Saturday, May 31, 2014

San Diego UX Speakeasy Report aka Dealing with Issues

Today's post will be of most interest to those of you who are part of the San Diego UX Speakeasy/IxDA group. To the rest of the world, perhaps less interesting. With that said and out of the way:
Ready to go to work

Last night the Speakeasy Committee (i.e. Board) held one of its periodic planning and plotting meetings. A cohort of our enthusiastic Volunteers joined the meeting as well. We had serious business to discuss that required the energies and creative input of many. We met at Intuit in a building that assaults you at the entrance with the sound of happily chirping frogs. I think the frog sounds are pre-recorded, but nonetheless it is pretty cool to come out at night and be serenaded with happy croaking.

Our big task of the evening was to tackle the list of Issues that you all (meetup members) assembled at the April meetup. A few additional Issues were added. Here is that list:

Issue: With the size of the group it is hard to find large enough venues
Issue: People have a hard time coming to events from farther away (N. County)
Issue: The group is so large that it is difficult to navigate and initiate meaningful connections
Issue: Some people want more learning opportunities
Issue: We have a hard time retaining new members
Issue: We should have more conferences
Issue: We should have a yearly conference with big names
Issue: There is a lack of perceived value to the groups activities (conferences are too expensive)
Issue: We need to promote UX more externally (to businesses)
Issue: We need to find better ways to involve Colleges and Students
Issue: Planning Monthly Meetups is hard/time consuming  
Issue: We need more variety in our Meetups
Issue: We need a way to find out more about members (either member-to-member or managing)
Issue: We need more focused topics (e.g. Remote  Research, Wireframing) rather than one-size-fits-all
Issue: We need more engagement and interaction at our meetups
Issue: We cannot cover our current costs
Issue: We need ways to cover beer and food for meetups
Issue: We are not getting enough national exposure to attract big name speakers
Issue: Waiting Lists for Meetups are keeping people away
Issue: It is too easy to NoShow and they are keeping Active or New Members from attending
Issue: There are some many varied backgrounds (or non UXers) that we are losing focus
Issue: Many people who join are looking for mentors
Issue: There is an overall lack of involvement (helping) in the group (present company excepted)
Issue: We need to have a way to promote design/UX in San Diego
Issue: We do not want to lose the culture that made the group successful but the larger it gets the harder it is to maintain
Issue: There may be people who want to help but don't know how
Issue: We need a way to prove our value to sponsors
Issue: We need a website and branding to help promote ourselves, are people, and our sponsors
Our Fearless Leader Means Business

Fearless leader Bennett led us in a modified KJ Technique, which was most interesting because
Serious Business
this activity requires periods in which no talking is allowed. None. Imagine this group being told they couldn't talk? Yeah, sometimes it was a
challenge. Nonetheless, Ben cracked the whip and waved the Sharpie and yelled as needed to keep things in order and moving right along.

Several steps later we had arranged, condensed and organized the above list into
the following

Categories (ranked highest to lowest):

Mission of the Organization 
(sticking to what has made us so successful while we grow)

Keeping the Lights On 
(aka Finances. It costs money to run our meetups)
(this also subsumed Waitlist Problems)

People Interaction Issues
(this also subsumed Volunteer Opportunities &  Beginning UXers)

Name in Lights 
(our larger local, regional, national, international & extra-terrestrial branding)

Planning Meetings/Finding Suitable Venues 
(easier said than done)

We formed teams to cogitate on each of these categories and come up with recommendations for the organization's Board to consider.

Sound good? We think so. We're working hard, even on a Friday night, to keep UX Speakeasy fun and responsive to evolving times.

