The 11th hour of the 11th day

While today is Veterans Day here in the US, a day to honor all of our military veterans, much of the rest of the Western world today is observing Armistice Day,  which marks the cessation of hostilities on the “western” front of World War I . This “Great War” is all but gone from living memory; according to wikipedia (as of 11 Nov 10), there are only 3 living veterans of World War I.

I have to admit that until a couple of years ago, I didn’t really know that much about WWI. Sure, I knew about trench warfare, mustard gas, the first tanks, etc. But I hadn’t really paid too much attention to the global politics that led up to – and followed – the war. It wasn’t until my sons took their Modern World History course in high school that I really started paying attention.

In the summer of 2008, after my youngest had just completed world history, we spent our family vacation in Kansas City. (That was the location of the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Trampoline and Tumbling National Championships that year, and we used our down time to explore.) While there we learned that the National World War I museum is in KC, so we took some time to visit.

What an incredible place. The exhibits are an amazing combination of artifacts and facts. Huge posters explaining the crazy politics that led up to the war, the conduct of the war itself, and the aftermath. Huge, life-size dioramas of trenches and other aspects of a soldier’s life. It took everything I – we – had learned as we discussed WWI during the school year and made it visceral, almost real.

If you ever find yourself in Kansas City, please set aside a morning or afternoon and visit the Liberty Memorial and World War I museum. You will be glad you did.

photo by Brent Flanders, licensed under Creative Commons. Check out Brent’s World War I Museum set on Flickr for more great photos from the museum. Thanks, Brent.

Mobile devices are not the enemy of learning

Towards the back of his book Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning, published in 2005, author Marc Prensky discusses the potential for using cell phones as a tool for learning in schools. I read the book back in the fall of 2006, and though I agreed with much of what he wrote in the book, I just did not see the potential for cell phones that he did. A huge failure of imagination on my part.

In my Google Reader feeds recently was an item shared by Harold Jarche (@hjarche), an interview with Royan Lee – “a teacher who’s not afraid of technology” – entitled Class, turn on your cellphones.

Interviewer Jesse Brown introduces the topic with the following:

One of the only places where it is still totally unacceptable to instantly learn about anything with a mobile device is in school.

Like so many things that bring about drastic change, the biggest concern that most parents and teachers (and administrators and school board members) have regarding mobile devices in the classroom is a fear of the unknown. They don’t understand it, so it must be bad, it is something to be afraid of and avoided.

If you are a parent or a teacher  (or administrator or school board member) who thinks that mobile devices have no place in school, then you really need to listen to this interview. It may not change your mind, but at least you’ll have a better understanding of what it is you are preventing.

Mr. Lee also takes on what he sees as a huge myth that needs to be overcome, that because students use this stuff so much they actually know how to use it. (See my post Social savvy, yes – tech savvy, not so much for some more thoughts on that.) Starting at 10:25 –

One big myth that we have is that because students are using Facebook on their own that somehow savvy already in terms of using these devices and their digital literacy…. It never ceases to amaze me how untrue this is. It’s almost frightening, especially the older kids who’ve been using it for a while. In many cases they’ve built up some really bad habits in terms of online behavior and posting behavior.

What if your organization functioned like a video game

My earlier post on games got me digging through my archives (yet again), where I found two posts looking at knowledge management and knowledge work through the lens of games. Both of these posts are based on James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.

This second post looks at the role affinity groups play in learning through video games, and compares this to how many organizations work.

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Although James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy is primarily about how individuals, especially kids, learn, there is a lot in the book that can be applied to how organizations learn. This list describes what Gee sees as common features of what he calls affinity groups and their implications. Those familiar with knowledge management concepts will recognize these as traits of a good community of practice.

  1. Members of an affinity group bond to each other primarily through a common endeavor and only secondarily through affective ties, which are, in turn, leveraged to further the common endeavor. Implication: Affective ties and sociocultural diversity can be dangerous, because they divide people if they transcend the endeavor, good otherwise.
  2. The common endeavor is organized around a whole process (involving multiple but integrated functions), not single, discrete, or decontexualized tasks. Implication: No rigid departments, borders, or boundaries.
  3. Members of the affinity group have extensive knowledge, not just intensive knowledge. By “extensive” I mean that members must be involved with many or all stages of the endeavor; able to carry out multiple, partly overlapping, functions; and able to reflect on the endeavor as a whole system, not just their part in it. Implication: No narrow specialists, no rigid roles.
  4. In addition to extensive knowledge, members each have intensive knowledge – deep and specialist knowledge in one or more areas. Members may well also bring special intensive knowledge gained from their outside experiences and various sociocultural affiliations (e.g. their ethnic affiliations) to the affinity group’s endeavors. Implication: Non-narrow specialists are good.
  5. Much of the knowledge in an affinity group is tacit (embodied in members’ mental, social, and physical coordinations with other members and with various tools, and technologies), and distributed (spread across various members, their shared sociotechnical practices, and their tools and technologies), anddispersed (not all on site, but networked across different sites and institutions). Implication: Knowledge is not first and foremost in heads, discrete individuals, or books but in networks of relationships.
  6. The role of leaders in affinity groups is to design the groups, to continually resource them, and to help members turn their tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, while realizing that much knowledge will always remain tacit and situated in practice. Implications: Leaders are not “bosses,” and only knowledge that is made explicit can be spread and used outside the original affinity group.

