Friday, June 22, 2007

Learning and the Authentic Assessment

Imagine yourself with a jeep that has a radiator that needs to be patched before you can get away from a batch of bad guys. All you have in your possession is the standard fare of a jeep and some eggs and water. What do you do? In the 1980s the television show “MacGyver” exposed us to the Richard Dean Anderson character that could, supposedly, use the strangest objects to get out of jams. Not one for guns, MacGyver showed us that the ability to use applied wisdom and a keener intelligence than one’s opponent can be the key to getting out of life or death situations.

In high school most of us took (or are taking) science classes and the like which mixed a combination of traditional lecture and “lab time.” When I took physics in high school, for instance, Mrs. Harriet Howe not only went over the metrics of the solar system with us, she also found a unique way to show us the scale of it by taking us outside with balls of varying sizes and placing each of us with our balls at distances from one another that were proportional to the sizes of the planets and distances between them in our own solar system. Seeing the numbers in a book is something completely aside from seeing the proportional relationships in a real world environment. Of course, this is not a lone example. Surely most (if not all) people reading this must have dissected a frog in their years as a student? Done various experiments with Bunsen burners? Constructed pottery from start to finish in art class?

As we move from being children and being able to acquire knowledge through lecture, to becoming adults and thus becoming more experiential, kinesthetic learners we see the value of the way certain things were taught to us when we were younger. As adults, we wouldn’t imagine learning many things without taking a hands-on approach: From learning new languages to learning to work on the Internet, adults are, by their very nature, hands-on learners.

Why is this?

In educational theory there are contrasting types of learning, or “assessment:” Traditional and authentic. Traditional assessment works such that an isolated skill or retained fact is assessed through testing to evaluate a skill or capability that has been learned. Examples of this are readily available in our experiences: Needing to go through rote memorization of technical specifications or some such so you can recall them at a later date. Real world situations rarely call for this kind of knowledge, however. More often than not our activities call upon multiple disciplines and are a collection of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Relevant, real-world situations are the essence of what authentic assessment is.

I’ll admit: I’m a geek. I may not look the part, but for some reason I have been one to take the seemingly mundane details and remember them for later recollection. In many cases, ever since I was a child I was able to soak up material like a sponge and, despite an improper mental state, recall these details for a situation that called for them. I’ve often been asked why it is I have committed to memory such details of subjects that are often on distant ends of any spectrum. From my youngest years, I’ve ascertained, I determined that various types of knowledge would have relevance someday. Perhaps the situations in my life that I was facing at those times didn’t call for the active use of such things as Planck’s Constant (h=6.626 x 10 -34 joule seconds) or how to conjugate verbs in German, but I always told myself and lived by the notion that “knowledge is power,” and later “there is no knowledge which is not power.” Knowledge became a tool from which to develop skills, both allowing me to derive a sense of self-worth, confidence, and personal power from.

When people inquire about the relevance of the mundane details, I often find a voice in the back of my head telling me to tell the person that I am currently engrossed in conversation with to seek relevance in everything: You never know when it might come in handy.

Maybe you, too, will someday find yourself in the situation that MacGyver found himself in above. First you would need to dump some water in the radiator, jump start the Jeep. This would cause the water to heat up. A few minutes later, you would dump in the egg whites which the water cooks. Once cooked, the egg whites naturally plug the holes in the radiator making the Jeep temporarily usable.

Lightening Crashes

''My wife said the sky was blue, but the lightning bolt was the most horrible sound she had heard in her life,'' said Clemente Vazquez-Bello, owner of the home where Canales and two workers had come to do landscaping.

You ever get that idea that God (the god or higher-power, omnipotent being of your choice) just has it in for some people?

Quote: Damned if You Do...

Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Self-Managed Behavior

"Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is."
- Isaac Asimov

Growth is a constant process; one for which we don’t often have someone directing us. Throughout most of our lives we are forced to take accountability for our behaviors and that growth. Techniques in self-managed growth, from a psychological perspective, can go far in helping us achieve our desired behaviors. Everything in our lives is about the choices that we make. Behaviors are simply the manifestation of those choices. Our behaviors comprise the makeup of our lives and, therefore, we live the life that our behaviors make for us.

1. Choose a target behavior. You must first know that which you desire to change.

2. Recording a baseline. With what frequency do you currently exhibit the behavior which you have or do you have undesired responses each day?

3. Set realistic goals. Set gradual, realistic goals to help you achieve your desired results. The best way to do this is to set daily and weekly goals.

4. Select reinforcing activities. Reward yourself for meeting you daily goals and reward yourself for meeting your weekly goals. Select something that you like and that will keep you motivated!

