30 May 2009

Google Wave Preview

I don't usually blog on techie stuff (any more), but this is BIG! Google is previewing Google Wave. Think of it as an integrated, completely open, email, chat, wiki, weblog, photo/movie/other-rich-media sharing application that does on-the-fly instant translation, semantic-level spell check and auto-correction. It even integrates with Twitter (with a full api set and protocol definition). I just spent the last hour-and-a-half watching the demo presentation, and I am still slack-jawed at how impressive, and important, this will be. "Transformative" doesn't quite capture the potential. Right now, I'm sitting here thinking about how I could design an online course using this incredible facility. See for yourself:

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27 May 2009

This Just Gets Better and Better (Or Sadder and Sadder)...

The Conference Board of Canada, which recently published a plagiarized and highly biased report on the digital economy - responded to Michael Geist's whistle-blowing by standing by their initial report. "It claims that it conducted a full review of the various arguments and included 'those arguments considered most relevant to the policy under review.'"

Well, not so, it seems. Michael reports that
it actually commissioned a study on the copyright issues from an independent Canadian legal expert. That report was completed by Professor Jeremy deBeer, a colleague at the University of Ottawa and frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail on copyright matters.

Professor deBeer has just revealed his involvement and posted a working paper based on his report submitted to the Conference Board of Canada. It turns out the deBeer was precluded from using the work for 12 months, a period that concluded today. It is immediately apparent that the deBeer paper arrived at very different conclusions from the IIPA and the Conference Board.
Fancy that.

I'm waiting for the federal government-du-jour to reintroduce a content-industry-favourable Copyright Act Reform Bill (previously C-61) with the citation that it is based on the recommendations of the Conference Board of Canada, which is, after all, "independent, objective, and non-partisan."

Update (29 May 2009): The Conference Board recalls the reports!

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25 May 2009

Letter to the Conference Board (et al.)

Further to my last post on the deceitful Conference Board of Canada report on the Digital Economy, here is my letter to the principal perpetrators of that intellectually dishonest tripe:

Ms. Golden, Mr. Toope, Ms. Samarasekera, and Mr. Wilkinson,

I am adding my name and voice to those Canadians who are both outraged and profoundly disappointed that the Conference Board, with the aid of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, has chosen to uncritically accept the now largely disproven lobbying positions of the U.S. legacy content industry - primarily the music and film industries that have chosen to defend obsolescent business practices rather than innovate. It is shameful that Canadian business, political, and academic leaders seem to possess neither the fortitude nor the intellectual wherewithal to rebut the disingenuous and fantastical claims of loss and injury from Canadian intellectual property laws. Not only does your report defy honest and appropriate policy development, it is, on its face, intellectually dishonest on many fronts, including shoddy research and outright plagiarism. How two renowned academic leaders like Mr. Toope and Ms. Samarasekera can lend their credibility and endorsement to such a travesty and outright lobbyist opportunism is beyond me.

Dr. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa details and critiques the report's many shortcomings in this post.

To exacerbate matters, the Conference Board is lending its imprimatur to a one-sided public relations opportunity for the legacy content industry that is occurring this Friday in Toronto. So much for its claim to be "the foremost, independent, not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada. Objective and non-partisan. We do not lobby for specific interests."

The Conference Board has circumvented and damaged the process of reviewing the serious issues of intellectual property laws and innovation in Canada that is being done by honest and thoughtful scholars such as Dr. Geist, among many others. Aided and abetted by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Canada's intellectual birthright is being sold for the proverbial "mess of potage" to commercial interests, primarily located in a foreign country, without hearing the concerns of Canadian producers of innovation, invention, and culture (aside from those few commercial lobbyists who audaciously, arrogantly, and erroneously claim to speak for the rest of us).

Dr. Geist has posed a number of critical questions to each of you on his weblog. I echo the concern of many Canadians when I state, unequivocally, that I am awaiting your public response to the issues he raises.

Yours truly,

Mark Federman
Ph.D. Candidate
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto

Update (29 May 2009): The Conference Board recalls the reports!

