Posts tagged ‘linkedin’

The English Center: East Bay’s best kept secret?

I am mightily impressed by the English Center in Oakland. It’s a 30-year-old nonprofit preparing non-native speakers of English for full participation in American society. The center offers not only immersion in English language at seven different levels, but also computer training, job-specific test preparation, and employment services.

Lynne Wilkins, associate director for programs, gave me an extensive tour of classrooms and computer labs. The EC’s Jack London Square site is an open and spacious environment, with large common areas where students can gather. I sat in on three different language classes.

In the basic class students worked on verb conjugations: I like books. He likes television. We both like movies. The intermediate class listened for pronouns in the Beatles’ song “Something.” And the advanced class was working on articulation using tongue twisters: She sells sea shells by the seashore. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain. “That one’s easy,” students said. Henry Higgins, take note.

But what really moved me was the cultural, and cross-cultural, curriculum. It’s embodied in the diversity of students in every single classroom. Japanese businessman next to Russian healthcare worker next to preliterate Spanish speaker next to Eritrean refugee. Students must speak English to communicate with each other. Cultures bump up against each other, mix, collide. Language exercises are designed to bring these cultural issues to the fore.

In the intermediate class, the students were grappling with social controversies and rehearsing polite phrases for agreement and disagreement. Should men fight alongside women in the military? Should parents stop supporting their children once the children are adults? Should women be married at 16? I feel the same way. / I see things differently. / I don’t agree. I sat with a group of three women (one East Asian, one Eastern European, one possibly Central American) who certainly had some opinions on what women could do! “You can agree, or disagree, as long as you’re respectful,” said the teacher. …I wish everyone were taking that lesson!

Over and over again I heard stories of the students’ lives which moved me. Immigrants who had made it to this country any way they could after a dozen years in refugee camps. Highly skilled professionals who are eager to work here, or to train here and take their skills back home. Students participating in mock elections at the center, engaging in political debates and casting their ballots, safely, for the first time in their lives.

Managing such diverse classrooms demands a lot pedagogically and emotionally from the English Center instructors, so the EC provides training and mentoring to prepare new teachers for this specific environment. And the English Center organization as a whole is also learning and growing rapidly – they’re expanding into providing training for entire companies and union groups. Student enrollment is up by 40% from two years ago.

The center’s programs are tuition based but most students receive financial aid. And, as is typical of many nonprofits, EC’s vision goes far beyond its funding. An interactive whiteboard, a digital camera, donations towards books: any of those would be a welcome fulfillment of the wish list. Volunteers are also needed. You may find me among them!


September 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm Leave a comment

SwiftRiver sorts realtime social media streams

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it and make important choices wisely.

E.O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

How can we evaluate citizen media for breaking news? Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Contested elections? Crowdsourced crisis information produces a flood of data. Individuals send emails, write blog posts, text friends, post to Twitter. Popular tweets are echoed and amplified. Eyewitness reports may be reliable, or mistaken – or planted disinformation.

SwiftRiver, an initiative of the Ushahidi project, aims to help humans aggregate and evaluate streams of social media. SwiftRiver is an open source platform for managing realtime data streams. Its services can be combined in different ways to serve the needs of crisis responders, journalists, and so on.

The first such app is Sweeper (now in beta), which intelligently filters data feeds for volunteers who then validate and geolocate the information.

Jon Goslin, TED Fellow and SwiftRiver director, talks about the five services underlying the apps.

  • Natural language processing to extract meaning.
  • Location context: considering how local the source is to reported events.
  • Reducing duplicates, especially those from Twitter.
  • Accounting for popularity separately from accuracy.
  • Reputation management: authority accruing to those for those who have a history of valued posts.

August 31, 2010 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

From the Working Smarter Fieldbook

This weekend I received the Working Smarter Fieldbook (June 2010 edition) from the group mind at the Internet Time Alliance.

So right now let me get my bookmonger’s gripe out of the way: It’s a print on demand title from, so the fit and finish are ever so slightly rough. Cropping on the cover? Just a hair off. Graphics pasted in from presentation slides.

Fortunately, this isn’t an archival item. It’s a consumable. An “unbook,” never finished, in the authors’ terms. A convenient way of carrying around the-current-state-of-their-thinking, and frequently updated.

So I won’t feel bad about writing in it and dog-earing the pages. A few accumulated tea stains? Not a problem.

(And in that same spirit I’m practicing writing more, smaller blog posts. Working on speed rather than length.)

Today’s bibliomantic gem: Performance Support Trumps Training Every Time. (p. 153)

Post-training drop-off argues for ongoing performance support

This chart (via Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps) tells the story. During the training event, performance dips slightly as new ways of doing tasks are learned. After training performance is elevated, but forgetting begins.

Sure, that first post-training sleep helps to consolidate new memories, but other factors swamp the beneficial effect. Intervening tasks: email, phone calls, meetings. Lack of guided practice: the trainer’s off to another assignment. Change in context: how does this work in my job, really?

Here’s Working Smarter‘s bold claim:

An even better (and certainly cheaper) option is simply to cut out the training altogether and replace it with a support environment from the start.

