Archive for Education

Digital Storytelling + Knowledge Conference + JAL kimono-class

Telling a story is at the centre of my life. I start more than half of my conversations with ‘let me tell you this good story’. I’m always thinking,
“How does this story relate to my story?” I feel like I’m filling up my personal story bank. In the past few days I attended a workshop
‘Digital Storytelling on the Web’, a conference, ‘Beyond KM: Delivery Value’ and a lecture, ‘Flying with Madame Butterfly: Early Japan Airlines Advertising in the US and Hong Kong’.

The workshop was a pre-conference event. Alan Levine is a web educationalist; which sounds clumsy but it gives a sense of his work and interests. Alan took a small group through many websites and a few tools that could help us facilitate a digital story. All of them can be found on 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story. A story is the most effective communication device humans have developed. ‘When you go outside this circle of fire something is likely to eat you’, remains one of the best reasons to remain close to the tribe. A digital story is not fundamentally different from a traditional spoken or visual story. Getting the audience’s attention and holding it is still the key challenge for the storyteller. The classic Freytag story arc still applies. However, a digital story may be more mixed up, more spontaneous or more complex with connecting images, sound, text and the possibility of the audience to dynamically manipulate the story.

These tools from the workshop will be useful:
• The closed wi-fi internet-like environment using ‘The StoryBox’ could be used to share text, images, audio and video without having to have it all up on the web.
Pechaflickr and Five Card Flickr could help to get people talking, and exploring how a story unfolds. They are good for storytelling practice in a second language.

The Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society’s conference, ‘Beyond KM: Delivering Value’, brought together about 40 people to listen and share some stories on the slippery topic of ‘knowledge value’. Knowledge without value seems like a contradiction. One of the more valuable lessons coming out of knowledge management and into organizational practice is the importance of storytelling as a communication tool. Many knowledge managers like to emphasize that conversation is the key enabler for knowledge transfer. With that thought, we had lunch first and sat at around tables talking. This was much more useful than sitting through a morning of presentations full of coffee and sugary buns wondering what was for lunch.

Four presenters, all highly experienced in the practical application of knowledge management talked about how or what to do to reveal the value in knowledge:
• The emic/etic distinction of what people think vs. what they say must always be forefront when collecting information from the customer.
• Innovation comes out of conflict so finding that point of conflict leads to innovation.
• Perfection is not that important. Good-enough works most of the time.
• Combining machines with humans is likely going to be more effective than only one or the other approach.
• Tagging started with Assyrian clay tablets 3,000 years ago and not much has changed.
• Access, security, governance, mitigation and standardization make it highly problematic to replicate Facebook-like social media inside an organization.
• Worry about knowledge creation before worrying about knowledge management. This will solve a whole host of potential issues.
• Nothing will ever replace experience.
• Managing for the few big, important or calamitous events will always be prohibitively difficult and will likely fail.
• People are pattern recognizers not information processors.
• People blend the patterns they recognize to make a conceptual whole that has immediately useful meaning.
• 5 is the number of words we will remember, 15 is the number of people we trust and 150 is the number of people we can recognize.
• Big data must have people at the centre to make it useful.

I dashed back across the Hong Kong harbour to the Museum of History for the Anthropological Society monthly gathering. Yoshiko Nakano’s told the story on how two ex-GI ad-men out of San Francisco developed the geisha service for JAL (Japan Airlines) in the 1950’s that continued up to 1970. The story of ‘Flying with Madame Butterfly: Early Japan Airlines Advertising in the US and Hong Kong’, was more than just American GI’s fascination with exotic Japanese woman but also a real need to accept the Japanese as useful allies in the looming cold war. It was easier to accept a beautiful, gracious, charming and compliant geisha-clad woman over that man in the army cap and buckteeth America had been fighting only a few years previously. With advertising budget many time less than Pan Am or Northwest, these American ad-men hit on a sure winner; geisha’s in the air serving exhausted western businessmen. It worked perfectly and the concept of aircrew in national costumes has become a mainstay of the airline industry to this day. That Japanese woman working as flight attendants didn’t enjoy the experience of wearing kimono and weren’t much use in an emergency situation was ignored. The stereotypic compliant Asian woman is still with us today and owes quite a lot to these images promoted by JAL’s kimono service.

Stories help us understand the world we experience and give us a view into a world that is not our own. The digital world requires we actively manage our digital personality. Knowing how to tell a digital story will help keep control of our digital personality. The digital line between inside and outside the organization remains a dilemma for anyone using social media. Linking our digital personality to its context may help delineate the line for how to use social media in our digital lives. Images are a useful marketing tool but some images promote stereotypes that are difficult to stop once entrenched. Should we control how images are used in the digital world? Telling and listening to stories, blending and reflecting on them may change what we believe is valuable and worthwhile.

