Thursday, June 16, 2016

Develop and Host Your Course for Free: MoodleCloud Hosting

-->If you enjoy the flexibility of Moodle, but find that most hosting packages are too expensive for development and start-ups, or that you just do not have time to constantly add the updates, Moodle now offers free hosting through MoodleCloud (https://moodlecloud.com/en/). I used it when I was writing Moodle 3.x Teaching Techniques, and I can say that the experience was very positive.  

Here are some of the highlights of my experience using MoodleCloud:

Latest version of Moodle:  I've worked with Moodle in a locally hosted setting, and also I've used cloud-based hosting solutions available online.  MoodleCloud.com was far superior. MoodleCloud has the advantage of using the latest version of Moodle, and all the updates are present. Not all the third-party plugins are available for the free version, and since you're not administering this installation of Moodle, you can't add them, but that is a very minor detail when considering all the benefits of Moodle and the solutions. 

  
Generous Package for Free:  The free version of MoodleCloud allows you to have up to 50 users, and to develop as many courses as you'd like. 50 users gives you enough flexibility to really try out a course, and to see how things will work once you start adding users. For example, using BigBlueButton for web-conferencing and webcasting works seamlessly and smoothly within MoodleCloud. This is not always the case using other hosting options.

Plenty of Bandwidth:  One problem with some hosting solutions is that they do not have enough bandwidth, or there are other routing issues that cause annoying slowdowns and time-outs.

Accommodates a Wide Range of Media: I wanted to include videos, audio, and also photos I took for the course I developed on Trends in Tourism. I wanted to focus especially on the Mexican Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Villages), which are very successful endeavors by the Mexican government to preserve historical, cultural, and natural landmarks while also stimulating economic development by means of tourism. Here's an example of a unit focused on saving endangered sea turtles. 


 Mobile-Friendly: The Moodlecloud hosting solution is mobile-friendly, which is extremely helpful since so many people now access courses using their mobile devices (phones, tablets, iPads, etc.).

Scalable:  The free solution is perfect for beta testing new courses, and also for trying out some of the plugins and features of Moodle. If your course or your institution's e-learning takes off, you don't have to change solutions. You can scale up quite easily by subscribing to a larger plan, which are quite affordable.

The only downside that I can see to MoodleCloud is that it is in a beta mode, and it's possible that they may discontinue it. I hope not! But, that said, Moodle is very popular and I think that it's possible that it will be the first-choice solution of many users.

Moodle 3.x Teaching Techniques - Now available!
 

Monday, June 06, 2016

Kick-Start Your Voice for E-Learning / M-Learning that Truly Engages Your Audience

You may be surprised to learn that your voice is a key determinant of success in a webinar, presentation (live or recorded), or video-based e-learning. While most people think that having sharp graphics is the key, if you deliver your message in a monotone, mumble, and ramble, you'll lose your audience, no matter how great the visual presentation.

Here are tips for making your voice keep your audience's attention and communicate your message:

* Audio recording for a presentation
* Podcast or voice over
* Audio accompaniment for images, PowerPoint, maps, instructions, e-learning
* Story

The tips are based on voice coaches and experts Tracy Goodwin, VoiceBunny, etc.

https://vimeo.com/169169793

Interview with Tracy Goodwin, Voice Coach, on LifeEdge (hosted on Vimeo).

1.  Begin with confidence. Invite your audience to join you and communicate your enthusiasm. If it takes you 5 minutes to get "warmed up," it's too long. Your audience will have already abandoned you at the one-minute mark.

2.  Speak clearly. Don't mumble or start swallowing your words. Keep your voice strong and healthy. This may involve making sure that you're hydrated and that you are well rested.

3.  Avoid mispronunciations.  If you have doubts about how a word is pronounced, look it up in a dictionary, and practice. If you mispronounce technical terms and you're a technical expert, you have just undermined your credibility. (!)

4.  Avoid speaking in a monotone. Pause, create emphasis where appropriate, and communicate emotion. This ties to a theme that unites all the points: variety.

5.  Speak conversationally, and stay relaxed. This is especially important when you want your audience to feel comfortable and to trust your information and tips.

6.  Emphasize the key points. Know how to guide the audience to the most important part.  Pacing, pauses, tonal shading may all play a part.

7.  Talk to the audience, don't simply read. Do not simply read the same words that the audience will see on the screen.

8.  Personalize, if possible.  If appropriate, elaborate with brief experiential anecdotes. Jot down an outline or a full script of your anecdote so that you'll avoid rambling.

9.  Keep each point brief. Avoid digressions. If you are providing an accompaniment to a PowerPoint presentation, keep each point brief and stay focused. Less is definitely more.
10.  Vary pace, rhythm, tone, volume, breathing.  You may need a coach for this, but if you don't have the opportunity, you can at least practice recording yourself, and then listening. Do you put yourself to sleep? Do you find your mind wandering as you listen to yourself? If you bore yourself, imagine what you'll do to your audience.

11. Know your audience. Understand their expectations. If you don't, you run the risk of very negative reviews and feedback. I volunteered to read passages of a book by Wilkie Collins, and I thought I'd make it a lively, dramatic reading, replete with voices for the different characters (one of whom was totally unhinged, and murderously so). Well, for the one listener who wanted a bland, monotonous delivery, I was a disagreeable surprise. He/she wasted no time posting vicious reviews of my effort. The fact that several listeners applauded my performance did not really help. I obsessed about that negative review to the point that I stopped recording for almost a year!

