Sunday, January 26, 2014

What a MOOC, a Motivational Workshop and a Car Accident Taught Me

This morning there was a very bad traffic accident right outside my front door. Two large SUVs collided, from the look of things more than once. I heard a lengthy squealing of brakes followed by at least two explosive impacts. When I went to look, both of the SUVs were totaled, and one of them could only be entered through the back hatch. The only fortunate thing I could think of was that a fire station was located across the intersection and so help was on the scene within seconds.

I planned to write today about having signed up for a MOOC, and I still will, but what I want to discuss about it today has changed as a result of standing there watching people being carefully removed from a giant piece of  crumpled metal.

Sometimes things just seem to align and when "How to Change the World" came filtering through my Twitter Feed last week, I thought: "Perfect!" I have been writing about issues surrounding online education and MOOCs recently, not just in this blog, but in other venues including my column in ACM Inroads Magazine. There are such heated opinions in the computing community, yet how many of us have experienced a MOOC first hand? Not only that, this topic was perfect for me. Considering it is being taught by someone who is not only a faculty, but the President of Wesleyan University (Michael Roth), I figured this class was likely to be taken seriously.

As if that wasn't enough unexpected opportunity for the week, I was offered complimentary admission to one of those motivational workshops about figuring out how to ...well I wasn't sure exactly. That's why I said "one of those..." because I am fairly cynical about anyone  suggesting they have "the answer" to - whatever. But, I confess that I was just a bit curious, and it was in my backyard, so what the heck. Two days out of my life to investigate first hand what one of these things was all about. I believe deeply in holding onto a spirit of curiosity and inquisitiveness. Here was an opportunity to walk the talk.

Perhaps because I didn't read the syllabus carefully or perhaps I was tired by the time I got to it each night, or perhaps because the website wasn't as intuitive as it could have been, I went straight for the "How to Change the World" readings before listening to the lectures. As a result, it was a bit of a slog but after I moved on to the video lectures I realized that the readings were pretty darned good - provocative even. The video lectures were not lightweight either, sometimes sucking me in and sometimes glazing my eyes over. Once in a while I found myself wondering what could have been done differently?

I am going to suspend judgement on that until I have gone through a lot more of the course because I want to see what happens after we get past the historical/philosophical context setting that Week 1 was all about. Michael Roth is pretty darned interesting to listen to (imo) and he is clearly excited about this topic. It isn't something he usually teaches. I had a good time watching his enthusiastic facial expressions.

I signed this small-print page-long media release form for the motivational workshop, which means that my face and voice could very well be sprayed all over the internet in ways I have no control over, but the alternative was to sit in the back in the "media free" zone and never engage in conversation (everything, I mean everything, was recorded). So I signed the thing and sat in the second row. After all, what was the point of checking it out if I hid the whole time? So I'll just cross my fingers and hope that I don't someday find myself taken out of context online for someone else's marketing purposes. We often tell our students how important it is to stretch outside their comfort zones and I want to walk my talk.

For the sake of the privacy and confidentiality of everyone else in that workshop who agreed to go outside their comfort zone, I am not going to get too specific about what we said and did for two days as we explored this concept of finding out what we were meant to do in life (yeah, I know, it sounds over the top, but bear with me). However, one of the walk away messages I got from two exhausting days of intellectual and emotional mind stretching was that it is really important for anyone who wants to make a difference in the world to get off their butt and do something about it. And to not get pulled down by all the challenges.

One of the ways I got this message was in a side conversation I had with another workshop participant. It was near the end of the second day and I was tired. Darned tired. A woman came up to me and said she had two girls who had taken part in activities and wanted to know what to do next. I found myself starting to explain all the challenges that face getting more students, especially girls, into the computing pipeline. After a few minutes she looked at me in dismay and said that I made it sound so hard that she was discouraged and just wanted to give up on the whole thing.

I could have kicked myself around the room 3 times. I was so annoyed at myself. This was exactly what I didn't want to put out there as the message to people who had been bitten by the coding bug. I realized that it was partly being exhausted and partly because sometimes we get so wrapped up in talking with our peers about the problems that we can momentarily lose site of the big picture. Which is exciting.

I finished the Week 1 lectures from "How to Change the World" last night. I'm pondering the first assignment which is due tomorrow along with the 100 zillion other things I have on my plate today. Sheesh - and it is Sunday no less.

This morning there was a terrible car accident outside my front door. I got the message: there is no time to waste. You never know when you might die. You can't always assume you have time to get to the truly important things later - or to figure out for yourself what those truly important things are. You need to get out there, learn what you need to learn, talk to all kinds of people and take part in activities outside your comfort zone. You want to make the world a better place? Get out there and start now.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

For the Cause of Coding in K-12: Let's Collaborate++

To address the myriad challenges involved in getting high school kids interested in coding, and even more importantly in Computer Science, we need to draw upon a variety of perspectives. A variety of experiences. A variety of skills. A lot of people out there are interested in tackling this problem and we need to listen to all of them. Many people have been working for a long time, and very hard, on drawing attention to the need for Computer Science, and coding as a subset of that, to be widely available in high schools and for students to be encouraged to try it out.