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The answer is to leave history

I was in Macau over the weekend for two reasons. First, to attend the graduation of a former Galaxy Entertainment colleague who had gone back to university as a mature student and second to spend some time at the “International Forum on UNESCO Memory of the World (MoW) International Advisory Committee-Working Group “Education and Research”, sponsored by the Macao Foundation and the Macau Documentation and Information Society. Graduations are always good events; all that work being acknowledged by friends and family and the sense of personal accomplishment. Our education is such a large part of our ‘personal history’. This made me remember that education is the wisest move I’ve every made, even when I didn’t do that well. I caught the opening of the MoW conference and then almost all of the first two presentations; Dr. Roslyn Russell, Chair of the International Advisory Committee of UNESCO Memory of the World Programme and then Professor Lothar Jordan, Chair of UNESCO MoW IAC Working Group Education and Research. I returned in the afternoon for a round-table discussion with Dr. Russell, Prof. Jordan and about a dozen others.

Memory of the World – what a great name for a cause and organization. What is it about? I’m going to say it is about capturing, documenting, interpreting and inspiring the memory of people. This particular part of it was focused on ‘documentary heritage’ – the written artifacts of memory. Macau has the well-deserved reputation in the Perl River Delta of being more historically aware and sensitive than either Hong Kong or Guangdong province. Its 400-year history as the final port-of-call in the Portuguese empire has given Macau a magical quality. Now dotted with gleaming fairy-tale casinos and rebranded as the Las Vegas of the East it has ample public funding for remembering its past. Oddly though, we didn’t talk about the specific documents from Macau very much at this forum. Maybe they did in the bit I missed in the morning but I don’t think so. The afternoon discussion was trying to figure out how the Macao Foundation could implement a feasible memory of Macau programme that could become part of the Memory of the World.

“The answer is to leave history”, which is something I’ve heard or read or seen but can’t place at the moment but kept running through my head as I listened to the group of historians, archivists and librarians talk about MoW and Macau. I’m pretty sure what they mean by memory is ‘personal history’ and not place or organizational history. Those memories, which are more personal and only understood once experienced. There was talk of a workshop which didn’t sound appropriate to me so I proposed a series of facilitated conversations about memory in Macau. Right away, this begged the question of who should/would/could attend these facilitated conversations? Should it only be academics, librarians, archivists and other information professionals? We agreed it should be more than just these professionals although they had skills and knowledge about memory, history, archives and documents that would be useful to know and learn. I would want to include people from the performing arts. My experience in Macau is that dancers, poets, playwrights, musicians are frequently mining their own Macau stories for their creative work. I would want the conversations to target identifiable groups; for example, Macau’s secondary school students, woman, recent immigrants, creative artists, academic and information professionals and so on. Two young men had many insightful comments. Inaciso Pangchi Chan from the Macau Heritage Ambassador Association noted that the Macau Archives were essentially inaccessible to the Macau public because the archival materials were frequently in Portuguese and most of the public only speak, read or write Chinese. The Ambassador Association organizes small group tours of 10 or less people for local Macau residents and these are frequently over subscribed showing a real passion for understanding local history in Macau. He noted that over half of Macau’s residents had only recently arrived in Macau and too frequently knew almost nothing about the history of Macau. Most alarmingly many young people in Macau didn’t know where the famous ‘Ruins of St. Paul’ were located, in the early 17th century the largest Catholic Cathedral in Asia. There is very little if any Macau history being taught in the secondary schools. This is due to a lack of teaching materials and there are no secondary school examinations on Macau history. I suspect failing to teach local or recent history is a common failing in many places. Hong Kong suffers from the same lack of local history in its secondary schools. Dr. Sharif Shams Imon from Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies proposed that there should be some end-result for these conversations, for example, an exhibition or series of seminars. We agreed that this would be a good approach. As with most around the table discussions, the coffee break was lively and gave us a chance to talk in small groups. Hong Kong’s recent experience with national education and the strong public reaction against it was one of the threads. Focusing on ‘correct history’ by the middle and upper classes in Macau was another thread. Whitewashing history happens without people even imagining that they are doing it.

So if the Macao Foundation does try to run facilitated conversations on memory, personal history and the Memory or the World what should they do? I can imagine a series David Gurteen inspired knowledge cafés, Bohm Dialogues and Open Space Technology facilitated events run over a period of 3 to 6 months leading to an exhibition of the created and collected documents. I’ll be interested to see what happens in Macau with Memory of the World over the next 12 months or so. The answer is to leave history.