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Conference Board of Canada: Intellectual Deceit (and Plagiarism) on Intellectual Property

Michael Geist blows the whistle on a Conference Board of Canada report on the so-called digital economy that is, for the most part, a plagiarized rehash of U.S. lobbyists' propaganda (and largely unsupported by reliable, documented evidence):
The Conference Board of Canada bills itself as "the foremost, independent, not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada. Objective and non-partisan. We do not lobby for specific interests." These claims should take a major hit based on last week's release of a deceptive, plagiarized report on the digital economy that copied text from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (the primary movie, music, and software lobby in the U.S.), at times without full attribution. The report itself was funded by copyright lobby groups (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, Copyright Collective of Canada which represents U.S. film production) along with the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. The role of the Ontario government obviously raises questions about taxpayer dollars being used to pay for a report that simply recycles the language of a U.S. lobby group paper.

Start with the press release promoting the study, titled "Canada Seen as the File Swapping Capital of the World" which claims: "As a result of lax regulation and enforcement, internet piracy appears to be on the increase in Canada. The estimated number of illicit downloads (1.3 billion) is 65 times higher than the number legal downloads (20 million), mirroring the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s conclusion that Canada has the highest per capita incidence of unauthorized file-swapping in the world."

While release succeeded in generating attention, the report does not come close to supporting these claims. The headline-grabbing claim of 1.3 billion unauthorized downloads relies on a January 2008 Canadian Recording Industry Association press release. That release cites a 2006 Pollara survey as the basis for the statement. In other words, the Conference Board relies on a survey of 1200 people conducted more than three years ago to extrapolate to a claim of 1.3 billion unauthorized downloads (the survey itself actually ran counter to many of CRIA's claims). The OECD study that the Conference Board says found the highest per capita incidence of unauthorized file sharing in the world did not reach that conclusion. The report - which is based on six year old data that is now out-of-date - was limited to the 30 OECD countries (not the world) and did not make any comment or determination on unauthorized activity.
Michael Geist poses some key questions for the perpetrators of this deceit:
For Anne Golden, the President and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada:
  • Is a deceptive, plagiarized report drawn from a U.S. lobby group consistent with an organization that claims that it is non-partisan and that does not lobby?
  • How much was the Conference Board of Canada paid to produce this report?
  • Does the Conference Board of Canada stand by the report in light of these findings?
  • Will the Conference Board of Canada retract the report and the inaccurate press release that accompanied it?

For Stephen Toope, President of UBC, and Indira V. Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta, both members of the Conference Board of Canada board:
  • Do they condone or support the use of plagiarism in this report?
  • Will they ask the Conference Board of Canada to review this report and to retract it?

Perhaps most importantly, for Minister of Research and Innovation John Wilkinson:
  • How much public money was spent in support of this report?
  • Does the government support the use of public money for a report that simply repeats the language of a U.S. lobby group?
  • Will the Minister ask the Conference Board of Canada to refund the public money spent on this report?
  • Will the Minister publicly disassociate himself from the report in light of these findings?
Shame on the Conference Board, Anne Golden, Stephen Toope and Indira V. Samarasekera (plagiarism and fabricated research results sanctioned by academic leaders!!), and John Wilkinson. The Canadian public deserve some answers.

Update (29 May 2009): The Conference Board recalls the reports!

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Living the Questions

This has been up on the wall in front of my desk for quite some time, serving as a constant inspiration. It's fascinating how much commonality and connection emerges from what first may have seemed to be a happenstance crossing of paths, but now seems to be anything but. From Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:
“…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
And sometimes, one even arrives...
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20 May 2009

Why People Quit, and Understanding Trust in Organization

The Globe has a story this morning, reporting on a survey done by David Aplin Recruiting. “A Canadian survey of more than 1,600 respondents to be released Wednesday suggests a lack of trust in senior leaders is the main factor behind their departure. The poll was conducted in May by David Aplin Recruiting. Insufficient pay was the second most common reason to leave, followed by an unhealthy or undesirable workplace culture.” In contrast, a similar survey taken a year-and-a-half ago found that “the number 1 reason employees quit, according to a new [as of December, 2007] survey, is being asked to do something unethical.

What is interesting is that managers seem to have no clue. When asked about the main reasons for their employees’ departures, “Canadian managers and human resources professionals ... listed pay as the top reason, followed by an unexpected job offer or a decision to change careers.

