Archive for Technology

Edward Snowden | Letter from Hong Kong

Dear Edward,

A few days before you revealed the NSA’s hacking of telecommunications and Internet traffic around the world I was giving a presentation here in Hong Kong at the Open Data Hong Kong’s 3rd meetup on, ‘What is Open Data’. I started with a quote from Rufus Pollack, co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation saying in 2012, “Today we find ourselves in the midst of an open data revolution”. That revolution has ended up on Hong Kong’s doorstep with you fleeing here and stories now across the pages of most of the territory’s newspapers for the past several days.

The U.S. government is making decisions behind closed doors to manufacture for itself what is being done is legal but at the same time choosing to hide this manufactured legal truth from its own citizens. Personally, I am not that worried about my privacy. By choosing to use free internet based services such as Google Gmail, Google+, Facebook, WordPress and many others I grant the right for these services to know what I’m doing online in return for the free services they provide. I’ve long suspected that Internet service companies and various governments are monitoring most anything I’m doing online. However, if the US government monitors all electronic and telecommunication networks I do want to know that it is being done and with sufficient detail to understand the breadth and scope of the monitoring. I do not want to be lied to on an almost daily basis starting with President Obama and going down his chain of command.

The people who approve and are nominally in charge of these monitoring programmes likely do not have the technical expertise to understand how these programmes work. These programmes are not automatic, not done by anonymous machines and most simply are not magic. I suspect that in any 24-hour period these monitoring programmes only work at best around 75% to 85% effectiveness and it may be much less some of the time. You have been one of the thousands of people writing code, monitoring routines, and making hourly, daily, weekly and longer adjustments to a wildly complex group of systems that at any moment may stop working. You and others who do make these monitoring programmes work do not share the same philosophy as the people in charge and no amount of signing confidentiality agreements is going to make your change you philosophy. I want to thank-you for standing up and doing what is right at great personal risk. We are all better off that people like yourself, Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and many others choose to stand-up and tell the truth.

I hope you got to see some of the Dragon Boat Festival, 龍船節, racing yesterday. Qu Yuan’s, 屈原, story is both sad and uplifting. The people so loved him they wanted to keep him safe. Hong Kong is a wonderful city and I know if will fight for openness and transparency and I hope it will keep you safe.

Many thanks,

Bill

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Open Data Hong Kong ~ Make.01 ~ Hackathon

I was a bit aprehensive about getting involved with anything called hackathon. For me and for a lot of others I suspect the word has connotations of electronically sneaking into an organizations computer system and stealing data. However, ‘hack‘ means something just done well as a verb and done playfully as a noun, at least according to that great resource of modern English usage the Urban Dictionary. So I went along on this past Saturday wondering if any of the people from the Catalyst night would be there and what were we going to get up to for the day. Would we do something well and playful?

I ran into someone at the Cheung Sha Wan MTR station and after loading up on tuna buns, soy milk and coffee heading out for The Good Lab. Arriving around 1pm and there were a few people in a large, bright and varied work space with kitchen, work-tables, work-benches, chairs of various shapes and sizes. It quickly filled up with about 40 people. I was involved in two projects. I found my fellow team-member, we got into the wifi and had a few conversations with people wandering around looking for possible projects. We then set to work. I was working on reviewing open data public sector information websites around the world, Data.One Analysis Project. My team-member was working on a form for crowd-sourcing potential datasets around the HK government websites, Opening Data. Most of the time people were heads-down working with some small group meetings. It was possible to eves-drop on some conversations. This was a good way of knowing what skills people had and maybe asking them a question. Around 6:30pm the group reported on progress and asked for help if required. Pizza was delivered and we ate and chatted. We kept working until 11pm.
Bill and Haggen So May 2013 Hackathon photo credit: Yolanda Jinxin Ma
Up around 8am on Sunday and made my way back to Cheung Sha Wan by 10am. Most of the same people were there plus some more. Yesterday’s team-member was joined by 2 others. We figured out what we needed to do and worked until lunchtime. There was a feeling of anxiety in the crowd. Downstairs for a good Chinese lunch and we talked about what was wrong with Hong Kong with a recent arriver from Spain. Back to work until a bit after 6pm and we started giving presentations on the results. There were some truly amazing results and knowledge sharing on how it was done. People were very interested in anything dealing with maps and how to use the not so friendly mapping CSV files available from the Data.One site. The list of projects is here. Hopefully, they will be updated in the coming weeks. Here are three that I believe deserve a special mention (but they were all really good):

Legco Meeting Log Parser ~ extract the Hong Kong Legislative Council meeting transcript and voting record from PDF and make it available. It begs the question why this isn’t made available in document format with audio and video transcripts.

