Do Living and Learning Programs Work?

It’s a question that comes up a lot around bigger universities who are considering or currently have Living and Learning Programs (LLPs) — do they really work? Some mention the increased rate of retention freshman to sophomore year is the purpose behind such programs.  Others will tell you it’s simple for new students to build friendships with common-minded individuals.  No matter what you have heard, you must define a clear goal and mission for your LLP.

Every university has different ways of handling such programs, but these 3 questions must be asked before a full evaluation of the LLPs:

  1. Are you focused on equity and access in your LLPs?  How so?
  2. Would the students in the LLP most likely be retained without the program?
  3. What benefit are students getting in the LLP that other students are not?

Be different in your programming and ensure that the students are not becoming overwhelmed with mandatory events, along with everything else they have going on.

5 Ways to Get Ahead This Fall Semester

Since reshaping my job at the University of Kentucky College of Education to a specific focus on retention, I have been able to interact and build great relationships with students.  It’s interesting that all it takes is a 2-minute hallway conversation to develop a friendship.

As students begin to excitedly anticipate the beginning of another school year, the academic side of life must remain at the forefront of each individual.  A bad start to the semester (especially for freshmen) can lead to a downward spiral quickly.  Here are 5 ways to ensure that you are getting ahead this Fall:

  1. Find a mentor – Find someone who has been there before to help advise you through the hard times.  If you’re new or have never had a mentor, ask a professor or staff member around campus that you are drawn to.
  2. Know your syllabus – Keep this in the front of every notebook, reference it often, and mark any changes the professor makes.  Some have even taken a picture on their phone so that it is always there.
  3. Have fun – Volunteer or get involved in a student group.  The more involvement, the happier you will be.
  4. Learn to take notes – Whether it’s a personal style or someone teaching you their ways, taking notes is an important piece of success.
  5. Work hard – Go a little beyond what is required.  Playing catch-up later results in lower grades, less sleep, and more stress.

So there it is.  Work on these 5 strategies and your Fall semester will get off on the right foot.

What other tips do you have?

Taking Your Next Step (Part 3 of 3): Take Action

Okay, so you have evaluated and worked on changing your personal learning network from the first part of this series.  You found so much success that you decided to read part two and make strides toward your professional learning network.  Through these two steps, you have been able to really see the influences around your life that have shaped and molded you into the current being you are today.  You now understand how you obtained a life of monotony and lack of freedom to explore and innovate.  Now you’re here, wondering what your next step is in becoming a better version of yourself.  The next step consists of two words:  TAKE ACTION!

As an individual with your own thoughts and personality, you can do anything.  Financial hardships and hurt relationships aside, the ability to partake in any action depends on you.  Most every situation has two choices.  You can choose to continue down road A or change direction and start on road B.  Here are a few choices to consider as you think about taking action:

  • Apply to a new position – From an employer standpoint, it is easy to write a job description for a person who may not exist.  By doing so, I automatically rule out lower qualifying individuals and receive inquires about people who know they can fulfill the job requirements despite the prerequisites.  As an employee, I have found life disheartening in the job search as I see that I am not qualified for 99% of the posts.  Take the plunge and reason to the employer why and how you can be better than what he/she is looking for.
  • Enroll in school – Have you thought about going back to school?  Wonder if it’s necessary?  Here’s one perspective… it can’t hurt you.  Sure, the financial responsibility and time commitment can be a bit concerning.  A higher degree shows that you can do anything because you set your mind to it.  Being a non-traditional student shows you are able to think outside the box and be someone now that you weren’t able to be or didn’t think you could be earlier.  Better yourself by getting back in school.
  • Challenge yourself – Get out and do something new.  The first time I went repelling off of a 400-foot cliff, I was hit in the face with the thought of life being over.  Leaning horizontally off of a cliff face with nothing but you holding onto a rope is a bit dangerous.  What I gained was a fresh perspective on the point of life and the emotions I wanted to experience for the remainder of my life.  I welcome my new perspective with open arms, but it wouldn’t have come without the challenge to do something I had never done before.

You want to be someone that you have never been before?  It’s time to get going on your new life.  Today is an opportunity, which didn’t exist yesterday.  The decision you make could define the rest of your life.  Or you could continue down the same path, growing increasingly dissatisfied with your personal and professional relationships.  The next 10 years are in your hands, so what is your next step?

Taking Your Next Step (Part 2 of 3): Professional Learning Network

The first step in this series consisted of evaluating and possibly changing your personal learning network.  Aside from your personal network, you will also need to evaluate your professional learning network.  Do not confuse your professional learning network with your current job place.  Your responsibility as a contributing member of the work force is to ensure that you are surrounding yourself with the best possible opportunities to further yourself, those around you, and the ones who will come after you.  A few tips to keep in mind as you look at your professional learning network:

  • Secure your happiness – Happiness is not always defined as laughing and smiling.  Sometimes a relationship that is difficult can be enabling you to be a better individual.  The relationship may not provide a great smile on a daily basis, but the conversations can make you a better and ultimately happier person.
  • Get AND Give – It is so nice to be able to sit back and soak up as much information as possible from individuals smarter, richer, and more successful than yourself.  This one-sided and selfish interpretation of life can eventually lead to your downfall.  It has been argued by many spiritual advisors that we were created for community.  Find someone in a situation that you were once in and help him or her out.  A true professional is constantly gathering and giving information (without a price).
  • Reach out – It is rare that opportunities come knocking on your door.  Maybe you have an experience or two that has landed in your lap and provided you with a better future than you could have built for yourself.  These individuals are few and far between.  Reach out to someone who you think is unreachable.  An example of this can be found in Bob Goff’s book, Love Does.  Goff’s children decided to hand write letters to world leaders and invite them for a sleepover and to discuss issues of peace.  Eventually, princes and government officials were spending the night with the Goffs and working with children to make the world a better place.

