Worms & Viruses

Yesterday I found out about the Sasser Worm, the latest evil creature on the ‘Net. The first thing I did was open my Norton anti-virus software and click on "LiveUpdate". I then received one update. This morning I did the same and received another update. Each time I checked, an update was available, but at no time during the past 24 hours did Norton/Symantec "push" an update to me. Since I pay for this service, which most of us do, I must say that this is poor customer service. There are many people I know who only update when they receive a notice from their anti-virus service. I guess this is what happens when you have an oligopoly (or a "pigopoly", as the Register says) – bad service 🙁

Managing Projects

In The Problem, the Balloon, and the Four Bedroom House, the author discusses the critical component of project management – clearly understanding the problem and the expected results with everyone involved.

75% of the work of every successful project is completed in the initial stage. In other words, every project has a balloon phase. And if it doesn’t happen at the beginning of the project, then you may get into some serious trouble.
The “understanding” phase needs to provide you with the framework for the project. It should be assembled with all major stakeholders. And its purpose is to define the problem so you can design the solution. The 4 bedroom house.
On 13 March, 1999, Habitat for Humanity in New Zealand made the Guinness Book of Records. They constructed a four-bedroom house from scratch. It took a mere 3 hours, 44 minutes and 59 seconds. (I’m sure there’s a reality TV show in there somewhere, but I don’t believe we need another one of those.) An incredible feat. The significant fact is that it took 14 months of planning to achieve.
The balloon was inflated at the correct end.

I often refer to the “first rule of project management”, which is – choose the right project. The balloon analogy is similar. If you don’t address all of the issues at the front end, then your project may balloon out of scope (and budget) in the middle, which is probably after you’ve negotiated the price. This is a great little article to remind us of many things that we probably already know about project management, but are worth reconfirming. The discussions are interesting, too.

Still Polling Your Interests

Not many people have responded to my poll request. If you are in the region and want to get involved, then please look at this initial poll. I would like to know where you want me, and the community, to put our efforts.


Farewell TeleEducation

I had mentioned earlier that Teleeducation NB was going to close; the victim of government budget cuts. The news was finally been posted to the After 5 website [which is now offline], and the official closure date is May 7th, this Friday. Philippe Duchastel, the Director, has penned a final note [I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him], on TeleEd’s accomplishements and on what is left to be done:

For one thing, TeleEducation NB was very good at what it did: it led the way in creating a climate in which e-learning thrives in many sectors: our main universities and many of our colleges now use e-learning routinely; our school system enrols thousands each year in specialized courses offered online; and despite ups and downs, the e-learning industry in New Brunswick is still going strong. So e-learning is all around us.

Isn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t then the mission of TeleEducation NB accomplished? Yes and no? Yes, e-learning is here to stay and thrive. No, we are not a model of an e-learning society as initially envisioned. A lot is missing. Take the government professional sector. Professional development of civil servants should be taking routine advantage of the benefits of e-learning. As should also the health sector. And the education sector [the professional development of teachers]. These are all sectors where tradition is heavy and that need to be ?¢‚ǨÀúbrought along?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ to e-learning.

There is another article written by the staff at TeleEd, reviewing the specific accomplishments over the past ten years – including the Program Development Fund. I am certain that every company in this Province tapped into this fund for online learning content development [I know, I evaluated the fund in 2001]. The staff cite the legacy of TeleEd as:

* Citizens have increased access to education
* Businesses have been established
* A culture of education as an economic development tool has been created
* Public and private sector organizations collaborate for the good of both
* New Brunswick has been recognized internationally as a centre for e-learning development and delivery

I agree with these, but have to add that many businesses have been "uncreated" as well. What really matters though, are the people.

Furthermore, this legacy is only a snapshot. We need to continue to innovate and create new pedagogical and business models. It will only be in the next ten years that we will see if TeleEd’s legacy has resulted in something lasting for the learning sector and the region.

I know that there is an initiative to continue with the "After 5" online ‘zine, and I have offered to write, edit or do whatever is necessary to continue the conversations that have been started here. After 5 was in its infancy, and just getting a following. Let’s keep the conversation going; and that includes you – the "anonymous instructional designer" ;-).

This just in: After 5 ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the e-learning newsletter for New Brunswick" will be available May 31, 2004 at LearnNB – Watch for it!

Intellectual Property Legislation

In Mark Federman’s post The Fundamental Problem with Intellectual Property Legislation, he reports on an interview with Jack Velenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America. In the interview, Valenti shows his ignorance of the fact that copyright laws are infringing on a lot of people (at least 2 million Linux users) who are doing what should be "legal" activities.

