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Archive for October, 2009

I saw this article in the WSJ recently: Why We’re Failing Math and Science. It presents a candid view of several issues facing our nation’s education system, according to a panel of experts. Of particular interest to me was Joel Klein’s, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, comment on technology in the education field:

In any field but ours, if you fell asleep 50 years ago and woke up today, you wouldn’t recognize what’s going on. In education, if you fell asleep 50 years ago, you still have the same discussions. The use of technology to transform the work, to bring in distance learning, to enable kids to do things online, all of this is stuff we’re doing here in the city. But it’s in the early, early innings.

At TiER1 our focus is on learning and knowledge management in corporate, government, health care, and education . We’re already working with several clients to implement our Performance1 platform in the education field. In addition, we’re thinking about innovative new solutions, like an open-source education content marketplace where teachers could contribute and obtain lessons. Or technology that can identify learning needs and tailor content and lessons to meet those needs.

Needless to say, we have some exciting ideas of our own on this subject. If you have ideas or want to hear more about ours, please get in touch.

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I read a pretty interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this morning that I thought I’d pass along to you regarding Knowledge Management.   I thought the conversation around what they termed the “softer” qualities and how social networking tools can help gauge this level of expertise was interesting.

Here’s the online link  if you care to read it:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203946904574302032097910314.html

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On Thursday at TiER1 we hosted a roundtable discussion with some of our clients on the topic of personal knowledge management. Recognizing that everyone faces the growing challenge of being as informed as possible with a seemingly unlimited amount of information prompted us to host this event. We were interested in learning and sharing tips, tools, or methods that people use to manage their personal knowledge base. From email, work tasks, and news to social networking and sports, the group had many great insights to share. In the spirit of learning and sharing, we wanted to pass on those insights by posting them here.

One thing the group found particularly helpful were personal Internet portals. These personal home pages will automatically aggregate and update information you’re interested in all in one place. A portal may include a snapshot of your inbox, news feeds, recent entries from blogs you follow, weather outlook for one or several cities, a calendar, sports, and more. Instead of browsing multiple sites, you save time by seeing what’s important to you consolidated in your portal. Following are examples of these portals:

Along the lines of information, it can be tough to find new things worth your time in the vast sea of the Internet. Social bookmarking sites are tools that can help you discover what other people are looking at online. They also enable you to share, with either the world or just your friends, what’s caught your eye on the web lately. Discovering, sharing, and commenting on sites or articles through these tools can make your online experience more relevant and interactive. Try these sites out to discover new things and share what you find:

While not a social bookmarking site, Google Reader is similar in that it will allow you to share what you’re reading, see what other people are reading, and even leave comments. It’s also similar to a portal in that it aggregates websites, but it’s intended more for reading articles and blogs than displaying weather and other information. Check it out here: http://www.google.com/reader.

Finally, our roundtable group had some personal productivity tips:

  • Organize and tackle your day based on the things you need to get done. Sounds simple enough, right? But how many times have you found yourself working on the latest thing in your inbox or distracted by a phone call? Begin your day by prioritizing the tasks at hand and then stay focused; don’t let the daily distractions derail you.
  • Be cognizant of when you tend to be most productive during the day (in the morning, after you workout, etc.). Once you’ve found your zone, try to block it off and make that your dedicated work time for priority tasks.
  • Now that you know what to work on and when, minimize disruptions. Some of our roundtable participants mentioned logging out of IM, turning off email notifications, and silencing their phones.

If you’ve got some tips or tools of your own to share, we’d love to hear them.

