Final reflections

At last, after four years, I have completed my academic journey in the Adult Learning program.  And what an amazing four years it has been!  Earning two graduate degrees back-to-back is no easy feat, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  The learning I’ve come away with is immense and continues to fuel my thirst for more.  This week marks the end of an era, but by no means the end of my adventures in adult education and human resource development.  The learning I’ve gained from this program has given me great insight and allowed me to make many valuable connections.  I am especially excited to apply what I’ve learned toward enhancing my work.  For instance, I am currently using skills obtained from Research Methods in Education (EDUS 660), Change Strategies for HRD Practitioners (ADLT 625), the Adult Learning Capstone course (ADLT 636), etc. to conduct a needs assessment and analyze employee satisfaction data within the Office of Instruction and Student Success at VCU.  I love the feeling of being able to give back some of what I’ve taken away from this program!

Here are a few of the main highlights of my experience:

1) I have learned that reflection is key.  Reflecting on new learning allows me to draw meaningful connections and make sense out of it.  If I don’t take the time to reflect, I feel like I’m missing something.

2) Blogging really does help to facilitate reflective thought, particularly by initiating dialogue with others.  I am so happy I had the opportunity to participate in ADLT 641 (Exploration of Digital Media) before graduating, as this course really helped blogging “click” for me.

3) I now have a much firmer grasp on the principles of andragogy and a better understanding of how adults learn.  Having an academic background in adolescent education  before beginning this program was interesting.  I found that while there are certainly some similarities (i.e. the importance of hands-on, meaningful learning tasks), adult educational theories call for some different sorts of facilitation skills from those required of secondary educators.  Quite simply– the needs of adult learners are a bit different from the needs of middle and high schoolers.

4) Helping others to help themselves is one of the most beneficial things that I can do as an HRD practitioner.

5) The technological tools and resources available to us are virtually limitless!  ADLT 641 opened up a whole new world for me to explore in this arena.

To read more about my many and varied experiences in the Adult Learning program, I invite you to check out these “blog highlights“!

Before closing, I would like to express how grateful I am to VCU for offering a tuition waiver benefit to full-time employees.  Without that assistance, my goal could not have been so easily reached.  I am very fortunate to have the luxury of taking classes at no charge.  I hope to take more classes in future!  But first, I think a little breather might be in order.  😉

And now, without further adieu– my digital story:

ADLT 641 (HCE Reflections): The impact of social technology on our social fabric

Anyone ever heard the term “shadow of the future”?  It has to do with an expectation for reciprocity based on interactions with someone.  By having a relationship with you, I can predict that you may be willing to help me at a future point in time, which will make me more willing to help you now.  For example–back in the 1960’s, my grandfather routinely allowed regular customers at his small-town grocery store to run a tab and pay when they could.  The “shadow of the future” (a term coined by Robert Axelrod) is inherent in the concept of “social capital“– norms that establish trust and goodwill among group members or between different groups.  Shirky references a book by Robert Punam called Bowling Alone.  In it, Putnam essentially asserts that community as we once knew it (i.e. the type of community that runs on face-to-face social capital and “shadow of the future”) is seeing a a major decline in this country.  Gone are the days of picnicking, league bowling, rotary clubs and ice cream socials (Shirky, p. 193).

Reading this stuff reminded me a lot of the blog post I published back in October, particularly the comments that were generated from it.  Talking to my parents and grandparents about how community functioned in past generations makes me realize just how much things have changed.  We no longer feel obligated to answer our phones, we don’t have routine neighborhood get-togethers, we don’t randomly drop in on people…we simply don’t participate as much in a physical community culture as we once did.  I believe that type of community has been replaced (or at least greatly supplemented) by online social networks, and technology has allowed us to have less F2F contact with one another.  But Shirky says that people still crave physical human interaction, and that “communication and travel are complements, not substitutes” (p. 195).  In other words, doing some physical travel to obtain the face-t0-face is still required.  And that’s partly why we saw Meetup.com become so popular (I’m not sure whether it still is or not).  People DO want to hang out with each other!  And they want to do it on their own terms.  Our newfound ability to self-organize and join forces around shared interests so easily seems like an amazing social opportunity.  But there can be issues.  Shirky points out that there are some opportunities for “social loss” when folks have complete freedom and ease of assembly. The most interesting (and one I’ve considered before) is the fact that this freedom is available to everyone.  Just as Stay At Home Moms can organize a meetup and plan group activities with the click of a button, so can al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.  It’s something to think about.