There are several ways to record your audio:

Audacity:  This open source software program is by far the best option for creating excellent, easily modified and edited audio tracks. However, it does take a bit of time to understand how to convert to mp3 and also to use some of the features, such as noise elimination. http://www.audacityteam.org/

PowerPoint:  You can record your voice directly and embed the file in each slide. The result is a gargantuan file.

Record with your SmartPhone:  Android has a very easy to use Voice Recoder App. You can also then run the audio through speech to text and create a script.

Garageband: Garageband is easy to use and comes free on Macs and iPhones.

Links and Resources
Interview with voice expert Tracy Goodwin:
https://vimeo.com/169169793

Improve your Speaking Abilities: http://voicebunny.com/blog/voice-training-9-tips-improve-speaking-abilities/

Top 10 Voice Over Tips: https://www.videomaker.com/article/c4/14617-top-10-best-voice-over-tips

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pawnee Bill, The Wild West Show and the Ever-Changing American Identity

21st-century American identity and the 19th-century Wild West Shows are tied together in deep, often surprising ways. They persist and shape our cultural productions and even the way the world frames their political and economic discussions with and about the U.S. To understand why and how, it is useful to take a look at historical documents, artifacts, and reenactments. The Pawnee Bill Wild West Show is an example, and it takes place June 10-11, 2016, in Pawnee, Oklahoma.

The Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum has arguably the world's most comprehensive collection of Wild West Show artifacts. It was the home and ranch of Pawnee Bill, whose Wild West Shows persisted in one form or another, always bigger and better, for more than 25 years, from the late 19th century through the early 20th century.



Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum, Pawnee, Oklahoma
 The annual reenactment of the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show takes place each year the second week of June. It spans two days, and starts with a parade at the town square in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and ends up at the site of the Pawnee Bill Ranch, where there are permanent show grounds, as well as a museum and preserved mansion, barn, and other outbuildings. The site also contains a working ranch with American bison, horses, and cattle.

The importance of the Wild West Show as entertainment is indisputable. Wild West Shows were popular both in the major cities as well as in rural America. For the inhabitants of the urban areas, the Wild West Shows represented a dramatic spectacle that fascinated those who attended, and who held a complicated and complex notion of the American West, at once the great, vast frontier of boundless potential, while also representing the darkest recesses of the human psyche, where violence, lawlessness, unthwarted desire, and danger abounded.



Interview with Erin Brown, Curator of Collections, Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum

 If America was the place of the "Great Re-Invention" as immigrants arrived with the idea of establishing not only new prosperous lives, but also new identities, then the "Wild West" was a place of absolute flux in terms of identities. It was a place where men wore hair as long as women, and ornamented themselves in silver, turquoise, and gold. It was a place where women stood on the back of horses and out-shot the men in accuracy and aplomb. 

It was also a place of caricatures and pernicious stereotypes, as commonly held and communicated ideas were routinely strip Native Americans, African Americans, Mexicans, Asians, and other groups of their humanity and even their lives.

The Wild West Show was, above all, a spectacle, with dramatic costumes, sharpshooting, rope tricks, stage coach robberies, horseback football, and other events.  Like a Las Vegas show a century later, the goal was to entertain the masses, and to have them arrive with dreams and stars in their eyes, all conveniently manufactured by the mass media of the day: dime novels, early moving pictures, handbills, daguerrotypes, ink prints, serialized stories in newspapers, costumes, and jewelry.

But, the question becomes, which came first: the dime novel or the Wild West Show? And, then, how did that shape the notion of American Identity?

The barrier between the two is miscible: think of the Wild West Show and the notion of American identity as fluids that constantly move back and forth, constantly mixing and changing.


Why does it matter?  Here are a few questions that are triggered by considering the Wild West Show and American identity:





* What part of "Wild West" shapes current ideas of identity?
* Where and when did the exploits of the "Wild West" merge into science fiction genres?
* Where does the Wild West Show show up in science fiction movies, television, and novels?
*What are the key characteristics of Wild West personae and the dramas depicted in the enactments of the show?

On the day of the show, many people come to Pawnee and role play their favorite Western characters (historical, cultural, or mythical). Here is the film / literature character from True Grit, Rooster Cogburn (enacted by Dr. Benes)
 Here are a few initial thoughts about characteristics of the Wild West Show and the archetypes / mythos that are generated and perpetuated:

    Clash between good and evil
    Showdowns and shoot-outs (duels, updated)
    "Cowboy" values: what do you stand for if you wear the white hat?
    "Outlaw" values:  what do you stand for if you wear the black hat?
    A place where anti-heroes prevail (the outsider, the outlaw, the disenfranchised, the outside-the-norm)
        Independent women (female ranchers)
        Tribes fighting to the death against the forces have sought to destroy them
        Counter-Christian beliefs
        The outlaw (of all kinds)
        The saloon girl / prostitute as a normalized female
        The Mexican wanderer / seeker
        The warrior who subjects himself to a "dark night of the soul"
        The vision quester
        Uncorsetted female
        The loner (often traumatized veteran)


May Lillie, of the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show

Perhaps all these questions and ruminations would be simply a pleasing anachronism, except that the ideas persist.