I had an interesting conversation this week with Jeremy Keeshin, one of the founders of CodeHS, a Silicon Valley tech startup that is working on this problem. I met Jeremy last November when he was one of several
Photo Courtesy of CodeHS
tech company presenters at a meeting of the ACM Education Council (I wrote about that meeting Here). Sure, a lot of companies, startup and not so startup, have jumped into the K-12 coding fray. But there was something particularly interesting here that I wanted to learn more about, so I tracked Jeremy down and we had a nice long chat.

CodeHS's approach has a lot going for it, and is worth checking out, but it isn't so much the specific details of their model I want to talk about right now, but the perspective and attitude that feeds that model. Jeremy apparently caught the pedagogy bug while working as a Computer
Photo Courtesy of CodeHS
Science Teaching Assistant in college, and understands more about "what makes it work" (or not work) than I might have expected when I first met him last Fall. He is committed 100% to contributing to the success of introductory coding in K-12, not as a teacher but as an industry entrepreneur.  At the same time, he hasn't turned his back on what academia has to offer. He sees the merit of both worlds.

In our most recent conversation we spoke at some length about the challenges and excitement of trying to build bridges between two very different worlds that ultimately share the same end goal: kids that like coding and see it as a first step towards further computing studies. We speculated on what collaborations could look like and how they might work. A key factor in any such collaboration is that all parties must clearly see something in it for themselves and their perspective on how to improve educational outcomes. It turns out that, in addition to their current core work with high schools, high school teachers, and students, CodeHS is in the preliminary stages of two such collaborative projects.

In the first project, they are talking with a current Stanford PhD student about conducting research on high school students' code and evaluating it in relation to problem solving pathways those students subsequently take in their coding*. This project sounds to me like it could develop into an excellent "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" scenario, providing knowledge on a theoretical and applied level; providing eventually, potentially, depending how far they run with it, lots of data that informs rapid tool development and pedagogical practice.

In the second exploratory project, CodeHS is in discussion with several Computer Science faculty about how they can work directly together in high schools. Now, each group can, and already does, such work on their own. But according to Jeremy in this case there has been a meeting of minds and a recognition that each of their respective groups has the ability to assist the other in overcoming barriers and making the experience for students, to put it in his words, "a whole lot better".

To pull off projects like these, especially the second one, requires a certain mindset, a willingness to be flexible and open to different ways of knowing and doing. I hope both of CodeHS's collaborations continue and are successful. I'm going to keep in touch and see how it all goes.

Inspired by all of this, I'm percolating on what might happen if we got the right  group of dedicated, passionate, committed "bridge people" together in a room for a few days. Add good coffee, stir...

*Information corrected/clarified from an earlier version of the post

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Happy New UX Year - So Much to Do!

Following up on last night's post which listed opportunities for professional development, education and training, now I get to share more generally about the UX Speakeasy meetup. Last night we held our Happy New UX Year. At this annual event we share ideas and inspiration about what is going on in the UX world in the upcoming 12 months.

Our most esteemed leader Bennett King deftly facilitated the evening and wielded his almighty power to
keeping things moving. Ben also talked about the zillions of conferences out there and why you might want to choose one or another. As he pointed out, conferences aren't cheap, but if you choose wisely, conferences can be very important for advancing your career. They are a great source of networking if you do more than collect Tshirts and hang out with your pals.

Indeed, one of the most important lessons I learned early on about conferences is that they are an unparalleled opportunity to meet new people who can help you grow professionally. In addition, you have the opportunity to help others grow professionally. It goes both ways.

Hey, if you are going to pay all that money and take the time out of your regular schedule, you should make the most of it. Be strategic. It's not just about picking up swag (cool as some of that swag can be). One of the clear messages of the evening: you should find a way to attend conferences.

With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to a few conferences in particular of all the ones Ben talked about last night. First of all, the Annual Conference of the IxDA is the biggie that UX Speakeasy is affiliated with. It probably has it all for the UX crowd: a combination of industry and academic people and themes, keynotes that go beyond UX, it's global (it's always good to get out of your own country's perspective for a while) and...there will be karaoke.

On the other hand, if Amsterdam in February is more than you can manage (brrrrrrrr), those of you in the US might find it easier to go to Midwest UX next October in Indianapolis. Indy, as it is affectionately known, actually has a lot going for it as a place to visit, and at that time of year you might very well get to see some outstanding Fall foliage - always a big draw and for good reason. 

