Monthly Archives: August 2012

Goals of An “Online” Education

Jeannette Wei, great mom and teacher extroardinaire

I had lunch with my mother today.  She’s 82-years old, but Jeannette Wei still teaches every day at an elementary school in Palo Alto, CA, then commutes into San Francisco to tutor Chinese immigrant children (she’s an immigrant herself) three times a week.  Yes, she’s a saint.

She’s also an amazing teacher (recognized as a California Distinguished Teacher with a Master Teacher accreditation) at a very innovative public school.  Much of her teaching philosophy has influenced our educational values at Nuvana — most of it based on listening to children, respecting them and empowering them.

Today, she handed Jeff and me a yellow postcard which, at first glance, I thought said:  “Goals of an Online Education.”  Here it is:

Ohlone Elementary School’s education goals

It took me a while before I realized it didn’t say “Online.”  It said “Ohlone” — the name of the elementary school she teaches at and it’s a very special place.  You can tell by reading their educational goals:

Self-Awareness—Our children will have positive self-images and know their strengths and challenges.

Independent Thinking—Our children will have a growth mindset, think for themselves, act responsibly and be resilient.

Time Management—Our students will manage their time wisely, focus on quality work and take responsibility for their own learning.

Democratic Values—Our children will realize the meaning of democratic values and give voice to their principles through their words and actions.

Tolerance and Compassion—Our children will show compassion for others and value different perspectives.

Citizenship and Community—Our children will understand their places in the global community and care about the environment.

Lifelong Learning—Our children will view learning as a lifelong process that will enrich their lives.

“Physical Awareness—Our children will be aware of, and comfortable with, their own bodies.

Risk Taking/Creativity—Our children will be comfortable taking risks to express their creative selves.”

A pretty impressive set of goals.  And certainly works for ‘Online” education too, don’t you think?

Okay, mom — we’ll do our best to embed those goals into our online educational tools.

And I promise to also read more carefully!

— JvK

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A Tool for Communities of Practice

I have to say, building tools is a total blast.  It’s so fun problem-solving the facilitation of a process — because the tool builder is never exactly sure what the process will exactly look like.  You’re just making the wand to facilitate the magic.  At any rate, there seems to be two primary design paths to the perfect tool.

Path #1:  Build the tool to suit the needs of the user.  The user usually wants more efficiency, to maintain or raise quality, a faster rate of production, and all at a cheaper cost.

Path #2:  Build a tool that you hope is extremely utilitarian and flexible — and then let users tell you what it’s good for.  And then, perhaps iterate from there.

I think of the bright, up-and-coming Neanderthal that first invented a thingamajig to dig holes.  His buddy, only slightly impressed, got him to make a much smaller version and it became a whosamagatz which was the perfect tool to eat soup and gruel with.  And then her buddy (yes, let’s not get all male-oriented here) suggested she cut some slits into that whatsamabob and that thing became a fork.  Best of all, the part they cut out for the slits made the perfect toothpick.  (I’m pretty sure toothpicks were always called toothpicks.  I’m just guessing though.)

The Nuvana Whatchamahoogie aka the MVP aka the Mega Versatile Platform never ceases to amaze us when folks tell us what it’s REALLY good for.

One of the partners we were planning to build for defines their institution as a community of practice and asked us to customize around that sensibility.  After carefully looking at the Nuvana MVP, their remark was, “Never mind, your platform already does that.”  To be safe, we decided to delve a little deeper nonetheless and came across this interesting article:  “Cultivating Communities of Practice” by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder.

Here are some design tenets that Wenger et al suggest a good community of practice adhere to.

  1. Design for evolution.
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
  3. Invite different levels of participation.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
  5. Focus on value.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community.

So how does the Nuvana platform specifically adhere to these principles?

1.  Design for evolution:  “The key to designing for evolution is to combine design elements in a way that catalyzes community development.” — Our platform uses missions aka “calls to action” derived from expert opinion as well as community suggestions and moderation that result in dynamic but authentic outcomes.  Most of our competitor platforms are closed systems.  The outcomes are pre-defined.  The Nuvana system self-iterates (evolves) — leading to unforeseen positive results.

2.  Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives:  “Good community design brings information from outside the community into the dialogue about what the community could achieve.” — The Nuvana platform, depending on how admin sets it, allows in “guest experts” to moderate.  Also, if the “game” is set to “Open/Viral” those outside perspectives are invited in.  The calls to action also encourage the community to seek outside experience and expertise.

3.  Invite different levels of participation: “The key to good community participation and a healthy degree of movement between levels is to design community activities that allow participants at all levels to feel like full members. Rather than force participation, successful communities “build benches” for those on the side lines.” — The Nuvana platform allows admin to set levels for broadstroke grouping, and emphasizes mentor/moderator participation to give individual attention.  The result: top to bottom inclusivity and personalized learning.  The leveling and badging system makes for dynamic flow within the community, transforming the social network into collaborative space.