While some of the stereotypes are pernicious, others are very liberating and they encourage acceptance of individual difference. Further, they are constantly in flux, and form a part of a cultural mythos that is perhaps not as well understood as we need it to be, particularly as we live in a time of instant mass communication and rapid-fire meme generation. 

We need to know when we're responding to an image or a set of behaviors because we've been conditioned to do so by the socialization processes embodied in cultural myth and mythos.

Scenes from the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show, 2015
 
Blacksmith Adam

Chariot: Kevin Dibble

Drill Team Dibble

Mike Pahsetopah, Fancy Dancer

Contact information:  
Erin Brown / ebrown@okhistory.org
Ronny Brown / rbrown@okhistory.org 



Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid: A Worksheet and an Analytical Response

Jamaica Kincaid's short story, "Girl" (1978) is remarkable in the way that it captures a personal voice expressed through what appears at first glance to be either the voice of an admonishing mother, or a stream of consciousness or an internal dialogue. The voice is powerful and it conveys the identity of the narrator by means of a series of guidelines, reminders, and "notes to self" that show the social construction of identity, as well as the way that one defines oneself by means of daily tasks.


The original publication:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1978/06/26/girl

Because the story does not tell the reader who the narrator is, the reader may make assumptions.

In order to analyze the story, it is often a good idea to create a list of guiding questions and then systematically answer them as you refer to the text.

How does the story begin? What are the activities? What do they entail?

When I delve into the story, I find myself a bit off-balance. It’s hard to tell who the narrator is, and what exactly is going on. My first impulse is to assume it’s an internal monologue – one of the voices that tends to inhabit the recesses of one’s mind, and which, when analyzed, tend to be a composite of the voices that we listened to and abided, which is to say we respected them to the point that we internalized them, for good or for worse.

This voice is not a very nurturing voice, and after I read further, I see that there is a bit of “talking back” so that instead of an internal monologue, it is, at the very least, a dialogue.

The question is, “Is it internal? Or, is the voice an external one?” The next question is, “How and why might it matter?”

Who is the narrator? 

The narrative is speaking in second person and she is addressing the “girl” of the title.

There are at least two possibilities for the narrator: First, she could be the girl herself.

Or, second, she could be the mother of the girl.

How does the narrator express her thoughts?  How does her manner of expressing the thoughts in second person impact the reader? 

The narrator expresses her thoughts in the form of a series of commands, practical guidance, admonitions, veiled insults, and commentary on the kind of life / context she lives in. The reader can detect a rage at the limitations of her life and also the need to conform to social norms and adhere to strictures.

How does the author use concrete descriptions and vivid details? 

The passage is filled with specific names and unique terms which give the text a very unique flavor; they locate it squarely within the culture of the Caribbean, without actually saying which island.

The use of idiolect for the names of music and also the names of herbs, foods, and activities clearly locate the narrative within a specific place / time / socio-economic context.

Examples:
“Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap” (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1978/06/26/girl, 1978)
 (hand-washing clothes, indicates the narrator is poor or at least that there are very basic clothes-washing techniques)

“is it true you sing benna in Sunday school?”
(benna refers a calypso-type genre, characterized by scandalous gossip – indicates the story takes place in Antigua)

“when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water”
(dasheen is a variant spelling of “dachine” which is the French for taro root, a starchy plant used for different dishes)

Where do you find repetitions?  Of activities? Of descriptions? Please list the specific examples or phrases.

There are a number of repetitions of the proper way to do household chores, but mainly the chores and tasks that a girl is expected to know

There are many repetitions of admonitions to not appear slatternly or “like the whore I know you are so bent on becoming”

From the details provided, what can you surmise about the narrator? What does she do? What is the level of technology that surrounds her? Please list the specific examples or phrases. What might the context be, in terms of socio-economic or cultural issues? 

The narrator lives somewhere in the Caribbean and is very concerned about the proper way to conduct oneself in order to be respected within her society.  It is not clear whether or not she is poor, working class, or middle class, but one senses that she is in a lower socio-economic level because of the number of tasks that have to be done, and there does not seem to be automation or assistance.
The narrator is female. She may be the mother of the girl. If so, she is very strict and exacting, and her admonitions are very clear. They may be done with the goal of protecting the daughter and giving her a future. However, there are so many insulting and demeaning sentences interspersed that one cannot read the passage without feeling a sense of tension and creeping despair.

If the narrator is the girl herself who has internalized the voice of the mother (or the collective consciousness of her context), it is very sad because one can see the internal landscape of repression, self-censoring, self-limitation, and above all, a profound inability to accept herself as she is.

Granted, a socialization process requires some changes to be made to oneself, but socialization processes should not require absolute extermination or extinction.

What are some of the values that are expressed in the passage?  How do you know? Please list the specific examples or phrases. 

This text is, in essence, a normative text.

It deals with social norms as well as family norms, particularly as they relate to the behavior and values of a young girl or an adolescent.

They are clearly sowing the seeds of rebellion, which may be healthy in its way, if it means being able to have the strength and courage to think for oneself.

