Archive for May, 2015

WSJ: Does Technology Belong in Classroom Instruction?

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

In today’s (Monday March 11, 2015) edition of the WSJ, there is a Technology section with an article addressing the question “Does Technology Belong in Classroom Instruction?” with the Yes argument provided by Lisa Nielsen and the No argument provided by José Antonio Bowen.

Let’s reflect on this question in the YCISL context especially our problem (that schools stifle creativity) and our program emphasis areas.

The prime question is whether technology, as it is applied in schools, enhances creativity and provides opportunities to develop personal skills. Let’s focus on five electronics-enabled technologies that are in current adoption in schools:

1. Computers. Out of the five selected (electronic) technologies, computers have had the longest run in schools so far. Computers are major investments in terms of initial capital as well as ongoing maintenance. Early on, computer companies often donated computers to schools and parents volunteered to maintain them. Their impact on creativity is mixed. On one hand, they are big-pipe sources of knowledge and viewpoints; on the other, they have become tools on which we lay and express our thoughts and ideas as well as analyze data.

2. Tablets. Lighter backpacks are the main benefit of tablets. With respect to creativity, I think they are at a disadvantage to computers because of their smaller screen and higher difficulty in user input (much easier to swipe and tap, than to draw or type). Obviously so, they are handier for searching/researching big-pipe sources of knowledge and viewpoints; although not a particularly good solution as an alternative to printed textbooks because of their limited screen size.

3. Interactive Whiteboards. In concept, this technology certainly belongs in classrooms. However, their performance and ROI is so below potential. Remember “Under-promise and Over-deliver”? Compared to modern whiteboards which can be as long as the length of walls in a room, the limited screen size of interactive whiteboards is a disadvantage when it comes to promoting creative exploration in a classroom. Sure, interactive whiteboards are useful when putting up PowerPoint presentations and annotating them, but can they replace the analog alternative altogether? No, they can’t. So the result is an additional expense rather than an alternative expense, and a significantly higher maintenance cost – all with a limited lifetime and shorter replacement cycle. And there are the health issues.

4. Class Web Portals. As a parent of school children, I have used a few Class Web Portals before. I think they have gotten better in terms of learning curve. The early problem was that schools and teachers only half-committed to these portals so information was split and not replicated between paper and web. So students and parents had to check two sources of classroom information and collate on their own with no way of being certain of full-picture accuracy. So assignments were missed or students needed twice the time to get homework done. My guess is that the learning curve has gotten easier as more HCI technique is incorporated as well as teachers, parents and students becoming more accustomed to interacting with classroom web portals. I have also experienced Stanford’s Coursework portal which is quite good and useful; I especially like that students can upload assignments and the server clocks the time that an assignment was submitted. However, with regards to creativity, I have not yet detected any features that help educators or students interact creatively. Maybe in the future.

5. eBooks. There are eBook devices whose clarity and readability are great advantages. But these devices are not making headway into schools. Instead, tablets with eBook apps are common. eBooks as data downloads are also growing.  eBooks tied to publisher web portals are also an interesting concept and have potential to enhance creative and critical thinking. The barrier is the monetization: eBooks (especially textbooks) are not cost-effective and do not possess the advantages of printed books. Like tablets, their main advantage is lighter backpacks (and fixed space requirement) but they are not fully-competent replacements for printed textbooks. That is why I purchase the printed textbook (use at home) in addition to eBooks (use at school) for some school subjects such as history and biology.

In my view, technology will “belong” in the classroom – one day in the future when it is more mature. Presently, it has too many kinks and disadvantages and the expense is unjustifiable because product developers are in the early stages still. Remember when a 20 MB hard disk cost $1,000+? We can get a more reliable 120 GB solid state drive now for around $100.

Let’s gather educators to brainstorm ways to leverage creativity from classroom technology first then develop and reveal a true solution with the promise of replacing paper and pen, chalk and chalkboard, printed books and handouts. Let’s innovate.

WSJ: It’s Really Here: TV for 6 Month-Olds

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

The WSJ article “It’s Really Here: TV for 6 Month-Olds” by Joe Flint (published in the Business & Tech. section of the March 30, 2015 issue) describes television programming for infants. The article describes the programming, technology, the business prospects and viewpoints.

It saddens me. For someone to provide a cheap, low-quality substitute for personal parental attention wreaks of negligence. And to the idea that “Education Stifles Creativity,” this exacerbates the problem. It is another form of knowledge pollution brought about by technology that sets back a person’s personal story.

“BabyFirstTV…is aiming its programming at children as young as six months.” “It launched in 2006…and now reaches more than 50 million U.S. households.” Got that, parents? Better get your shields up because we all know that much of television programming is a weapon of mass (mind) destruction. Short attention spans, addictive behavior, myopia, obesity, and an overall lack of interpersonal skills.