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Reaction: Embracing community through dialogue and unleashing the synergy of change: A multi-stakeholder dialogic change process workshop” [用對話擁抱群眾. 發揮改變的綜效] ~ Taipei Nov. 4-6 2011

Facilitation for me is the key to getting a group to buy-into any sort of change management process, knowledge sharing approach or system usability design process. It is never easy and the facilitation can be rather messy and on the surface appear disorganized and un-focused. I know from my work inside organizations that enabling the conversation between people involved in a process can be very difficult. The traditional meeting format doesn’t work because one or two leaders will dominate the discussion and often the other people will adapt whatever they say to suit the situation and not offend the leaders. Over the past three years I’ve learned how to use some of these facilitation techniques in classes, conferences and workshops; Bohm Dialogue, Knowledge Café, Open Space Technology, Butterfly Stamping, Appreciative Inquiry, Anecdote Circles, Future/Backwards and a few others. In learning settings these all seem to work quite well. However, when I’ve tried some of these facilitation techniques in the workplace I’ve had various degrees of success. This is certainly due to my lack of skill and experience but I think there is a big difference in a class or workshop using a facilitation technique where most people are very willing to give it a go and in the workplace where there are typically a few people who say ‘why are we doing this’ ‘let me just tell you my problem so I can get back to my desk’ ‘I think this is a waste of time’. It is not that everyone is negative and resistant to using the technique but even some resistance makes the process materially different from a learning experience in a class or workshop.

I went to a 3-day workshop on dialogue sponsored by the CP Yen Foundation in Taipei between November 4 – 6. The foundation’s goal is to ‘foster the art of dialogue’. The workshop had about 40 people almost all from Taiwan, myself from Hong Kong and 3 from mainland China. I had gone to a workshop called “Profound Journey Dialogue” this past May sponsored by ICA, Institute of Cultural Affairs, and was very impressed with the energy and passion of the participants. I knew some of the same people would be attending this workshop so I wanted to join. Taiwan is making a serious effort to build an inclusive and participatory democratic society and there is quite a lot of interest in the process of facilitating communication, dialogue, knowledge exchange and community participation. The CP Yen Foundation translated all of the workshop materials into Chinese so there are now many useful resources on dialogue and facilitation for Chinese speakers.

The workshop facilitator was Philip Thomas. He has a background in Latin American conflict resolution and has co-written a book with Bettye Pruitt, Democratic Dialogues: A Handbook for Practitioners published by United Nations Development Programme. The book can be downloaded for free.

Here is the flyer on the workshop. Philip has been generous to let me post the slides from the workshop here. Also, here are some photographs taken during the workshop. I’m so impressed with all of these people’s passion and commitment to pushing the boundaries of dialogue and participation.

So what do we mean by ‘dialogue’? Except for the Bohm quote all of these are from the Philip Thomas’ presentation materials:

“Because the nature of Dialogue is exploratory, its meaning and its methods continue to unfold. No firm rules can be laid down for conducting a Dialogue because its essence is learning – not as the result of consuming a body of information or doctrine imparted by an authority, nor as a means of examining or criticizing a particular theory or programme, but rather as part of an unfolding process of creative participation between peers.”
David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett

“Dialogue asks that we navigate the narrow ridge between holding to our own perspectives while at the same time remaining profoundly open to the Other.”
Martin Buber

“Truth only reveals itself when one gives up all preconceived ideas.”
Kaneko Shoseki

“Each person’s view is a unique perspective on a larger reality. If I can “look out” through your view and you through mine, we will each see something we might not have seen all along.

The origin of the vision is much less important than the process whereby it comes to be shared. It is not truly a “shared vision” until it connects with the personal visions of people throughout the organization.”
Peter Senge

The book by Daniel Yankelovich – The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation has been translated into Chinese and was being sold at the workshop. Here is a PBS video interview with him from 1999.

Some of the facilitation techniques we used in the workshop were familiar to me and some were new to me. A very good resource recommendation Philip gave us was THE NATIONAL COALITION FOR DIALOGUE & DELIBERATION.

A 3-day workshop provides the opportunity to listen and do and ask and re-listen and re-do and ask again. These are some of the snippets with some references to the slides that resonated to me:

3D – Dialogue, Deliberation and Decision – see slide no. 20
Dialogue is a methodology to see the whole problem
Deliberation is deciding between the possible trade-offs
Decision is making the choice

Dialogue is about how to deal with dissent – not about eliminating differences.

Consultation does not equal consensus building.

Pab = Dba
Power of ‘a’ over ‘b’ is equal to the dependency of ‘b’ to ‘a’

Design is a dialogic process – this is the chorography part of a dance.

Facilitation is the execution – this is the performance part of a dance.

Triangle of Satisfaction – see slide no. 34
One side Psychological (People)
One side Substantive (Product)
One side Process (Process)

The people in the middle of the process are key. They communicate with the top and the bottom and provide a web of interaction between the top, middle and bottom levels of people. See slide no. 27.