For those of you in the local Southern California region, we have some good stuff coming up right here. So you have little excuse for not going to at least one of them. We have World IA Day, one of whose many global locations next month will be  in Los Angeles. I attended World IA Day last year, having no idea what to expect, and it was amazing. I'm not just talking about the Magic Bus that UX Speakeasy members had the opportunity to take either (and which may be available again this year).

Not only that, we have the AIGA Y Design Conference here in San Diego this March, ValioCon in June,  and the IA Summit will also be here in March! IA Summit is a biggie and we are very psyched to have it here this year. Aaron Irizarry, who is chairing the conference this year, gave us an enthusiastic intro to the conference last night.

Lest I neglect to mention it: OF COURSE we plan to hold another one of our famous sold out UX Speakeasy conferences next fall! Stay tuned for more info as things develop.

There were many more conference listings, but rather than itemize them all, I want to mention a few other things about last night's meetup. For one thing, it was held in a very cool place: Modern Times Beer,  which had several noteworthy things going for it. For one thing, the walls are worth a visit in themselves. One of the enormous three story high walls is plastered with pages from comic books. Another wall is a giant picture of (I think) Michael Jackson and a monkey made entirely out of post-it notes. Really, three stories high and all post-it notes.

There was some greasy munchy food and one of the choices was meatless enchiladas. I can't tell you how happy I was to have a tasty choice for non-carnivores. On top of that, at the bar they had the option of an itty bitty 4 ounce beer for those people (of whom there are more than you might think) who just want a little taste and not a big glass. Major kudos to Modern Times for both these items!

Finally, in the "you had to be there" category: I was talking to a friend, and standing not far from the sign-in table where people were picking up their name tags. Two guys walked up to us and introduced themselves as first time attendees. One of them said his name was Garron. They started asking us what the group was all about.

Talk about bad luck!  Clearly intuiting that this was the place to be last night, these two guys (who had been across the street practicing for a band) came in and borrowed [ahem] name tags. It just so happens that Garron is one of the Speakeasy committee members. Then these two guys walk up to two of the other committee members (yup, not just me but my friend as well) and introduce themselves as our colleague. Nice Try Guys!

After chatting for a few minutes, we tactfully blew their cover just as the real Garron came along (no doubt looking for his name tag) and everyone had a good laugh. The two guys left shortly thereafter and another nice evening was had by all.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

UX (and related) Education Listings

As promised, this post contains a listing, with links, to the education options I presented at this evening's San Diego UX Speakeasy meetup. (More on the meetup itself in the next post)

There is an enormous selection of education and training options out there and this is only a small sampling; enough to give you some ideas and get you started. Not listed here for the most part are conferences, because although conferences often have educational activities and workshops, conferences were covered by my esteemed colleague Bennett King and a cohort of other enthusiastic people.

Minus the pithy commentary that was included in the live version, here are those links:

Interaction Design Foundation - Open Education Materials ; included here is the “Encyclopedia of Human Computer Interaction”, comprised of 40 “textbooks”. Lots of very interesting in depth reading here. Other good stuff as well on their site.

The UX Bookmark - UX books, videos. Awesome resources with in-depth info. Well maintained.

User Interface Engineering (UIE) - Virtual Seminars, Mobile Immersion, UI18 On Demand. Something for every level of engagement.

Cooper - A design and consulting firm. They have "Cooper U" offering in person courses, and also UX Boot Camp (this is the one I'd really like to attend! in my mind I'm already writing the blog post about it!)

Adaptive Path - another consultancy. Offerings include UX Week, an annual conference, and UX Intensive, a 4 day workshop held in various places around the globe.

Neilsen Norman Group - another consultancy. Offerings include Usability Weeks (one of which will be held here in San Diego next month) and a 3 day Usability Camp.

General Assembly -  A training organization with branches in several cities. Set up to resemble in some ways an academic environment. Offerings include one day events such as a hackathon, & several months long classes.Here is the Los Angeles branch.

Open2Study - Free online courses. Based out of Australia, profs are global. Wide offerings including some interesting UX courses and psychology (a hot topic in some UX circles).

Udacity - one of the famous MOOCs. Offerings across the spectrum of fields from the arts to engineering. Offerings include Computer Science, computing applications (such as web dev't and mobile and design)

Coursera - another of the famous MOOCs. Mission statement talks about providing equal access to education; they have the most demographically diverse team of technical people of all the education sites I surveyed for this presentation. Offerings include Computer Science, engineering, data/stats, programming, HCI, lots of business courses (entrepreneurship, management, marketing etc)

HackDesign - an interesting self described "experiment" for developers who want to learn design. Self-paced course that comes to your inbox.

Online User Experience Institute - lots of UX courses. Has been around quite a while compared to its competitors. 

The Stanford Design ("d") School. If you really want to go for it and get a degree. They also offer individual classes, and an interesting 90 minute crash course for pairs.

Did I miss one of your favorites? If you have a listing you'd like added, send it!