As most of us know all too well, most organizations today operate in ways very different from how these, often self-forming, groups operate. Some thoughts, item by item:

  1. The common endeavor in most organizations is dictated from the top down. Members of the organization don’t usually join the organization because of the ‘endeavor,’ rather they accept the endeavor because they have joined the organization.
  2. In most organizations (in my experience), specific functions are highly structured into departments and sub-departments. Successful cross-functional activity is the exception rather than the rule.
  3. Because of the highly structured nature of organizations, most people know only their area. Because the ‘endeavor’ is not their own, there is very little incentive to understand the ‘big picture.’ Those who do try to understand the big picture are often seen as ’stepping out of their lane’ and put back in their place. After all, how can they be doing their job if they are worrying about what someone else is doing.
  4. This is what most organizations expect of their members – a high skill level in their specific area.
  5. More and more organizations are recognizing the tacit nature of knowledge and the value of network relationships is sharing information. More than any of the other items in this list, it is this area that is receiving much of the attention in the field of knowledge management. It is hard, though, for individuals and organizations to get over the cultural expectation of knowing everything yourself, the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome, and the sharing – freely – of what you know with others so they can be successful.
  6. Most ‘leaders’ are still just bosses.

Looking back over my list, I think I may be a bit pessimistic, but I’ve been involved with knowledge management, social networking, etc. for almost 10 years now and am still amazed, and frustrated, at how many organizations still don’t get it. Those who know me know that I’m really a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I must admit that I do hold out hope that things will change.

Maybe it will just take the current generation of young gamers, Marc Prensky’s digital natives, to finally get us there.

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Some thoughts on Dads, IEPs, and PTOs

This is a repost of something I originally wrote in the summer of 2007. Three years old, but just as relevant now as it was then.

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Last summer (2006) in the post “Men must attend IEP meetings”, I quoted Charles Fox of the Special Education Law Blog on the important role men can (should) play in the IEP process. With the beginning of the school year and IEP season looming, I felt it appropriate to reprint Fox’s quote:

Fathers and men too often fail to realize that sometimes just showing up at a meeting in support of the child can make an enormous difference. In my list of essential advocacy points, I list that ‘men must attend meetings.’ [number 11] I was actually accused of being a male chauvinist for stating this position at a parent training.

What was lost in translation was not that women are incompetent advocates because nothing could be more untrue; rather, that the dynamic of the meeting can often go differently if the father, uncle, grandfather, brother or even male co-worker or friend comes to a meeting or mediation.

This post was brought back to mind for me by the blog post Gender Bias and Autism Dads at

Have you ever been treated like a second-rate member of an IEP or school meeting? Of course, right? But how about a second-rate parent? Have you ever had to say, “Umm, I’m here too” or “Hey, I’m also the parent” when the faculty (in my case, all or predominately female) ignore you completely and speak to the other parent without acknowledging your existence. Or even worse, have you ever endured the cruel “Dad” jokes, when these so-called professionals assume the mother does all of the dirty work (cooking, cleaning, shopping, taking care of the child, therapies, researching, fighting school districts, etc.) while you escape to the normalcy of your 9-5?

Fortunately, I’ve never had to endure this. The IEP teams we’ve worked with over the years have all been true professionals, treating us as equals in the process. If anything, most were pleased to see a father taking such an interest. (Of course, it has helped that through the years I’ve had jobs that gave me the flexibility to attend.)

To be honest, I’ve had a more difficult time trying to be an involved father in the PTO’s of my non-autistic son. I seem to be the only father that the mothers had ever seen express an interest in being part of the PTO. This made for some interesting, sometimes uncomfortable initial meetings as they tried to figure me out. (It took me a while in one group to get them to stop calling me Mr. Miller!) Eventually, I became just one of the gals (in a manner of speaking 😉 ).

I know that, statistically speaking, mothers tend to be the primary care givers and the ones who must work through the IEP process and all that it entails. I also know that divorce rates among parents of autistic children are high, again with mothers typically (not always) the ones who must take care of the autistic child. *

But I’m here to tell you – and I know a few guys out there who will back me up – that autism dads are here, and we care, and we’ll let our IEP teams know that we’re here and we care if they try to ignore or marginalize us.

On the subject of autism divorce, check out First National Program Launched to Combat Divorce Rates in Autism Community in Medical News Today and the Family First page on the NAA site.

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If every child had an IEP

For many years I have wondered, “Why doesn’t every child in school have an IEP (individual education plan)?” I first wrote this question nearly 5 years ago. At the time I was content to let the question stand on its own, but over the years it has never been too far back in my mind.

Lately, the question has evolved in my mind to become, “What would school be like if every child had an IEP? Not because they are disabled, but because every child is different?” I think I’ve found an answer, thanks to an item shared by David Gurteen (@davidgurteen) that I found in my Google Reader feeds.

In Put the child in the centre, Robert Paterson gives some performance details from the Alice Byrne school – very impressive performance – and then goes on to describe what he sees as the key to this performance (emphasis mine):

At Alice Byrne each child has their own learning plan that is built with all the staff who are connected to that child, the parets and the child.  All have a part in this plan. Weekly the staff discuss each child and share what they observe. Alice Byrne has put the child in the centre. The family has been brought in as well.

As Robert says, any school can do it. It may not be easy for them to make the change, but it isn’t – shouldn’t be – about easy; it should be about better. (Sound familiar?)