5. Record your progress. Keep accurate records of the behaviors that you are actually exhibiting and how that matches with your intended goals.

6. Reward successes. Follow through with your reward activities based on your following through with your goals.

7. Adjust your plan. As you learn more about yourself don’t be afraid to adjust your plan to better meet your needs or the needs of your environment.

Keep up the process and continually work at becoming the person that you want to become. Even though this will take some effort, over time your baseline behaviors will change and you will be able to achieve the success that you want!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Unusual Perception

When I first moved to wonderful and beautiful Grand Junction, CO, I chose an occupational route which would not put me in charge of a small army of fast food workers: Though I will do those things which are required of me to keep a paycheck coming in, food on my table, and a roof over my head, I knew that there was something better out there for me. Not that the path which my resultant choice was better, but it didn’t require me to smell like fried foods at the end of the day. I took a job in the wireless industry as a receivables management agent in a call center. It was high-stress with high-turnover, but it was technical in nature and I figured that it was something that would tide me over until the next better thing came along.

Throughout training we learned of many a wireless wonder; after a few weeks of classroom training and a few weeks in what was called Academy Bay— that place where new call center agents take their first calls under the supervision of mentors, themselves seasoned call center staff. Soon thereafter we were assigned to floor teams and started our careers as agents. The thing that we each learned was that customers would likely call us if they were past due on their wireless phone accounts—if they called in for customer service and were past due, the voice recognition phone system would direct them to our department. People who don’t pay their bills (and some that do) have a particular behavior pattern, I quickly learned. A generality it might be, but many an experience it was nonetheless: They can be rude, angry, frustrated, mean, panicky, oblivious, and act quite, quite stupidly. I decided quickly that I wanted into a position that was less “on the floor” and more in a support-style role. My vision became to be promoted. And, in my typical style, do so in a distinguished manner.

In the first two weeks of being on JoNi’s “Team 4,” I achieved the second-highest collections in the call center at $176,000. The person that beat me (by only $4,000) for the top spot was a veteran of about 5 years. The next month I hit number one. I had learned the systems like no other and, in my spare time between calls (something that tends to happen on night shifts) I would memorize the details of policies, procedures, and the best practices of my job role. My time on a call averaged about 3 minutes: I was a one-stop shop for the customers that had better things to do than to stay on a phone after being on hold for (often) several minutes or hours and have them on their way to live the rest of their lives.

Yes, my vision was coming to fruition. Soon I was selected to be part of a team of 5 to travel to another call center and “red hat” for them—assist agents in training for their new posts by offering advice and assistance for them as they need it while they were on the phones. This call center was training some 300 agents to go from the old second generation “TDMA” software systems to the newer third generation “GSM” software. While I wasn’t as much of a whiz on the second generation stuff as some of the old timers, I had come to know the Siebel software that drove the GSM phone systems better than most others. Yes, my vision was coming to fruition.

Around this time I had applied for the Resolutions Support Desk, or the Resolutions Department as it was more formally called, “RSD” or “Rez” was the team of individuals that had distinguished themselves as the best of the best call center agents and been promoted to work in an environment where they would advice other call center representatives on procedural, policy, and technical issues and, as necessary, take an escalated call from a customer. Have you ever called someplace and asked for their supervisor? If you called this company, spoke with the receivables management department, and asked for a supervisor there was about a 1 in 100 chance (by my estimation) that you could talk to me.

Yes, my vision saw me through to being a standard floor agent in a call center to becoming a member of the elite, the special forces of the wireless industry.

Vision: Unusual competence in discernment or perception; something that is or has been seen; a person or thing of extraordinary beauty; or to picture in one’s mind.

The first thing to know about vision is that it is derived from the leader: Vision must be leader-initiated. Vision is a key part in shaping an individual. Without vision, we would not have goals. Without vision, we would not be in positions to strategize our ways from point to point, to end up where we would rather be in life and to become the person that we want to become.

While your vision might be humble and it might be grand, it is always shaped by your paradigm in that your principles, standards, ethics, and morals will guide the vision from start to finish. Your ideal goal is representative of your goals, your ideals, and builds on your past and present. Your vision, in short, moves you forward.

Imagine clearly where you want to be and, given healthy doses of action, you can make your vision come to fruition.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

With Self-Discipline Most Anything Is Possible

He’s been called “The American Lion;” a man that stands apart from others in his era as being someone who transformed himself and the time in which he lived. In the late 17TH century he saw the need to modernize the American Navy. While mourning his first wife he learned to rope and ride in the badlands of what is now North Dakota. During the Spanish-American War he dropped everything and went out west to recruit a ragtag group of cavalrymen from myriad walks of life to fight in Cuba under General Leonard Wood, becoming nothing short of a war hero. This man who had started as a frail boy with physical ailments grew to be some of the finest stock this country has offered. Becoming President of the United States at 43 years old, Theodore Roosevelt is in the elite club of Presidents to win the Nobel Prize.