And then they make the case for performance support systems.

Hm. Not convinced of the strong claim.

PSSs are valuable, certainly. I am reminded of early work on “training wheels” computer system designs, where learners begin with subsets of features. Progressive disclosure? Sure. Ongoing support? Sure. Total replacement of training with such systems? I think it’d depend on the domain.

My friend Molly just fininshed years of study to become a radiologic technologist. There’s two years of prerequisites before the program proper begins. Then, during the program, students move gradually from full time classwork to nearly full time clinical rotation. The volume(s!) of anatomy, physiology, and physics students have to learn… how would anyone approach it without classroom hours?

But Working Smarter has some of it right: that classroom knowledge can’t go into cold storage. It’s got to be woven in with application, and generalized across environments as students move from clinic to clinic during their training.

I’m an adult second language learner. I can’t imagine learning Chinese without classroom training, workbook practice, and audio files of simple conversations. I have less plasticity, but more metacognitive capability, than a young child immersed in a Chinese-language environment.

But ultimately I do have to take it out into the world. And it would be wonderful if the world provided some helpful post classroom coaching, rather than humiliation (or sheer incomprehension) when my pronunciation is off.

ADDENDUM: I find strong “unlearning” and “untraining” statements tremendously helpful. They reset my thinking about what learning environments can be. They keep me from reaching for the same tools all the time. So, colleagues pushing for more engagement, more improvisation – I’m looking at you, @webojunk – thank you.

August 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm 2 comments

Tummeling? Yes: designing for conversation

Comedian, talk show host, and “UnPresenter” Heather Gold shows us all how to turn presentations into conversations. In comedy it’s called working the room, or tummeling.

Giving talks that “are more fun, require less preparation, and leave your audience feeling awesome”? Even in large groups?

Bay Area friends, you can see this in action. Heather’s got a free talk and two full-day workshops coming up. BayCHI members get a break on both the August 7 tutorial and the August 8 class.

And here’s a sample. In this Google talk Heather earns her pro status. They’ve only given her a podium mike, so she can’t move around to work the room. Watch her use friendly charm to draw in folks on the periphery.

You want to do everything you can to help people feel like they can be themselves. Because the best way to tummel is to be yourself, to be a really big version of yourself. Tummel means to make noise, to help people bring the noise.

July 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

Hǎojíle! Tools for learning Chinese

You’ll see more posts here on teaching and learning. In the last few months I’ve taken a more active role in learning: e-, m-, and face to face. And as a personal project, I’ve started to learn Standard (Mandarin) Chinese.

Why do it? Well, Pǔtōnghuà is the official language of a rapidly expanding world power. Even if the effort isn’t strictly speaking cost-justifiable, I get to broaden my cultural and linguistic horizons.

But at heart I’m a language nerd. Grappling with tones and deciphering characters is just plain fun. Add to that the Joys of Meta – the opportunity to observe adult learning first hand – and I’ve got a great project.

And because I am also a geek I’ve assembled tools to help. Mobile learning is essential to me. I turn first to my phone and the apps on it when I’m working, whether I’m drilling vocabulary while riding BART into San Francisco or sitting at home writing characters in my workbook. I’ve got an iPhone 3GS and a MacBook Pro, and strongly favor good iPhone apps with solid desktop integration. However, some of these tools are also available on other platforms.

Here are two of my favorites.

Flashcards: Mental Case (Mac, iPad, iPhone).

Mental Case is a general purpose program for flashcards on any topic. For ease of data entry I create cards with the desktop program and sync them to the iPhone app.

Mental Case Desktop

Mental Case uses spaced repetition. It builds a flashcard Lesson based on the units (“cases”) you want to study, your desired intensity of repetition, and your success with each card. Right now I’ve got 103 cards awaiting study – the app on my iPhone sports a numerical badge saying so. I don’t need to drill nǐ hǎo (hello) any more, so it’s not in the Lesson. But hòutiān (the day after tomorrow) is there, and will even come up multiple times during the review if I make a mistake on it.

If you’re studying a popular topic or a standard text, you can save time by importing flashcards from the Flashcard Exchange website, where students share what they’ve built.

I’m eagerly awaiting Mental Case’s next major release so I can make three-sided flashcards: English, Pinyin romanization with tones, and characters.

I should also give a nod here to Anki, an open source, multiple-platform flashcard system. After a semester using Mental Case I read this informed review of spaced-repetition software culminating in a hearty endorsement of Anki. Even then there still was no iPhone app, but now there is. So, iPhone Anki and Mental Case users, any comments?

Dictionary: Pleco (iPhone, iPad, Palm, Windows Mobile).

Pleco has a long history of creating Chinese dictionaries for mobile phones. Language learners living in China give Pleco high marks, especially for the uncluttered and highly functional iPhone version.

I use the free product, for which one can buy additional modules from within the app. Module bundles are attractive and there are educational discounts. I can’t wait to upgrade to word lookup via handwriting recognition. Pleco does a beautiful job of progressively narrowing its search results as you write, even with my beginner’s hand.

