Dixie Darr

Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

In creativity, Learning on January 31, 2009 at 11:16 am

Call to Reform Schools to Teach Innovation

Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio called for radical transformation of the school system in his State of the State address last week. “It is absolutely clear to me that simply tinkering with centuries-old education practices will not prepare Ohio’s children for success in college, in the workplace or in life,”

He also said he wants state education standards to be reworked to reflect modern skills such as innovation, creativity, problem-solving and media literacy. “And you know, good ideas shouldn’t be something we stumble on accidentally.” That’s why his plan creates a Center for Creativity and Innovation within the Ohio Department of Education. The Center will monitor research and results from across the country and across the world to keep Ohio schools and Ohio educators informed of new advances.

Among other things, his plan calls for mandatory kindergarten, lengthening the school year by 20 days and a four-year residency program for teachers.

I just finished reading chapter two of Dr. Ken Robinson’s book, The Element, in which he presents a compelling argument that the one thing our schools do best is stifle creativity and innovation. You can hear a very entertaining twenty-minute speech on his ideas at TED.

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In creativity, Learning Tools on January 29, 2009 at 6:31 pm

From Phone to Study Machine

Sometimes it seems as if today’s students put more energy into figuring out how to cheat than any other school topic. They use their phones to text the answers to one another or to take pictures of the test for friends in later classes. They record the answers on an iPod so the teacher will think they are innocently listening to music during a test. They post instructional videos on YouTube to teach others how to cheat. They download pre-written papers from the internet. As soon as schools figure out how to stop them from using one method, they invent another. Ironically, if they would spend that much time studying, they wouldn’t need to cheat.

Finally, publishers are taking a cue from students and marketing study guides to use on iPhones and iPods. Kaplan SAT Flashcubes is the perfect on-the-go study guide to help students prepare for the Verbal section of the SAT exam. Kaplan’s Medical Terms for Nurses is designed to help nursing students learn important terms needed in both the workplace and for licensure exams.

Kaplan has more apps in the works, and other publishers are offering similar study guides to the potentially massive market of high school and college students. The guides are available at the iTunes store.

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In Learning, work on January 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Five Ways to Squeeze as Much Learning as Possible from your Job

One of the benefits people look for from their jobs is the opportunity to learn and grow. Here are five ways to take advantage of the resources available:

  1. Tuition Reimbursement. This is a huge benefit because education is something you don’t lose when the job ends. Even if you already have the degree(s) you want, find individual courses or certificate programs that will help in your career. Technology and innovation are moving so quickly now that there is always something new to learn. Online classes make sure that anything you want to learn is available wherever you are.

  1. Corporate training. Take advantage of all the corporate training available. Make sure to document everything and add it to your resume or portfolio.

  1. Informal on-the-job training. Most learning occurs casually, outside the classroom. Make it a point to learn whatever you can about the industry/company/department through discussions with your colleagues. Cross training can also be valuable and give you more flexibility for your next job.

  1. Professional organizations. Join and participate in at least one professional organization related to your job, especially if the company pays for your membership. This gives you additional learning or certification opportunities and the chance to get to know people in your field from other companies—always a plus when job hunting.

  1. Magazines, books, software. Use every resource available to enhance your skills. Even if you don’t have to know Visio (or whatever) in your current job, learn how to use it. The more you know, the more valuable you are to your employer and the more you have going for you in the job hunt.

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In Uncategorized on January 23, 2009 at 5:10 pm


Preparing for a Second Career

During his 36-year career in the Denver television news business, Ernie Bjorkman saw the business change and grow through several technological shifts. Last year, with the merger of his station with another local news outlet, he saw his job disappear. Bjorkman advises other baby boomers, “Don’t be comfortable after 45.” Companies in all industries seem more eager than ever to trade in older employees for younger, cheaper workers.