There is a difference between the process design and the execution. Design the process carefully, thoroughly, participatively and respectively. Interview the participants carefully and document the results. Map the issues. Map the actors. Know the context. See slide no. 42.

Be aware that dialogic processes can be used as window dressing to obscure real issues and problems. People in an organization may try to use dialogic processes to their own ends.

In order to move beyond dialogue there needs to be a wiliness to reach
agreement and follow-thru with implementation. If all you can do is have a dialogue that is acceptable but don’t make promises beyond the dialogue.

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Digital Pen Technology

Back in April 2011 I went to a Birds of the Feather event sponsored by BrightIdea, see here for my posting on that event. At the event one of the examples of an innovation was the use of digital pen technology to collect information on forms by workers in the field. I didn’t know what they meant by digital pens but soon learned that it was a combination of a pen and some special paper. The pen and paper let normal handwriting be captured and transferred to a digital format without any scanning.

I was intrigued because this is a particular pain point in many explicit knowledge management/document management projects I’ve worked on over the years. Trying to convince people to change from handwritten forms to online input forms is fraught with hardship and resistance. The arguments pro and con usually go something like this:

– The handwritten form is easy to use, can be signed for authorization and can then be retained as an authenticated final copy.

– The online form is difficult to use, requires a computer, a printer and a scanner and a whole lot of training.

– The handwritten form is difficult to share. We have to scan it and input the data manually and then verify the input. This slows down the workflow.

– We must have a printed and signed form for compliance purposes. We want a true, unchangeable authenticated copy so we will have to print the form, sign it and then scan it.

The core digital pen technology comes from the Swedish company Anoto. The technology has been licensed to other companies. For example, PaperIQ Digital Pen for Blackberry solution, and LiveScribe that produces digital pens combined with digital audio recorders.

In June 2011, I got in touch with Big Prairie Limited a local Hong Kong company that provide consulting services for Anoto based digital pens technology. Big Prairie has been working in the digital pen area in Asia for about ten years.

In exchange for helping out at the Big Prairie booth at the Greater China eHealth Forum 2011 on 7-8 October I was given a LiveScribe Echo 4GB digital pen. I didn’t agree to blog about the digital pen technology and no one from Big Prairie has reviewed this blog. Just to be clear, I got 1 pen, 3 notebooks and some software with a retail value of about HKD1,700 (about USD220) in exchange for 2 days of work at the forum. Clearly, I’m really a cheap date.

I prepared some demos and for two days I demonstrated the LiveScribe Echo digital pen. Subsequently, I’ve been using the pen almost every day and showing it around to my network. People are very impressed with the technology. The pen is a normal ball-point pen with a small camera and a digital recorder and player. The pen is lightweight and a bit big but still comfortable for writing. The pen can be used as just a normal ball-point pen or used with the Anoto dot paper to record what you are writing. The notebook is made from normal notebook paper which as been printed with thousands of very small blue-colored dots. These dots are locational markers; when combined with the camera your writing is recorded precisely and accurately. The digital recorder can be used stand-alone or it synchronizes with your handwritten notes. The notebook has printed commands at the bottom of the page that let you turn on, pause, turn off the audio recording, jump ahead in 10 second intervals, bookmark, jump to a % position, set the playback speed and adjust the volume of the playback. The small speaker on the pen is good enough for listening or you can buy some headphones that plug into the pen for both better listening quality and recording quality. You can play back an audio recording by simply touching any of the synchronized handwritten text.

I don’t want to go over all of the features of the LiveScribe pen because that information is easily available and better explained on the LiveScribe website.

The handwritten notes and recording can be easily exported to Adobe pdf format. This is called a pencast. I’ve made some pencast examples that illustrate what I think are the important points. Download these pencasts and open with Acrobat Reader version 9.3.2 or higher.

1. A pencast with handwritten notes and audio recording by listening to the BBC One-minute news broadcast. Pencast no 1 ….
– The black text has no synchronized recording.
– The green text has synchronized recording.
– Click on the green text to listen to the recording. The remaining green text will go light grey. You can jump around by clicking on the green or light grey text.

2. A pencast with handwritten notes, audio and a quick sketch. Added a few days’ later handwritten notes and audio recording from a BBC One-minute news broadcast. Pencast no 2 ….
– It captures the sketch easily and accurately.
– Notes and recordings can be added at different times.

3. A pencast of “Double Ninth: Missing my Shandong Brothers”, with handwritten Chinese characters, Putonghua pinyin and English translation. There is no audio recording. This is a poem that almost all Chinese children learn in school. Pencast no 3 ….

