and night’s rest in his very special bed.

Procrustes described the bed as having the unique property that its length exactly matched whomsoever lay down upon it.

But the problem was that nobody ever actually fit the bed exactly.

So after the meal, Procrustes would set to work on his guests with his smith’s hammer.

If they were too short for the bed, he’d stretch them. And if they were too long, he’d cut off the excess length.

Fortunately, the story has a hero and something of a semi-happy ending.

Theseus, who was the mythical founder of Athens, was on his way to Athens when he also was stopped by Procrustes.

After a fine meal, Procrustes tried to get Theseus to lie down on his iron bed.

Luckly though, Theseus had already been tipped off about his host’s intentions.

And instead he tricked Procrustes into lying in his own bed and gave him a dose of his own medicine.

I’m not suggesting a similar solution for dealing with things that are broken in the education system…

However, I would like to suggest that what we need are more heroes. And if you’re up for the challenge, here’s the first task

  • Any time you spot a Procrustean bed, point it out.

And to avoid the blank stares, you’ll probably have to tell the story. But I think you’ll remember it.

 

Four Tools For Building Cool Stuff Online: Or How To Start Thinking Outside The Box


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I went to the Supercharge conference the other day in Wellington. This was a business conference… nothing to do with literacy, numeracy or even education (I know… thank goodness right…?)

Lots of cool stuff. The coolest though was the 40-minute presentation by Justin Wilcox of Customer Development Labs.

At the start of his presentation, he said that in the 40 minutes that he had to speak he was going to do the following:

  1. Come up with a product idea.
  2. Get some customer feedback.
  3. Build a website
  4. Launch the product

Considering that by the time he had said all this he only had about 35 minutes left I think we were all rather skeptical.

But he pulled it off. And these were the tools that he used:

1. Customer Discovery Ninja

Just this on its own was very cool to see in action. The Customer Discovery Ninja is a tool that allows you to connect to potential customers in North America. They sign up because they have time on their hands and get a small reward for participating.

Justin had decided that he wanted to create some kind of Fitness Tracking App, so he had selected various categories and subcategories in the Customer Discovery Ninja. And ended up with something relating to fitness, weight loss, and diet as the key areas.

From there, he opened the phone line and waited for the call. 10 minutes later someone connected and we listened to him interview a guy in New York who was struggling with diet and weight loss issues.

After a few minutes, it was clear that what this guy needed was not a fitness tracking app, but some kind of product that allowed him to track what was working when it came to diet.

So based on the dialogue, Justin switched away from his initial idea to the diet tracking idea. And then he had about 10 minutes left to do everything else.

2. Instapage

And this is mostly what he used: Instapage. Within about 2 minutes, he had built two landing pages for his new product. Instapage allows you to create web pages via drag and drop.

And then he  created an alternate version of the page so that you could do A/B testing. Instapage makes this really easy. I haven’t tried any of this yet, but based on the demo I think it’s all doable.

3. Powtoon

From here, Justin wanted to jazz up the landing page a bit with a short animated video. For this he used Powtoon. Powtoon advertises itself as an alternative to Powerpoint. It;s drag and drop like Powerpoint or Keynote, but you end up with a animation at the end.

So another 2 minutes to create a short animation. And then he imported this into the Instapage landing pages.

4. Celery

Finally, he wanted a button on the landing page to take pre-orders for the product. So he used Celery for this. Celery is very simple. It’s just a button for taking credit card information for pre-orders. Buyers don’t get charged until your product launches.

And then he launched it.

So Justin didn’t actually create the product, but he did something that was in line with the lean startup method: Come up with a minimal viable product idea and then see if anyone would buy it.

From here, he would be able to take pre-orders to fund the development of the actual product.

It was fast and dirty. But it was impressive.

Justin practises what he preaches as well. And you can have a look at his series of books on how to implement this kind of thinking at his website here: The Focus Framework.

This stuff is cool. I wish I knew this when I started in business. Talking to Justin afterwards, he said that everyone wishes the same thing. And that we all come to these conclusions late.

In my field, we tend to be good at what we do. But this is only in terms of our technical skills. We get professional development and training in these areas.

But we are often rubbish at the skills we need to use our technical skills to build and run a sustainable business. We don’t know how to make a buck… to put it in crude terms.

