Brainstorming for Introverts

A key step in the design thinking processes we’re studying in MSTU4029 is ideation.

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One image of brainstorming is of a loud, chaotic activity with lot of people shouting out ideas in rapid succession.  In reality, done well, ideation is an organized process with rules, like “no judgement,” that should make people feel comfortable in the ideation process.  Check out IDEO’s video and outline of effective brainstorming techniques to see this process in action.

But even with these rules and processes, brainstorming sessions can be intimidating, especially for introverted participants. So, I was pretty excited to run across 4 Ways to Collaborate More Effectively Than a Traditional Meeting on Susan Cain’s Quite Revolution site.  (Aside: If you aren’t familiar with Susan Cain’s work, I highly recommend it.  Her book, Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explained me to myself).  In addition to presenting methods that can be helpful for those who need more time to think and are unlikely to speak up easily in a group, the ideas in this article are great if your group can’t physically be in the same place at the same time.

I tested one tool in the article – a site called Candor – that would be a great alternative to an in-person brainstorming session. With Candor, you pose your question to a group and invite your team to the session.  Privately and asynchronously, each person creates virtual post it notes with 1 idea per note.  You can only see your own notes at this stage.  After the convener of the brainstorm session “closes” the submission phase, all individuals in the group can see all ideas on “post-its” and “like” them.  With an anonymous mode, group members can’t tell who submitted which idea and as the voting progresses, only the convener can see the total votes.  The creators of Candor believe their product reduces bias and social pressure and helps to insure that everyone’s ideas get equal billing.  I found it quick to set up and intuitive to use.  It’s an interesting alternative for when a traditional, in person brainstorming session isn’t possible or desirable.   If you’ve found other ways to undertake the ideation stage of design thinking when with geographically- distributed teams, share your tips and tool suggestions in the comments.



A new purpose

For the Spring 2018 semester, I’m taking a course titled Managing Educational Technology Resources (aka Solving Educational Technology Problems).  This space has been revamped and updated to serve the the needs of that class.   Looking back over ten years of posts, I’ve pruned some content that was outdated or irrelevant and left that which is tied to the original theme “Notes from the intersection of technology, education, and obsessive organization…”

Early weeks of the course have focused on Design Thinking concepts that will be used to consider challenges in education technology.   It’s interesting to consider how these techniques could have impacted the planning of previous projects as well as to think about how to use them moving forward.  I look forward to sharing resources, ideas, and reflections in this space in the weeks to come.


Confessions of a Philosophy Student

I only took one philosophy class as an undergrad.  I’m sorry to say it wasn’t a positive experience.  Terribly shy, I worked up my courage to tackle a question aloud in class one day.  My professor asked what the basis for my answer was and I responded, “the laws of physics.”  Apparently that wasn’t a valid basis for an argument.  I didn’t speak again in his class that semester.  I wrote letters to my grandmother weekly during the class. But I read, wrote my papers, and got an A. 

Fifteen or so years later, I received the syllabus for Ethics and Education, a course that’s part of the Klingenstein program at Columbia.  I saw Plato and Seneca.  My heart sank.  I was not excited about revisiting philosophy and potentially repeating my undergrad experience.  My attitude was bad and I was frustrated because I didn’t understand the purpose of these readings in relation to my educational and career goals. 

I faithfully read Plato.  Alcibiades. Meno. Crito. the Apology.  At one point I said I felt like someone had replaced my actual brain with one made of yarn.  I think it was after reading Meno and Crito back to back prior to a my evening law class.  Even though I’m no longer really shy, I like my undergrad self.  I was waiting to say something stupid.  I was surrounded by people with history and classics backgrounds who really seemed to get what we were reading.  I didn’t.  I tried, but I didn’t.  I read. I highlighted.  I reread.  I rewrote Socrates’ arguments in my own words.  It got better.  Apology made sense.   I was able to use Sophocles’ Antigone as an allegory for school leadership in a paper.  

Six weeks into school, it finally clicked.  We’d read a long and (for me) challenging book entitled The Present Alone is Our Happiness.  Each class starts with a question and as I looked through my notes, struggling for a question to answer, I finally found it.  Does being a teacher make me a philosopher?  Yikes!