I feel that social capital definitely still exists, but perhaps in a different format than it once did.  Due to communication technology and social media, my circle of friends has expanded (not decreased) and I have a much wider network of connections.  But there’s no question that the nature of these relationships are different.  Exchanges happen mostly electronically and so I’ve had to develop a digital literacy that enables me to pick up on social cues one would normally get in a face-to-face context.  And, as we’ve discussed previously, I am guilty of various behaviors that may be a result of over-connectedness in cyberspace (see blog post referenced above). Can you think of other ways that our social fabric has been impacted by ease of assembly in an online environment, and/or ease of communication?

Here’s a short video of CS talking about how the internet can be used to enhance social capital by essentially moving from consumption to sharing.  We now have tools that allow us to collaborate in ways not possible with earlier technologies.  Check it out:

Shirky: Social capital redefined – reengagement between individuals through internet from FreedomLab on Vimeo.

ADLT 641: Screencasting in a hurricane

A down and dirty wiki overview:

2012-10-29_1221

I’ve discovered a new activity for stormy days:  screencasting!  It’s lots of fun- you should try it.  I decided to create a short overview of the wiki we used in my ADLT 636 capstone course last semester.  I found it to be an extraordinarily helpful resource and wanted to highlight some of the key features (even though most of you are probably already familiar with this tool).   Using Jing was very straightforward.  There are a few capabilities I’d really like to have but don’t particularly want to pay for:

1) Editing functions– Although I begin by mentioning how “off the cuff” this presentation is, I would like you to know that I re-recorded it no less than 6 times.  First, there was the coughing fit.  Then my husband flushed a toilet within “earshot” of my microphone.  Then I forgot to mention something that I thought was important.  And so on and so forth.   If only I could have just cut that stuff out without redoing the whole thing, that would’ve been swell.

2) Additional time–I wish Jing would allow for more than 5 minutes.  I definitely felt like I had to end things abruptly on each take, even though I watched the clock pretty closely and stayed on top of my remaining time.  Honestly, though, I probably could have tightened the screencast up a little by moving more quickly and scripting what I was going to say.  Trying to “wing it” probably delayed me a bit and led to getting sidetracked.

While I’m on the topic of screencasting, I’d like to share a couple of articles I ran across related to this subject.  The first is an interview with Jon Udell (the father of screencasting as we know it).  Although the interview was published in 2006, I think it bears significant relevance to what we’re learning now.  Udell points out that screencasting is not only a great way to show people how to do stuff– it’s also a way to help people understand the overall impact of shared knowledge (or what he calls “metadata vocabulary development”).  Here’s a quote I highlighted from the interview: “So I think that’s really the most important message in this, from me to people in the technical community, is that it’s really cool to be able to show people how to use software. But it’s way cooler, I think, to be able to communicate your vision of what your software is really about and how it’s going to interact with society and why, in fact, if it’s the right thing — that it is the right thing.”  Udell also highlights the benefits of screencasting from a marketing perspective.  Often, companies who disseminate helpful screencasts to a wide audience generate higher customer satisfaction and foster increased profitability.  Can you think of any examples of this?

If you want to listen to the  man himself, here’s the audio file of Udell’s interview: Udell interview

Another interesting article is Appealing Apps for Educators: Screencasting Smackdown – Videos in the Classroom.  This piece was written by a Chicago public school teacher and discusses the advantages of using screencasting with students.  She talks about how she is able to “clone the teacher” by creating videos and “playlists” at varying levels (depending on student ability), affording her more time to meet with them in small groups or individually and help support them in their learning.  What I find so amazing about this account of her classroom  is how many screencasts the kids have actually created on their own.  Cumulatively, her students have developed over 2,000 screencast videos for their peers.  What a great way to reflect out loud and build those metacognitive skills!  A lot of educators are using screencasting to “flip the classroom“, a process in which teachers provide digital content that learners can engage with outside the classroom, on their own time.  This enables the teacher to spend less time lecturing and more time engaging students in meaningful interaction.  A very cool concept!  (As long as the students have access to internet at home, which isn’t always the case)

