Tuesday, May 17, 2016

20 unorthodox public speaking (DO & DON'T) tips

I’ve done a lot of public speaking over the years, all around the world. Not saying I know all the answers, but if you are petrified about public speaking or want some tips, here’s a few that you don’t often see in the textbooks. I’ve aimed it at education and training.
10 DON’Ts
DON’T list objectives or what you plan to cover – BOOOOORing!
DON’T do list of company stats – no of employees etc. – DULL!
DON’T use notes – looks as if you don’t know your shit.
DON’T hide or stand behind lectern or table (definitely don’t sit).
DON’T play overlong videos – more than a minute is too long.
DON”T show slide 'We learn 10% by... 20% by... 30% by... it's Bull.
DON’T do text only PowerPoints - they'll want you to die & you will.
DON’T show pyramids on slides, Maslow etc – they’re usually BS.
DON’T show quotes from Einstein.
DON’T have list of words starting with same letter, especially ‘C’.
10 DOs
DO be yourself  – even if that means swearing (I do) (proof)!
DO start with a clippy observation, story or anecdote.
DO walk from one side to other & look whole audience in eye.
DO come forward and go back, use the whole stage.
DO be contentious – why tell them things they already believe.
DO change tone, pace and volume to emphasise points.
DO stop and signal change of topic/pace.
DO get animated – be lively and passionate.
DO use a clicker (whatever you call that thing) for slides.

DO end with ‘Thanks for listening’  - it’s a good cue for Q&A.
The worst talk I ever saw was by an academic, who, in a monotone voice, read a prepared paper from a lectern, that was nothing but stats about her university, for an hour, to the minute. At the end, she was thanked by the Chair, as Professor of Communication at Moscow University. I was literally in stitches. Why would anyone read a paper from a lectern - this makes no sense - email it to me but don't make me sit through this nonsense.
Last word, say what you really think, not what you think they want to hear. And don't play to the happy sheet thing. You're not a clown and the point is not to make them 'happy'. If anything make them uncomfortable. Take people out of their comfort zone,the groupthing that is so common in the learning game. Thanks for listening....

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Lecture, essay, cheat, repeat… plagiarism, why it's endemic and 10 ways to avoid