A professional learning network can benefit you in ways a personal learning network cannot.  Allow individuals from different disciplines to creatively adapt their thoughts and ideas into your world to see a new perspective.  When you go to the next conference or training seminar, try meeting 3 new people and get to know them.  You will be amazed at what connections and opportunities can come through casual conversations.  If you are tired of the routine grind of life, step out and be different.  Take your next step today and never look back, except to laugh.

Taking Your Next Step (Part 1 of 3): Personal Learning Network

The beginning to taking your next step in life will start with a personal learning network.  Two phrases come to mind when thinking about the personal learning network:

  • Birds of a feather flock together – A similar phrase would be “you are who you hang with”.  If you have a group of individuals that you are constantly around, either you will have an influence on them, or they will have an influence on you.
  • Your income can be estimated as the mean income of your friends – This lesson comes from a great podcast I have been listening to, Entrepreneur on Fire.  If this formula proves true, and you are looking to increase your income, then your friend group would contribute.

Think back to when you were growing up.  Whether you were the ringleader or just a member in a group of individuals, the individuals around you helped to shape the person that you were at the time.  As we grow older, we begin to fade away from the idea that others around us can mold us into something other than what we want to become.  The reality is, those around us can indirectly influence us to extremes we didn’t even know to be possible.  We can sometimes catch a glimpse of other’s influence in our lives in hindsight.  When is the last time you had a hard evaluation of who you surround yourself with?  What influence are you having on those around you?  And what influence do others have on you?

So what does a personal learning network look like?  I have seen this in many different ways.  Personally, many personal learning networks exist in my day-to-day life.  I have a group of friends who keep in touch with my routine happenings and question the purpose behind much of what I do.  I also have identified a number of individuals who I meet with individually to gain insight and wisdom into problems throughout my life.  There are times I won’t call them up for a few months and other times where I count on them to be present once a week.  I don’t expect each person to come running when I call, but I know that I can rely on them to follow through.  Likewise, I am ready in a moment’s notice to run to their doorstep in any situation.  To benefit from a strong personal learning network, each relationship should either be reciprocal or you putting in more time and effort than the other.

Your next step for today is to evaluate your current personal learning network and see if you can add to, take away from, or strengthen your relationships for your benefit.  You can put together a personal learning network based on almost any situation, attitude, habit, or practice you would like to see increased (or decreased).

Starbucks Consumer Behavior Report

I am a consumer of human interaction and behavior and I find great interest in attempting to understand why we do the things we do. I blame it on my parents. Mom and I could go to the mall and watch people for hours. Dad and I have gone to a major league baseball game and spotted the same idiot from across the stadium and got a good laugh together. We are so individualized that we have no choice but to be interesting to someone who is not exactly like us.

Sitting in Starbucks for almost two hours provides some very interesting “people-watching” opportunities (I’ll call it “observational research” so that I don’t feel like a creep). Unfortunately, the sights provided a deep disappointment in our society as a whole. I saw a man come in and steal the dollar bills out of the tip jar, just to turn around and pay for his coffee with change from his other pocket. I witnessed a black male call a white male a “cracker” for trying to pick up his credit card off the ground and not too long after that, women discussing how horrible their husbands are. What a sad picture of reality.

In undergraduate, we were mandated to read a collection of poems and stories titled The Book of Virtues. While I disliked the assignment portion of this reading, I find great value in such content now. The mistakes and wisdom of people from the past have provided a great resource for us to build from in our world today. There is still good to be found all around us if we look. We only need to be intentional on our efforts to make our lives and those lives around us better.

Today’s observations are simply a sad snapshot of how we interact. In your organization, what culture exists? What expectations for humanity are set in place for respect and friendliness? I guarantee a bit of improvement in this area can increase creativity, collaboration, quality, and many other aspects that are your end result. Tomorrow’s future starts with your leadership. Lead today for a better tomorrow!

Interdisciplinary Marriage

Think as if there isn’t a box, not just “outside the box”.  Embrace change and accept your responsibility as a professional within the changing economy and world we live in.  Cross the lines of discipline to collaborate and invent tomorrow’s reality!

In decades past, interracial marriage was unacceptable, interdenominational worship services were frowned upon, and inter literary scholarship was not tolerated.  As times have changed, all “inter” concepts have become the current way of life for the world around us all.  Very prominent and happy couples marry a different race / nationality than their own.  Large concerts and various other venues bring multiple religious denominations together.  And authors like Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) have combined the factual basis of a well-known organization with a nonfictional storyline to become a best seller – and movie.