“What is important is what we put our kids in front of and we think we are offering the cleanest, safest alternative.” After the spin slows down a bit, look through your list again just a little harder. The cleanest, safest alternative is parent attention. And “In 2014, advertisers spent $1.2 billion on kids channels.” Hmmm, who exactly is the winner here? And is there any trace of intrinsic motivation?

“I know there is a lot of criticism about babies and and young kids watching TV, but I think in moderation and with parent supervision it can be a great benefit.” You might compare the benefits list to the detriments list. And which effects are more long-lasting and influence future behavior? I would mostly recommend physical interactive activity but in those depleted energy settings when we want to rest and relax, can we not make a better choice and fill the time with mindfulness activity (which involves closing the eyes) and perhaps even enhance it with music?

All in all, I view such developments as presenting greater challenge to the YCISL mission. Let’s hope enough parents recognize it as negative innovation – that is, one that promises undesirable influence and impact.

On the Combination of Knowledge Intelligence with Emotional Intelligence

Friday, May 8th, 2015

In YCISL, we postulate that Leadership Intelligence (LI) arises from the combination of Knowledge Intelligence (KI) and Emotional Intelligence (EI). Our viewpoint is succinctly expressed by a chemical reaction:

KI + EI -> LI

In general, EI is a limited-quantity reagent which results in a low LI yield. KI is the information capital that one possesses and is largely related to formal education. EI is the ability to configure KI so that it is useful and effective. Essentially, EI bonds with KI and forms LI, a valuable product and resource.

In another article, I have discussed how EI is lost just as creativity is stifled through formal education and societal influence. So as KI grows, EI can greatly diminish. So the challenge is to protect, preserve and restore EI so that it is ready to produce LI.

This model explains why LI is rarely demonstrated in modern society and why YCISL focuses on opportunities for and examples of youth leadership; we expect to be able to yield high LI in youth and not adults. It will take high quality/purity KI as well as potent EI to produce the LI that we seek.

The hope is to ignite the production of LI at an early (prime) age so that adults have the youthful experience to sustain high LI. Overall, this helps explain why the best (adult) leaders are those who draw from their youth experience.

This is one of YCISL’s purposes.

BOOK: The Japanese Mind by Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno (Eds.)

Friday, May 1st, 2015

I discovered this book while searching for tourist-type guides to Japan. It is a great find and became my primary read immediately. This is a collection of essays – each of which contain reflections on the Japanese culture, sometimes in comparison to Western culture. “The Japanese Mind” in fact contains a series of student essays (that feel were smoothed out by the editors, Davies and Ikeno) which each generally contain insights, meanings and socio-cultural influence. Reading this book was a marvelous learning experience and will add emphasis on cultural viewpoints to our YCISL workshop.

“Ambiguity is thus indispensable for maintaining harmony in Japanese life, where it has the quality of compromise.” I usually associate “ambiguity” with negative consequences (specifically in the context of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Geerte Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions), but now can appreciate the relation to positive influences such as harmony and compromise. It is fascinating to think of ambiguity as a skill where one has to be facile in both creating it and dealing with it.

“Silence can also be considered a kind of ambiguity.” In our YCISL workshops, silence usually feels awkward to me but it happens especially at the start of the workshop. In my next workshop, I will think more carefully about the meaning behind the silence and whether it provides any hints to the students’ mindsets.

“As a result, there is a constant emphasis on other people’s feelings in Japan, and parents try to teach their children from a very early age to be sensitive to this information.” While YCISL includes exercises to practice assertiveness, our desire to grow emotional intelligence fits well with any tendency to be highly (or even overly) considerate of the feelings of another person. We can look at this from the perspective of training skilled empathy which includes awareness as well as self-control and sensitivity.

“Until they graduate from elementary school, they are generally not completely conscious of these vertical relationships. However, as soon as they enter junior high school, they are expected to confirm to this rigid system.” This suggests that the timing of YCISL intervention at early high school is perfect. Parents and teachers need to believe that when creative behavior, motivation and productivity are desired, the vertical relationships need to be relaxed.

“Simplicity and elegance are often considered two of the essential aesthetic qualities of Japanese culture, and they have been important features of Japanese life since ancient times.” I would like to try to emphasize simplicity and elegance in all YCISL activities – from our concepts and exercises to the projects and lessons. With these two attributes, we can expect greater teamwork and leadership as well as clearer purpose and deeper passion.

“However, this also inspired a positive attitude toward such desolation in treasuring the beauty that was out of sight.” Being able to value things not in plain sight is a key to innovative thinking. In the case of prototyping where we understand the practical advantages of “fail early, fail fast” and moving on despite obstacles and failures, deriving a positive attitude in these situations is a valuable skill in creating unique solutions in problem-solving.

“Although millions of people continue to learn calligraphy, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement, most do so not to develop their own distinct inner sense of beauty but simply as an imitation of models.” In YCISL, we should seek to develop this inner sense of beauty as part of our exploration for creative energy; this is possible in YCISL because we do not have a rigid model.