However,  the micromanaging prescriptiveness of the admonitions (After all, why wash whites on Mondays?  Why not Tuesday? What are the reasons for the edicts?) is constant (and sets up a rhythmic structure in the text, kind of an anti-benna).

Further, the constant insinuation that there is socially reprehensible behavior just bursting to break free (“singing benna at Sunday school,” walking around in a dress “with the hem coming down and .. looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming” ) or having to conceal that nature (“they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming”), generates a remarkable tension in the text. It seems to be just the narrative to function as a self-fulfilling prophecy (!)

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor, Western Governors University (WGU) Washington

Welcome to an interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. Western Governors University (WGU) has been a leader in the development and delivery of online learning and has been at the forefront of establishing best practices. A flagship and guide for all organizations seeking to provide accredited, high-quality online degrees, Western Governors University has maintained a commitment to competency-based online learning, and has maintained high standards. Now, Western Governors University has partnered with the State of Washington establish WGU-Washington specifically to accommodate the needs of the citizens of Washington. 

1.    What is your name and your involvement in eLearning?
I am Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. I’ve devoted my entire career to higher education – including over 22 years as the President of Bellevue College, where we were an early pioneer in e-Learning.  Drawn to its competency-based, mentor-supported, affordable online delivery model, I joined WGU in 2011 as the first Chancellor for Washington.


Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University Washington
2.    What is WGU Washington, and what is its history, mission, vision?
Western Governors University – WGU Washington’s “parent” organization – was founded by 19 governors of Western states in 1997.  At that time, they knew education was becoming even more important to meet the needs of a growing knowledge-based economy. Their vision was to make education more available to people in their states. They wanted to create a new type of university that captured the power of the internet to transform the way education was delivered and evaluated student learning and awarded credentials based on demonstrated competencies. They wanted it to be affordable – so people would not have to go into debt to earn a degree – and open to anyone who could benefit from the programs. 

WGU has not veered from this founding vision. It is what drives us today.

In 2010, Indiana  Governor Mitch Daniels entered into the first agreement to bring a state-based WGU affiliate into a state.

Then, five years ago this spring, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation establishing a partnership with WGU. The legislative intent was to expand access to affordable, higher education for Washington residents. The result of that partnership is WGU Washington – the first and only legislatively-endorsed, online university in our state.

The impetus for the partnership in Washington came from community and technical colleges and legislators who knew more enrollment opportunities were needed in Washington, especially for transfer students. While more capacity was needed, budget shortfalls during the recession were making its funding impossible. WGU Washington operates on tuition only and is not dependent on state-funding or tax dollars to operate.

WGU Washington offers more than 50 job-ready bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four, high-demand fields: business, IT, teaching and nursing. WGU is the innovator of competency-based learning, a model that evaluates students and permits them to advance when they’ve proven what they know and can do, as opposed to the traditional model of using “seat-time” to measure progress. Competency-based education allows students the flexibility to work and learn at their own schedule – at a pace that works for them.

The flat rate tuition of about $3000 per six-month term permits students to take as many classes as they can, often accelerating their progress towards a degree and reducing costs. And, by the way, WGU’s surprisingly low tuition includes text books and additional learning resources! All of which keeps the cost of one’s education very affordable.  In fact, the average time for this year’s graduates to obtain a bachelor’s degree was 26 months for a bachelor’s degree and 21 months for a master’s degree.  The national average is 60 months! 

Delivered online, the model is suited well for hardworking adults who often have trouble balancing school, families, and work. Because WGU’s content is delivered online, students may study at any time and from any place – during breaks, late at night, early in the morning, weekends, or on public transit.  This permits many people to work their education into already busy lives. 

Our students are non-traditional learners. Their average age is 37 and many of them, 68 percent to be exact, are classified as underserved, meaning they live in rural areas or have low incomes.   More than a third of our students are the first in their families to attend college – a fact that makes us proud. 

3.    What does WGU Washington do? How is it unique?
WGU Washington helps hardworking Washingtonians to change their lives by qualifying them for positions that carry a living wage – enabling them to take jobs as nurses, teachers, IT or business professionals, or to qualify for advancement or even change fields altogether.

WGU uses a pioneering, competency-based model that allows working adults to apply the knowledge they have gained through work experience and previous education towards their degree, enabling them to focus on learning what they need to, when they need to.  Rather than award credit for time spent in class and listening to a single message that goes to every student, WGU Washington presents content that students cover at their own pace. Additionally, the model allows students to advance when they demonstrate they’ve mastered the course material – at a level that prepares them for professional effectiveness – by passing “high fidelity” assessments, both objective and performance based.  This unique model allows time, place, and pace-bound learners to pursue their degrees.

Studies have predicted that by 2018, 67 percent of jobs statewide here in Washington will require postsecondary education. Washingtonians— including busy adults who already have jobs, families, and lifestyles that make a traditional university setting unrealistic — will need to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees to qualify for these positions. WGU Washington is able to open doors for these nontraditional students and make further education possible.  For example, WGU Washington is a perfect choice for registered nurses who received an associate’s degree from a community college and are now expected by their employers to complete their bachelor’s in nursing.  With the challenging hours nurses work, WGU Washington offers the flexibility to complete the degree on their own schedules.  It is also a great choice for military personnel and their dependents who may be transferred often. They can attend WGU and never have to worry about transferring credits at their new duty station.