ADDED BONUS:  Here is the screencast video I always refer to when I can’t remember how to embed a video in Edublogs.  In fact, I used it today as a refresher when I was trying to insert my own screencast into this post.  So essentially…I watched a screencast about how to upload a screencast.  Pretty sure I just had a meta experience.  🙂

ADLT 641: Collaborative work spaces

Wow…is it really the middle of October already??  The past couple of weeks have been so busy that I’ve had trouble finding time for blogging.  Sorry folks– I know you’ve all been sitting around biting your fingernails as you impatiently await my next entry.   😉  I must admit that I’m sharing some of Melissa’s feelings of blog burnout.  Well, perhaps not “burnout” exactly.  It’s more along the lines of “blogger’s block“.  Probably just stress and struggles with time management (seems that Sara can definitely identify with this).  It’s that time of the semester!

Last week’s class generated some great discussion around the similarities/differences between learning management systems and social networking systems, as well and the disadvantages and benefits of using each.  Here’s the chart we made: http://via.me/-5wkbl6y  Personally, I see advantages inherent to both and would hate to see one totally usurped by the other.  Like Rhett, I can envision a world where both tools work together seamlessly and offer a comprehensive set of user functions.  I really value a media interface that allows for collaboration and c0-creation of content (especially when it comes to adult learners).  Wikis, Google Docs, Diigo, and similar systems give users this capability.  One of our readings for this week refers to Web 2.0 collaboration as “an attitude, not a technology”.  From an adult learning (and HRD) perspective, I appreciate this line of thinking.  I believe adult learners in the workplace and elsewhere derive a tremendous sense of self-worth and personal motivation in a culture where they are expected to contribute ideas, share in the creation/management of learning content, and be held accountable for their own learning.  Web 2.0 software helps to foster a philosophy of autonomy.

With regards to the pros and cons of shared content…

Credibility: I tend to agree with Jeff that, in many ways, Wikis offer the most extensively peer-reviewed content on the web.  One downside may be the potential for personal/group biases and inconsistencies.  However, I believe that Wikis provide a wonderful forum for users to question one another and provide alternative perspectives (especially the open ones, like Wikipedia).  So I’m not sure how much of an  issue exists there.

Usability: I’ve participated in Wiki communities (virtual communities of practice, or “VCoPs”) for multiple classes in the Adult Learning M.Ed. program and have found them to be pretty easy to navigate and use.  I think users with little technological experience may struggle a little in the beginning, but these systems are not difficult to figure out.

Performance and/or learning assessment: Hmmmm.  This is a toughie.  I suppose that, if evaluation of this sort is necessary, some sort of tracking mechanism might be used.  In each of my ADLT class Wiki’s (powered by PBworks), there was definitely a way for users to see who had edited which page, as well as each change that was made.  I believe the site owner (our instructor) also had the ability to track very detailed stats regarding usage.  I think the use of Wiki’s in a classroom environment definitely changes the nature of assessment.  It becomes less about what we know and more about what we contribute.  It’s also about the dialogue that takes place.

I am really looking forward to exploring these topics further during tonight’s class session!

 

 

 

 

Final reflections of a process consultant

For me, ADLT 610 was probably the most challenging course that I’ve undertaken in the Adult Learning program so far, both in terms of the time commitment required and in terms of the depth and intensity of our assignments.  Because of the challenges involved, however, it was also the most rewarding.   There were moments during the semester when I felt quite overwhelmed.  I became frustrated and disillusioned when it didn’t seem we were getting through to our client.  I also experienced some difficulties balancing the obligations of this class and my very demanding job.  In the end, though, all the hard work paid off.  Big time.

Collaborating one-on-one with a client was a tremendously educational experience for me.  I don’t believe I could have learned the true “in’s and out’s” of consulting without this opportunity.  Being exposed to the perspectives of both Block and Schein and learning about process consulting were also extremely enlightening.  I think the three major takeaways for me with regards to my learning are:

1) Every problem has a human component. During our consulting project, we found it was incredibly easy (and perhaps alluring?) to see only what’s on the surface of a problem.  That was, after all, the only thing our client was seeing and reporting to us.  However, we learned through our readings and class activities that almost every problem has deeper, human implications.  In our case, we quickly realized that our client’s issue lay not so much in the technical problems she had identified, but in her management of those problems.

