Friday, March 27, 2015

Research Finds Correlation Between Depression and Time in Meetings

Recent research (Gardner, 2015)* has found a strong correlation between depression and time in meetings. I have found through this research that this correlation is causal - the length of time in meetings directly influences and increases levels of depression while simultaneously decreasing happiness levels. The reverse is not necessarily true - increased depression does not necessarily increase the length of the meeting, though it will likely increase the perceived length of the meeting. See Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Increases in meeting length have been shown to decrease happiness levels.

I will likely continue to conduct this experiential research, unfortunately.

References and Notes
Gardner, J. (2015). My experiential/observational meeting research.*

* Note that this is really just based on my own experiences and is not an actual research article. However, it is based on several thousands of hours of meetings and is rather conclusive.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Industrialist and the Craftsman - Differing Views of Instructional Design

There are two fundamental metaphorical views of instructional design that seem to compete with one another: the Industrial View and the Craftsman View. While each of these viewpoints has great merit, they are based on assumptions that are often at odds with one another. In this post, I will share what these two views are and will describe the conflict that inherently comes about when these two views clash.

The Industrial and the Craftsman Views of Instructional

In the "Industrial View" of instruction the goal is efficiency in design and delivery and consistency in quality. It might be characterized as "cranking out courses." This approach is most often favored by the administrator. This standardization yields a sort of baseline quality, but raises the quality to an acceptable level. Unfortunately, it can often inadvertently places restrictions on those who excel and perhaps brings them down to a lower level. This is the the result of the shift to industrialization.

In the "Craftsman View" of instruction, the goal is quality of a higher standard. The value is autonomy. This view is usually taken by the instructional designer. The goal is to exceed expectations of effectiveness, to achieve something above the norm - excellence. The instructional design faculty I work with at Franklin University's i4 strive for this kind of excellence, some of the work I have done with them has produced outstanding instruction. Note: For an incredibly insightful essay on the clash between these two views, I highly recommend reading the classic essay "Quality" by John Galsworthy - an outstanding illustration of the shift from the Craftsman to the Industrial view.

An Illustrative Analogy

We might use the ax as an illustrative analogy. Prior to the industrial age and  mass production of goods, an ax made by a master blacksmith was durable, strong, held a sharp edge, and cut wood in extremely well. However, the work done by the blacksmith was relatively slow and labor-intense. When large manufacturers began mass-producing axes, they produced a very high number of axes at a consistent level of quality, and the work was accomplished quickly. However, the quality of the ax was mediocre when compared to that produced by the skilled craftsman. To the naked eye, these tools look the same but both possessed benefits and disadvantages that the other perhaps did not. In the final analysis, too much emphasis on efficiency will inevitably require a sacrifice of quality.

Tension in Instructional Design and Education

In the related field of instructional design and education, we seem to hold a tension between each of these views. As a field, we have adopted systematic processes in our work, which seem to reflect an industrial view. Yet we still want to hold tight to our autonomy and freedom to design with creativity, carefully crafting instruction as the craftsmen we are. This is likely reflected in many fields today - the competitive environment places great pressure on organizations and employees to produce more, and the priority of quality is potentially placed on the altar of efficiency.

Can this tension be resolved? Is it possible for both efficiency and high quality to exist in the same organization and function? It seems that moving toward this ideal of efficiency while maintaining quality will be a major priority in the field of instructional design and education at large. What is being done in this area?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