And the cross referencing within Pleco is a delight. From an entry to its component characters, from a character to its component radicals, from a usage example to other words in the phrase – just tap, and more information comes up in context.

July 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

ICT4D Twitter Chat, November

Wayan Vota at ICTWorks convened a lively chat today on information & communication technologies for development – or ICT4D. Expect to see another chat in December.

The hour flew by! After introductions we highlighted projects we admire, projects that have failed, and the problems with cloud computing in developing nations. (On that last point, I note that you can’t even get reliable access to the cloud in the US, depending on which smartphone you’re carrying or which highly-attended tech event you’re at.)

From the chatlog archive, here are some favorites:

The barrier is the carrier. (@jongos)

…we think lots of sun with intermittent rain then! offline needs to work seamlessly with infrequent on-line? (@meowtree)

My thoughts on cloud4d lately have steered toward a highly local, in-country cloud. Reliance on undersea cables too risky. (@downeym)

Donor agencies sobering up after being drunk on internet. (@travis_a)

…second hand, inexpensive, locally sourced equipment > new and shiney equipment that fails in dust and heat (@theresac)

Seems people still thinking, develop in West and take it to Africa who lags. Need to develop in Africa within resource & context (@africastrategy)

Technology is easy. Issues around geography, language, culture, true empowerment and paths to adoption are challenges. (@kiwanja)

Other discussion:

If you have a project that does originate in a developed country, how do you bridge the gap to the developing country? Several people pointed to stories of close on-site collaboration, even co-design, with local experts and users. Remote mentoring, say in the style of MicroMentor, is an additional tool.

How are people attracted to a new service, and what keeps them there? Agriculture, health, and education applications get the press – but it’s music, social media, sports, entertainment, and (yes) porn that have driven adoption in developing and developed nations. In terms of infrastructure, there was also criticism of mobile ICT buses (in India and Rwanda) as less effective, compared to stable ICT centers that become a predictable fixture in a community.

There are two more leads I’ll be watching. First, Cyclos, which provides free and open source banking and mobile payment tools. Second, Question Box, a project creating local information kiosks via mobile networks, has also gone open source.

Update: Take a look at Movirtu, a very smart mobile phone-sharing infrastructure for people earning less than $2 USD a day.  Users have a card plus PIN, and log into their mobile account using any phone on the same network as their account. The people who lend out the phones are rewarded with credits. And users can designate someone who is online more frequently to receive notifications, so they don’t miss important messages or money transfers.

November 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Boom Towns

Worldchanging’s article on Boom Towns has me thinking about the effects of an aging population on the SF Bay Area.

In 2011, the first Boomer will turn 65, an occasion that will herald an epochal demographic shift.  Just as babies boomed in the 1940s through 1960s, older adults will become North America’s – and much of the rest of the world’s – fastest-growing demographic. This imminent population shift is beginning to force a long-overdue conversation about the unique housing, environmental, and health care needs of an aging population.

Unfortunately, it’s a conversation that many of us are ill-prepared to undertake. A recent AARP study, for example, found a massive disconnect between perceptions of aging and its reality.

Aging population in USA

…These issues came to life for me several years ago, when my father, a California school teacher, started looking for his future retirement home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  His criteria for the move, “I want to get away from the crowded [city] and find a place that is less hectic…somewhere I can grow things.”

…My father simply couldn’t fathom the changes that age would bring to his abilities or his faculties. Even though he has never wanted to burden anyone, it was tough for him to envision the kind of decline that would lead to needing help with driving, shopping—or growing things.

…Eventually we found a house across the street from a hospital, a half mile from a future light rail stop, with a ramp over the three stairs leading to the front door, and with plenty of room on the property to add additional square footage or an accessory dwelling unit if my sister, our family, or his friends wanted to join him in Portland.

California is a comparatively “young” state with a high birth rate, but it is not immune to the aging boom. The proportion of residents 60+ years of age is expected to increase by 59 percent between 2005 and 2020. By then, one in five Californians will be over 60.

And then there’s population growth and the sheer number of older people, continuing to grow sharply through 2030 at least.

Aging trends in California

The state’s report “Aging California” (pdf) notes that this growth will be unevenly distributed. Rural counties currently have lower populations, but a greater percentage of seniors. This is due to the flight of younger residents to urban areas to find work, plus the influx of retirees seeking new homes away from large cities.

Looking at local projections for the future, it’s harder to see a trend. For example, the Lassen-Shasta-Trinity area is expected to age slightly less than San Francisco (39% increase vs. 43%, if that’s significant). These are in turn surpassed by Riverside and San Diego (each near the average of 59%), Contra Costa (66%), and Sonoma (86%). It’s a complex mix of birth rates, employment patterns, migration, affordability, and retirement—and I’m sure none of these numbers reflect the recent financial meltdown.

Personally, I’m becoming increasingly mindful of transit patterns in my daily life. That last bus link from home to BART is weak—nonexistent at night—which means driving to the train station. Nor does the design of my home fit the Portland scenario above. More to think about. I’m determined to do better in my next move. And I won’t be tempted by anything like my in-laws’ Prescott Valley exurban retirement, no matter how inexpensive the real estate.

October 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm 1 comment

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