Most of all, I think we need this kind of thinking in education: Customer validation, lean startup methodology, designing a minimum viable product, product testing.

And then quickly pivoting when it’s obvious that something isn’t working. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment (both TEC and NZQA) act in ways that run counter to this kind of thinking.

This is not their fault. But it’s time to start thinking outside the box.

Really thinking outside the box.

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.

4 Things I Can Do to Become Antifragile in Education


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Nassem Taleb is an expert on risk and probability and he recommends in his latest book that we become less fragile, more robust, and actually antifragile.

This is more than just Sissy Resilience… and this means that when the stuff hits the fan you actually bounce back stronger than before, and actually made stronger by the disorder around you.

Education is fragile. And working in education opens you, your career, your mortgage up to all kinds of fragility by implication. This is bad.

Education, of course, is good. But if we want to survive as educators in this increasingly fragile landscape we need to embrace the fact that it’s fraught with risks and randomness of all kinds.

And we need to do things to mitigate the risks to ourselves and our businesses where we can.

One of the lessons from Taleb’s Antifragile for me seems to be that rather than avoiding things like risk, uncertainty and variability we should be embracing them. And in fact, seeking them out.

With that in mind, here’s my take on 4 things I can do in education and in my work that hopefully increase my ability to be really resilient by intentionally playing around with risk, randomness, uncertainty, and variability.

I’m not saying that they’ll work for you… but if they work for me I’ll let you know.

1. Disrupt my education business model

BMG-Book-Cover

The idea here is that either I can wait for someone to disrupt my work or I can disrupt it myself and maintain some slight control (even if it’s illusory) over the disruptive factors.

Our education business models are pretty much a last century paradigm. Mostly the old-school business model goes something like this:

  • Someone pays a fee + I deliver training. I might possibly award some kind of credential if the stakes are a bit higher.

Leaving aside the problems with our current models of education, let’s focus on messing with the business model.

My real business model is the unique package of things that allows me to sell education and training and generate revenue. This would still hold true even if I worked for a non-profit or charitable organisation.

But consider the new business models though… They’re online. They require people to transact online. That either means a shopping cart or a subscription-based approach.

Bothered by that…? Me too. But disturbing thoughts like these have been nagging at me for awhile. It’s time to do something about it.

If you’re curious about business models Alex Osterwalder’s book really helped clear things up for me in term of what a business model is and gives some great examples. There’s also an iPad app you can play around with.

2. Open source my expertise and knowledge

PA5

Am I the only one who has noticed that the world I live in is radically different to the one I grew up in, even the world I started working in…?

Everything is being disrupted and education isn’t any exception. Aside from firing middle management and cutting dead wood, I think we’re going to see changes everywhere in education resulting in education products for learners that are cheaper, faster, smarter, and more convenient.

What’s more, as we move forward, education will most likely become open sourced, and possibly crowd sourced. This will come at a cost, of course. Some of us won’t survive.

But one of the things that has changed for certain in my mind is that there is no longer a competitive advantage in sitting on any kind of “secret sauce”. The new secret sauce is open source.

And that has implications for my job. And my expertise. What I know and can do is not just information, but a big chunk of it probably is. And that information really wants to make itself freely available to others. This is just the nature of the web.

And the thing is, if I don’t open source what I know, then someone else will do it for me. Either they know they same stuff and they’ll open source that, or they’ll just upload what they’ve learned off me.

So I need to do it first. That’s why I’ve open sourced what I know about our approach to embedding literacy and numeracy via Pathways Awarua and through making our course content freely available to everyone.

Doing nothing is not an option. In fact, doing nothing while everyone and everything around you moves forward is pretty much the same as going backwards.

3. Design the way I want to work

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I think that another part of the solution is to design the way that I want to work. For me this means:

  • treating everything as a project
  • working on these projects with a small agile team
  • being mobile and “always on” (except when I switch everything off)
  • working from home (or anywhere)
  • having a team that is geographically dispersed,
  • and mostly ignoring conventional establishment wisdom relating to what I do.

To expand on these, everything in education can be a project. This includes training, resource development, writing and publishing, and running conferences. If I make everything a project then I can project manage. I use Basecamp for this.