2) Successful consulting requires the development of  meaningful relationships. Before participating in this class, I had always thought of consulting as strictly business (i.e. the outside consultant comes into an organization, takes a look around, and makes a strategic/logical diagnosis for a hefty fee).  However, this is certainly not the case with  “process consulting”.  The idea behind process consulting is that the consultant treats the client as a real human being with real human problems and involves the client in every step of the process.  To do this, a relationship must be developed and maintained on both sides.

3) Empathy and compassion are key. I believe this is the case in every aspect of life, not just in consulting.  However, I found it extremely refreshing to read Block and Schein’s takes on empathy.  In our consulting project, I found that empathy and forgiveness were definitely required.  At first, we felt that we were being ignored by our client, or not taken seriously.  However, we later learned that there were many unbeknownst factors at play causing her behavior.  We learned to “walk a mile in her shoes”, so to speak.  This experience was invaluable.

ADLT 610, Reflection #4: Gimme some dialogue in the workplace already!

Nancy Dixon’s “Perspectives on Dialogue” really spoke to me.  If there is one thing I need in a workplace environment, it’s authenticity.  I feel very uncomfortable if I perceive my co-workers are wearing facades, or are merely characters in some sort of role-play.  Dixon states that “organizational talk often has a game-like quality that makes it seem unreal” (p. 1).  I have seen this kind of talk in action and I couldn’t agree more with her assessment of it.  I don’t believe that work should be approached as a “game”, but rather as a “collaboration” (kind of like a ropes course).  Games are generally divisive, competitive.  But a collaboration brings people together.  In many ways, dialogue is collaborative talk.

I see dialogue as a very human concept in that it is simple and honest–people communicating as people.  I’ve noticed that office conversations tend to stay in the “safe zone”.  After all, workplaces can be riddled with politics and differences of opinion.  It’s quite natural that people may sometimes feel more secure by not expressing themselves authentically.  However, I believe this kind of thinking leads to a sort of domino effect, starting with the folks in charge.  When the guys/gals on top play the “game”, their subordinates are taught to play it too, and on down the line.  It becomes part of the organization’s culture, and it continues until someone breaks the cycle.  I love this quote by Dixon:  “In order for organizational members to risk engaging in dialogue, the organization must have a climate that supports the development of individuals as well as the development of the organization; yet that climate is unlikely to come into being until individuals are able to engage in dialogue” (p. 32).

I believe that instead of making workplaces safer or more comfortable, a lack of authentic dialogue actually increases perceived danger and uncertainty.  I want to know that my colleagues are real–that I’m dealing with flesh-and-blood human beings with full spectrums of human emotions and unique human experiences that influence their decision-making processes.  That’s comforting to me.  I don’t want to have to constantly guess what my colleagues are thinking or feeling.  It’s scary!  That being said, I do realize that dialogue doesn’t come easy for everyone and that it can’t be quickly implemented into most organizations (especially those whose cultures are not conducive to it).  But I think we can each, as HRD practitioners (and consultants), work to make sure that we are authentic in our professional interactions.  Perhaps, over time, we will begin to rub off on others.

ADLT 610, Reflection #3: Embracing resistance and moving on to a solution

Resistance.  The word has a certain…roughness to it.  Sort of like “friction”.  When there is resistance in a relationship, we tend to think of it in negative terms.  However, Block encourages consultants to look at resistance from a new perspective.  In fact, he refers to resistance as “a natural process and a sign that [the consultant] is on target” (Block, 140).  Reframing resistance as a positive indicator in the consulting relationship is not easy to do.  It goes against our natural inclination toward harmony and agreement.  However, it is vastly important to recognize differences in our individual needs and come to terms with them.  This holds true not just in consulting, but in families, circles of friends, community groups, classrooms, etc.  I find that many of Block’s assertions about resistance are universal in that way.