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More than a decade ago, several groups of scientists working independently demonstrated conclusively that exercise stimulates the development of new brain cells.  A whole lot of research since then has been largely unsuccessful at specifying how much exercise is required to get your brain blooming.  Now, we at least know what kind of exercise does the trick.  But, first…

Gretchen Reynolds, the “Science of Fitness” expert for the New York Times (www.nytimes.com/physed) recently reported the method and results of a Brain & Behavior study (actually, a Behavior & Brain study) led by researchers at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.  First, the researchers taught two groups of mice to swim a water maze.  One group wore little yellow Speedos.  The other group wore blue.  (Joke.)  Then each group learned how to escape from an unpleasant stimulus.  Next the mice in each group were put on an exercise regimen for four weeks.  But, each group had a different regimen.  One group was allowed to run at their own pace on “rodent wheels.”  [The B&B Blogger was bemused to learn that the prevailing term, “gerbil wheels,” has been politically corrected.]  The other group was required to run faster and longer at speeds and durations determined by the scientists.  So, sequentially, it went like this:

Yellow group Learn water maze Learn escape task Run at own pace
Blue group Learn water maze Learn escape task Run for your life

After the exercise component, both groups of mice were tested in the water maze.  And, both groups did better than they had done during training.  Then it was time for testing in the more cognitively challenging escape task.  The Yellow Group did about the same as they had during training.  However, the Blue Group did MUCH better than they had in the training session.  Ah, hah!

In a critical final part of the study, especially for the mice, the brain of each mouse was examined micro-microscopically.  The little noggins of the Yellow Group (the self-trained subjects) showed evidence of molecular changes in part of their brains.  But, not to be outdone, the Blue Group showed such evidence in several parts of their brains.  The researchers concluded that “Our results support the notion that different forms of exercise induce neuroplasticity changes in different brain regions.”  In an apparent show of solidarity (and humility on the part of the Blues), neither group of mice commented on the findings during the subject debriefing phase of the study.

Reynolds reported on a second study, one that was published in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.  In this research, all student-subjects participated in a once-a-day routine in three, rotating conditions:  One third of the students would sit comfortably for 30 minutes, another third would run for 30 minutes, and the final group would lift weights for 30 minutes.  Each day when the students returned, they would be randomly assigned to one of the three groups.  At the end of each day’s session, all students participated in a test in which the task was to pick out certain letters as they flashed by quickly on a screen.  The B&B Blogger sadly regrets to report that sitting around comfortably had no effect on cognitive ability as measured by the “letters test.”  On the plus side, there were also no changes for weight-lifting.  However, students who had run for 30 minutes performed consistently higher.  So, it’s not just exercise that makes you smarter, it’s a particular type of exercise.

While the evidence isn’t conclusive, it appears that it’s aerobic exercise that acts like smart pills.  Why?  So far, the guess is that healthy bodies have little bits of, well, brain fertilizer throughout the blood stream.  The key is to get as many of the fertilizer bits as possible to the brain – which aerobic exercise does.  Weight-lifting, on the other hand, causes the fertilizer to stay in the muscles that are being worked, helping them, not your brain, to grow.

Other studies have shown a dramatic positive effect of aerobic exercise on stress reduction, relief from depression, satisfaction with marriage and general life expectancy.  So, it’s pretty much of a no-brainer (so to speak).  Aerobic exercise is very good for you.  In fact, it’s often claimed that regular aerobic exercise can add as much as 10 years to your life – though scientists seldom point out that you spend those 10 years running!

Original references for any studies, books or articles cited by the Brain and Behavior Blogger can be obtained by contact with his very dear friend, Dr. Rob Snyder (r.snyder@tier1performance.com), an organizational psychologist with a severe neuroscience-research reading habit.

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Earlier today I stumbled upon Tom Barrett’s ICT in my Classroom blog. Tom presents creative ideas for using technology in a classroom environment. His examples are based on work he’s doing in his school system but many of them would relate to other types of training and education.

One article I found particularly interesting is how teachers are using a Flip video camera in the classroom.

If you have other ideas for using a Flip video camera in a classroom, share them with us.

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Blogging Tips

Over the past few weeks at TiER1 we’ve been discussing how to improve our blog. Through this process we’ve had discussions about content ideas and various content types. We’ve also discussed strategy and structure as we consider how the blog fits with our overall Web and communication strategies.

During this process we discovered two articles that added value to our discussions:

The first is How-to Create the Perfect Company Blog by Ben Yoskovitz at the Instigator Blog. In the article Ben discusses four types of content:

  • Thought Leadership
  • Industry News and Summaries
  • Diggbait
  • Company News

Of Diggbait he writes, “Hitting the front page of digg is no easy feat, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t try. To do it well you need to understand what folks on digg (and other social media/bookmarking sites) want, and how to promote content successfully on digg. Company news or anything too related to your company won’t work, it will come across as “too corporate.” Think about a resource post or a controversial post related to a hot topic in your industry.”

