Bring out the LEGO

In MSTU 4029 this week we’ll be visiting a local school to see a portal, an immersive audio-visual space, and the school’s Fab Lab.  In preparation, we read an interview with Mitch Resnick, author of Lifelong Kindergarten, professor at MIT’s Media Lab and one of the people responsible for creating the Scratch programming language.  In talking about adoption of the maker movement in schools, Resnick says:

“There are some wonderful instances of people doing great activities around making, and other people who misapply it, and do things in a way that’s too regimented. We’ve seen this in some of the projects we’ve worked on. When we work with the LEGO company on different robotics kits, we see kids doing wonderfully creative explorations and inventions in some places; in other places, the whole class is told what to do and everyone makes the exact same thing. That zaps the creativity out of the process.”

This reminded me of a study in which researchers used LEGO kits vs LEGO free-building to study the impact of task type on creativity in problem solving. The original article, The Downstream Consequences of Problem-Solving Mindsets: How Playing with LEGO Influences Creativity (Moreau and Engeset, 2016) is available through research databases, but also well-summarized here by Psychology Today.  To give a brief overview, Moreau and Engset studied well-defined problems and ill-defined problems.  Well-defined problems have a clear, single answer, have a clear process to arrive at a solution, and often seek quick, logical completion.  Ill-defined problems have no single answer, have a high level of ambiguity, and require creativity to tackle.  Through a number of experiments, they found that subjects who assembled a LEGO kit with step-by-step instructions were less creative in finding solutions to subsequent ill-defined problems that those who were provide with LEGO bricks and the instruction to “build something”(Moreau and Engeset, 2016).  They also found that if someone had been primed for well-defined problem solving, they were more likely to choose a subsequent task that was also well-defined rather than one that was ill-defined (Moreau and Engeset, 2016).  Why does this matter?  Both the original authors and those of the article in Psychology Today ponder whether our increasingly well-defined-problem-lifestyle of ubiquitous Google access to answer any question, step-by-step meal prep services, and other ready-made solutions will make us less prone to seek ill-defined tasks and less creative when faced with them.  Moreover, as AI takes over the well-defined tasks, how well-suited will we be to the ill-defined tasks that face us in solving big problems?  Since most educational technology problems are ill-defined, these findings are worth pondering for anyone who is going to be working in the edtech field.

In light of this, just as we want to encourage creativity in our students, we need to foster it in ourselves and our colleagues.  In my graduate program in 2012, we were able to visit the Google office in NYC.  One of their features was a LEGO room, which we were told was a place for employees to come and foster their creativity.  Seems like Google was on to something there.  Break out the free-building LEGO activities to prime yourself for creativity.

In your next design thinking project, how might your group prime themselves for divergent thinking and creative problem solving?

Works Cited:

C. Page Moreau and Marit Gundersen Engeset (2016) The Downstream Consequences of Problem-Solving Mindsets: How Playing with LEGO Influences Creativity. Journal of Marketing Research: February 2016, Vol. 53, No. 1, pp. 18-30.

Launching jessicasepke.com

Welcome to JessicaSepke.com.

My project for January was to “spring clean” my online presence.  I’ve created jessicasepke.com from three existing sites

  • jessica.sepke.net (not updated since 2007)
  • jessicasepke.typepad.com (a blog entitled “tech life balance” that I periodically posted two between 2009 and 2011)
  • jessicasepke.wordpress.com (a blog that I actually completely forgot that I had ever started until I went to create a new wordpress account and realized that I already had one)

Posts from the two blogs appear on this site.  Conference presentations and resource listings from jessicasepke.net have been updated here. I’ve also included new information, links to social media, and a resume.  Outside jessicasepke.com, I’ve updated linkedin and tried to generally find broken links and outdated info and get it fixed or updated.

Take a look around the web, you may have a blog that you didn’t remember starting!

Thanks, but I already have a tablet

Recently, I got an email from my local T-Mobile representative advertising that the HTC Flyer, which… wait for it… you can write on.  You can edit documents!  You can record audio with notes!  You can manage your calendar!  You can write. on. the. screen.  Oh. my. God.

Sigh.

I’ve been doing all this and more since 2005 on my Lenovo Tablet PC.  Forgive me, world, but I’m frustrated with the idea that writing on the screen is something new.  I’m frustrated by the idea that we’re actually having to decide between touch, pen, and built-in physical keyboard.  I have all 3 in one machine.  Will that machine fit in my purse?  No, but I like a small purse and I already have a smart phone.

I work in education.  I’ve taught with technology for 12 years and started my school’s one-to-one tablet PC initiative in 2005.  I got the 55th tablet IBM/Lenovo made.  When I selected the Tablet PC for my school, we didn’t lose any functionality.   The Tablet PC took the laptop and added the ability to capture electronic ink without a separate graphic device.   We didn’t lose anything, but we gained a world of technological capability.  With our most recent round of Lenovo Tablet PC’s we gained touch screen capability – a triple threat of the tech world.