5 Models of Course Development Responsibility in Higher Education

As more and more online courses are developed and taught, instructional design in higher education is becoming more prevalent. However, the way that instructional design is implemented is done very differently depending on the university. Specifically, there are several different ways that university leadership assigns responsibility and control in the design function, and I describe what I see as the 5 most common. But which of these can provide the greatest level of quality so that students can indeed achieve success? I describe my thoughts below.
  1. Faculty Only - In the faculty only approach, faculty members do all of the course design and development work. Under this approach, they may have some level of technology support but make all design decisions based on their own experiences and expertise. 
  2. Faculty Responsible with Optional Design Support - In this approach, faculty members still have primary responsibility but may have instructional designer(s) available to support the faculty member in his or her work. In this case, the support of the instructional designer is not required.
  3. Faculty Responsible with Required Design Support - In this approach, the faculty member still has primary responsibility for the course but are required to work with an instructional designer. In this case, the instructional designer may assist in organizing and building the course and typically has a set of standards to ensure course quality.
  4. Designer Responsible with Active Faculty Participation- In this approach, the instructional designer bears the responsibility for course design and development and relies on a faculty member for support and content expertise. 
  5. Third Party Responsible with Faculty Support - In this approach, a third party developer takes full responsibility for the work that is done and may work with a faculty member to gather content. This third party might be a separate university or a for-profit entity. I have heard and observed some pretty poor results when using the for-profit groups, though there are likely some that do good work and yield great success.
Which is Best?
So, which approach will produce courses of the highest quality possible? In my opinion, it must be an approach that requires the active participation of both faculty and instructional designers. I have worked with faculty under approach number 3 and 4, and I have found them to both be effective. My belief, though, is that number 4, Designer Responsible with Active Faculty Participation, is most likely to produce the highest quality course. My friend and colleague Lewis Chongwony wrote a great blog post about how design faculty at the International Institute for Innovative Instruction use this approach in greater detail.

The fundamental issue here is course quality. Does the course help students learn? Does the course employ research-based practices? Is it founded on validated principles of instruction? Does it target the needs of the learners and present knowledge in efficient, effective, engaging ways? As higher education continues to evolve, and these questions become more and relevant, the effective implementation of instructional design will become more crucial to student and institutional success.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Video Interview with Dean Barb Fennema

I recently interviewed Dr. Barb Fennema, the Dean of the International Institute for Innovative Instruction (i4). She describes some of her own work as an instructional designer, the history of instructional design at Franklin University, and some of the great things that i4 is doing for higher education.

Friday, March 13, 2015

How to Create Personal Change

We all want to change ourselves and our lives, but change can be very difficult. How can we gain the motivation and drive necessary to sustain lasting change? Based on my readings and experiences, I've put together a set of activities that will drive powerful change in your life. These activities will take you around 90 minutes to complete, and you will be astounded by the empowering long-term benefits of this investment of your time.

Steps for Creating Personal Change
Here are the major steps for creating personal change are. I will explain how to accomplish each of these steps throughout the rest of this blog post.

1. Build clarity and motivation
2. Neutralize Negative Beliefs
3. Envision and Plan for Change
4. Create Change

The Power of Questions
One of the most powerful ways to motivate yourself to a change is to ask yourself empowering questions. The kinds of questions we ask shift our focus in fundamental ways, and the right questions can funnel us toward power and strength. Based on my experience, the activities below can be used to build powerful motivation and drive for change.

Build Clarity and Motivation to Change
On a sheet of paper, write down the following questions. For each question, write at least 15 responses. Make sure you write about the things that are really important to you. Stay focused and maintain a positive mental state as you write your responses. I have found that a clean, quiet room free from distractions allows me the time and space I need to really focus on what I am doing. Here are the questions:
  • What important changes do I really want to make in my life? (After listing out the 15 or more responses, carefully select the one that is most important to you at this time). 
  • How will I know that I have made the change? 
  • If I do not make this change, what will be the negative, unpleasant, or disastrous consequences?
  • Why do I really want to make this change? Put another way, what positive, inspiring, good things will happen as a result of me making this change?
  • What successes have I had in the past that demonstrate my ability to achieve this success now?
If you take these questions seriously and write at least 15 responses for each question, you will already begin to feel a sense of motivation toward the change you wish to make. You will begin to draw upon the power of your mind and the strength of your past to build an empowered future of positive change. Your next step toward change will be to identify and neutralize the negative beliefs that may have stopped you in the past.

