Book Report: Influencer

Good grief, it's another pop psychology book. I've been reading a lot of these recently, it seems. I swear, if I have to sit through another discussion of children who can/cannot delay their consumption of marshmallows, I'm going to... Ahem, anyhow. I made it through this book.

Influencer is applied psychology. People don't reason logically. If you want to influence a group's behavior, if reason ain't working, what do you do? You can keep spewing facts, but maybe you'll just continue to watch those facts flop around ineffectively. Maybe you need to choose different material. Maybe you need to change up something else. Some more sources of influence to bring to bear:

  • Get society on your side. People can watch each other, can encourage or discourage each other. They can spread and reinforce your message.
  • If your message fails because you're an untrusted "outsider", try to convince a respected "insider" to deliver your message for you.
  • If people fail to follow the abstract philosophy you present to them, show them some concrete things they can do.
  • Or show them a story that makes the abstract, perhaps taboo, issues concrete. People identify with story protagonists.
  • Choose rewards carefully. Esteem and respect often work. Money is dangerous.
  • Can you change the environment? If you can't resist eating ice cream, maybe you should get rid of your ice cream freezer.

It's all good advice.

OK, there was one example that came up a lot that I hadn't already become sick of: the Delancey Street Foundation. I didn't know that much about their methods. I didn't know that so much of the recovery was up to the residents themselves, the wide application of "each one teach one". I can imagine that a new resident, showing up there, would adapt to fit in, and in so doing, would learn to operate in the world a lot better. But now I want to know how the system was bootstrapped—how did the first generation get it together?

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Not-Really-Puzzlehunts are Everywhere, even Denmark

At work, I work with training/educator folks. Tonight, I posted a message about stuff I'd read this evening. But it's not confidential or anything so I guess I'll post it here, too:

LARPers run a school

LARPers are Live Action Role Players. These people don't think Dungeons and Dragons is geeky enough, so they act out what their characters are doing. Do you remember a video on YouTube a while back in which people whacked each other with foam swords while a "wizard" tossed rocks while yipping "Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!" Yeah, those were LARPers.

A bunch of LARPers set up a school. And to teach real stuff, not just, uhm, imaginary dragon thwacking or whatever. For some lessons, they present material in, you know, the usual way with someone talking in front of a chalkboard. But when they can, they try to teach by means of acting out role-playing games. They describe themselves at An excerpt:

1st narrative structure was Godsplay. On the first day of school, the students were divided into different pantheons and were told, that they would compete to name the different parts of the school for the rest of the week. In the first day they sought information on the pantheon and chose god-characters for each of them, composing a text in Danish describing their character. On following days, they worked with geometrical structures on the premise that all gods want their followers to build as big and impressing as possible. ...

I found out about this school from, so help me, a free online book of articles about LARPing. Don't judge me. Book available from . Article "The Role-Players’ School: Østerskov Efterskole" starts on page 12. An excerpt:

In the third week of the World War II theme, the pupils were engaged in the East Front. For most of the week, they were not playing individual soldiers but rather taking charge of whole military units. They were fighting the battle for Stalingrad –one half played Germans and the other half played Russians. But instead of deciding every battle with a die roll as you would do in a board game, the result was dependant on the solving of arithmetic problems.

This article also reminds us that people are not wearing enough hats:

"Wear-a-hat –teaching is a unique method where the pupil behaves according to the social conventions of a normal classroom setting with the only notable exception being that both the pupil and the teacher are wearing costumes. By any rational definition, wearing a hat hardly counts as role-playing: It is simply practicing ordinary teaching, be it classroom or group work in the roleplaying gear. Nevertheless, engagement and concentration are usually higher than without the gear."

So now people at work know I've been reading about activities dangerously low on the geek hierarchy. We'll see if they're still willing to talk to me.

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Book Report: The Air We Breathe

This was a fun novel. As with other Andrea Barrett novels, the heroes are scientists, so I'm inclined to be sympathetic. This novel is narrated in the first person plural, by a community of people. It talks about how ideas--and hysteria--can move through a community. It talks about learning circles, sort of leaderless classes in which people share what they know. There's also plenty of symbolism to keep the literary types amused. Check it out.

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Book Report: Principles of Instructional Design

This is the third book on instructional design I tackled reading. It's also the wordiest. "When one begins to think about the application of learning principles to instruction, there is no better guide than to ask the question, what is to be learned?" This book meanders like that; it meanders like that plenty. I stopped reading it.

A better use of your time: Google Streetview covers this year's Tour de France route. I.e., you can armchair-travel your way around many pretty French mountain roads. Go look. The roads meander... well, they switch back. But I don't mind that so much in a mountain road, not like I mind it in someone's writing.

View Larger Map

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Book Report: Designing Effective Instruction

Notes about another Instructional Design book. Please pardon the dry nature of this book report.

Again, emphasis on measuring learning. Consider making up the final exam questions before you write the instructional material.

Talk to people to find out what folks need to learn. If some topic's application isn't obvious, find out why someone asked for it.

Psychological scales to measure how a student wants to learn. But that might not help you much, since different students want to learn different ways.