The current crop of tablet devices all seem represent some loss.  iPad – no integrated pen, and no keyboard, and no easy projection capability.   HTC tablet – pen is separate, no built-in keyboard.  I don’t like clutter and I like to have all the option to do anything I need to do wherever I am.  So, I don’t need a third device with limited capability.  Maybe I’m unusual (heck, there’s no maybe about it), but I’m happy with one computer and my smartphone.

To be clear, I’m not hating on the iPad, Samsung Galaxy, HTC Flyer or on people who love them.  I’m just saying that I’m not going to drop an all-inclusive technology that I know works for me in favor of something with more limited capacity. I’m intrigued by the idea of a smaller, lighter, G4 device that integrates all of these things and Windows 8.

Folks, it’s not that new.  After all, I’ve been able to write on my screen since ’05.

Legacy of Being the Shy Child

I was shy. Painfully shy.  Though my mother tells me that when I was little I would pretend to be lost in the grocery store so that I could talk to people and ask them to help me find my mommy, I have no recollection of being anything but shy.

I couldn’t order my own happy meal.

If asked to speak up, I whispered.

I avoided being called on in class.

“Getting to know you” games were a personal hell.

Even through college, I didn’t participate in class often.  If I worked up the nerve to speak, but answered the question wrong or had my idea rejected, I would never speak in that class again.  In one class, I would whisper my questions to a friend and she would ask them; until one day she raised her hand and loudly announced that I had a question for the teacher. Any question that I had was lost in an overwhelming desire to sink into the floor and disappear from the 23 pairs of eyes that turned around to see what that question I was going to ask.

In small groups of friends and co-workers, I was fine – soft-spoken but funny and thoughtful. But raise the number of people to more than 3 and my palms would sweat.  I would get tongue-tied and nauseated.  It was awful. Awkward. Limiting. Horrid.

Then I became a teacher.  Then the technology director.  Then I started a one-to-one tablet PC program.  I talked in front of my students.  I trained groups of faculty.  I spoke to groups of over 500 with grace and a wicked sense of humor.  I volunteered to be the opening convocation speaker.   It was a true transformation.

But lately, I’ve noticed that I still live with the legacy of being a shy child.   I want to feel like I have something really valuable to say before I say it.  I don’t speak up often in meetings unless I know that I have a real contribution to make.  But the biggest legacy of spending two-thirds of my life in the shadow of shyness is that social media is hard.  Really hard.

I’m on Facebook, but I’m more likely to “like” than post a status.  I’m on twitter, but I’m not sure if what I have to say is valuable.  I have a blog, but am averaging less than a post/month.

At first, I thought that this was just because I lead a crazy-busy life, but now, I think it’s the legacy of being the shy child.  Parents at my school tell me that they always look forward to my segment of the opening assembly. Co-workers tell me that they love when it is my turn to speak because I’m concise and hilarious.  What I can’t figure out yet is how to recreate the transformation from shy student to comfortable public speaker into the realm of social media.  Suggestions anyone?  I’ll be over here sitting in the back of the twitter feed trying to hide behind the tall kid…

Inbox Zero – a week later

I love Inbox Zero.  Elation is the only work that I think I can use that comes close to describing the feeling of seeing my inbox totally empty.   Two weekends ago, I posted “my own personal failblog” from a fog of feeling overwhelmed and tired.  Last weekend, I took the bull by the horns and spend two days ruthlessly clearing my inbox.  I started Saturday morning around 7:30 and Sunday afternoon around 4:30, I hit inbox zero.   Disclaimer – I slept, ate, did laundry, and located a roll of masking tape my husband needed.

So, a week later, it’s Sunday again.  Guess what!  The inbox is still empty.  It has been empty each night for a week.  It can be done.   And, in case you are wondering, I received 396 emails this week.

So, how did I manage that?   Back to David Allen’s Getting Things Done and a few simple rules.

  1. Do it now.  Different people use different numbers for how long a “do it now” task is – usually 1-3 mintues.  I don’t really put a number on it, just “a few.”
  2. Stop procrastinating.  I had gotten particularly bad at putting off tasks for all manner of reasons.  I didn’t have enough time on had to do it right.  I was stuggling with how to handle that email response.   I needed to write but was having a low-creativity day.  I needed information I didn’t have.  I was waiting for someone to be back from vacation.   Now – do it, delegate it or schedule it.
  3. No “To Do’s” in the inbox.  If it is in the inbox, you have to think about it every time you open the inbox.  If it is a to do, either do it or get it into the tasks list and scheduled do be done.

So, I’ve managed a week with these rules helping me to keep an empty inbox.  Its a really nice feeling.  I’ve actually gotten to the end of my emails and my tasks a couple of times this week and found myself looking forward on my list to see if there’s anything I can do in advance.   I’m pretty sure that wasn’t possible two weeks ago.  Let’s see how long I can keep this thing going.