Neutralize Negative Beliefs
What we believe about ourselves has a deep impact on our behavior and habits. Our habits are a direct result of our beliefs about ourselves and the world. On a new sheet of paper, answer the following questions to identify and negate unhealthy, limiting, disempowering beliefs:
  • What do I believe about myself that has stopped me from making this change in the past?
  • What do others believe or say about me that makes me feel like I cannot make this change?
  • How are these beliefs untrue? (For every one of the beliefs identified above, write at least 2-3 reasons why those beliefs are untrue).
If you take these exercises seriously, your sense of empowerment, strength, and positive energy will begin to skyrocket. You will feel a sense of personal power welling up within you. You are then ready to chart your course for making the change. 

Envision and Plan for Change
You are now ready to plan and execute your change. On a new sheet of paper, answer the following question. For this assignment, you must write at least 20 responses to each question. You will find that the last few are very difficult, but they are very often the most useful ideas you come up with.
  • What actions should I take to make this change in my life?
  • Who could I rely on to help me achieve this goal and make this change?
  • What obstacles or pitfalls can I expect to undermine my success? How can I overcome them?
  • What steps should I plan to take (a) today, (b), this week, (c) this month, and (d) in the next 3 months to make this change? 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to Have a Happy Boss

Your supervisor can make your life great or make it terrible. I have had some bosses over the years that have inspired me and those that have stamped out my creativity, drive, and happiness. I've realized that I have significant power over how my boss perceives and supports me in my work. In this post, I will share strategies for having a helping your supervisor be a happy boss so that you can move forward in you work and career more effectively.

Do you want to work for a mad boss or a glad boss? You can influence this based on how you work with her.
What to Assume About Your Boss
Before we get into the strategies for helping your manager be a happy boss, you must realize that most bosses have the following: Your boss is likely very busy. Your boss wants you to succeed. Your boss will give you benefits and opportunities if you do excellent work.  If you observe that this is not true, then you may be in a toxic situation. If you truly are in a toxic situation (see my posts about toxic coworkers and office zombies) and these strategies are not effective, you may need to move on to a healthier work environment. When you do move to a new environment, begin applying the strategies below immediately.

Managing Your Boss Through Action
What do you want your boss and coworkers to think about you? Hard working? Team player? Problem solver? Positive? God communicator? Ultimately, you really need to BE the kind of person that gets respect, support, and earns rewards and opportunities. To do this, you must be willing to apply the strategies below to your work and to your interactions with others.

Here are the strategies:
  1. Take responsibility for your work! The most fundamental thing you can do is do a great job at your work. Meet deadlines, work hard, and do everything you can to achieve your boss's expectations and the goals you set for yourself.
  2. Build positive relationships! Positive relationships are defined as pleasant and productive. Build these relationships with peers, coworkers, subordinates, and your boss.  
  3. Don't cause unnecessary problems! Avoid creating extra work for your boss. If there is a problem that needs to be brought to your boss's attention, share the problem and offer to solve the problem. This will go a long way to move your relationship forward.
  4. Pay attention! What bugs your boss? What does she like? Figure out how to avoid unnecessarily disrupting the positive relationship by making her life just a little easier. 
  5. Make your boss's life easier! Do everything you can to assist them in their work. Remember, your boss is likely overworked, so anything you can do to ease her burden will be welcomed.
  6. Succeed! If you succeed, your boss succeeds. Do everything you can to help the organization achieve its goals, and your boss will be happy with you.  
  7. Make your boss successful! Help your boss with whatever you can. She will appreciate it and will think of you when greater opportunities come along.
What else would you add? 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Leadership Development: The Power of Mindfulness

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently participating in a Leadership Development Program (LDP) as part of my work at Franklin University. This week, I attended a presentation by Daron Larson, a recognized expert in the practice of mindfulness. Daron is a former Franklin employee who has worked with several well-known businesses and universities, and it was exciting to listen to him today.

Daron Larson presenting on Mindfulness as part of the Leadership Development Program at Franklin University.

Below are my notes from his presentation, including some brief exercises we did as a group. Note that my thoughts and notes are likely intermixed with his throughout the text.