As a lonely stranger in a strange land,
At every holiday my homesickness increases.
Far away, I know my brothers have reached the peak;
They are planting flowers, but one is not present.

“Double Ninth, Missing My Shandong Brothers”
— Wang Wei (王維), Tang Dynasty

4. A pencast with handwritten Japanese kana and kanji. Pencast no 4 …
– Kana means katakana and hiragana writing. Kanji mean Chinese characters.

Handwritten notes can be converted to text using the MyScriptforLiveScribe tool from a company named VisionObjects . It costs about USD30.00. It is very easy to use from within the LiveScribe Desktop.

Here are the results.
1. A pencast with handwritten notes and audio recording by listening to the BBC One-minute news broadcast converted to text and then saved as a JPG. Pencast no 5 …
– As a JPG file it retains the layout and format of the handwritten notes.

2. A pencast with handwritten notes and audio recording by listening to the BBC One-minute news broadcast converted to text and then saved as a DOCX. Pencast no 6 ….
– It loses the layout and the format.
– The text can be edited.
– The text has 401 written letters and 10 errors marked in red so the error rate was 2.49%. This is remarkable for conversion of handwritten text to type text. I did a project last year where scanning handwriting and then converting to type text the error rates was between 25% to 50%. See here for information on ICR, intelligent character recognition.

3. A pencast of “Double Ninth: Missing my Shandong Brothers”, Chinese characters, Putonghua pinyin and English translation. I’ve converted the Chinese characters to text, the Putonghua pinyin to text and the English translation to text and saved as a DOCX. Pencast no 7 ….
– There are 37 characters in the original text plus 2 characters of the author’s name. There are 6 errors marked in red. The error rate is 15.38%. Once again, this is remarkable for handwritten Chinese character to type text conversion.
– There are 199 handwritten letters and diacritic marks in the Putonghua pinyin. There are 29 errors marked in red. The error rate is 19.33%. It is high because MyScriptforLiveScribe doesn’t have a dictionary for Putonghua pinyin.
– There are 188 handwritten letters and punctuation marks in the English translation. There are 15 errors marked in red. The error rate is 7.98%.

4. A pencast of Japanese kana and kanji. This text only has hiragana and kanji characters converted to characters and then saved as a DOCX. Pencast no 8 ….
– 65 handwritten hiragana and kanji.
– 3 errors marked in red. The error rate is 4.62%. Once again, this is remarkable. Projects in Japan I’ve worked on with handwritten Japanese to text conversion are lucky to get the error rate down to 25%.

The LiveScribe solution is for personal note-taking. It is most useful for students, business people, professionals such as lawyers, doctors, advisors and anyone who takes notes which is just about anybody. Being able to record the audio along with the notes can significantly increase the value of the notes and can improve your ability to add to the notes later. Being able to create a PDF pencast makes the notes easy to share with others. Being able to convert them into type text makes it much easier to produce formal reports from handwritten notes. I recommend it highly for an effective and inexpensive solution for taking notes and keeping them digitally.

In Hong Kong, information on ordering a LiveScribe digital can be found on the Smartpen Asia website. The LiveScribe website has an international store locator. LiveScribe pens and accessories can also be ordered thru Amazon.

There are enterprise solutions enabling forms to be created and specialized workflows integrated to enterprise backend solutions using the Anoto digital pen technology. You should contact Big Prairie Limited or Anoto for more information.

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Teaching old dogs new tricks: a cautionary tale

I went to an Education & IT Conference on 29 April here in Hong Kong. It was for the full-day and there was cross-section of education researchers from universities around Hong Kong, heads of IT Services for universities, colleges and K-12 international schools and a few others such as the CIO for the International Baccalaureate program. The focus was on how to use technology in schools and what works and what doesn’t work. There was a lot of discussion on the disconnect between what technology skills and equipment students bring with them into the classroom versus what technology a school and/or teacher can reasonably be expected to provide. The word ‘digital native’ popped up many times with various feelings on if they exist and what they may or may not be able to do with technology. Clearly the feeling was that young people are frustrated with ‘how they learn’ and they ‘want to be more engaged’. There were many examples of students using video and audio to create content for assignments collaboratively. There was a need to change the physical setting of the classroom to make it easier for students to interact and collaborate. Many times it was mentioned that teachers needed to learn how to teach using more collaborative processes and not be intimidated by technology. The process of getting teachers to learn more collaboratively among themselves was a theme repeated over and over.

My perspective on learning and teaching is that in the past 5 years I’ve been in student in 3 different full-time learning programmes. I think this is a bit unusual for someone my age. I got the typical mid-career corporate lay-off in 2007 and at the age of 51 I decided I would re-train and do something new. This is a cautionary tale on teaching old dogs new tricks.