Now 57, Bjorkman had planned ahead because he knew that the job wouldn’t last forever. He had always loved animals, but wasn’t interested in signing up for eight years of veterinary school. Instead, he enrolled in a two-year vet tech program at the Community College of Denver. By the time he was laid off of his news anchor job, he was finishing the training for his second career.

His annual salary will drop from $250,000 to about $30,000. “We’ll start living the simple life again,” he says. He and his wife Susan will sell both their Denver condo and mountain home and plan to buy a small ranch in the San Luis Valley where he will open an emergency animal clinic.

Bjorkman feels blessed that he had the opportunity to meet the pope and presidents and ride in Air Force One. But he’s looking forward to the future. “You’ve got to have a plan.” You can watch his story as it was reported last week on ABC News 20/20.

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In Learning, self-employment on January 21, 2009 at 11:46 am


The Learning Business

Jonathan Fields was “the kid with the lemonade stand in 6th-grade, the landscaping business in high-school and the mobile-DJ business in college.”

He went on to be a securities and hedge-fund lawyer before ditching the law to open a yoga studio. That led him to learn about copywriting to promote the business. Did he go back to school to study writing? Nope. He went online and searched for information on copywriting. He found the websites and blogs of several top copywriters, red everything he could find and took notes. He found samples of their work and analyzed it.

Next, he bought and read all the books that his virtual mentors mentioned. Finally, he felt the need for more concentrated and personal information and attended a three-day seminar. “I am not someone who likes to surrender to the notion that I need help,” He explained in his book, Career Renegade. “I’ve always pretty much mastered whatever I needed to master on my own. This experience, though, opened my eyes both to the importance of finding a mentor, seeking out live attention, and copping to the fact that I don’t know everything.”

This leads me to two of my favorite quotes about learning:

I’m not sure who said “All learning is self-taught,” but I agree with the sentiment. On the other hand, I also agree with Harvey Mackay that “If everything a (person) learns over a thirty-year career is self-taught, you can bet some of it is dead wrong.” Maybe the best learning comes from maintaining the tension between those two points of view.

That said, I have just finished reading Career Renegade, the best, most information-packed book on work that I’ve read in many years. I plan to use it as a workbook to grow my own renegade career.

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In Learning, work on January 19, 2009 at 9:30 am

A Bachelor’s Degree: America’s Most Overrated Product?

Is college really worth it? That’s the question the John Stossel ABC News 20/20 asked in a provocative story last Friday. With the cost of college rising faster than inflation, Stossel wonders if a bachelor’s degree is the big lie.

The piece featured several students whose degrees saddled them with student loan debts of up to $125,000 and who ended up in entry-level jobs they could have gotten right out of high school. They understandably think “College was a rip-off.”

“You’re led down this path of needing to go to college,” he continued. “The college diploma is the new high school diploma.”

Personal finance guru Suze Orman, who holds a BA in social work from the University of Illinois, says college is not for everyone. Those who are not the best students may be better off earning marketable skills at a community college or technical school.

Dr. Marty Nemko, an education consultant and career counselor, explains that the students who do well in college are already more likely to be successful than those who don’t.

I have mixed feelings about this. I agree that college is not for everybody, but I am very glad I have a degree. On the other hand, it took me 12 years to earn my degree, partly because I refused to go into debt for it. Most of my students at the University of Phoenix are pursuing their degrees because they know or believe that they cannot go further in their careers without a degree. The lucky ones work for companies that pay their tuition.

While I know that a degree is the ticket required to enter certain professions, I also know that it is not a guarantee of success. And plenty of people who didn’t go to college do just fine. Maybe my most radical opinion is that a bachelor’s degree has intrinsic value and was never meant to provide job training.

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In Learning on January 16, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Kaplan University A Different School Of Thought

“I stand in front of you today to apologize.” The speaker, a college professor continues, “The system has failed you. I have failed you. I have failed to help you share your talent with the world when the world needs talent more than ever. Yet it’s being wasted every day by an educational system steeped in tradition and old ideas.”