It seems that recognizing and naming resistance is important because it builds trust with the client and enables the consultant to move forward into the discovery/data collection phases of a project.  I imagine that allowing resistance to fester might lead to resentment, defensiveness, and withholding of information by the client.  I know that this is certainly the case in other realms of life.  For example, I learned long ago that if my husband and I don’t face our resistance (disagreements) head on, they grow and take over.  Passive-aggressiveness won’t do anyone any favors.  Now, we always identify our issues and talk about things directly.  Communication is KEY–not just at home, but also at work.

I definitely appreciate the fact that Block and Schein seek to reveal the emotional aspect of consulting.  Before enrolling in this course, I saw the consulting world as strictly “business” (i.e. Mr. Corporate CEO hires the outside consultant to come in and clean up shop).  After reading the literature, however, I now understand that true consulting really is a relationship, and specifically one designed to facilitate (vs. take over).  I am looking forward to learning more about how to apply these humanistic consulting techniques into my own work environment.

ADLT 610, Reflection #2—The initial contract meeting, managing resistance, etc.

To my dear blog buddies– I sincerely apologize for my tardiness with this post.  I attended a conference the weekend of Oct. 2 and part of the following week, and I got totally discombobulated with regards to assignments.   I am sorry for my deadline confusion!

My consulting team met with our client for the first time on Thursday.  The meeting went well, although we did feel a little rushed, as we only had 30 minutes together.  We weren’t able to glean quite as much from the session as I might have hoped, but it was a good start.   I do have some concerns about the type of help we will be expected to provide.  Our client began by expressing her need for what seemed suspiciously like a “pair-of-hands” task.    We responded by gently explaining that we will be serving as process consultants (vs. expert) and that our goal will be to assist her in diagnosing organizational problems and helping the organization learn to solve those problems on its own.  She seemed amenable to this, but I am still concerned that she will expect us to deliver a “tangible product” (if that  makes any sense…).  We will just continue to monitor for this and clarify our position when necessary.  I think part our client’s initial reaction to us was probably one of habit– after all, she is accustomed to bringing in volunteer workers to fulfill specific tasks.  Part of our job, then, will be to introduce her more thoroughly to the concept of process consulting and to engage her as much as possible.

Reading Block’s take on client resistance was very interesting to me.  It’s incredible how often I encounter resistance every day in my own work, as well as in my personal life.  I can think of several instances where I have myself employed some of the very tactics that he discusses.  For instance, I often use time constraints as a way to resist meeting with sales solicitors who approach my office (or as a means of escaping from an hour-long conversation on soil types with that one long-winded neighbor).  I have also encountered resistance in coworkers, mostly in the forms of “confusion”, “impracticality”, and “I’m not surprised”.

I’m not expecting to see a lot of resistance in our consulting client, but I do feel prepared to recognize and address it.  The one issue we could run into with her may be resistance toward relinquishing control to other employees/volunteers.  She seems to be a very do-it-herself/take charge type of person, and even expressed some mistrust of the abilities of other employees to do things correctly.  That issue, however, was not one that she wanted to discuss with us in depth.  We will do our best to work around this and get to the “heart of the matter”, so to speak.

ADLT 610- Reflection #1

Well hello there ADLT 610!  It feels nice to be back in the saddle after a whole summer’s hiatus…I think this might be the longest I’ve gone without taking some sort of college course in over a decade!  As I begin to delve into the readings for Consulting Skills and learn more about process consultation as a practice, I am particularly struck by the distinct humanistic nature of both Block and Schein’s assertations regarding effective consulting.   Block’s ideas on authenticity echo those of Carl Rogers, one of my favorite educational and psychological theorists.  Like Rogers, Block recognizes the importance of being “real”–of offering support from an equal perspective (vs. a lofty one) and of not being afraid to expose one’s own flaws.  The client and the consultant are both humans, after all.  One should not be held to far greater standards than the other, nor should either assume grossly unequal amounts of responsibility.  I appreciate the fact that both Block and Schein see the value of shared ownership in the consultation process.