We also spent time plotting and planning great meetups and events for the remainder of the calendar year. Stay tuned. Also, we always need people to help out. Contact any of the Committee members if you can lend a hand, even if you have no idea how. You can do so through the Meetup site. We'll find something for you and we are a fun bunch to hang with.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Engrossing legislative updates for CA Computer Science

Last evening I sat in on a meeting of the San Diego Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). We met in the San Diego Super Computer Center. In case you aren't all that familiar with the CSTA they are a very active national group of Computer Science Teachers (primarily in K-12) along with supporters and friends of K-12 CS education throughout education, government and industry. Their advocacy work for inclusion of CS throughout K-12 is impressive. They also publish periodic reports on the state of CS Education throughout the country. One of the most recent is "Bugs in the System: Computer Science Teacher Certification in the U. S." which paints a painful picture of the crazily complicated state of certification for would be computer science teachers.

At times there is news to be optimistic about and I heard some of it last night. Jason Weiss, a representative from the office of California State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins gave the group a legislative update on 6 bills of interest for CS education in the state. As you may or may not know, depending upon how much you pay attention to the political process of passing bills, the system at the state level in many ways mirrors the process at the federal level. Both chambers of government have to pass a bill; one, then the other, and if amendments are made the bill goes back and forth to be resolved. Or perhaps it dies a quiet death for one of a variety of reasons. Eventually, if all goes well, a bill pops out of the system, perhaps like a champagne cork, and heads to the Governors office to be signed (or not).

Of the six bills, (CA AB1764, CA AB1530, CA AB1539, CA AB1540, CA AB2110, CA SB1200) most are making good progress.

They talk about a bill being "engrossed". Most of these bills were engrossed. I don't know who came up with this word choice; believe it or not it means that a bill is in a certain stage of that bouncing back and forth. Specifically, it means the bill has come out of (escaped?) from the chamber that initially filed it and it is on its way to the other chamber. Considering that amendments have often been incorporated, perhaps "engorged" would be a better word.

Most of the bills are doing well so far on their journey:

CA AB1764 would allow 3rd year Math credit to be awarded for Computer Science. This bill exited out at the end of April without opposition. How nice! (I originally wrote "passed out" but that has potential for far too many amusing interpretations)

CA AB1530 would include CS in the K-6 curricula. This bill exited out May 27th also without opposition. Moving right along...

CA AB1539 Sets content standards for computer science. Jason Weiss wasn't sure of the status of this bill as it was being considered yesterday afternoon, but from my wading through the weeds of relevant web pages, it appears to me to have passed along successfully.

Likewise, CA AB2110 which also relates to CS and content standards, continues its journey; gorey details can be found here, as does CA SB1200 which would establish standards for CS to be set that would be accepted by (presumably CA state) colleges and universities. It is on its way ....

And yes, that last one is SB1200 not AB1200. If you look up AB1200 you will find yourself reading about a vetoed bill related to recycled water in agriculture.

The lonely exception to this optimistic news is CA AB1540 which relates to high school students being able to take CS courses at community college. Jason told us the bill didn't get a hearing, which is better than being Vetoed I suppose. Officially, as they say,  it is "held under submission" (go figure). Jason told us this most likely has to do with a cost issue of some sort that needs to be addressed. So we haven't necessarily heard the last of CA AB1540. But for this year at least it languishes. It doesn't even get to claim to have been engrossed.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What If a Student's MOOC Assignment POs Someone?

What would happen if something a MOOC student submitted for an assignment offended someone not involved in the course? It's bound to happen sooner or later. Considering the global reach of a MOOC there could be a lot of blow back. Wouldn't it be a great idea to take a pedagogically proactive approach to the possibility?

I had such a terrific time taking my first MOOC earlier this year ("How to Change the World" read about the experience here) that I signed up for another one. The MOOC I'm currently enrolled in is called "Beyond Silicon Valley : Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies" led by Michael Goldberg at Case Western Reserve University. I am having as excellent an experience this time around. Beyond Silicon Valley is challenging, thought provoking, engaging and as with "How to Change the World" I'm learning incredibly useful information that has already paid off professionally in more ways than one.