4.    How did WGU start to achieve its goals?
WGU Washington is proud to be part of the higher education family in Washington.  It provides a viable option to many Washingtonians, because of its affordability and accessibility, who thought getting a degree was just a distant dream.

In just five years, the university’s enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 percent from roughly 800 students in 2011 to more than 9,000 full-time students statewide today.

WGU Washington is the locally-based affiliate of Western Governors University – or, simply, WGU. WGU currently serves over 70,000 students nationally. Interestingly, Washington is home to more WGU students than any other state in the country. In addition, nearly 6,000 men and women in Washington have earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees in career-focused fields from WGU.

This staggering growth highlights the demand for the type of education WGU Washington offers.  The needs of nontraditional students – those who are historically underserved – are different from the needs of a typical undergraduate.  WGU Washington provides access to higher education for people that wouldn’t be able to earn degrees otherwise.

And when students meet their goals, our university meets its goals – goals focused on high quality, affordable and accessible higher education for students statewide.

Both students and their employers report high satisfaction with WGU.  Student satisfaction is 96%, and 100% of our employers say our grads are well-prepared for their jobs. That is what makes it all worthwhile! 





Saturday, April 30, 2016

Interview with Dr. Kozhi Makai, Understanding Culture's Influence on Leadership Styles

Bringing people together in a rapidly changing environment is just one of the challenges of leadership in a world characterized by disruptive technologies, rapid economic reconfiguration, and shifting notions of how we should relate to each other. Dr. Kozhi Makai has studied leadership from many vantage points and today is here to share his unique insights.

1.  What is your name and your educational background?
Kozhi Sidney Sakangende Saulongo Sikoongo Mwachawoka Namundondo Hamudulu Mweetwa Hangambwa Hanene Chingangauka Hanyimbo Makai. You asked...
I seem to have a name for each of the original American colonies.
But my driver's license simply reads: Kozhi Sidney Makai.
My BA is in Speech Communication, with a minor in Psychology.
My MA is in Business Communication, with a specialization in Leadership & Influence.
My PhD is in Applied Management and Decision Sciences, with a specialization in Leadership and Organizational Change (my research is in understanding culture's influence on leadership style).

Life Edge 036: Kozhi Makai had a dream... from RELATECASTS on Vimeo.

 2.  How did your childhood help you become interested in leadership?
Both my parents were leaders in Zambia.
My mother was a business leader as an entrepreneur who ran a produce company, restaurant, and farm with a poultry, dairy, and rotation of cabbage and potato harvests. She was a very hands-on leader who modeled what she expected and, while we had staff to tend the farm, my siblings and I were expected to work along the staff.
My father worked for the government and was the number two man at the Special Investigation Team for Economy and Trade (SITET) as Deputy Director of Administration and Research. This team is the equivalent of the American Secret Service or FBI Dickson that handles White Collar Crime. Watching him interact with his subordinates showed me an example of influence (something that John Maxwell feels leadership is) without a hard hand.
Both my parents encouraged me to be a leader among my friends and stand out - ethically, honestly, and sincerely.
Once I got into athletics, I was able to use these skills I learned from watching my parents and, literally, sitting at their feet and learning from them.

3.  What was it like to grow up in Zambia? How did you feel when you first arrived in Houston? What were some of the cultural differences that you did not expect?
Interestingly, I didn't grow up in a hut or without shoes, running water, or electricity (I know, I just ruined it for you). I grew up like many children here in the U.S. in the 80s and 90s...playing Nintendo Gameboy, riding my bike in the neighborhood, terrorizing neighbors with my crew of 6 friends, and hoping to get a glance at the new girl(s) in the neighborhood. I went to fantastic schools (the best in the country, actually) in Primary School (1st to 7th) and Secondary School (8th to 12th), and spent time with some of the brightest minds of my time. At one point, I went to school with the President's children; never a dull moment, really.
Houston was BIG. That was probably the great change for me - the vastness of the roads, the volume of vehicles, and the consistent busyness. And, would you believe, I thought people in Houston spoke too fast!

I didn't expect to find a culture that was unlike my own - specifically my Latino/Latina friends. Very much driven by strong family values, music, and food, I found myself connected to people who had a similar outlook and passion for family and staying close to them.

Yet, I also found some of the most generous people I've ever met. Just like my parents in Zambia took in strangers and family members alike, two families took me in and raised me as their own - my youth pastor and his family, the Brantleys, and my education benefactors, the Eberlys. To this day, the Eberlys remain my American family; Michael Oher and "The Blind Side" came long after me and the Eberlys lived out that life. My parents (American and Zambian) have met, and I'm fortunate to have had two sets of parents doting over me and encouraging me to be the best man I can possible be.

4.  What are the themes of your books?
Relationships. Communication. Personal Development. Leadership. All of them are driven by a desire improve the human condition. So I wrote them to ensure that my readers could connect to the concepts through my own experience; I want my readers to always know that I've experienced what they have and I want them to learn from my mistakes. Rather than be a simple "how-to" book, I want the reader to see me as a helpful coach and guide.

