Yesterday, I was talking with my mom about the iterative nature of design thinking.  This made me think about the places other than MSTU 4029 that I use processes of iterative improvements.  Here are some examples of places where, without even thinking about  them as iterative improvements, this process has come naturally.

  • I tried this vegan mushroom stroganoff recipe for the first time a few week ago.  First try – too watery.  Second try – less water and more cashew butter for better sauce consistency, but overcooked pasta.  Third try – heartier pasta and pretty darn good.
  • I paint as a hobby.  When painting, you constantly evaluate the work and make decisions about what to do next.  Sometimes what to do next is work on a new section or make small changes to something.  Sometimes it’s to paint over something that doesn’t meet your goals and try again after the paint dries.  This particular painting is a key example having to revisit and improve.  After week 5, I realized that the angles on the bridge were all wrong and had to paint them over and try again. In other cases, incremental changes like darkening shadows or brightening clouds were enough.
    bridge series

    • I write a fair number of HTML templates for sending emails to alumni, prospective students or subscribers to Klingbrief.  Since various email systems read HTML and CSS differently, each email sent involves numerous test sends, which are then viewed in multiple email programs on different devices.  Each is reviewed carefully, the design is tweaked and another test sent – over and over until the result meets expectations.

I like to be able to illustrate with examples when explaining a concept.  So while these three examples are not design thinking, they are examples of trying something, testing it, revising, and testing again.  In helping others think about design thinking, these daily or mundane examples of iteration might help demystify the idea of prototyping and testing.  Other examples could be anything from choosing an outfit in the morning (switching pieces until happy with the overall look) or building a tower of blocks with your niece (adding and moving pieces, or knocking it all over and staring again, until you have the desired creation).

Think about your own life.  Where do you iterate toward better processes or products day-to-day?  Share in the comments if you have examples to contribute.  For now, I have a rather tricky painting of a fountain to go work on…


Perfect… or Good… or Done.

Today, I unexpectedly had some down time and was reading Blended Leadership, one of the suggested readings for MSTU 4029.  That led me to visit the twitter feed and blog of Stephen Valentine, a colleague who is the coordinating editor of the Klingbrief newsletter I help to produce and co-author of Blended Leadership.  Reading though his twitter feed with an eye toward something I could share and write about, here I found a lot that I thought others should read but my attempts to reflect and tie things together fell flat. Calling upon the wisdom in one of the articles – I determined that the perfect couldn’t be the enemy of the complete, so I’m simply sharing a few high points from today’s reading.

One post, Unhook from the Anchors, explains the concept of anchoring – that a starting point influences your outcome – and talks about how unhooking anchors in a recent meeting broke a team out of a rut and allowed for processes to move forward.  It’s a great prompt to consider what might be framing your thinking and limiting your outcomes.

#MaximizingMeetings should be read by anyone planning a meeting.

A Cheap Guitar from Your Uncle reflects on the perfect vs. the good enough.

These three articles are just the start of good things I read today.  And thank you, Stephen, for some timely reminders about work, life, and leadership.


Forests and Trees

A few weeks ago in MSTU 4029, one of our professors said of his early career as a school tech that after spending some time fixing the computer problems of everyone on campus, he felt like he had a great sense of how a school worked.  This caused me some serious déjà vu and maybe a little nostalgia.

As a technology director, I spent a lot of time trying to understand my colleagues’ needs so that I could help find (often but not always) technological solutions to their challenges.  What’s the most challenging concept for the chemistry faculty to teach and how might a new technology enhance student learning of that concept?  What acknowledgements does the development team need to produce and how might the production of those letters be streamlined?  What measures would increase student safety in an emergency and what infrastructure to is needed to support those systems?  How many places does a parent have to change their address to ensure that they receive all communications and how might that be reduced to make their experience better?  A good tech person has to see forests and trees simultaneously – understanding how different people and the systems they use form an intricate ecosystem and how a small tweak to one part of that system will ripple throughout.

One of the joys of being a good tech director is getting to be a thought partner for people across your organization and being a part of positive change.  So, if you’re considering working in school tech, you have a great opportunity in front of you.  If you’re in a school but not in tech, consider your tech folks as potential problem solving partners even when technology isn’t the obvious solution.  Chances are your tech folks have unexpected knowledge of your organization!


Escuela and AI

As I high school freshman, I knew that I should choose to take Spanish and not French.  However, I was shy and extremely hesitant to speak aloud in class in English, never mind trying to participate in a second language. My high school’s Spanish teacher was known for a no-nonsense classroom that would not have recognized this challenge for me, so I caved to my fear and took French.  In the twenty-something years since then, I have often regretted being unable to speak Spanish.  I’ve picked up enough to get by in a number of situations, but I still wished I had made a different choice all those years ago.