I sat through a one hour talk (lecture) on plagiarism this week, where the speaker (University plagiarism rep) showed not a single citation but plenty of anecdotal bullet points. There was even a bit of plagiarism from another plagiarism expert. As the old adage goes, when students copy, it is plagiarism; academics call it research.
What threw me was the complete absence of any critical thought around the nature of the problem. This is a cat and mouse game, where predictable, often identical assignments (largely long-form essays) are set, students procrastinate, share, cut and paste and increasingly purchase essays, only to wait sometimes weeks for often sparse feedback and a solitary grade.
There just doesn’t seem to be any will to solve the problem, only sticking plaster solutions, namely grammarly.com (free), academicpalgiarism.com  (cheap) or turnitin.com (expensive) or SafeAssign.com (BlackBoard). Turnitin also have writecheck, a service that allows students to submit their work. Actually turnitin.com is not that expensive per student and pays for itself in being a massive deterrent, as well as taking the pressure off teachers.
The game
But the game is getting more complex as, on one side, institutions and academics are bogged down in traditional trench warfare lobbing out the same old, big essay assignments, against guerrilla fighters using good comms, high tech and stealth. Actually, in truth, it’s more like wrestling, a sort of pre-planned charade where both sides play out a predictable set of routines. As long as institutions see this as a deficit problem (those pesky students and essay companies ruining our trade) nothing will change. This is a problem that needs smart solutions, not denial and mouse-traps.
In the red corner
On one side, institutions and academics set predictable assignments. The format is the lazy essay question. They often don’t change for years. In this case the speaker, who taught English, had been using identical assignments for seven years. Why does this happen? First, fossilised practice, second teaching comes second to research, third a dearth of assessment design skills, fourth the institution encourages this fossilised and primitive form of assessment, fifth, the quality bodies are stuck in a model that has barely changed in a hundred years.
In the blue corner
On the other side, students use tech that makes it easier for them to play the game and win. They’re on social media, making it easier to share. They have access to oodles of sources from which they can cut and paste. Beyond this they can buy relatively cheap, and undetectable, essays and dissertations, online. To be fair, they often don’t receive enough teaching and advice on how to do assignments with academic integrity. The psychology here is interesting. The assignment turns into a chore. They know that feedback will be light and that it is unpredictable when they will get the marked essay back. They start to see learning as a game.
Institutionalised behaviour
Increasing numbers of students, with English as a second language, clearly results in more pressure to cheat. Their parents have paid through the nose and failure is hard to take as it involves huge loss of face. The practice of getting their essays translated from their first language is also commonplace, which makes plagiarism even harder to detect. Even with native English speakers, the pressures of student loans and high expectations from parents may push them to take this route. On top of this is the reluctance of academics to do the necessary detection work, which can be detailed and arduous, to follow up on cheating. You need a lot of very sure evidence to pull this off and most don’t even want to start the process and climb that bureaucratic mountain. Another protective layer on top of this, is the reluctance of the institution to admit it happens, as there’s reputation loss. This is a perfect storm, where students, teachers and institutions, literally institutionalize cheating.
The problem
If you repeatedly ask and don’t receive, you’re probably asking wrongly. I had a conversation with Professor at a top UK London University who was horrified when she was forced by the University to set essay questions for her pharmacology students. She thought it was a dumb-ass form of assessment for her subject and she was right. Essays are sometimes appropriate assignments if one wants long-form critical thought. But in many subjects shorter, more targeted assignments and testing are far better. There’s a lot of formative assessment techniques out there and essays are just one of them. Short answer questions, open-response, formative testing, adaptive testing. I’d argue that student blogs are often better than essays as one can see progress and it’s not something that’s easy to plagiarise. Truth be told, HE wants it easy, and essays are easy to set. They also have to accept that they are also easy to cheat.
One other problem in HE is the ready confusion between formative and summative assessment. There’s far too much marking and summative assessment in HE. If the assignment is a formative learning experience, why mark at all? It’s all about the feedback. Professor Black, who has spent decades studying this issue, recommends NOT marking to focus on feedback. Marking acts as an end point. High performing students get 80% then stop, assuming the other 20% is not worth the effort, low performing students get demotivated, What learners actually need is not a mark but detailed and constructive feedback.
There’s also the problem of what counts as plagiarism. One of the problems is that plagiarism sites often count direct quotes as plagiarism, confusing the stats and sending false positives into the system. A second problem is what constitutes ‘common knowledge’ i.e. stuff that doesn’t have to have citations. This is tricky.
But there’s an even worse problem in assessment. To rely on the essay format or long-form prose answers is to encourage students to memorise essays and play roulette with the subject in their finals. Students, the world over, play the game of final assessment by memorising essays. There's a pretence hat it's testing critical thought. It's not.
Undetectable cheating
We know the scale of the problem. Compare the scanty number of cases actually reported by institutions against the number and size of the companies offering such services. There’s a massive gap and this is just the tip of the iceberg, as most of it is in the grey economy, with even parents doig the cheating. Purchased essays and dissertations are now commonplace in Universities. But much of this is their own fault. They’re stagnant in their form of teaching and assessment, with the one hour lecture still the dominant, global pedagogy, and essays the commonest form of assessment. These are often written by disgruntled PhDs who can’t get jobs. This guy’s testimony is typical. You could legislate against such companies but it would just shift abroad. This is a huge industry. What we should do is add up the turnover of all of these companies then triple it, as most of it is black market.
A freshly written essay, costs about as much as an expensive meal for two. Remember, that as a return on investment, even a grand or two is well worth it, for that bit of paper with your University name on it and those numbers after the degree. That, as they keep telling us, is worth lots of muoolah.
What to do?
In truth, there are lots of alternatives to the long-form essay. Here’s ten for starters.
1. Think about what you want your students to achieve – the type of ‘learning’ i.e. factual knowledge, techniques, procedures, processes, critical thought etc. – then pick an appropriate assessment method.
2. If essays are required, think about notes, first drafts and so on. This is a far more useful form of learning and teaching. Why be so summative and final with a once-only submission process. Writing is not like that – it’s an iterative process.
3. Audio and video submission. I’ve seen this work well. It’s difficult to bullshit on a video or audio recording.
4. Presentations with questions. Make students present and put them under scrutiny through questioning. This is a far more sophisticated form of formative assessment.
5. More regular short form assessments during and at end of lectures. Read Eric Mazur on how to do this. He’s the master.
6. Peer assessment. Get students to critique and give feedback on each other’s work. It’s a good learning experience for both sides.
7. Quick fire quizzes have been shown to be extremely productive in terms of retention and recall in learning. Do this often. Why not at the end or during all lectures?
8. Don’t set predictable assignments, that have been set dozens of times before as banks of essays will have been already written. Set unusual assignments that are more closely aligned with your course, refer to lessons, lectures, class discussions and are not too generic. This makes it difficult for the external essay writers.
9. Set little Trojan Horses on the go – from Journals that the essay companies don’t have access to, or items from your own writing.
10. Check by Googling your assignment. You may find them being touted around.