Defining Mindfulness
Based on Daron's presentation and on my notes and thoughts throughout the presentation, I sort of pieced together the following definition of mindfulness:
Mindfulness is purposefully paying attention differently to your experiences. It involves observation - a judgement-free awareness of what is happening. It involves suspending the mental narrative that we are constantly playing in our minds and observing reality, including our emotions, body posture, sensations, thought patterns, and the words and actions of others and of the environment. 
What is the Desired Result of Mindfulness?
The result of mindfulness is a strengthened skill of paying attention. The capacity to observe the world around us is fundamental to success in life - without a clear awareness of reality, we cannot function within reality. There has been a fair amount of research on the benefits of mindfulness, and the following are some observed benefits:
  • Increased gray matter in the brain
  • Slowing of the natural volume loss of brain size with aging
  • Improved management of depression and anxiety
  • Improved concentration
  • Improved attention
  • Addiction recovery
  • Behavioral and cognitive improvement in children
Developing Mindfulness in Key Areas
Daron referenced the poet David White, who emphasized humanity in our relationships, particularly in three major areas: (1) self, (2) spouse/family, and (3) career. To be truly successful, one must find fulfillment and contribute in each of these areas. He notes that our work in these areas is intertwined and elastic - at times we must spend more effort in one area while the others are stretched. It is a constant effort to keep everything balanced, but it is a worthy effort.

Mindful of self - Perhaps the most important entity that we must be mindful of is the self. We must develop awareness of our habits, thought patterns, and emotions. If we can purposefully and somewhat objectively observe ourselves, we can get a sense for how well we are aligning with what matters most to us. Increased levels of self-awareness are the foundation of contribution and personal fulfillment.

Mindful of spouse/family - The most fulfilling (and perhaps the most frustrating!) relationships we experience in life are those with our families. To build positive, enriching, fulfilling relationships with our families, we must develop awareness of their thoughts, patterns, and emotions and of the dynamics that often play out between family members. The first step toward fulfillment and success is awareness, and it is the same in our relationships with our family members.

Mindfulness in our careers - Most people spend the majority of their lives at their place of employment. How we spend our careers, therefore, is absolutely critical to our own sense of happiness. In addition, a carefully selected career can become an outlet for the achievement of our purpose in life. We can exercise mindfulness in our work through the careful observation of coworkers, ourselves, and the dynamics between each of these. We must be mindful of our own emotional and spiritual reactions to the work and the environment in which we labor. Working toward the ideal in this area will yield great success.

Building Our Mindfulness Muscles
Mindfulness is a powerful skill that can be learned (or relearned?) through practice. One way to do this is through practicing mindfulness in things we habitually do every day. In the presentation, Daron had us list several things that we do every single day out of habit. He advised us to pick a few of these and begin to exercise mindfulness - purposefully pay attention in a different way - to everything we do. Here is the list I came up with:
  • Eat breakfast
  • Kiss my wife
  • Read with my daughter
  • Pray
  • Drive my car to work
  • Drive home from work
  • Check my email
  • Send an email
  • Write in a journal or on a blog
  • Fill my cup with water
  • Say hello to coworkers
  • Make the bed
  • Fold clothes
  • Mow the lawn
  • Shower
  • Go on a walk

I will select a few of these and will be more mindful of these activities.

30 Seconds of Reflection
We have been doing 30 seconds of reflection at the end of each leadership session. Here is what I wrote down: I feel like I am pretty good at being mindful of what is going on. I feel like I have obtained many of these skills through my education as a researcher, as well as through self-reflection and through studying and understanding psychology (at least at a basic level). However, there is a certain peacefulness and calmness that comes through the kind if observation and mindfulness that Daron is teaching. I would like to develop more awareness of and gentleness in my emotions. Ultimately, understanding and shaping who and what I am is most important. The development of character is paramount. All of the skills and abilities in the world cannot compete with a passionate, compassionate, centered, purposeful individual. It appears that mindfulness practice can aid me in becoming aware of and developing these kinds of characteristics.