Why the disconnect? I think it can be easily explained in Valence Theory by considering the construct of trust, and understanding the difference in effects between the ba- and fungible-forms of valence relationships.

It is common to think of organizations as a purposeful, well-functioning machine, producing goods or services for its target markets. The people who comprise the organization are ideally dedicated to the mission or vision of the organization, and direct their daily efforts to fulfilling both their individual and collective objectives. But how does a machine create trust? Certainly, one can “trust” a machine if we know that it is consistently reliable and is a good producer.

Building trust among people is not all that different from trusting a machine. Trust is related to how well we can manage future expectations about our organizations, and individuals in that organization, amidst various degrees of uncertainty. That relative uncertainty depends on our perceived degree of risk associated with continuing our association with, or membership in, a particular organization. When a decision is perceived to be of relatively low risk – for example, do I go to work this morning? – familiarity with the daily routine is generally sufficient to make that decision. Familiarity is purely cognitive – it’s knowledge with little emotional attachment or investment. A decision with a higher perceived risk –something that may affect one’s life over a longer period of time – requires more than just knowledge. We begin to feel the tug on emotional responses that are based on our prior experiences with the organization’s behaviours, decisions, and responses to external forces. A history of positive experiences instill sufficient confidence to enable us to make the decision to plan to continue to go to work over the next number of months. It is confidence that makes the unknowable future momentarily certain.

What happens with the perceived risk is relatively high, when what is at stake is our social standing, or business survival, or our health, livelihood, or life? In such cases, the decision to truly vest in the organization ties directly to emotion, with knowledge used secondarily to verify and justify the decision. Emotional perceptions draw from a history of confidence with the organization, its prior actions and those of its leaders, that would enable the suspension of cognitive judgement that otherwise creates a “fear of the unknowable” precluding any decision. It is trust derived from the history of emotional perceptions that is required for the individual to make that leap of faith to continue for the long term with that organization. Familiarity. Confidence. Trust.

Trust begins with the knowledge that creates familiarity, and moves through a complex interaction of knowledge and emotion that builds confidence, and finally to the emotional connection that enables trust – that leap of faith which overcomes fear of the unknowable. And there’s the problem: engendering trust involves much more than knowledge, so merely providing information – let alone only tangible rewards and incentives – is not sufficient in itself. And, perhaps aside from certain automotive or technological machines about which some people become terribly emotional, how does one think about creating emotional connections to organizations-as-machines?

When you stop to think of it (or if you’re a long-time follower of this blog) the view of organization as machine is, of course, an artifact of the Industrial Age. It is this mechanical, purposeful conception of organization that creates the BAH construct: Bureaucracy, Administrative control, and Hierarchy. And as I’ve found in my research, BAH organizations emerge from the fungible-form of the valence relationships. Little wonder, then, that managers who are themselves vested in BAH would see weakening of the fungible relationships as the primary reasons for employees who quit: pay (f-Economic), a new opportunity (f-Identity), an unexpected offer (f-Socio-psychological).

According to the employees themselves, however, it’s primarily about trust. Trust comes from both cognitive and affective, (emotional) connections and experiences. Expressed in terms of the valence relationships, trust is an emergent property of the complex interactions among the valence relationships that create organization. Strong Knowledge relationships (information, experiences, expertise, and opportunities) and Socio-psychological (feelings and emotions) relationships. There is also a lesser, but important, interaction with the Identity valence relationship (one’s self-conception). Although trust can emerge from the right sorts of interactions among the fungible relationships, in BAH organizations the fungible relationships are (a) primarily connected to f-Economic; and (b) easily subverted by what is perceived as a “better deal.” As well, giving more pay, increased benefits and perks, or a “better” title – all aimed at shoring up fungible relationships – are often cynically interpreted as compensating for that which is inherently lacking in the organization.