This has reached crisis point. Everyone knows it but there’s a conspiracy of silence. Universities are scared to admit the scale of the problem, as they trade on reputation. We’ve created this monster but institutional inertia is incapable of solving the problem, as they refuses to change. And it’s not only coursework that’s a problem. Want to get into a good university from China, there’s lots of places you can get ‘advice’ and ‘help’ from. Speak to students who get to know their colleagues and they’ll be quick to tell you anecdotes about students who can barely speak English getting into Universities and still scoring well in essays. It’s endemic before the students even arrive. A more interesting problem, one barely recognised, is that many students from more privileged backgrounds, have parents who do this work for them. I’ve heard parents brazenly tell me about the essays they’ve written for their sprogs. This, I suspect, is an even bigger problem and one that discriminates against students who don’t have that support at home. It’s time for change folks. Will it happen? Will it hell.

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

5 tests to see if your organisation's values are bogus

A brief conversation with a young woman, in the queue for lunch at a corporate ‘values’ day, opened my eyes up to the whole values thing in organisations. “I have my values,” she said, “and they’re not going to be changed by a HR department.... I’ll be leaving in a couple of years and no doubt their HR will have a different set of values… which I’ll also ignore”. Wisest thing I heard all day.
You’ve probably had the ‘values’ treatment. Suddenly, parachuted out of HR, comes a few abstract nouns, or worse, an acronym, stating that the organisation now has some really important ‘values’. Even worse, an external agency may have juiced them up. I genuinely like organisations that have a strategy, purpose, even a mission. But the current obsession with organisational values I don't entirely buy.
Try this authenticity test to your company values. Sniff out the hubris and bullshit.
Test 1: Bad acronyms - values created to fit word
If your values are an acronym, they’re likely to be inauthentic. The net result of fuzzy thinking is so often the ‘bad acronym’. Chances are that someone has shoehorned some abstract nouns into a word that sounds vaguely positive, completely losing sight of the original intention. Are they telling you that their values ‘just happened’ to fall into that acronym? Actually, what happens is that at least some of the values emerge from the acronym. That's inauthentic.
How about this from a Cheshire voluntary group: FLUID: Freedom 2 Love Ur Identity. Or another real example of a crap acronym: VALUE: This HR person actually went online as she could only think of Value Added….. and wanted others to fill the acronym out! They did, and she was delighted with, Value Added Local, User friendly Experience. What a load of puff. When values are created to fit a word you want to say, it’s a joke. Even worse is the use of middle letters, rendering the acronym, as an aide memoire, completely useless. Here’s a real example. It’s a cracker. PEOPLE: Positive Spirit and Fun, HonEsty and Integrity, Opportunties Based on Merit, Putting the Team first, Lasting value for Clients and People, Excellence through Professionlism. One overlong, impossible to remember acronym with eleven nouns, and I love the way they have to use the ‘E’ in the middle of HonEsty to make it work. This, by the way, is from an HR consultancy.
It’s not that I hate acronyms (Abbreviated Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding MeaningS). They’re great as memorable cues. For example, I rather like ABC (Airways, Breathing, Circulation) in first aid. I also have a soft spot for funny acronyms, such as ALITALIA (Airplane Lands In Turin And Luggage In Ancona), BAAPS (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeon) unbelievably a real organisation, and DIMWIT (Don't Interrupt Me While I'm Talking).… it’s just that I’m a fully paid up member of the AAAA, the Association Against Acronym Abuse. And let's just quietly forget Microsoft's 'Critical Update Notification Tool'.
Test 2: Negative test