This is one of six provocative television ads currently being run by Kaplan University, a subsidiary of the Washington Post Corporation. If I were looking for a degree program, this ad would make me look.

According to the website, Kaplan is using technology to rewrite the rules of education, creating innovative programs “to analyze how you learn best, so we can teach you better.” This is done by a free learning assessment which prospective students complete at the same time they request program information.

Kaplan is hardly alone in offering online degree programs. One would be hard-pressed these days to find a college or university that doesn’t offer at least a few programs online. Anyone who thinks online learning is the wave of the future has clearly not been paying attention for the past 10-15 years.

Is Kaplan really a different kind of university, as the ad claims? Hard to tell, but they are definitely saying all the right things.

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In creativity, Learning, work on January 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Persistence Pays

Bruce Johnson, the inventor of BreatheRight nasal strips describes in a commercial how he tried everything he could think of to open up his nasal passages and allow him to get a good night’s sleep. Among other materials, he tried padded paperclips and straws fitted inside his nostrils. Finally it dawned on him that he needed something to apply to the outside of his nose and BreatheRight strips were born.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that easy (it never is). First, he had to create a prototype and then make the rounds trying to sell it. Even after it finally sold to CNS, it took two more years to hit the shelves. The company sent samples to NFL trainers, and when it started showing up on football players, it really took off.

Johnson’s story illustrates several principles of innovation. First, Johnson is an engineer, and he spent time and effort trying to solve a problem he shared with millions of others. When his first ideas didn’t work, he didn’t give up; he persisted, trying different things until he finally found the solution. Being laughed out of a number of companies didn’t stop him either.

These are qualities I don’t see enough in my students. Too many of them expect to hit a home run their first time at bat. If they don’t earn an A on the first assignment, they get mad or give up. They blame me or the textbook or the university or anybody they can come up with—except themselves.

The students I like the most are the ones who utilize my feedback to focus their studies and try harder the next time. They accept responsibility for their own learning and seem determined to wring every bit of learning possible out of their education. God bless ‘em.

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In Learning on January 10, 2009 at 9:55 am

Sidetracked and Cursed

So far, my theme of energy has eluded me. I’ve been sick with the galloping crud ever since I posted that. Sidetracked but not defeated. I’ll just have to start again when this illness finally gallops on out of here.
What I learned from being sick: I always expect to get well right away and stay well. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it used to work when I was younger.

Not now, though. Now, it eases up a little and then sometimes comes roaring back and can continue on this seesaw for days, trying my patience and my faith in ultimate health.

Learning is a little like that. It rarely comes all at once, choosing instead to plant seeds here and there until, almost unnoticed, it stakes its claim on my brain. One minute I don’t know something and the next minute, it seems so clear and obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t always know it.

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath call this the Curse of Knowledge. Once you know something, you can’t remember what it’s like not to know it.

Maybe my problem is the Curse of Health. Once I’m well again, I can’t remember what it’s like to be sick and I can’t fathom why I didn’t get more done instead of just lying around feeling rotten. Right now, I cannot wait to get back to the Curse of Health. Maybe this posting will remind me not to kick myself for getting nothing done for a week and I will simply start again.

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In creativity, Learning, work on January 5, 2009 at 11:01 am

Energize This

My theme this year is energy. All the problems I dealt with in the past few years have left me increasingly lethargic, sleeping too much and interested in too little. This year I want to reverse that momentum, and I’ve been researching how to do that without developing an addiction to caffeine-saturated energy drinks.

The holy trinity of increasing energy is diet, sleep, and exercise. I’m starting with exercise. Today, I will join my local recreation center (again) to lift weights and get back on track with walking at least 10 miles a week. I’ll keep a record of my progress on a calendar.

Beyond this triumvirate, I need to nurture more interest in my work and my life. This will come from getting off autopilot and exploring new ways to accomplish daily chores and new ways to turn problems into opportunities.

On the less philosophical side, I need to learn how to use my cell phone to surf the internet. Sometimes the small changes have the most impact.

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