Reporting Tool for Request for Access to Information ~ a centralized form with sharable tracking of requests for information to the appropriate HK government bureau or department. Hopefully this will motivate our government to have true Freedom of Information legislation in the coming years.

Hong Kong food security and mainland’s two standard on food quality ~ a way of putting on a map where food is coming from out of China into Hong Kong. Food security and safety is a huge issue in China and Hong Kong. The HK government should be sharing as much information as possible with where our food comes from and what are the past problems.

A member of the OGCIO PSI team and Charles Mok, IT Sector Legislative Councillor came over around 6pm. We had some Raspberry Pi prizes donated by Pindar Wong. The prize was chosen by popular acclamation choosing Legco Meeting Log Parser and Charles Mok gave out the prize. An interesting RTHK video of an interview with Pindar and Charles is here.

Did we do something well and was it playful? The work-products from our projects were excellent. The energy level was high. People were working really well and collaboratively and the atmosphere was a lot more playful then I’ve experienced in the dreaded corporate cubicle world a la Dilbert. So now I know what a hackathon is about.

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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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Barcamp Hong Kong 2013

I went to the first day of Barcamp Hong Kong 2013 at HK Polytechnic University on Saturday, 23 February. This was my second Barcamp event. Last year was held all on one-day at City University of Hong Kong. Barcamp is a open-space inspired event where someone with an idea and the desire to talk about it makes a pitch to people who want to listen. The ‘law of two feet’ applies; if it isn’t interesting people can get up and leave for someone else presenting their idea. In practice, people write up very short descriptions of their idea and they are assigned a place to present. People can wander in and out as they like.

I got there on time at 9:45am for a 10:00 am start. This is the first time I’ve seen the 3D barcode registration work with iPhones. There weren’t too many people in the big open plaza at HKPolyU Design School with rows of chairs, a very large digital display screen and sound system. People were rather reluctant to sit in the chairs; I think because it had the ominous ‘lecture-look’ that might be difficult to get out away from easily. Perhaps it might have been better to arrange them in circles. By 11:00am people had filled out some half-size sheets of paper with topics and stuck them up on a brick wall. There was some consolidation as people with similar topics joined forces. Last year I seem to remember that each topic was given 30 minutes and it seemed too short. This year 1 hour seemed better but maybe too long for just one speaker.

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

My first topic was ‘Fashion & Technology’. I like clothes I suppose about as much as anyone. I’m interested in why I choose the clothes I wear. HK is somewhat of a fashion centre but it suffers from creative anxiety. HK used to be a centre for making clothes and now is a place for organizing the making of clothes in China and then shipping them around the world. I wondered what these people would talk about it. The speaker was trying to get some sense of what people thought ‘fashion & technology’ should be about. People introduced themselves and why they choose to come to this topic. Most people were not working in the fashion field but were interested in wearable technology. I was somewhat amused when someone presented the new idea of using technology to make ‘custom-made’ clothes. I’m old fashioned and I still use a couple of HK tailors for suits, shirts and casual trousers from time to time. These tailors seem to keep track with big bound volumes where they write down my measurements and what I’ve ordered over the past 24 years. It’s nice when they ask me if I still wear the grey plaid jacket I had made in 1996. I think maybe technology and fashion could be used for custom made clothes but I’m not sure it will ever be as personal and good as an in-person tailor.