Lists of values are often so obvious that they are hardly worth mentioning. Sure, you can say we all need to be 'Customer friendly' and so on. But who would say that being Customer unfriendly was ever on the cards? The ‘negation’ test is a useful filter. Ask whether any normal human being would deny have the stated opposite or negative value. If the answer is NO, it’s not a value but a basic, common sense belief. Human nature is a complex thing and people are too different to be corralled into value sets. Beware of BIG words like integrity, imagination, creativity, innovation…… If your values are simplistic platitudes – no one will care.
Test 3: Are they really values?
A value is something that determines a moral decision. Yet many organizational ‘values’ are not values at all. ‘Imagination’, for example, is not a moral value, neither, I would argue is 'Creativity'. I’m not sure that ‘Leadership’ is an intrinsic value, in the sense that Pol Pot was a leader. So, for this test, look at each value in turn and ask whether it really is a value or activity, competence or other thing?
Test 4: Diversity problem
There’s something odd about having diversity as a value within a non-diverse, fixed value set. Empirically, people have different sets of values. We know this from large-scale studies, such as the World Values Survey, going since 198, in over 100 countries. An organisation is likely to have a mix of nationalities and cultures; religious, secular, liberal, conservative, individualistic, communal. Imposing a single set of values from above may not fit with this diversity of cultures and values. If diversity of values matters, the imposition of a set of fixed values makes little sense. To live with diversity is to live with a diversity of values.
Test 5: Sniff test
It’s usually quite easy to expose the hypocrisy of an organisation that exhorts ‘values’ by looking at its a) tax affairs b) senior staff salaries, c) senior staff bonuses d) customer list e) behaviours. If the company plays the tax avoidance game using offshore tax arrangements, or transfer pricing – that’s almost every large tech company, Starbucks etc. etc. then you can stick their ‘do no evil’ values back in the hypocrisy box. If the CEO earns a ridiculous amount of money but doesn’t pay a living wage to the people at the bottom, the value of their values is nil. To be more precise, if your company pays the CEO way more than x10 the salary of the lowest member of staff – question the values. If, as a bank or other organisation, you’ve missold, ripped people off and generally fiddled the markets, ripped off suppliers, don’t pay on time - don’t talk about values. I've worked in public, educational organisations and heard people rail against the private sector, while they send their kids to private schools - that's BS. Read Nagel's Equality and Partiality. It doesn't take long to work out that people's stated public values are often different from their personal values. The same with organisations. You get the idea. Subject your organisation to a sniff test. Take the values and really ask – of the people who have told you that they matter – whether they’re applied at the top of the organisation and in its financial dealings.

Ask the person in the street if large organisations have served society well in terms of values? Banks? Supermarket chains? Tax dodging tech companies? Tax dodging retailers like Next or Starbucks? Football organisations like FIFA? Football clubs in general? Athletics organisations? Political parties? Mobile hacking newspapers? Saville infested broadcasters? No. We have a crisis of values, caused by large organisational hubris and lobbying. They are the last place we, as people, look to for values. The ‘values’ obsession is just another example of overreach by HR. It keeps them occupied and gives everyone the sense that moral purpose has been served. It may even mask the reality of selfish behaviour. When I hear people discuss values, or see ‘values’ training, it’s like little-league religion. Lots of back-slapping and ‘aren’t we great’ type platitudes. We’re all different. It’s work not a moral crusade. To be honest, I find it all a bit hokey and patronising. A select group at the top come up with 'values' and we all have to march in step to those values, even though, as most of us know, the further up an organisation you go, the more rarified values become. People have values, organisations don’t.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