Years ago I recall watching television; there were a series of commercials discussing virtues that people should have and selling them on the “why.” One featured a judge that said that discipline is the everyday price we pay in place of paying the price of regret. We bathe each day instead of regretting being ridiculed by those around us for smelling and/or looking like we have just woken up; we exercise and eat right so that we won’t become overweight and will feel better; we respect others so that they will, in turn, respect us; we follow the law because we would regret being punished for not obeying it (or, a person is just of virtuous character and believes that the rule of law is there for a reason). Discipline is not just important, it is essential for the leader to practice.

Imagine that you are a member of a military unit in a leadership role: Be that as an officer or a non-commissioned officer. With subordinate troops in your charge, in the face of imminent danger do you confide in your troops your fears, thus validating their own and possibly fomenting more, or do you practice proper discipline and do your duty as their leader and an officer of the public and the commander-in-chief that you serve? The answer is obvious in the context of discipline.

In today’s “instant gratification” society the practice of self-discipline is instead often traded for impulsive behaviors that, instead of leading to success, lead to feeling good now. Proper self-discipline can be what separates a slob from a person that looks and plays the part of the successful individual.

The one quality which sets one man apart from another—the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity—is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness—it is self-discipline…With self-discipline, all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream.

I couldn’t have articulated it better myself.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Leaders in History: Subutai

Born in Mongolia in 1176 in the Uriangqai tribe, Subutai was the primary military strategist of the great Ghengis Kahn. Not necessarily a man of common knowledge in western society, Subutai has the distinction of conquering the most territory throughout history directing more than 20 campaigns where he would routinely coordinate campaigns up to 500 kilometers apart including the conquering of Poland and Hungary within 2 days of one another. In addition, Subutai was the highest-ranking non-relation to the Khan having begun service to him at the age of 17.

Those who succeed do those things that others do not, such as the leaders that have harnessed their abilities and conquered their circumstances in times past. We look to these leaders to gather insight into those things which we can do differently to find success or further it. Subutai was a man that changed the paradigm of his trade by virtue of his merit and wit.

A story I recall reading about General Subutai once was regarding his siege of a European city. Surrounding the city he faced the decision whether to lay siege to it or to take a more passive approach. Inconspicuously he ordered a column from a rear entrance to the city to be vacated leaving an ample opportunity for any occupants of the city to flee from the city. Uncertain of the situation a small number of troops traversed through the vacated column and escaped the supposed forthcoming slaughter. After the escape of the first few troops, the remainder of the city was vacated through the opening—only to be slaughtered. Instead of using aggressive means to take their goal, Subutai found a method which reduced friendly casualties while the effect of total war was felt on the enemy.

Regardless of the style he used to achieve victory at that siege, Subutai was known for his aptitude and proclivity for using siege equipment and engineers on the battlefield. When most countries outside of China were using siege equipment and engineers for just that—laying sieges to cities—Subutai’s insight into the alternate uses for such combat assets made him become the first individual to use tactical artillery on the battlefield. During the Battle of Mohi Mongolian forces faced the wrath of Hungarian crossbowmen through fierce resistance and a battle that conflicted high levels of Mongolian casualties at a battle for a bridge. Needing to adapt his forces competencies and assets to conquer the situation—and the Hungarians—Subutai ordered stone-throwing catapults to thrust boulders at the banks of crossbowmen, quickly dispatching the threat that they posed to Mongol forces. Moreover, while the crossbowmen defended the bridge they had been ordered to secure with all their might, Subutai ordered an emergency bridge be built so that his forces could outflank his enemies.

Subutai was responsible for conquering the various jurisdictions of Russia and further ventured into Eastern Europe and easily bested many of the military forces there. He sent spies further into Europe and partook in limited military engagements leading to his ambition of taking on the entire Holy Roman Empire in 1241. Unfortunately, by this time, news had made it to the front of the death of the third son of Ghengis Khan, Ogotai. Mongol forces returned to their homeland and Subutai never returned to Europe by the time of his death at 72 years old in 1248. Had he done so, however, the face of western civilization might have changed dramatically.

Valuing wisdom and the application of it to circumstances, Subutai elegantly balanced grace with brute force by gracefully maneuvering his enemies into circumstances where brute force would completely wipe them out: He was a wise leader who controlled circumstances instead of allowing circumstances to control him.