Schein and Block both discuss consultation as a helping process– “an act of love” (Block, xix).  I am glad to see it presented in this way.  I believe that we have probably all been exposed to some misconceptions about what consulting really means.  The movie “Office Space” comes to mind.  Two external consultants (both named Bob) are hired to diagnose some organizational issues…as well as to help downsize the company.  The manager essentially gives them free reign to take over, and the employees of Initech are terrified.  What’s more, the men are obvious idiots who make ridiculous assumptions about people and completely misconstrue the situation.  I am delighted to know that there are some positive consulting stories out there and some practitioners who are actively engaged in bringing those stories to light.  Reading these texts definitely places consulting in a whole new light for me.

Ethnographic and phenomenological research methods in perspective (EDUS 660, blog post #9)

Ethnographic research is undertaken in an attempt to understand cultural phenomena (i.e. norms shared by a group of people) whereas phenomenological research attempts to understand the perspectives and experiences of individuals.  While ethnography places emphasis on the collective features of a whole, phenomenology emphasizes the personal characteristics and “meaning-making” of each member.   Please see table below for a detailed comparison between these two research models.

Ethnographic

Research

Phenomenological

Research

Research Design

Researchers observe a group’s practices for an extended period of time (sometimes years); they may interact directly with members of the population and conduct face-to-face interviews.  Emphasis is on culture and shared characteristics of the group.  Research is always done “in the field” (or in the natural environment of the participants).  Style is qualitative. Researchers seek to understand individuals’ perspectives; assumption is that everyone’s reality is different depending on how they perceive situations.  Research style is qualitative; researcher involvement runs deep.

Research Problems

Ethnographic research problems are qualitative in nature, and consist of foreshadowed questions.  In general, problems adhere to the following characteristics:

  • Not overly broad or overly narrow in terms of scope
  • Flexible (able to change over time)
  • Do not reflect researcher biases
  • Focus is on “how” and “what” (descriptive)
  • Provides an indication of who will participate and in what setting
Phenomenological research problems are qualitative in nature, and focus on the meaning that individuals derive from experiences and events.   As in ethnographic research, problems adhere to the following characteristics:

  • Not overly broad or overly narrow in terms of scope
  • Flexible (able to change over time)
  • Do not reflect researcher biases
  • Focus is on “how” and “what” (descriptive)
  • Provides an indication of who will participate and in what setting

Selection of Participants

Researcher uses purposeful methods to select participants.  The individuals chosen are those whom the researcher feels will have the most to contribute and are most appropriate for the study (but are not necessarily those who will represent the larger population). As with ethnographic research, a purposeful sampling method is used.  The researcher attempts to select people who have experienced phenomena related to the study and who are willing to open up about those experiences.

Data Collection

  • Observation: the researcher observes participants “in the field” and records copious field notes.  He/she may act as a participant observer (one who becomes personally involved with the group being studied) or a complete observer (one who remains detached from participants).
  • Interviews: can be formal or informal; questions are evolving (i.e. can change depending upon the direction in which the interviewee goes); interview is controlled by the respondent, not the researcher/ interviewer
  • Document analysis: generally used to support data obtained via observation and interviewing; can be any written document or other “artifact” (i.e. personal journals, photographs, videos, etc.)
Extensive one-on-one interviewing is the predominant data collection method.  Interviews may be quite lengthy, and take several sessions to complete.   As with ethnographic research, interviews are open-ended and can progress in different ways depending on each interviewee’s responses.  Interviews in phenomenological research are almost always tape recorded so that the researcher can cite exactly what the person says vs. trying to paraphrase.

Data Analysis

  • Organization: researcher may use coding techniques to categorize certain topics/themes in the data
  • Summary: the categories determined from coding must then be broken down and summarized
  • Data interpretation: inductive analysis; researcher attempts to understand what the results mean; may draw inferences (NOT conclusions) based on findings
  • Coding not used as extensively as in ethnographic research
  • Researcher analyzes his/her own experiences with the phenomenon being studied
  • Researcher analyzes participants’ experiences and perspectives on the phenomenon being studied
    • Direct quotations from participants are used (obtained via tape recording)
    • Inferences are drawn rather than conclusions
  • Coding not used as extensively as in ethnographic research
  • Researcher analyzes his/her own experiences with the phenomenon being studied
  • Researcher analyzes participants’ experiences and perspectives on the phenomenon being studied
    • Direct quotations from participants are used (obtained via tape recording)
  • Inferences are drawn rather than conclusions