One book on learning that every teacher, lecturer & trainer should read (7 reasons)

I have shelf upon shelf of books on learning but if I had to recommend just one book it would be Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel. It has one big weakness, and I’ll come to that later., but what makes it compelling is it’s its laser like focus on contemporary research on optimal methods of learning, while swatting pseudo-theories to one side.
1. Counterintuitive
By far the most important message in the book comes at the start when they boldly claim that most good learning theory is counterintuitive. They set the scene by explaining why most students are misled by institutions into the wrong strategies for studying. Intuitively, reading, highlighting, underlining and rereading seems productive but the evidence suggests it is a largely hopeless strategy for learning. In fact, the evidence shows that we are very poor judges of our own learning. The optimal strategies for learning are in the 'doing' and some of that doing is counterintuitive. 
We kid ourselves into thinking we’re mastering something but this is an illusion of mastery. It’s easy to think you’re learning when the going is easy – re-reading, underlining, repetition…. but it doesn’t work. To learn effectively, you must make the going harder and employ a few counterintuitive tricks along the way. They neatly explain why the research is NOT about rote learning, the charge that is usually levelled against them - just to head that one off at the pass.
2. Effortful learning
This is the premise – effortful learning. It’s what most of the people I admire in the learning world have been saying for years – Schank, Downes and most academic, cognitive scientists. By effort they mostly mean retrieval practice This is the one strategy they hammer home. Use your own brain to retrieve, or do, what you think you know. Flashcard questions, simple quizzes (not multiple-choice) anything to exercise the brain through active recall, not only reinforces what you know (and so easily forget) but may even be even stronger, in terms of subsequent retention and recall, than the original exposure. That’s a killer finding. Recall is more powerful than teaching.
3. Testing
Practically, they recommend regular, low-stakes testing for teachers and learners. And before you get all tetchy about ‘teaching to the test’, they don’t mean summative assessment but regular formative exercises, where recall is stimulated and encouraged. The evidence here is pretty overwhelming. Test little and often – that’s what makes effortful learning stick. To repeat - they don’t mean testing as assessment, they mean learning.
4. Solve before being taught
Interesting research is also presented for the idea that having a go, even when you make mistakes and errors, is better than simply getting the exposition. The active learning seems to have a powerful effect on retention and recall.
5. Spaced-practice
I’ve been banging on about this for decades but they nail the research, namely its efficacy, and the fact that it is NOT mere repetition. All of that Bjork stuff on ‘Deliberate difficulties’ is also in here.
6. Interleaving
Rather than doing a homogeneous set of learning or retrieval tasks, try interleaving them. The evidence suggests that this makes gives you higher retention and you are much more adaptable when it comes to solving new problems in the future.
7. Delayed feedback
An interesting one this. Apparently, instantaneous feedback can be less productive than delayed feedback. I’ve used this recently and have to agree that I see the point.
The book cleverly employs the methods they recommend in its structure but it has one big weakness - the third author. Whereas I had heard of Roediger and McDaniel as well published academics, I had never heard of Peter Brown. It looks as though the publisher has made them hire a novelist to bring their research to life. Brown introduces each chapter with overwritten stories to illustrate the research but I found them wearisome. Interestingly, none of their research supports this approach to learning and stories and storytelling don’t even appear in the index. Read them if you want - I just skipped them.
The book gives a brilliant update on recent research in cognitive science on how we learn. (You don’t see Vygotsky in the index of this book, thank God.) It's the result of over ten years of focused research on 'Applying Cognitive Psychology to Enhance Educational Practice'. It’s practical and gives plenty of advice on both how to teach and how to learn, the point being that knowing how to learn is a necessary condition for good teaching.

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