CSTD Day 1 Workshop – Gary Woodill

I tweeted a lot from this session so I’ll have to do some digging to sort out some of the finer details after the fact, but I’ll add these thoughts in long form here. For context purposes, Gary Woodill is a veteran of the industry, and an author, speaker, researcher, and blogger.

Gary opened his talk by touching on some key points with respect to our access to information and how we deal with the sheer volume. I see this topic as being closely tied to what Harold Jarche talked about in his PKM workshop so I was keen to hear what Gary had to say.

Similar to Harold’s session, Gary points out that we are facing a veritable tsunami of information and that’s a bit of a double edged sword. We can get all sorts of information and research at our fingertips but we also have to learn to be more discriminating about what we dig up and what we do with it. GW does remind us that in spite of the instant access to information, there’s still a staggering amount of research that goes un-accessed and un-quoted, leaving many Universities as repositiories of “dead knowledge”.

Anyone who has been a graduate student understands the value of critical thinking, but there’s some pitfalls we all need to be aware of. Before I get into that, GW also spoke about some people considering this age to represent the “end of real science” because many future developments will be based on the work of others as opposed to coming up with something really, genuinely new and unknown. I suspect that might be a bit of hyperbole but with a small grain of truth. If so, then we are all truly standing on the shoulders of giants.

He gave us some interesting and familiar examples of things we often take for granted but potentially lack scientific rigour and/or repeatability and/or effective methodology. He also spoke of some “truisms” we often cite as fact but are really not “science” or generated by research. I suppose in some respects we might liken these to educational urban legends. I somewhat shamefully admit that I have used some of them in the past.)

Some examples were: A study that conclluded botox injections to the forehead had a direct impact on depression in women, when in fact the study group was so small as to be anomalous, and the physical restrictions from the Botox prevented frowning, therefore they perceived themselves to be in a better mood. For us educators, the oft-cited Dale Cone of Experience (10% of what we hear, 20% of what we say, do, etc.) remains a popular saw, even if the interpretations are historically flawed. In response to a participant question, Gary suggested we could go so far as to include MBTI, Learning Styles (Kolb), and Multiple Intelligences (although personally I’d not lump Gardner in there with Kolb).

This talk is a good reminder for L&D professionals and I think we have to start being more selective (read: critical/skeptical) about many of the models we tend to hold dear. We also need to be very cautious about blind obedience to statistics, especially those that show up in nice round numbers – something unheard of in scientific research. This concept may be a real challenge in the very traditionalist environment our Innovation Cell has to operate in.

GW gave us a quick walkthrough of the evolution of information access from things like micro-film and microfiche through the growing trends towards more social searching as well as artificial intelligence searching and curation searching. (Ngram, Wolfram Alpha, and ANAN, to name a few tools). He suggests that we start becoming curators of information in that we move past mere gathering and evaluate, synthesize, and show what we acquire. However, I feel that one element is missing from those curation tasks: connect the information (e.g. link what you gather to other information or situations and provide mearningful context). For example, if I see part of a marble ruin in a museum whose age is shown and verified by carbon dating, I don’t understand how it fits into a larger historical or artistic context without more information. That’s kind of why I like some of the larger projected reconstructions of ancient buildings or works. I can see the remaining pieces in situ with a projected reconstruction and get a sense of what’s been preserved, what’s missing, and what the whole thing might have looked like. I think we should – where possible – do the same thing with information we’re gathering: put it all in context before sharing.

With respect to the concept of the social search, I think there are some strong linkages to the concepts of Community of Practice (above), and some of the current social media trends of developing your own network of experts. I believe we should foster some of these concepts among staff, students, and instructors alike here at the school. For me, the power of a PLN – or Social Search – is well demonstrated, but I’m also aware of its limitations. For example, timing is critical when sending out a Twitter-based query, and so is repetition. Sometimes you’ll get results, sometimes they’re even helpful, and sometimes you get crickets.

The other social search element GW referred to was the whole DIY movement. There are hordes of people out there engaged in all sorts of DIY projects; everything from magazines like MAKE and online communities like Instructables.com, through to people doing their own Biological hacks and sharing the results. I wonder where the whole DIY path will take is, but it does speak to the power of individual research, evaluation, and curation.

Gary’s session helped to set some of the tone of information access and social learning themes that I observed in this year’s conference so it was nice to refer back to some of this content as the Conference progressed.


Posted on November 22, 2011, in backchannel, conference summary, CSTD, review. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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