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On data and content and learning November 21, 2013

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture, Leadership.
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My company was recently acquired by Houghton MIfflin Harcourt.   We really looked before we lept into the chasm of joining a large company like this.  The thing that tipped me over the edge was really two things: my experience of the executive team as being people committed to thought leadership and transforming their 180 year old company, and the company’s goal of creating passionate learners.

Now I am their lead data scientist and their VIce-President of Technology Strategy.  I am slowly coming to grips with the areas where I can lead and have a deep understanding – enterprise education data, platform architecture and design in the education space, system and data integration, mapping, assessment results data, and standards- and with the areas where I need to truly understand and learn from my new colleagues: content, assessment design, pedagogy, and content design and delivery.

I am going to post my thoughts here, and look forward to generating dialogues on these topics.


SIF doesn’t work… or does it? February 25, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture, Leadership, Management, SIF, The Three Laws of Performance.
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I have been observing an interesting phenomonon at play around the Schools Interoperability Specification.   It has to do with the First Law of Performance from a book I am reading right now (http://www.threelawsofperformance.com/).  The First Law states that people’s actions are correlated to the way the world occurs to them.

At one level that is a no brainer.  Of course that would be true.  But we don’t act that way.  We act as if the way it occurs for us is the truth.  An example of this came up at the National Education Data Conference in Seattle last week.    Someone mentioned to me that a panel of people had spoken to all the states who had recieved longitudinal data grants from the government and had shared how SIF didn’t work.  They spoke about it like an “of course”.  Other states though were walking around talking about how SIF was revolutionizing their data quality and data collections.  How could they both be true.   I have heard these extreme positions multiple times.

What became clear to me is that people were speaking, and complaining, based on the way the world occurred to them.  It isn’t that they were “wrong”, though I was apt to leap to that conclusion,  they were just speaking their “TRUTH”.  What is so is that SIF is working in hundreds and hundreds of districts in a horizontal (which is to say local to a school or district) or “classic” deployment, and is working statewide in a few states in a vertical manner, and half a dozen other states are working on it.  So why the bad press?

I say it is because the problem that SIF is brought in to solve is complicated.    Building enterprise architectures out into deployments that scale multiple levels of organizations (school, district, regional, state),  broad breadth (all the districts, all the schools) , and heterogenous applications (Student Information Systems of multiple types, Transcript brokers, state data warehouses, data collection tools, etc.) is complicated stuff.  The data flow inside any one of these components is complicated enough.  Managing the data flow through and around them all is hideously complicated.  Thus the issue.

Most states are not approaching the problem with an appropriate respect for that complexity.  They buy a product (like an off-the-shelf “data warehouse” or similar product)  and expect that to solve the problem without really mapping out their issues, use cases, data architecture and process flows and then putting together a system that works.    Then when the system falls inward on itself or doesn’t hit its milestones it becomes “SIF doesn’t work”.  The truth is  enterprise system design is hard, and almost impossible to succeed at in a political, consensus-driven environment.    There are so many points of failure and SIF- in automating the processes- reveals those breakdowns and issues, and, as with most messengers, often loses its head.

When you want an assessment of something make sure you are asking someone who understands those types of problems and has a track record with them.   The person who has never succeeeded may just not know what it takes, and then they will cry to the world “Don’t do X”.  If we can understand the root cause of the failure suddenly the world will appear a different way and then our actions will be correlated to that new view.

Now, telling who the real experts are and who the savvy sales people who memorize the jargon du jour… that is another problem entirely!

Performance and Morale- The Three Laws of Performance February 12, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Department of Education, Education, Leadership, Management, SIF, The Three Laws of Performance, Transformation.
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I have been thinking a lot about this topic of performance and morale in three environments I have leadership and managment roles in:

(1) a state department of education I am working with

(2) my own organization and our virtual team

(3) a consortial organization I belong that sets national standards (go ahead- guess! Yes- it is the SIF Association :-))

One of the issues everyone in  executive or management roles deals with is how to produce the results that keep the enterprise alive and keep the people that make up the enterprise interested, productive, satisfied and acting as owners of the enterprise.

I am going to proceed over the next six months to study, examine, and experiment in this area of thinking in all three of these areas of my work life.  I am not sure what it will look like or what I will come up with but I think it will be interesting and should have a positive impact on all three areas.

I decided I needed a frame for my thinking so I am going to use the context of a leadership book I have been reading an advanced copy of called _The Three Laws of Performance_ by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan.  I will be applying the “Three Laws” and their corrollaries to each of these situations above and the implementing practices t oexecute those theories and get feedback as to the result.    I will use this blog as a forum to discuss my results.   BTW: I highly recommend reading this book.

I will tag posts with “Department of Education”, “SIF”,  and “Management” when dealing specifically with those areas.    I will tag all my posts in this strand with “The Three Laws of Performance”.

I will start my first posts next week sometime.