One nice difference this time is that the course faculty are taking active part in the forum discussions. That provides an added sense of connection. On the down side, the assignments are assessed this time based solely upon word count and whether or not you submit the assignment on time. I found this out when I misread a due time (did "midnight" mean the start of the day or the end of the day?) and also when my assignments were scored instantaneously. I have to say that I miss the peer grading from my last MOOC; it wasn't always high quality, but it was interesting. And the opportunity to read and ponder other student assignments was enlightening and sometimes mind blowing.

As with my first MOOC, "Beyond Silicon Valley" asks the student to dig for answers and reflect on their implications for their own situation. But it goes beyond that with a midterm that asks the student to interview local entrepreneurs and write about their findings.

Herein approaches the sticky issue.

Some pretty sensitive stuff can come up when asking business owners about their company. Having interviewed people in a variety of professional settings for years, I know that even the most cautious interviewee let slip things they might prefer not be put in writing. A good interviewer can facilitate this happening. It then falls on the interviewer to employ wise judgement when writing up their story.

Having high journalistic standards (whether as a professional or student writer) is important. I suspect the vast majority of my peer students are not out to muck rake or hurt anyone. Hopefully they pay attention to how and what they write, and in sensitive situations perhaps run proposed text by the people they report on.

But do all students in a given class take such care? Perhaps more important for an educator to ask: Do students even know to think about this?

No, they all don't.

In a Coursera MOOC (both of my classes were by Coursera) the student signs an agreement not to distribute, copy, report or otherwise share anything written by another student without that student's express permission. This is good, and thus, should there be a leak of one student's material by another student, the source of responsibility and liability is pretty clear.

On the other hand, students also sign an agreement when they first sign up with Coursera  acknowledging they are aware that all their contributions will be readable by the university course staff and by Coursera personnel. In addition, the student agrees that Coursera may, at it's own discretion, use portions of student submissions. I can't remember the details, but basically the student agrees that Coursera has wide latitude in how it chooses to use student material. I have no problem with that. Coursera has the right to make that request in return for the educational service they are providing - for free. Until proven otherwise, I default to trusting Coursera not to abuse the situation.

Back to the stickiness.

Consider a scenario in which a student in a course such as "Beyond Silicon Valley"submits an assignment based upon an interview with a business entity. It's good. It's interesting. It's quality. As a result, someone on university or Coursera staff uses part or all of it for training or PR purposes. The business becomes offended for some unforeseeable reason.

The business may have assumed confidentiality, especially as this was a student assignment. The student may have not thought about the possibility that either a) what s/he wrote would bother anyone or that b) it would ever be seen outside the virtual course wall. The student may have not discussed the possibility of the the interview becoming public in whole or part. Yet Coursera has the right to use the student material. Everyone was acting in good faith. Nonetheless, the stuff hits the fan.

Who is responsible? Who is going to take the heat? Who is going to come out ok and who will be severely bruised?

It would be completely counterproductive for all concerned if this situation becomes bogged down in legal and bureaucratic wranglings. We're talking about education here folks; social change. Let's take the high road shall we and try to cut this off at the pass.

In a live or virtual classroom there is an opportunity for faculty to discuss issues of confidentiality, privacy, contractual agreements; implications of what you write, possible scenarios of how material can be used. Especially with regards to interviewing and how the material is written up. We shouldn't assume that intelligent well educated adults (as most MOOC students are) know all about this. Even if they do, the topic bears revisiting. It's good for faculty and students alike to remember that you can have all your facts and knowledge and entrepreneurial ducks in a row, yet if you step on the wrong person's toe you are toast.

Pedagogically, there is an important difference here between a traditional class and a MOOC class. The sense of distance inherent to a virtual environment can lead to increased complacency or denial of interpersonal communication landmines. Thus we have a challenge that needs to be addressed proactively.

Pedagogically we have a great opportunity.  MOOCs such as Coursera's want to change the face of education and benefit society by leveraging the power of the Internet. I'm all for it. In these early entrepreneurial stages of MOOC development, let's watch for these sticky issues and talk about them until we solve them.