 5.  What is the name of your forthcoming book, and how did you choose the name? What is the theme?
Unapologetic.
I chose this title because it's what I want everyone to be: unapologetic. Completely themselves. Warts and all. This does not preclude us from improvement, but it's hard to improve what we don't understand. So, unapologetic is about self-discovery and loving/appreciating what we discover - our humanity.
We live in a world that tends to shun anything that isn't perfect - basically, our humanity. Perfect hair (I know, I don't have that problem). Perfect families. Perfect homes. All done to create a ruse about our lives when we often hurt and are nowhere near as put-together as we portray. This book is about ripping the mask off and being exactly who we are and what we were meant to be.
I believe we all have lines to sing in the musical of life; when we don't, the show loses its value and luster. Life is supposed to be a blockbuster, not a box office flop; only those who sing their lines by living authentic lives can ever hope to see their life become that blockbuster.

6.  Who are some of the thinkers / writers / leaders who have most influenced you?
The late Zig Ziglar is atop my list. Great speaker, writer and thinker.
The late Og Mandino is among my favorites. I read his book, The Choice, at least twice a year.
The Apostle Paul. His doctrinal thoughts truly have a touch of the Divine. Along with the Book of Proverbs. I read that anthology of wisdom monthly.
Dr. John Maxwell influenced my development, long before he became prolific. As the head of Injoy, his tapes (yes, cassettes) were amazing!
Dr. Dennis Kimbro of Clark Atlanta University mentored me from afar without knowing me in my early years in the U.S. This year, I get to meet him face-to-face after getting acquainted with him via email over the last two years.
Dr. Steven Beebe, the premier mind in communication. Another mentor from afar, until a few years ago when we met and became solid friends. I consider him a confidant, and continued mentor.
There are many more, but these come to mind first. My personal library is over 700 books strong (and that's the trimmed version), and I continue to read and accumulate more.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Video-Assisted Mobile Learning: Free e-Book & Repository

What is the best way to incorporate videos in your mobile learning? A free download of the 289-page comprehensive guide to video-assisted e-learning, Video-Assisted Mobile Learning, is now available. 

This book contains free resources to incorporate into your online courses – they are snippets primarily focused around the writing process, but also include many prompts for writing having to do with leadership, literature, and travel/discovery. All are in available for free via YouTube, and are designed to be easily embedded or linked to. They also contain notes and suggestions for use.

http://zenzebra.net/VAM.pdf

Effective Mobile Learning: The three cornerstones of effective mobile learning are authenticity, collaboration, and personalization. 

One great way to build in the authenticity is to include video snippets that trigger thoughts and give guidance. Snippets that have to do with writing can nicely tie to the learner’s individual needs, and encourage collaboration, or at least a conversation.

The video snippets are actually learning objects, and they are sufficiently granular to be used in many places in a single course. They are also ideal for micro-learning (or chunked learning).

Advantages of video content:
Here is a brief list of some of the advantages of video snippets:

•    Snippets that are brief capture and keep the learner's attention
•    A video with a person in a natural setting is engaging, humanizing
•    Video appeals to audio as well as visual learners
•    The personal delivery of the presenter triggers thought and internal “conversation”
•    The format builds in a call for action by encouraging "check your knowledge" kinds of reflection
•    The informality creates a relatable experience
•    The snippets, when stored in the cloud and downloadable to one's smartphone, tablet, or laptop, are highly accessible 
•    Perfect for smartphone or tablet access

Mobile learning can be extremely effective, but all too often, it’s just a series of monotonous narrated PowerPoints, with multiple choice quizzes along the way and at the end.

This collection, with all its spontaneity and unusual venues, can be incorporated directly, or inspire instructors and students to create their own snippets and use them within their m-learning courses.

*******
For those wishing a printed copy, a paper copy of Video-Assisted Mobile Learning is available on demand.



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Interview with Darlene Beaubien, Energy Economist: Micro-Learning Module

Many people wonder why the price of oil fluctuates so dramatically, and what factors affect both supply and demand for petroleum. Welcome to an interview Darlene Beaubien, an economist who has specialized in energy economics. In addition to the written interview, Darlene was featured on LifeEdge.

1.  What is your name and your connection to economics and the oil industry?
My name is Darlene Beaubien.  I have worked as a corporate planner and economist for  major oil and gas companies for more than 20 years.  Also, I’m former president of the Houston Chapter of the International Association for Energy Economics.
Following are some short and simple explanations of common issues in the current environment.

2.  Why does the oil industry seem to have boom and bust cycles?
Boom and bust cycles are caused by imbalances between worldwide oil supply and demand.  
During periods of high oil prices producers make investments in the oil and gas industry that create jobs, increase the number of operating oil rigs and encourage investments in new technologies.  These oil investments lead to discoveries that produce oil for several decades. 

However, consumers respond to high oil prices by reducing their demand for oil products such as gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel. The result is lower consumption and the potential for an oil surplus. Periods of significant surplus and shortage of oil result in dramatic changes in prices and create boom and bust cycles in the oil industry.

It should be noted that movements in supply and demand are influenced by factors including international economic performance, government actions, technology, and geopolitical factors.


 Link to a conversation on oil price fluctuations and global economics with Darlene Beaubien on LifeEdge.

3.  What causes companies and countries to produce too much, even though they know that by producing too much, they'll cause the price to collapse?