I was an unqualified English teacher in at the Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute, 1988-1989, and in Hong Kong at the Sear Rogers International School, 1989-1990, and I rather enjoyed it although I had no idea what I was doing in the classroom. So, in 2007 I enrolled in the Hong Kong British Council Certificate in English Language Training for Young Learners offered jointly with Cambridge University. There were 9 students and 2 teachers. We had a few weeks of lectures and then we started actually observing and teaching. During the lectures we sat at 2 round tables in well-appointed rooms with very fancy ‘interactive white-boards’ which integrated with presentation software, video and audio files. The teachers were sort of OK with using it but frequently complained on ‘how hard it was to use’. We did some observations of real classes at the British Council and they all used the ‘interactive white-boards’. Teachers had a wide range of user skills and techniques. Recently I’ve done some research of the British Council and I notice there is a thread these ‘interactive white-boards’ were expensive and not that well taken up in many cases. I finished the programme and got my certificate and in no-way felt qualified to go-out and teach anyone English. I was mostly just shell-shocked and exhausted. Almost 4 years later I can say that I’ve not made any significant use of my English language teacher training as a teacher. I tutored a few Japanese students the next year when living in Japan but nothing since then. However, this experience gave me many insights into the learning process. Sitting and working collaboratively was very useful for the course whereas the fancy ‘interactive white-boards’ were not that critical to the learning process.

Next I moved to Okazaki, Japan to study Japanese full-time at the Aichi Center for Japanese Studies, more commonly known as ‘Yamasa’. I had been studying Japanese with a private tutor for about a year so I had some back-ground. I was in a class of 12 from 9am – 4pm Monday to Thursday and Friday 9am – 2pm. I also had one-on-one private tuition 3 times a weeks. Ten of my classmates were ‘digital natives’ all under 23 years old. There was one woman in her mid-thirties. It was a very international group; UK, USA, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sweden, Portugal, France, Korea. Just some observations: there was hardly any technology used in the classroom although we all had laptops in our rooms and used them for some sort of looking up and memorizing exercises. The physical environment was just a big table we all sat around and were usually cold or hot. The Japanese don’t put a lot of belief in making the physical learning environment comfortable. We all got the impression that learning for the Japanese was like ‘going to war’. Many times students said they wished we could just sit by ourselves at desks. We watched videos on a wheeled in TV on a cart occasionally just like I remembered doing in the 1960’s in south Georgia. We used the classic foreign language acquisition methodology of the teacher only using the target language (all Japanese all the time) and the students did role-plays, scenes, drew pictures, made newspapers, wrote letters to friends (real and imaginary), made videos and went on little trips to the post office, the corner shops, and so on. We should have spoken Japanese to each other all the time but really we only did haltingly and just used English because it was the lingua franca for the group. There were tests at least once a day and every 3 weeks a grueling 3 hours examination to test proficiency on what had been ‘learned’. I never did very well on any of these tests or examinations. My classmates were not very interested in collaborative type activities and preferred to simply study and memorize alone in their rooms and then go to the local bar, get drunk and forget they were in Japan. I stayed there 9 months and then left to return to Hong Kong. I will forever be able to read and write a simple note in Japanese and order food in a noodle shop when I’m in Japan. I can’t understand very well at all when spoken to but people seem to understand when I say something. I still wonder why I did this but I do have a feeling it was useful in an odd abstract sort of way. I put this in the category of ‘learning for learning’s sake’.

Next, I returned to Hong Kong and the winds of the global financial tsunami were in the air. I enrolled into the MSc Knowledge Management Program at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This is a blended learning programme with some face-to-face activities and some online activities. They were using the WEBCT learning managing system (LMS), which I know now to be rather a dinosaur LMS. I liked the WEBCT and it was interesting to read lessons online and then attend the lectures. The course work was frequently group based. The programme was primarily designed for full-time workers to do over a 2 or 3-year period. I did the whole programme in 15 months full-time just because it was impossible to find a job in Hong Kong at that time. Doing group course work required a lot of time to organize physical and virtual meetings, set deadlines and monitor progress. Some of them were very rewarding and some were very frustrating. Simply put, it all depended on the team. I leaned how to use many collaborative online tools that I would never have used otherwise because of the group course work. I did well in the programme and felt that I had really learned quite a lot about knowledge organization approaches and methodologies. I’m using what I learned in the programme everyday now. Learning technology was well-used even if it wasn’t that most up-to-date and sophisticated learning technology available. The emphasis on group learning was far more important and useful than the technology.