A bag of techniques (with personality types who like to learn that way)

  • Relate information being presented to what has come before and what is still to come (inductive/global)
  • Provide a balance of concrete information and abstract concepts (sensory/intuitive)
  • Balance material that emphasizes practical problem-solving methods (sensing/active) with material that emphasizes fundamental understandings (intuitive/reflective)
  • Use pictures, schematics, and simple sketches along with verbal information (sensory/active)
  • Provide demonstrations (sensing/visual), hands-on activities (active), and computer-based learning (sensing/active)
  • Provide intervals during presentations for students to think about what they have been told (reflective)
  • Assign drill exercises to provide practice (sensing/active/sequential)
  • Provide open-ended problems and exercises that call for analysis and synthesis (intuitive/reflective/global)
  • Give students opportunities to work together on assignments and group activities (active)
  • Provide concrete examples of how a theory describes or predicts events (sensing/inductive); then develop the theory or formulate the model (intuitive/inductive/sequential); and show how the theory can be validates and deduce its consequences (deductive).
  • Recognize students' creative solutions or activities (intuitive/global)

Depending on what kind of material they learn, what kinds of actions should they be able to carry out if successful?

  • knowledge (recall of info) arrange, define, duplicate, label, list, match, memorize, name, order, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, reproduce
  • comprehension (interpret info in one's own words) classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize, report, restate, review, select, sort, tell, translate
  • application (use knowledge or generalization in a new situation) apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, prepare, practice, schedule, sketch, solve, use
  • analysis (divvy knowledge into parts) analyze, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, diagram, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, inventory, question, test
  • synthesis (bring together parts of knowledge) arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, synthesize, write
  • evaluation (judge based on criteria) appraise, argue, assess, attack, choose, compare, defend, estimate, evaluate, judge, predict, rate, score, select, support, value.

Teaching facts: concrete evidence is nice for demo. rehearsal-practice. mnemonics.

Teaching concepts: Show best example, then variations.

Teaching principles: rule-eg: state rule then cite examples. eg-rule: start w/examples, let student figure out the rule.

Teaching interpersonal: present model, let them think about it, mental rehearsal, demo.

Instructional designers seem to lose interest when a "job aid" comes along, but that's half my bread and butter.

Group presentations most applicable: introduce a new topic. create interest. presenting basics before folks split into groups. intro recent developments. let learners talk back. review/summary of what folks have learned. teach a large group economically. Guidelines ask questions. encourage note-taking. handouts. use clear terminology.

Self paced "learner contract", textbook/worksheets, visuals/guide sheet, audio tutorial

Small groups Discussion. Panel discussion. Guided design, Case study, role-playing, simulation, games, cooperative learning

A cute pargraph on dealing with SMEs' sacred cows.

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Book Report: Developing Technical Training

Please pardon this book report: these are my notes from the book, not the usual wry and insightful commentary.

"Instructional design", as near as I can tell, is a movement to apply some rigor to lesson planning & curriculum planning, piggybacking on some theories of learning from psychology.

I've been reading some I.D. books. They seem to hammer on some points that are "old news" to tech writers... but they keep hammering on them so maybe they're not such obvious points. When trying to teach some material, you have choices about how to present that material. There's no one best way.

  • Depending on the material... To teach someone how to tie their shoelaces, a video's much better than a verbal description. To teach someone a computer programming technique, a cut-and-pasteable web page is better than a video... and code example might be better yet.
  • Depending on the learner... Some people like to attend live lectures, some people like to go read in a corner
  • Depending on the presenter... Some people like to present live lectures, some people like to go write in a corner

"As to theory, this book reflects the instructional design model of M. David Merrill, one of my mentors during my doctoral work at USC... Guidelines for the design of textual materials are based on the work of Robert E. Horn and are available in Information Mapping(TM) seminars... Finally, the illustration of instructional methods applied to two media--workbook and computer--is drawn from the instructional method/instructional media distinction of Richard E. Clark."

A set of steps

  • Needs assessment "What task do people not know how to do that they should?"
  • Task analysis "The people who do this thing right, what do they do? What do they know?"
  • Learning objectives "What do we teach?"
  • Assessment "How do we know whether they learned? How do we know whether the lesson/curriculum is working?"
  • Development
  • Try Out--Revise
  • Provide to students

This book attempts to categorize things to learn. Other books do too, and of course they don't agree on categories. This book's schtick is a matrix:

Apply Classify new examples Solve a proplem/Make an inference Perform the procedure Solve a (hazy) problem/Make a (deeper) inference
Remember Remember the facts Remember the definition Remember the stages Remember the steps Remember the guidelines
Facts Concepts Processes Procedures Principles

A great way to teach things: force students to apply the knowledge. As they use it, it weaves into their brains.

Facts Unfortunately, there's not generally a way to "apply" facts. If you have multiple related facts to present, try to show them in a list. In text, call out facts in some way. Suggest mnemonics. Set up "job aids" (references/"cheat sheets")

Concepts Definitions. Ask people to differentiate: which of these is/is not a ____? When teaching start with the "platonic ideal" example, work out to border cases.

Process This is a set of steps, but it's not a set of steps to carry out. It's like describing the "Life of a Chassis on the Assembly Line". This is useful if a car emerges with no wheels--you can ask at what stages something might have gone wrong.

Procedure A set of steps that someone might carry out. To assess--ask them to carry it out.

Principle High-level judgement calls. State the principle. Provide examples, non-examples. Sometimes analogies help.

Planning lesson/curriculum at the high level: Make sure that you start with an overview. Tell the students what they'll learn before they even sign up--so they're sure that they want to sign up. "Knowledge-based" vs "Job-Centered" -- group topics by similar topics or similar-time-applied? Knowledge-based good for long-term, high-level; job-centered good for immediate.

A section on computer-based training... that reminds us of how far computers have come along in the last few years. Nowadays, this section is about as useful as the Chicago Manual of Style's explanation on how to make an index from index cards.

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