Oil companies and countries may produce during periods of surplus for various reasons including:
•    The dependence of some countries on oil exports to fund their governments.
•    The decision of some energy oil countries  to maintain their share of the worldwide market or even to suppress prices to the point that higher cost producers can’t maintain operations
•    Contract commitments for services, rigs and products that prevent producers from making immediate reductions in production operations 
•    The need to continue producing in order to meet cash requirements or to maintain leases. 
•    Time lags between reduction in rigs and production due to the physical characteristics of the producing properties

 4.  How has political uncertainty and war affected the price of oil in the past?
Geopolitical events and war are a major risk factor in oil and gas markets.  Supply disruptions in major producing countries can cause dramatic price increases.  On the other hand, the restoration of production by a previously war torn countries increase supply and could suppress prices.  Following are a couple of examples.

•    The Iraq war and ongoing violent during the past decade, caused dramatic supply disruptions due the destruction of physical assets (ie. Fields, pipelines) and threats to personnel.
•    The restoration of production in Libya in 2015 added to world production and exacerbated the already existing supply surplus.
Changes in political regimes are another geopolitical factor in oil markets.  New regimes may attempt to change the terms of existing profit sharing agreements or even nationalize oil producing assets contracted to foreign oil companies.

5.  What is the "ideal" price of oil that's high enough to allow producers to cover costs and have a profit, but is low enough for the transportation industry other consumers to not suffer?
The price of oil is set on the global market based on worldwide supply and demand.  The ideal price is difficult to determine because exploration and production costs vary widely by location, production source (ie onshore vs onshore), technology, regulations and other factors.

6.  What do you think will be the final outcome of this down cycle?  Winners? Losers?
In general, the winners in today’s down cycle are the major consumers of oil and gas.  Winners include major oil and gas consuming industries including chemical, refining, transportation and electric generation.

Winning countries are net oil importers including Japan, India and non producing European countries.

Losers are those entities that are major producers of oil and gas.  Analysts estimate that 70 small U.S. producers went bankrupt in 2015.  Many more are likely to go bankrupt these years.  Losing countries include those for whom oil and gas make up large a share of government revenues such as Nigeria, Venezuela and Russia. 



Thursday, March 24, 2016

A 19th-Century Nod to Jane Austen: Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House

Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House (1859) is a very engaging and entertaining read. Many readers have compared Eden with Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell. Eden, who was the seventh daughter of William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, and his wife Eleanor Elliot, renders a whimsical comedy of manners and satirizes the domestic sphere.

Emily Eden
The novel starts as Lady Chester, who is expecting her first child, moves into "the prettiest villa" to be near her Aunt Sarah and Cousin Blanche while her husband, Lord Chester, is away on a special mission to Berlin. The house that has been contracted is "semi-detached," or what would be referred to as a duplex in the U.S. A bit of snobbery creates the initial tension with the neighbors, who consist of the wife of a sea captain who has become wealthy with frequent merchant voyages to India, and her two daughters. The father / husband is still away on his sea voyage. In the meantime, various characters are introduced and they interact in ways reveal the daily lives and concerns of middle class society and the gentry.
The Semi-Detached House
There are many characters in The Semi-Detached House, and the represent a kind of cosmology or tableau vivre of society. There are rogues (the Baron Sampson) and the mobile middle class. However, as opposed to the protagonists in Austen and Gaskell, in Eden's narrative realm, the reader does not plumb the depths and explore the inner landscape of the main characters with all their contradictions and longings. Instead, Eden's omniscient narrator observes all the characters and their interactions, but does not establish such extreme intimacy. Thus, there is not the episode of awakened self-awareness (accompanied by an epiphany of shame and self-recrimination that you would find in Austen (I'm thinking of Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey). Nevertheless, Emily Eden's characters are quirky but not to the point of farcical, and as a comedy of manners, the novel effectively satirizes behaviors and customs.

While Eden does discuss social situations as impacted by the economic context (bank crisis and swindlers), she does not go as deeply into the vast changes brought about by technological and socio-economic change as she does in the case of My Lady Ludlow and North and South.

For me, Emily Eden is something of light-hearted and modest antecedent of some of Anthony Trollope's work, namely The Way We Live Now (according to many, his masterpiece), in the sense that it satirizes society and the types of people bred by them.

Some of the elements of the Semi-Detached House that made the book memorable to me:

1. Details of daily life in the early 19th century
2. Description of going into labor and childbirth (Lady Chester)
3. The shamelessness of a swindler and he and his wife's extravagant lifestyle; the betrayal of trust
4. A morose brother-in-law (and the traditions of mourning, etc.)
5. The upward mobility and opportunities provided by becoming a captain of a merchant vessel
6. The potential for positive transformation by means of friendship (casting off playing a part of morose mourning, and allowing one's cynicism / defensive carapace to break down a bit)

Eden's later work, The Semi-Attached Couple, is a darker look at human nature in relationships, replete with the pain of misinterpretations and gossip.

Eden, who spent time in India, also wrote letters that chronicled her travels. The book, Up the Country is available via Project Gutenberg. Her Letters from India are available atA Celebration of Women Writers. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Finding ways to make skills training enjoyable, effective, and affordable continues to be a major challenge for organizations. SkillStore has tackled the challenge via social learning, and has deployed training that incorporates what we know about how people learn and gain confidence about themselves.