“Always on” means that I can work on my projects anywhere. Most of my work is written on laptops and devices in various cities and towns in New Zealand. I now use cloud-based applications almost exclusively for this including Google Docs, WordPress and Evernote. I also use Dropbox and Google Drive to manage it all.

4. Look for new ways to do the same stuff

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Another part of the solution for me is to do education and training in new ways that meet the needs and demands of 21st century work and life. This is where expertise needs to collide with new opportunities and disruptive technologies.

And this is hard because it means I have to learn new stuff. And sometimes things don’t work out.

I’m not quite sure where to go with this in all honesty, but something that I’ve done intentionally is to mess around with different online platforms used for authoring education and training materials. I’ve tried a bunch of them, but the one that stuck was the Bracken platform that we used to write up our course and assessment modules.

Authoring software is kind of tricky… and it’s time consuming to learn how to use… but something that is a whole lot simpler and still incredibly disruptive is video and audio. The incredible success of Kahn Academy continues to testify to the disruptive power of video.

I’m hoping to make this year the year I really get serious about capturing much more of our training, resources, knowledge, and expertise via niche audio and video content.

What have I missed? What do you have planned for 2015 that is going to make you stronger, more resilient, resistant to risk, and ultimately more antifragile?

 

Using teaching strategies (also known as instructional strategies) with embedded literacy and numeracy teaching


Its-all-about-the-right-strategy1

Sometimes people in the education world talk about using teaching strategies… or in slightly fancier language, instructional strategies.

This terminology can be confusing for a couple of reasons. One is that if you google the terms (most people’s first port of call these days), you’re likely to find everything from cooperative learning to discussion-based activities to shared reading to using social media.

When you talk about instructional strategies or teaching strategies you sometimes also refer to the kinds of strategies that you also want your learners to use when they’re learning.

In other words, different people use this terminology to refer to different things and often don’t seem to agree.

So… let’s simplify things. I’m going to follow the lead of the Tertiary Education Commission in the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy here.

For our purposes, there are six main teaching strategies. And I’m fine with using “teaching strategies” and “instructional strategies” interchangeably at this point. And I’m just talking about what you – as the trainer or tutor – might be doing.

Six strategies

Below is a list of six instructional or teaching strategies.

  1. Discussing
  2. Prompting
  3. Questioning
  4. Explaining
  5. Giving feedback
  6. Modelling

Here’s an example from a practical horticulture training course for adults

The tutor’s intended learning outcome is to get the students to:

  • Estimate and then measure out a raised planting bed for vegetables in the context of their horticulture course.

The relevant numeracy in this case relates to estimation and measurement in metres and millimetres as well as working out area in m2.

Here’s some possibilities for the kinds of teaching strategies that the tutor might use:

  1. Discussing what participants already know about measuring out a rectangle or other area for building a raised vegetable planting bed.
  2. Prompting learners to make links to work they did previously with her using a tape measure to measure length in metres and millimetres.
  3. Questioning learners about what they needed to know in order to use the tape and actually do the measuring.
  4. Explaining how to use the tape measure, as well as how to develop a personal benchmark for estimating and measuring length, such as your stride or the length of your boot.
  5. Giving feedback on the group’s ideas on the best way to estimate and then measure out the planting bed.
  6. Modelling how to work out an area calculation on the whiteboard.

Now put it into action

OK… here’s your part if you want to understand this by applying it to something relevant.

  1. Pick an example of some specific content area from your training where there is clear embedded literacy or numeracy.
  2. Discuss or write down how you used any of these strategies across your different activities
  3. Note any particular qualities that relate to how you used the strategy. Have a look at the examples below for an idea of what to do. You might not need to discuss every strategy

Here are your prompts

  1. Discussing
  2. Prompting learners to make links to their prior knowledge by…
  3. Questioning learners about what they needed to know in order to…
  4. Explaining how to…
  5. Giving feedback on…
  6. Modelling how to…

There’s a handy graphic in the support guides that come with the Learning Progressions. And I’ve reproduced this for you below. It’s a bit small, but you should be able to click on it to enlarge. It’s also on page 25 of Teaching Adults to Read with Understanding

Learning Strategies