I wasn’t comfortable with being a philosopher, but all the evidence I could find made me realize that teacher’s must be.  I have specific philosophies about what is right in teaching, what teaching is good, and why teaching should be real-world and hands-on whenever possible.   I struggle each day with questions of whether I am doing my best for each child.  I have conversations about ideas with students. I want to live up to my teaching ideals.  Sometimes I show my students that I don’t know how to do everything, but I try to think through it and figure it out.  That’s really what being a philosopher is, I think.  

So, I’ve been able now to read Montaigne’s Essay on the Education of Children and Dewy’s Moral Principles in Education with a good attitude, realizing that I am connecting each thing I read to my learning goals and that it is up to me to do so.  I’m less worried about saying something stupid and even if I do, that’s okay.  I’m just learning.  

So, what do you think my question?  Does being a teacher make you a philosopher?  



From “inert ideas” to inquiry and argument

This post is a reflection on and response two this week’s readings for my Program Leadership.  The readings outline the history of attempting to develop a general curriculum as well as some views on what a good education should be.


  • “The Aims of Education”   from The Aims of Education and Other Essays by Alfred North Whitehead, 1929
  • Selected chapters from Education for Thinking by Deanna Kuhn, 2008
  • Chapter 3 of Curriculum and Aims by D.F. Walker and J.F. Soltis, 2004

From the Walker and Soltis selection, it is clear that our current disagreement about what constitutes a good education is not a new state of affairs but a longstanding one.  The history of curriculum development also shows a progression away from an idea education is solely about subject-area knowledge, but instead is about the more complex development of intellectual skills.  Also from Walker and Soltis, “Curriculum decisions can be viewed as a continuing dialogue uniting us with our ancestors and posterity.”   We constantly consider what we was important as education in the past and what we think that we can do to best prepare our children for an uncertain future.

All three works, but especially Whitehead and Kuhn, seem to agree that a school focusing on general subject knowledge is the antithesis of one that creates students who are poised to appreciate education, make use of their education, and to continue to learn.   Whitehead states that “Education is the acquisition of the art of utilization of knowledge” and Kuhn indicates that the primary outcome of education should be the skills of inquiry and argument.   Both Whitehead and Kuhn advocate that learning activities must combine skill and knowledge in contexts that ensure students see the usefulness and merit of the activity, feeling neither that it is a pointless intellectual exercise or an introduction of useless facts to be memorized for an exam and then forgotten.

I agree with Kuhn’s statement that “our modern society is changing so fast that we cannot envision how our children will live in the future.  We thus do not know how to prepare them for their adult lives and are able to identify education objectives in only the broadest, most abstract of terms.”   For all the talk of 21st century skills, we are still debating what is really in the best interest of our students and how to accomplish it in our general educational system.  What most fascinates me here is that Whitehead’s essay was published in 1929 and Kuhn’s book in 2008; writing nearly 80 years apart and in different countries, they are espousing the same general view.   Inert facts lead us away from a good education by turning students away from buying in to the benefits of education.   The truly important thing is that they gain skills and qualities that will enable them to learn any subject needed later in life.

I agree whole-heartedly.  What have I used from my education?    Not calculus, though I loved it.  Not American history, though I didn’t love it.  Not physics, though I’m not sure I understood it.  I have forgotten the content of most of these classes, but I have used the ability to learn every day.  I have used the ability to find knowledge and to evaluate its content and validity.  I have used the ability to communicate my ideas to others and to hear and evaluate their ideas against my own.  The career that I had prior to graduate school was one that I had never heard of when I was in high school.  How could my school have prepared me for it?

When I taught AP Computer Science, I was not driven by the idea that my students would learned to write programs in Java or that they would make 5’s on their AP exams.   While Whitehead’s idea of “style” is one I appreciate, and I appreciated a stylish program, I wasn’t teaching them long enough for them to develop it.  I hoped that writing programs in my class taught my students how to learn on their own through trial and error.  I hoped that it taught them patience and persistence.  I hoped that it taught them a type of systematical planning and thinking that is applicable to many areas of life.  I hoped it taught them to solve problems and to take intellectual risks.

What can we do?  Is it time for a new Committee of Ten?  Can we legislate our way out of it?  Is the problem as suggested by Bantock in Walker and Soltis that school stands  “for a abstraction and a purely mental life” and not one that was authentic and participatory?   Is it that pop culture and mass media don’t celebrate the intellectual life?   I don’t have answers and may never have them, but for now, I’m extraordinarily thankful to be thinking about it.