I think Ben is right about Diggbait. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the TiER1 blog begin to receive traffic from social bookmarking sites. Social bookmarking users will link to valuable resources and hot topics that are presented on teh blog.

Ben also writes, “The best company blogs will always publish a combination of these posts, blending them in naturally.”

The second article is Nine Signs of an Effective Blog Post by Darren Rowse at Problogger. The nine criteria he describes are:

  1. The headline draws in the readers
  2. A concrete detail or visual illustrates the benefit promised in the headline
  3. The lead expands the theme of the heading
  4. The layout is clear and skimmable
  5. The post covers the topic in logical sequence
  6. The post is persuasive
  7. The post is interesting to read
  8. The post is believable
  9. The post asks for some action

Today, my favorite one of his criteris is “The layout is clear and skimmable.” I don’t believe readers will necessarily read an entire post unless it really grabs their attention. A good skimmable and clear layout always help me determine if I will read a post, particularly if the post is long. But this is also important for short posts, that need to catch the reader’s attention and let them know why the post is important.

Darren’s post is an excellent example of a clear and skimmable article.

If you have discovered articles that are particularly helpful to your blogging, please share them with us.

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Have you ever been in the act of conducting training and suddenly realize that the trainees collectively appear to be in a vegetative state? Hey. We’ve all been there. Your stomach knots up, your mind races, and you get a mental image of yourself running out of the room screaming. As if even that would wake them up!

Well, don’t give in. In the 9-20-2009 online edition of Nature Neuroscience, scientists from the University of Cambridge (UK) and the Institute of Cognitive Neurology (Argentina) reported findings indicating that some people who appear to be in vegetative or minimally conscious states can still learn – despite lacking the ability to report their responses.

Scientific American’s Katherine Harmon explains the importance of this new study: “In patients who have survived severe brain damage, judging the level of actual awareness has proved a difficult process. And the prognosis can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.”

Until now, doctors have used a battery of tests and subjective observations to determine whether a patient’s movements are meaningful, in effect whether there is any evidence of perception or consciousness. Now, they may have an objective way of determining whether a conscious state is present. And, it’s based on research done a couple hundred years ago by our old buddy, Ivan Pavlov, he of the salivating canines.

In the study conducted in Britain and Argentina, doctors sounded a tone, “waited” 500 milliseconds, and then administered a light puff of air to a patient’s eye. Of course, the puff of air could cause a patient in a vegetative or minimally conscious state to blink or flinch. You can train even snails to react to the very same kind of puff. But, what the researchers found is that after 30 minutes of repeated tone-puff-blink reactions, some patients – presumably those not in a truly vegetative state – would begin to blink after hearing the tone – but without being administered the puff of air. The investigators believe that you need conscious processing to obtain that no-puff reaction and, backing them up, control subjects who had been under strong anesthesia did not “learn” the blink response.

The “puff of air” research, being highly controlled and conducted in different settings, gives credence to previous, more methodologically limited, research that focused on a simple pairing of verbal stimuli and electrochemical brain activity. The subjects in this earlier study had all been diagnosed as being in vegetative states. While recording cortical activity, researchers asked each patient to imagine playing a strenuous game of tennis. For many of the patients, nothing happened. For others, some brain activity was noted in premotor areas, a possible indication of misdiagnosis of their states. But, with the “puff of air” study in hand, researchers are more willing to give credence to the “tennis” study because they now have direct and high-controlled evidence of learning. And, perhaps much more importantly, doctors have a more objective way of measuring whether consciousness exists.

Returning to the stony-faced trainees in your program: Perhaps if you hadn’t inflicted brain damage on them in the first place…

Original references for any studies, books or articles cited by the Brain and Behavior Blogger can be obtained by contact with his very dear friend, Dr. Rob Snyder (r.snyder@tier1performance.com), an organizational psychologist with a severe neuroscience-research reading habit.

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