4.  Develop both public and private community spaces:  “The key to designing community spaces is to orchestrate activities in both public and private spaces that use the strength of individual relationships to enrich events and use events to strengthen individual relationships.” — The Nuvana MVP has public walls, private messaging, private forums for the moderators, and circles of privacy setting to determine who can look at what user-generated media.  The activities can be virtual, but we encourage real world activity, and embed a voucher system to connect behaviors to bricks & mortar venues.  The profile formula we’re working on synthesizes all activities from liking to scoring to badging — into an overall reputation quotient that helps individuals seek the right mentors and understand the utility of comments they’re getting.

5.  Focus on value:  “Communities thrive because they deliver value to the organization, to the teams on which community members serve, and to the community members themselves.” — One of our partners, a foundation, uses the Nuvana platform with the adult grantees of their organization.  It allows the grantees to share best practices in a healthy competitive environment (while keeping certain issues secure), provides value to the constituents of the grantees, and gives the foundation usable media to market and proclaim the value it provides overall.  By allowing users to act as individual “players’ or collaboratively in Teams, a host of different interactions are available to the community.

6.  Combine familiarity and excitement:  “Lively communities combine both familiar and exciting events so community members can develop the relationships they need to be well connected as well as generate the excitement they need to be fully engaged. Routine activities provide the stability for relationship-building connections; exciting events provide a sense of common adventure.” — Since the Nuvana MVP allows for 24/7 presence, like any social network, our games become a familiar part of a community’s daily life.  Then with special Missions of the Day or Week that have deadlines or clear incentives — there are surges of excitement — not to mention the frenzy that occurs at the beginning or end of game cycles emblazoned on our countdowns.

7.  Create a rhythm for the community:  “Vibrant communities of practice…have a rhythm. At the heart of a community is a web of enduring relationships among members, but the tempo of their interactions is greatly influenced by the rhythm of community events.” — With the Nuvana MVP, our newsfeed pages allow admin to create rhythms of activity for the community involving research, collaboration, activity and celebration.  The timing is up to you.

Well, that’s how one group is using the Nuvana MVP.  We’re waiting for the right partner to show us how our tool works as a toothpick.

—  JvK

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Sustaining Transformation

When trying to create positive behaviors, ecstatic positive transformation is usually not that hard of an event to create.  It can happen in an instant at a religious ceremony, a self-help workshop, a music festival, a New Year’s party (“This year, I’m definitely going to quit smoking!”), a university classroom…even at a gym workout session.

These moments are powerful, visceral and life-changing.

The question is, how can we sustain those transformations?  And even more important, how can we share and inspire others to undergo the same transformation?

Because we all know what happens after corporate retreats, or self-help workshops, or New Year’s resolution declarations…

They go kaput.

According to corporate consultant Tom Connellan, 25% of New Year’s resolutions are forgotten in the first week, and by the end of the year — a whopping 88% are abandoned!

Again, transformation is not the problem.

Sustaining it IS!

In recent weeks, as we’ve been demo-ing the new Nuvana MVP, many have been telling us that the ability to sustain behavioral transformation is a particular strength of our platform.  That by socially-networking a transformation community in a gamified context, the MVP sustains new positive behaviors, even when the behavior is difficult, or on it’s own, not particularly pleasurable (i.e. quitting smoking, breaking obesity habits, going to school, working harder, overcoming fear).  The context of the game PLUS actions witnessed by the social network of the transformation community results in an overall pleasurable experience that drives the player to repeat the effort.

What is a transformation community?  Well, the more we talk to folk, the more it seems just about any community of positive practice is aiming itself at transformation.  Learning communities (i.e. schools, universities, research orgs), for-profit and non-profit businesses looking to improve their methods and attract more customers, health organizations trying to re-vamp behaviors, event organizers looking to grow and impact — they are ALL in the business of transformation, either of their cohorts or constituents.

One organizer we’ve been talking to is well-known for the collective intellectual epiphanies they generate at their exclusive workshop event that borders on the ecstatic.  Attendees return to their workplace full of energy, ideas and inspiration, but are unable to share what they’ve learned with co-workers who did not attend.  With the Nuvana MVP, not only can these “evangelists” share their experience, even while they’re attending the event, but they can also collaborate with other attendees who they normally would lose contact with, long after the event is over, no matter what the physical distance — resulting in deeper investigation of issues, the sharing of best practices, seeding real world impacts, drawing in like-minded supporters, all while creating compelling testimonial content for the original organizer.

We’ll be gathering data on the effectiveness of our tool in different contexts, but initial indicators are very positive.  Stay tuned for case studies.

—  JvK

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