And that’s the problem. There are a lot of things that Jack Valenti – and the legislators whom he lobbies with stunning effectiveness! – don’t know, and haven’t realized about the issues of copyright, the evolution of culture, the cultural history of their (and other) countries, and the reversal of conventional distribution and marketing models in an age of instantaneous communications.

One of the problems is the disconnect between policy makers and the creators (not publishers) and users. Fortunately courts in Canada are more enlightened.
It’s true that "markets are conversations", and I believe that politics is conversation as well. It’s just that some of us are only allowed to converse every four years or so. If you think that copyright issues are important – copyright is inextricably linked to innovation and creativity – then get informed and join in the conversation.

Would you turn down a speaking opportunity?

One more reason that blogging is becoming a business medium is provided by Robert Scoble, the famous Microsoft employee who blogs.

I think the time is coming where executives and employees who blog well are going to start getting promotions. Why? Ask your execs what happens to them when they start turning down keynote opportunities at major industry conferences. Ask what happens to them when they consistently get invited to speak at industry conferences and they do a good job at it.

As a free agent, most of my business comes from referrals. Speaking at conferences or workshops has been my best venue for meeting prospective clients, because you are not giving a marketing pitch, and the audience is receptive to what you are saying (or should be, if you’re doing a good job). I’m relatively new to blogging, but it will be interesting to see over the next year or so if my customer contacts come more from my blog than from speaking engagements.

Via Lilia

Analysing Human Performance

Klaus Wittkuhn has written an excellent article on the systemic approach required in human performance analysis. This article appears in the March 2004 edition of "Performance Improvement" published by ISPI. The wealth of practical advice in PI is one more reason to become a member of ISPI (unabashed promotion here).

Wittkuhn discusses an aspect of performance analysis that has been bothering me for a while – how can you take a systemic approach when there are overlapping systems as well as multiple sub-systems in any organisation? Where do you start and where do you finish?

Wittkuhn discusses the idea of emerging properties (e.g. the whole is more than the sum of the parts) but also provides a template for intervention, that is practical but considerate of the fact that you cannot engineer human performance. Human performance is an emergent property of an organisation, and is affected by multiple variables.

Witthuhn’s approach for improving performance is to first address what he calls the "Steering Elements". These "ensure that the right product is delivered at the right time to the right place", and include – Management, Customer Feedback, Consequences, Expectations and Feedback.

Once the steering elements have been addressed, then look at the "Enabling Elements" – Management (again), Design, Resources and Support.

Only after the steering and enabling elements (the non-human factors) have been aligned, should you look at work performance. The rationale here is that it is only within an optimized system that we can expect optimal human performance. As Wittkuhn states:

It is not an intelligent strategy to train people to overcome system deficiencies. Instead, we should design the system properly to make sure that the performers can leverage all their capabilities.

This is the most succinct operationalization of performance technology that I have yet read, and I hope that it also makes sense to you. If not, please comment.

Buying into Open Source?

Though directed at the K-12 academic market, the Open Options site by the Northwest Educational Technology Consortium is still the best single resource that I’ve found for any organisation wanting a balanced perspective on using open source software. The site covers everything from total cost of ownership to the philosophy of open source. There are other sites that will give you more specific details (click on the "OpenSource" taxonomy link, under the heading of this post, for a number of references and comments).

In a recent evaluation of four systems that I conducted for a client, I was very impressed by the functionality of the open source LMS when compared to established vendors. Many open source systems now offer support services for a fee, providing additional assurance to users. When looking at open source or proprietary systems, you have to "compare apples with apples", and most importantly, understand your own needs before you make comparisons. Marketing experts tell us that most purchases are made for emotional reasons, so it’s best to establish your criteria before you go shopping.

Learning Conference(s)

I’ve been talking to a few people about one of the suggestions that emerged from the industry meetings this Winter, and that was to have a regional conference around learning. As many of you know, CSTD has committed to let the NB chapter organise an elearning conference in May 2005. More details on that should be available after the chapter meeting in Fredericton in June. Date and location will be posted here, as soon as it’s confirmed.

Many of us discussed how to work as a learning industry during LearnTec at NBCC Miramichi last May. This discussion resulted in the RDeL initiative, LearnNB and CSTD-NB. Obviously things get done at conferences!

So the question is – how can we best coordinate our efforts and create a conference that brings in the best learning professionals as well as potential purchasers. This Fall we will have LearnTec in Miramichi as well as NAWEB in Fredericton. NAWEB at the University of New Brunswick is now in its 10th year, with international participation. Why not join the two conferences, or even add a third like Texpo? I’m sure that there are others that I’m missing, particularly in Nova Scotia or on PEI.

What do you think? Should any conference also have a virtual component? Could we set up high speed video conferencing between each conference, so that you can attend a session at a distance, but with a small group and your own moderator? Should we focus on specific themes? Does it make sense to have a conference of conferences?