In UCaPP organizations, the ba-form of valence relationships predominate. Not only is it more difficult to subvert the “ties that bind” in an organization with strong organization-ba, the conditions that create organization-ba in the first place are precisely those that engender deep and pervasive trust among all the members. This involves creating an environment of Knowledge-ba where little is hidden and much is shared, Socio-psychological-ba that creates strong intrinsic motivation among the members, and Identity-ba reflecting a strong sense of belonging, community, and inclusiveness. Economic-ba – demonstrably being valued by the organization for one’s contribution, often in substantive but non-tangible ways – doesn’t hurt, either. All of these contribute to creating a strong, motivating, encouraging, and – dare I say it – empowering organizational culture, addressing both the number-1 and number-3 reasons employees quit.

Trust is not a relationship in itself; it emerges from rich, multi-faceted relationships that are consistent in their effects over time. As employees are connected to their respective organizations through the five valence relationships, so too are consumers. What this means is that, according to this new model of organization, consumers and employees are, in effect, equivalent. Becoming trusted means treating both constituencies honestly and openly, enabling employees and customers alike to develop the type of confidence in all aspects of their valence relationships that eventually leads to mutual trust. For organizations this means more than retaining its employees; it means maintaining and growing its customers and its community connections in ways that are sustainable, even through challenging times.

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19 May 2009

Teaching in Higher Education

Where's Paulo Freire when you need him?

I'm currently taking a course in Teaching in Higher Education offered at Woodsworth College at University of Toronto. To paraphrase Rob Weir in this article from Inside Higher Education, the ability to create syllabi, understand evaluation rubrics, and other skills of professorship don't come shrink-wrapped with the PhD diploma. Besides, the main assignment in the course - design a syllabus for a course that doesn't yet exist (in one's own department), not based on something I've taken or taught previously - provides a useful and usable outcome. And, for the peer-observed lecture portion of the program, I'll be filling in for my friend, Bonnie Slade, while she is away; I'll be doing a seminar in workplace learning for this summer's incarnation of Introduction to Adult Education.

But oh, how I wish there was more adult education in higher education! Last week's seminar - more of what Freire refers to as "banking education" in which the teacher makes knowledge deposits in the supposedly empty accounts of the the students' minds, than a true seminar - focused on the so-called vocabulary of education: Bloom's Taxonomy of learning objectives (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation), and the distinctions among forms of active learning (collaborative vs. cooperative, experiential vs. service learning, discovery vs. problem-based). Tonight, the theme is on learning styles, for which students are sliced, diced, and sorted according to their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, their Kolb Learning Style, their Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, or their Felder-Silverman Learning Style (you can read all about these here.)

Yes, I realize the modern system of education is founded on a culture of fragmentation and creating distance between the knower and that to be known. But I cannot help but connect the notion that modern education is more about sorting students into society's classes, with the dichotomous taxonomies that pervade formal pedagogy. I cannot help but hear that nagging voice in the back of my mind reminding me that T.H.E. is part of the novitiate's admission process to the professorial priesthood, that one must become well-indoctrinated into the mindset and methods of that cynical social purpose in order to be admitted to, and to survive the system. I'm reminded that the formal education system is a "highly developed situation [that] is by definition, low in opportunities of participation, and rigorous in its demands of specialist fragmentation from those who would control it," to recall Marshall McLuhan from Understanding Media.

I'm tired of taxonomies, and well... regular readers know how I feel about hierarchies. I favour the 4 Cs (Connection, Context, Complexity, Connotation) rather than the 3 Rs. And I actively bring to mind Eduard Lindeman's voice - that adult education is social education for social change - to drown out the voices of extreme instrumentality in formal education. I will survive Teaching in Higher Education. As for really teaching in higher education? Social education. Social change. Engaged learners. Engaged citizens.

Yeah, that's better.

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03 May 2009

Happy 90th Birthday, Pete Seeger

A man synonymous with folk-singing, who influenced several generations of singers from every genre of vocal music, and an activist for human rights and the environment, Pete Seeger, is celebrating his 90th birthday today. And the world is celebrating as well, and rightly so. I remember singing from the Pete Seeger songbook when I was a kid at summer camp, and singing Seeger lullabies to my own children when they were babies.

Here, from the controversial episode of The Smothers Brothers Show (from which CBS censored his version of Waist Deep in the Big Muddy), here's Pete Seeger with one of his iconic songs:

To 120, Pete Seeger, to 120.

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