The caution is that I really could only learn successfully in a context where it was meaningful for me based on my experience. Using technology was not the significant factor and group collaborative learning was much more important all 3 programmes. Being an English teacher may be useful some day but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do in 2007/2008. Leaning Japanese seemed exotic but the reality was memorizing 3 scripts and hundreds of vocabulary items every week and I couldn’t see any definite end-goal for what I would do with it if and when I learned Japanese. Learning about knowledge management fit into the context of what I had been doing in the records and information management field at New York University, Philip Morris and the HK Chep Lap Kok airport construction project. I learned and could put it into a context of past experience and it made sense to me where I could use this newly acquired knowledge. So if you are going to be an old dog learning something new then I recommend you stay in your field and focus on branching out and widening your horizons in your field. I wouldn’t recommend trying to learn something too radically different because it may not fit in with your view of yourself and you might have a difficult time seeing how you will use this new knowledge.

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Reactions – Chinese Facilitators Conference

I went to the 2nd day of the Chinese Facilitators Conference in Shenzhen on 19 March. This was organized by Leadership, Inc. This was my birthday present to myself. Shenzhen has grown-up so much in the last 10 years. It is now a major Chinese city and has a different feel from both Hong Kong and Macau. The big superhighway coming in from the Shekou ferry pier on Friday night made me think I was in America. Dinner with some of the conference speakers and organizers on Friday night at an excellent Italian place made me realize this was a very different Shenzhen from my last trip ‘to the north’. Its sad to say but I seldom go to China and when I do I tend to fly to Beijing or Shanghai.

At the conference there were 60 people from China (mostly) with a few from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Many of the people were from learning and training functions in Human Resource departments. Many different industries were represented. Most of the people from China were from the south-east with a smattering from farther up the northeast corridor towards Shanghai and Beijing. Maybe there were people from interior but I din’t meet them. On the 2nd day we started with a good ‘Share a Process’ exercise. We counted off and then re-grouped into new tables of about 5 each. This was useful to ‘break the safety nets’ that people form on the 1st day. We each wrote down a facilitation process and then discussed them as a group. We chose one and each table presented their process to the group. I learned some new processes.

There were then group break-out sessions. I listened to 张树金 Simba Zhang explain ORID methodology and how it can help make people more productive in meetings – Objecitve thinking, Reflective thinking, Interpretive thinking, Descional thinking (Experience, Emotion, Thought, Action). One of the student helpers from Shenzhen University translated for me which was very helpful. It was quite a good talk but gently I would recommend that Simba do this talk again and actually have the participants ‘do a ORID facilitated meeting’. ORID is a TOP, Technology of Participation facilitation technique. Here a good slideshare on ORID from Patricia Tuecke.

A helpful guy from Fairland Information Limited, a translation firm in Shenzhen, very kindly showed me how to write my name in simplified Chinese. This was the subject of my last post so I enjoyed knowing how to do this:
鲍 伟 林 Bao4 wei3 lin2 vs. 鮑 偉 霖 Baau6 wai5 lam4
Putonghua vs. Cantonese
Simplified vs. Traditional.
Here is a good simple site for Chinese character lookup from Cantonese to Putonghua.

The afternoon was devoted to an Open Space meeting with the topic, “Issues and Opportunities for facilitation in organizations in China”. I’ve read about Open Space several time but never experienced an event. It started with Larry Philbrook and Karen Lim arranging us all in a circle of chairs. There were some colourful blankets in the middle with some large sheets of paper and marker pens. I noticed they never used called this Open Space Technology, but only Open Space. It’s about ‘self-organization’, which sounds both easy and terrifying. People propose topics and anyone can gather around and discuss them. People can join and leave whenever they like. People are like ‘bumblebees’ and ‘butterflies’ and both are good. There is actually a little bit of organization in that at the beginning people write topics on the large sheets of paper and announce the topic and go put it on a wall. The topics are divided into 3 groups and each group of topics is given 45 minutes for discussion.
The mantra of Open Space :
– Whoever comes is the right people
– Whenever it starts is the right time
– Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
– When it’s over, it’s over

What I thought was the best was that this group of Chinese people self-organized themselves and participated openly, vocally and willingly. I’ve heard this so many time before that ‘we can’t do these types of group activities with Chinese people, they are too shy, too reticent to speak up in public, and so on’. I didn’t see any of that at this Open Space. We discussed and moved around and wrote up bullet points on butcher paper. We signed our names on the ‘topic’ sheets so we could but our mark on this participation. Of course, my participation was minimal since most of the conversation was in Putonghua. I got some help from time to time and if I sat and listened carefully and read what was being written down I could participate a bit. We finished with a huge circle of chairs using a talking stick. About 10 people stood up and commented on the Open Space. We then all got a chance to speak and make a comment and give our thanks. It was truly very inspiring.

