Thursday, October 6, 2016

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Leadership and Technology 2

As mentioned in my last post, the ed tech field is relatively new and has few well-recognized success criteria. This lack leaves the field open in particular to suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect, where relatively ignorant newcomers can have delusions of grandeur about their own skill level. A relatively trivial or shallow understanding of ed tech can lead some to believe that they are more skilled than they actually are. This attitude can negatively impact student learning and faculty prioritization of professional development. Faculty suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect can also easily spread misinformation and poor practices to other faculty. Additionally, they may have only a rudimentary understanding of a leader’s communicated vision but believe they have a full understanding of the vision and are implementing it successfully.

Thomas and Patricia Reeves, in their article, “Educational Technology Research in a VUCA World,” produced the following table distinguishing between ed tech research that focuses on the technology rather than on the pedagogy:

Research focused on things is what we do
Research focused on problems is what we should do
  • Learning Analytics
  • Mobile Learning
  • Online Learning
  • 3D Printing
  • Games and Simulations
  • Wearable Technology
  • Clickers and SmartBoards
  • Machine Learning
  • Virtual Assistants
  • Immersive Learning
  • Ineffective teaching
  • Inadequate higher order learning
  • Poor learner motivation
  • Failure to engage
  • Little preparation for real world
  • Lack of intellectual curiosity
  • Undeveloped creativity
  • Weak communication skills
  • Insufficient time-on-task
  • Declining value of degrees

The list on the left, on things that research tends to focus on, is driven more from an IT perspective while the list on the right, on things that the Reeve’s feel research should focus on, is driven more from a teaching perspective. This is an interesting and potentially fruitful discussion for ed tech leaders to be having with faculty. However, by shifting the focus too much to pedagogical concerns, there runs the risk of simplistic 1:1 “solutions” such as statements like “I use Pinterest to engage students,” especially among those who are suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Rather than seeing one research area as less important for research than another area, these two areas should be seen as two sides of the same coin. Thus, specific technologies should not be separated from the problems they are attempting to solve. This view has the further advantage of potentially comparing a variety of technologies and their effects on a single pedagogical problem. This strategy combats the simplistic 1:1 relationship of technology and “solution.” 

Ed tech leadership has an important role to play in promoting this linking of technology with pedagogical problem-solving. By looking at technology interventions as pedagogical problem-solving, leaders can decide on the best approaches to promote based on the available research. York University struck an educational technology advisory group (an example of distributed leadership) which researched the university’s potential direction and settled on a strategy of primarily offering blended learning with some increases in fully online courses. Other schools have implemented a “flipped classroom” strategy, providing the technological architecture to allow faculty to have low barriers of entry to implementing the strategy and robust supports. Promoting a single vision for technology adoption allows the organization to specialize in a particular strategy. That strategy can then be properly resourced with adequate support staff. As well, the pedagogical problems that are addressed by that technology strategy can be properly understood by faculty through professional development.

Leadership and Technology 1

I am quite new to the concept of leadership and the various styles of leadership, so my blog posts will be quite focused on the basics and me thinking through leadership and technology. I have been a leader in the past and still consider myself a leader to a certain extent, even though my position is not a formal leadership position. Currently, I try to lead the faculty that I work with as well as leading by example; for instance, I try to demonstrate the proper use of educational technology when presenting to large groups.

There are four primary leadership styles that are often combined in a number of ways as well as a fifth leadership style that also appeals to me:
1.     Autocratic: Autocratic leaders retain all power for themselves. This speeds decision-making but can lead to an organizational culture that is primarily concerned with issues of power and status.
2.     Managerial: The managerial leader is primarily concerned with running the organization smoothly and may not promote a clear and inspiring vision for the organization.
3.     Democratic: A democratic leader takes into account the opinions of his or her followers but feels that the final decision-making authority resides with them. Although consulted, the followers can lack buy-in to the leader’s decision.
4.     Collaborative: A collaborative leaders not only consults with his or her followers but also makes decisions through discussion and democratic decision-making, which hopefully arrives at a consensus. While this style of leadership increases the likelihood of buy-in, it can be inefficient.
5.     Servant: A “leader among equals.” The servant leader seeks to serve his or her “constituents” and views them as peers and not followers.

I believe I naturally gravitate toward being a servant leader. Perhaps it’s growing up in a hockey culture where one is expected to defer to team success and not take individual credit for successes that makes me attracted to that concept. There may be a team captain and some on the team may get paid more, but everyone has a role to play that is equally important to team success. If a fellow team member is a competent professional, there should be no reason to not see them as equals.