My second topic was from a grumpy old guy on ‘Lessons from Web 1.0 | That are still true today’. He wasn’t that old but he had been part of that first wave of web-developers in the 1990’s. He now works at one of the large banks in HK on trading algorithms. He made some useful observations that in the Web 1.0 days many plugins and be-spoke browser-sensing approaches were used to improve the web experience. These didn’t work well because most users do not keep their browser up to the latest version with all the appropriate plugins and writing code specific for Netscape, IE and Mosaic very quickly fell-down because it was impossible to test all the possible iterations of OS, hardware and browsers. Guess what? There are now 3 main browsers, IE, Chrome and Firefox and many other smaller ones used widely in specific countries and industries. Many times developers build applications assuming everyone is using the most recent version of Chrome on a high-end personal computer. The application fails and the user walks away. The lesson learned? Do not assume that everyone is a geeky computer person who enjoys hanging out with the PC. Most people do not want to have that much knowledge about the PC. They believe, correctly I will add, the PC should just work without a lot of fuss and bother. He recommended making applications work first with Lynx, a text based browser and then with other browsers. Assume someone in Kenya on a dial-up link is going to use the application. That person in Kenya could be generating 10 cents of revenue and if there are enough of them that could be what makes the application a success. There is an assumption among developers that applications are refreshed and being updated every few years. This is seldom true. Rather than being refreshed applications simply die from lack of use. Useful applications last for a long time and get changed incrementally with the danger that old code is still lurking around and being used as the core for more supposedly advanced applications. In the end, this may cause quite a few problems in the next wave of Web 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 world.

The last topic was Open Data in Hong Kong. The HK government has had the Data.One initiative since 2011 to make datasets available to the public for no cost. First, a developer presented his open source application using the HK Observatory (HKO) data. He hadn’t used the datasets available from Data.One for two reasons. First, he didn’t know the HKO dataset was available and second when he did find out about the dataset it was only a simple RSS text file and was not useful. Instead, he simply captured (scraped) the data from the websites maintained by the HKO. Next, someone talked about the Data.One initiative, the background and what was now happening. The gist of it seems to be that the government wants to make datasets available but not much effort if being made to coordinate what, why, how and who. Departmental Administrative Officers (AO) makes the datasets available based on their personal networks. The AO is an important person in the HK government structure but he/she is frequently very over-worked and normally has limited technical IT skills or knowledge. These AO’s have networks inside the government and they use for all sorts of activities. There is nothing wrong with this approach but the Data.One datasets are rather hit and miss. The last person talked about the context of Open Data initiatives in the EU and elsewhere. She said that the most active Open Data initiatives were in Berlin, London and New York. The big question is how to have more knowledge about the datasets and more use of them for application development. After these talks a Google+ group, Open Data Hong Kong, was setup. Hopefully, this may become a platform to promote these Data.One datasets.

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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 ….
九月九日憶山東兄弟
獨在異鄉為異客,
每逢佳節倍思親.
遙知兄弟登高處,
遍插茱萸少一人.

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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Reaction: Birds of a Feather

On 18 April I went to the Birds of a Feather, BOF, sharing event sponsored by CLP, China Light & Power, and Bright Idea. CLP has been using Bright Idea’s idea innovation suite Webstorm, Switchboard and Pipeline for about 18 months. These BOF events are a way for current users, just the plain interested like myself, and Bright Idea to get together to share their experiences and thoughts on innovation. It isn’t a sales event except for about 20 minutes at the end when Matthew Greeley gives a low-key introduction to innovation and how Bright Idea’s products can support it. It was well-organized and shows a lot of generosity on both Bright Idea’s and CLP’s part.

Everyone (note the big ‘E’ as my Aunt Sue would say) is talking about ‘Innovation’. ‘Managing innovation’ raises the same issues for many people as ‘managing knowledge’; can it be done successfully, how can you manage something so ethereal, how do you measure the outcome and so on? First, I should say I don’t ever truly believe we ‘manage knowledge’ but we can enable the processes around it; how it is created, how to share it, how to avoid losing it, how to recognize it when it becomes a bit hidden and shy. Second, ‘enabling innovation’ is possible if what we mean is letting ideas be proposed by a wide audience, reviewing them for value, supporting them by prototyping and piloting and sharing the results with a wide audience so there is learning taking place that can be applied to the next round of enabled innovation.

Some of the participants had been using Bright Idea’s products for several years and some for only a few months. Everyone agreed the product suite is useful but what I heard over and over again was that the processes around using the product suite were critical. There needed to be focused innovation campaigns within a short period of time, 2 to 6 weeks seemed to be a good, when ideas were collected. There needs to be a hands on ‘campaign management team’ to promote and review the ideas submitted. A lot of ideas would be submitted and people needed to know what happened to ‘their idea’ or they got discouraged and didn’t participate in the next campaign. Even good ideas are not necessarily going to lead to implemented pilots and prototypes and people need to know why. It all takes times so don’t become impatient or anxious. There are different types of innovation and some take much longer than others to implement inside an organization. Realistically, you may not see real innovation impact for 2 or 3 years.

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