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Part 1: HKKMS & KMRC Lessons from the MAKE award winners – Conference Reaction 2011

I went to the HKKMS/KMRC Knowledge Café style conference last Friday. This was billed as ‘an exercise in KM. Rather than a highly structured morning of speakers and Powerpoint presentations , we are just setting a few boundaries: choosing a good venue, the start and end time, and of course, the purpose – to allow those interested in KM a chance to hear from those organisations that won awards from the Hong Kong Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) judges.’

Well, OK, it sounds good but the proof is in the pudding. We started with some introductory remarks by Prof. W.B. Lee, head of the Industrial & Systems Engineering Department, which sponsors the Knowledge Management Research Centre, KMRC, and runs some excellent under graduate and graduate programs with strong KM components and then some more remarks by the President of the HKKMS, Les Hales. They both emphasized that now Hong Kong has a critical mass of KM professionals. It does with more than half-a-dozen good KM programmes in the city. Take a look my Education page for a pretty comprehensive list of the Hong Kong Knowledge Management programmes here.

I’ve done some digging thru LinkedIN and got a little World Bank KM timeline going here. The keynote speaker was Nicolas Gorjestani, formerly the Chief Knowledge & Learning Off icer, at the World Bank, from 2000-2007. Nicolas is the 3rd person I’ve met over the years who had/has a leading role in the World Bank’s knowledge management programme. The other two are Stephen Denning, programme director of KM at the World Bank at unspecified times, and Madelyn Blair, Division Chief at the World Bank 1978 – 1988. They are all very interesting people. However, I remain a bit bemused by the idea that KM at the World Bank should be some sort of ‘global’ benchmark for KM practices. The World Bank is THE BLUE CHIP aid agency. Can we, who are working in much more day-to-day mundane organizations, learn from something that is so unique and special? For the same reason, I don’t think holding up MicroSoft, Apple and IBM as examples of good or bad corporate management is very useful.

Nicolas gave a passionate talk. He believes KM is about making the connections between people. This is a core KM belief and it’s true; people are who make it all happen. He thinks KM is not about organizing ‘knowledge’ – e.g. libraries, repositories, documents, records. Of course, every corporate KM programme I’ve ever seen has a big component of organizing all this ‘explicit’ knowledge. It isn’t sexy but it is necessary. He puts a lot of emphasis on ‘trust’ and how ‘trust’ is required before anyone will share ‘knowledge’. He had an amusing example of the ‘new matrix organization’ at the World Bank with lateral connecting layers (sausages) who renamed themselves Network Heads or Network Anchors because they didn’t want to be called Network Facilitators or Network Co-ordinators. My observation is any matrix organization creates a guerilla war to turn itself into a hierarchy and most of the time the guerilla war wins. He emphasized the importance of un-learning and leaning from failure. The World Bank will run a ‘Fail Fair’ next week which sounds like a wonderful idea. My idea is that success and failure are close companions and we should not forget that sometimes what was initially thought of as a failure turns out to be a success or vice versa. I’m slightly skeptical of Nicolas’ idea that the 20th century was about rigid hierarchical organizations and the 21st will be about organic, fluid and more human organizations. I think he is confusing ‘rich’ country issues and ‘emerging’ country issues. China, India and Africa are now quickly ramping up with large hierarchical organizations in many business and government sectors. Are these really different from how Europe and the Americas, note I’m including North, Central and South America, developed and expanded throughout the 19th and 20th century? I don’t think so. Europe and the Americas have been rich for so long now that their organizations need to cope with the unique issues of size, aging work force, shrinking work force, expansive expectations from the workforce, which makes them by necessity place more emphasis on the ‘human’ side of the organization.

Then Nicole Sy, from the KMRC, Knowledge Management Research Centre, explained how the MAKE awards winners are assessed. The MAKE awards, Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises, are assessed by judges from business, government and academia. The criteria is established by a UK based consultancy named Teleos which support and enables THE KNOW NETWORK, ‘A global community of knowledge-driven organizations dedicated to networking, benchmarking and sharing best practices leading to superior performance.’ Teleos is rather mysterious. I’ve been told it’s a small British KM consultancy but I can’t confirm this thru Google or LinkedIN.

Award winning is very important because it gives recognition which in turns ensures continuing support from the powers that be up that dreaded hierarchy, or matrix or hybrid hierarchical matrix. In Hong Kong, we give awards for everything from Young Leaders to Best Marketing Campaign to most successful English essay and we like to announce the winners loudly and publically. I suspect it is linked to the British school tradition of prefects, best boy, best girl, sports days and the like.

David Gurteen was the facilitator for of Knowledge Café. I heard his presentation last year at the HKKMS conference in Hong Kong. I also attended a half-day work-shop on how to run a knowledge café. I’ve run a few knowledge café this past year so I was really interested to see how David would run this ‘conference’ knowledge café. More to follow in my next post …

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