Enter Babbel.  I’ve used language apps before to pick up small amounts of Chinese and Korean but had to depend on boarding students at the school where I taught to let me know if my pronunciation was passable (which was only rarely).  Babbel is the first language app I have used that used voice recognition to provide feedback on spoken language.  The first time I tried this part of the app, I felt self-conscious – a throwback to those days of high school language labs when it seemed that the person in the next cubicle could hear my terrible French and that the teacher would break in at any moment to tell me yet again that my r’s were totally wrong.  However, once I got over the nervousness of speaking a language aloud even though only an AI and my cat could hear me, it was really helpful and affirming to have the instant feedback of knowing whether I was saying a new word correctly during these app-based Spanish lessons.  It’s my first real example as a learner of getting formative feedback from a machine and being able to act on it immediately.

Back in 2013, while a graduate student, attended a fascinating workshop on several new educational software developments.  One software had the same story available in different reading levels and allowed students to move up or down based on not only comprehension, but also choice.  A student could opt to try a more challenging version and tap new words for definitions.  Or if they were having trouble answering comprehension questions, move down a level.  Another, had machine-learning-based tools that could diagnose misunderstanding of math facts and provide different feedback to students based on that misunderstanding.  A student who got the incorrect answer on a subtraction problem would not just be shown the correct answer, but based on their answer given would be given a specific explanation – for example, the importance of order in subtraction if she just subtracted the smaller number from the larger one regardless of the order given in the problem.  This week for MSTU 4029, we read about an experiment with writing software for students that enforced a growth mindset,  which increased students’ persistence at a math game when they struggled with challenging problems.  This is a powerful combination of cognitive science and software, not to mention a far cry from the Apple IIe Number Munchers games that were the hallmark of my own elementary school ed-tech experience.

Our guest speaker in class this week is Andrew Gardner from BrainPop.  Having taught computer programming and spent the better part of my career in education technology, I’m really looking forward to hearing how companies are bringing together what we understand about how people learn, with AI, with good programming.  I’ll also be interested to hear how companies that write the software envision teachers using it.  A game that diagnoses misconceptions in math can be an incredibly powerful tool for teachers, but only if they have the time to analyze the data that it generates and work with individual students or small groups to address their specific learning needs if just playing the game doesn’t do the trick. Do those who create software see themselves as partners with human teachers or providers of an alternative to the traditional classroom?  I deeply hope it is the former, especially since tech companies carry so much weight in our society.

I’ll share any items of interest on this topic here after the next class.  In the meantime, I’m tempted to boot up that old copy of Oregon Train I have and see if dysentery strikes again…


Old school… or just old? Finding empathy.

I recently started looking for a replacement for my Lenovo X230 tablet PC.  Finding the right combination of features is proving difficult.  Maybe I’m looking for old school features… or maybe I’m just getting old.  In any case, this process is increasing my empathy for those who have to adjust to technological change, especially in cases where decisions were made for them.

You see, my beloved X230 has the iconic IBM laptop red dot mouse (aka pointing stick or TrackPoint).  Though this technology has some haters, I have been using it for the last 22 years and can’t fathom not having it.  I love that it lives in the middle of my keyboard and that I don’t have to move my hands to a trackpad in order to use the mouse features.  I love that I don’t accidentally tap it with my wrist and move my cursor when I don’t mean to like I do with trackpads.  I’ve even had desktop keyboards with the red dot because I find it so efficient to use.  I love the dot mouse and I really don’t want a laptop that only has a trackpad.

Second, my X230 is pen-enabled.  I don’t need a wacom tablet for graphic design. I can hand write notes directly into my laptop when typing is either too distracting for the setting or requires diagrams or drawings.  When I was teaching, OneNote was my whiteboard in class and my pen-enabled laptop let me easily annotate students’ code to more easily answer questions and correct assignments.  While its not a feature I use every day, I’d sorely miss the pen feature if I didn’t have it.

The rest of my list of desired features is probably a lot like everyone else’s:  Good-sized hard drive, lots of ram, good processor, sturdy without being heavy, and great battery life.  Oh yeah, and not too expensive.  I keep window shopping the Lenovo Yoga, the Microsoft Surface, the Apple iPad Pro and more.  Do I go lightweight with a pen, but no red dot?  Has a dot and a pen, but heavier and expensive? Keep my laptop for robust computing but go iPad for travel?  I can’t decide  – even though I used to select new technologies for hundreds of users as part of my job.

Going through this process has made me reflect on those times when I needed to choose tools, both hardware and software, for others.  While I always tried to understand users’ needs and preferences, I was probably less than fully empathetic to the challenges that come with change.  I could probably adjust to quickly to a new laptop that didn’t have a pen or that has only a trackpad, but the fact remains that I like what I like and would rather have my preferred tools.  When I make this choice for myself, even if I’m not in love with the new tool, at least I’ll have been empowered to make a choice.  How would I feel if that choice were made for me, especially with little or no input from me?

For those with responsibility for choosing technology that others use, our empathy is ultimately key to our success.  We must be able to truly understand their technology needs, but also the feelings surrounding these technologies and around technological change.  In order to successfully roll out new technologies in our schools, we not only have to find the best-fit hardware or software for the task, but also ensure that our users buy in to the change and feel empowered to be successful managing that change for themselves.

I’m not sure which way I’ll decide on the laptop, but I’m grateful for an experience that helps me better understand how others might be impacted by my decisions and have more empathy for users facing potentially unwelcome change.

PS-Long live the red dot mouse!