In addition to the above styles, James MacGregor Burns contrasted two different styles: transactional and transformational. Transactional leaders see leadership as a series of transactions and may be most closely related to the managerial leader above. Examples of transactions are rewards, punishments, reciprocity, and monetary. A transformational leader, on the other hand, creates a vision and encourages followers to pursue that vision by aligning that vision to the motivations of the followers. The transformational leader empowers the followers to pursue fulfillment of the vision. The transactional and the transformational cannot be completely separated. Without any vision, the transactional leader is a tedious bureaucrat. Without any management, the transformational leader is an ungrounded dreamer. I see myself more of a transactional leader. Any larger “vision” that I may have is too abstract to communicate clearly and not particularly interesting to me anyway because I am not a fan of abstraction; the “vision” that I communicate is through example: learn more and be able to do more, so that you can perform your job function better.

I see leadership overall as a Venn diagram:

While we associate the transformational leader with having a vision and the transactional leader with managing resources, I think it is important to separate out the concept of “charisma” from those two other functions. Charisma here means the ability to influence others to follow one’s direction. Since the leader and manager cannot be discretely separated, I think there is an overlap between the leader and manager. The ideal transformational leader, I think, is able to combine all three traits. The ideal leader can present a vision, manage resources, and persuade others to follow the leader’s direction. I think it is important to separate out charisma because with any one of the three traits, a person can perform or appear to perform a useful role in an organization. I have known managers who are able to get by while having no vision and being poor resource managers, especially in a field as new as ed tech; however, a charismatic person can succeed by the sheer force of their personality, persuading their bosses that they are doing well both as leaders and managers. This person in the diagram has been labelled the “charlatan,” a person who is both an ineffective manager and leader and only appears to be doing a successful job based on their ability to “talk a good game.” In a field such as ed tech, which has few, clear, well-known success metrics, a charlatan can easily dazzle his or her superiors by making the most banal achievement seem extraordinary and the time taken by employees to reach the banal achievement to be an efficient use of resources. Charisma is also important to managers or leaders who lack the other trait that an ideal leader has: a manager who lacks vision and a visionary who lacks management. By being able to influence others charismatically, a leader can get others to embrace his or her vision. Conversely, one may have an excellent vision for an organization but be unable to persuade anyone else to adopt that vision. A charismatic manager, on the other hand, can positively impact the morale of his or her employees while managing them as resources by persuading them that the constraints he or she is placing on the employee are more agreeable than they might otherwise be coming from a less persuasive manager. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

A bad reading

When I was teaching writing, I would often have to tell students to ensure they were in control of the language that they were using. Don’t use a fancy word just for the sake of using a fancy word if you are unsure you are using in a proper context (probably influenced by Orwell). Otherwise, it is better to use the simple word in the correct context for the sake of clarity and exactness. A fancy word should only be used when it is more exact than the simple word. That is what came to mind as I tried to read Gifreu-Castells and Moreno’s “Educational multimedia applied to the interactive nonfiction area. Using interactive documentary as a model for learning.” The language was so out of control that I found myself using an excessive amount of cognitive load to decipher the text. Too often, the article veers between the painfully obvious and undecipherable nonsense. Fortunately, the article is from a conference proceeding and not actually a published work.

On every page, there is some incongruent turn. Why, for instance, bring up Piaget in the second paragraph of the Introduction, except to attempt to give the appearance of being educated? Do you mean that children should construct “knowledge by physically interacting with media and objects”?  Or adults? Did Piaget study adult learning? Or is the interactive documentary field aimed at children? Bringing up Piaget in such a way is confusing. The same could be said when the authors bring up the subjects of blended learning and MOOCs in the second paragraph of Section 4.3. It is as if they are interested simply in throwing as many educational buzzwords as they can. The painfully obvious tautology of “InterDOC mainly provides online content, so it can serve as online learning material” is used to describe how the interactive documentary can support blended learning. The next sentence bring up MOOCs, relating their appearance to some fallacious idea that “collaborative learning has become the new dominant trend.” The only way that sentence makes any sense is that they are referring to cMOOCs, and not the more teacher-directed xMOOCs. Rather than making any such clear distinction and attempting to be informative, they appear to be more interested in just throwing in another buzzword to appear “current.”

The “hypothesis” they seek to test—“that interactive documentary could be a suitable education tool because it offers new ways to approach, understand, play and learn from reality”—vacillates between the obvious (of course, it’s a suitable education tool) and the nonsensical (even ignoring the poor grammar, is the genre of interactive documentaries really providing a new way to learn? Neurobiologists might have a different opinion). The source material, the interactive documentaries, are actually interesting as a subject matter. An actual testable hypothesis would be comparing the learning, engagement, and emotive-ness of the regular documentary with the interactive version. Does one actually learn more from interactivity or does the cognitive load of interacting with the material interfere with how much one learns? Similarly, do viewers (or “interacters”) actually spend more time with the interactive documentary? Finally, would they report greater or lesser emotional attachment to the subject matter based on the interactivity? All three aspects of the hypothesis are easily testable: the first through a post-test; the second through recording visitors time on site; and the third through self-reporting. Rather than just assuming that interactivity is better, they actually could add to our knowledge base about the subject.