Welcome to an interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore. For a limited time, SkillStore is offering six free courses. The instructions are at the end of the article.

 1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is Srikant Vasan, and I've been working in e-learning for 7 years. In that time, I have served as a Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was their first Entrepreneur-in-Residence, where I had the opportunity to learn about the latest innovations in online learning. I was also the Founder and President of Mount St. Mary's Online College, a nonprofit online college (funded by leading donors including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and the Walton family) focused on helping low-income Americans get quality college degrees affordably.


Srikant Vasan, SkillStore
Now at SkillStore, we offer an effective and scalable soft skills training solution through our social-learning app. We launched the app last year, in collaboration with leading companies like Western Union and SAP. SkillStore’s approach to transforming soft skills training – where learners record their practices and get feedback from coaches and peers – is catching on. Users in over 40 countries now access SkillStore from their laptops, smartphones or tablets for leadership development, communications and management training.

2.  How did you become interested in elearning?
I became interested in elearning because of my background in both education and technology. Elearning is an effective and engaging tool to empower learners. Technology, especially mobile learning, is the future of training and development.



3.  What are some of the soft skills that most professionals need to have, regardless of their specialty?
People skills are critical. Research estimates that 85% of professional success is due to strong social skills. In particular, listening and observing others, effectively communicating, negotiating, and empowering others are essential to success in a professional environment. In a competitive business environment, managers are increasingly seeking employees who have strong people skills and can work well with others in the office as well as with clients.


4.  What causes much of the training that is offered in today's environment to be less than ideal?
Research estimates that about 80% of training is wasted, especially that focused on soft skills development. We think the root cause for this is that today’s training methods – both in-person and online – have severe shortcomings. These programs tend not to be engaging or effective. They typically focus on delivering content, but don't allow learners to practice the skills in real-life situations. Learners spend a lot of the day reading, watching videos, or listening to someone speak. They don't retain the material.

Additionally, instructor-led workshops are expensive, time-consuming, and hard to scale and standardize, and thus are not a realistic option for most organizations. Not to mention, millennials tend to hate long lectures and classroom settings. And web-based training typically offers few opportunities to practice these skills interactively and learn with other people in a social learning environment. People skills are best developed by practicing with other people.



5.  How is SkillStore.com helping?  What makes SkillStore unique?
SkillStore helps because it addresses skills that helps professionals succeed, such as emotional intelligence, running effective meetings, negotiating a promotion, and nonverbal communication. What makes SkillStore unique are the following features of its learning model.

•    Focus on practice. Consider that one week after a lecture, learners remember only about 10% of the information. Even after re-reading the material, one week later they will only retain 39%. If they practice these skills, the retention rate goes up substantially, to as much as 80%. Ideally, at least 50% of time training on any subject should be spent on active practice. Practice is one of the most fundamental aspects of skill development, yet it is likely the most overlooked element in corporate learning programs.

•    Enable feedback
. Practice and feedback go hand-in-hand for skill development. The best type of feedback involves observations and suggestions about a practice session, delivered in a candid, constructive manner. This includes self-evaluation (because watching yourself on video is incredibly instructive) and feedback provided by peers and managers.

•    Enable social learning. Social interaction creates richer experiences and increased application opportunities. With peer interaction and feedback, learners enhance their understanding from others’ experiences, approaches, and perspectives. This aspect of social learning leads to greater engagement with and effectiveness of training programs. An important side benefit is that learning together is a powerful community builder that helps to forge deeper relationships and a vibrant company culture.



•    Offer micro-learning.  Learning is more convenient and effective when offered in small chunks, especially with today’s hectic schedules. Even better is when learning is an ongoing, on-demand initiative available to managers when and how they need it. In a survey of learning professionals, 90% reported preferring more “bite-sized,” or micro-learning.

•    Let you learn anywhere. Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, so their preferences help define learning approaches for the future. They are tech-savvy and value flexibility regarding when and where they work and learn. They expect learning to be as accessible as a map to the nearest restaurant and available in the palm of their hands. This means fewer classrooms and schedules, and learning that can be accessed anywhere – on the Web, on smartphones, or on other mobile devices.

6.  Please describe a few of your favorite courses -- give an example of some unusual and beneficial things that happened in the courses.

It might makes more sense to describe some of the curricula. Leading Change has learning modules that help managers manage change in their organizations; Working in Teams has learning modules that develop strong professional teams; and Hiring the Best has learning modules that demonstrate best practices in hiring new employees. Our feedback from clients has been fantastic. One learner used the Negotiating Salary module in the Women in Leadership curriculum and then successfully negotiated a higher salary for herself. She said that before going through that lesson she never would have thought of asking for a higher salary.



7.  What are your plans for the future?
We believe SkillStore has the potential to transform leadership and management skills training at scale. We aim to become the leader in soft skills training programs that help organizations efficiently develop their employees' skills. We are just getting started and it will be exciting to see where we go from here.

SIX FREE COURSES NOW

All you need to do is to go to our website, and click the sign up free button.
http://skillstore.com/

To go directly to the sign up form, click
https://app.skillstore.com/get-skillstore-free

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