Whether you realize it or not, most businesses and professional fields are interdisciplinary.  The marriage of technology and health care has created a job market in informatics.  The field of informatics then has extended to various other fields to bring data visualization and clearer understanding to disciplines other than health care.  To make the point more clear, the combination of drawing and math is the basis of the field of architecture.

How does this effect education?  I’m glad you asked.  We all see how business and education have been merged to create a large sector of entrepreneurs looking to profit from the field of education.  In my pursuit of an “Interdisciplinary PhD in Educational Sciences” I get to chase after the different marriages on a daily basis.  Constantly, I feel that aha moment where combining fields or taking in multiple understandings can solve problems and create new solutions.  Two quotes ring true in this light of intellect:

The world is your playground – Play around and don’t worry about who is watching and waiting on you to fall.  When you do fall, get back up and start climbing again!

The world is your oyster – You are the one who formulates the world that you live in.  Yes, we have laws and some guidelines, but your happiness and success relies on your perspective and mentality.

As you go through the grind of wake up, work, and go to sleep… think of ways your current skills, abilities, and expertise can be combined with a different field to innovate or make a future that no one else could realize.

5 Lessons Learned In a Dental Lab

I felt dirty – like someone would see me sneaking around and I would have to explain what I was doing.

It was late on a Thursday night when I walked into the dental laboratory with my wife and decided to get the bunsen burner going (just for old time sake).  As I looked around, I saw many similarities to my wood shop but on a much smaller level.  Naturally, I decided to play around and touch things.  That’s just how I am.

After I decided to act my age, I began to recognize some interesting aspects to a dental lab that I hadn’t thought about.  I made the move to transform my wive’s procrastination into a mental exercise for myself.  What I came up with was 5 important lessons for any organization:

  1. The tools – This 15′ x 8′ room seemed to have every dental tool possible (and then some more).  We may not use every tool that we physically or mentally have acquired, but there will come a time when that specific tool will help you go further than any other tool.
  2. The sharps box – Despite the drills, bunsen burner, grinders, wet floor, etc. all acting against my safety, the sharps box was of good size and at a central location in the room.  Make sure that you have the basics covered in your organization.  Laws and policies need to be in place, while freedom is also given to explore and create.
  3. The gadget hanging off of the table – Some things in the lab didn’t make any sense, this gadget being one.  But when my wife turned it on and used it for it’s purpose, I came to understand it’s usefullness.  Do not be fooled by out of place individuals and activities in your organization.  At one time or another, that weird thing worked.  On the flip side, innovate new ways that make no sense to an outsider.
  4. Labels… for everything – Yes, stone and other materials and powder gave the first impression of “nasty” but after being in the lab for a bit, there was never any question as to where every tool and material was housed.  Your company can always benefit from more organization and cleaning.  Personally, you may be able to deal with the clutter and mishap, but with more than one person utilizing a space, organization becomes a key piece to your productivity.
  5. The vibrator – When mixing compounds to make molds, a vibrator allows the air pockets to go away to help with mere flawless compound formation.  Good technology and seemingly useless products will work for your organization and not against it.  Do not second guess the usefulness of such items, or your productiveness and quality may suffer.

So next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar territory, take a second to take in your surroundings and give in to a great learning experience.  Ideate and pursue a better understanding of how your life is impacted by other’s professions.

Education and the Future Workforce

My parents have been telling me every since I was born…”You will have to have a Ph.D. to get a job one day!”  Well, they are becoming more and more right (as much as I hate to admit that). has created an infographic (in collaboration with Hyperakt and in partnership with University of Phoenix) that looks at the growing demand for educated workers in our society.  The lower left part of the infographic should be given much attention – although small, it provides a lot of interesting information…

Enriched Environments and Technology in Schools

Jon Becker tweeted about his experience while visiting the Information Technology High School.  As my curiosity got the best of me, I was anxious to hear about what that high school had going on that was new, innovative, etc.  Much to my surprise, the 1:1 initiative was taken away after the first year because kids could not be trusted and there really wasn’t anything noteworthy to back up such a profound name!

Combine this thought with a developmental psychology class that I took in my Master’s program – where we are discussing and reviewing research about the benefits of an enriched environment.

Add in nagging pessimists who say technology hinders kids from learning more so than helping them.

Okay, now everyone is up to speed on what is going on in my head.

The developmental psychology class brought me up to speed with how taking a kid out of a horrible environment and bringing them into a “normal,” “basic,” (however you want to phrase it) environment has a great positive outcome on the learning curve.  The unknown territory comes when a kid is moved from the “normal” environment into an “enriched” environment.  What is an enriched environment?  What would it include?  Who would it include – and how would we decide the who is?  Well…arguments continue on how societies decide what an enriched learning environment is, but regardless of how schools set themselves up, or districts determine the make-up of such an environment, or how national standards influence what the new “normal” is…every learner is different and every learner will not benefit from one overall “enriched environment.”

Now that it has been said, how can standards, districts, and school systems work together to produce the most conducive environment for enriched learning to take place?  Well…I think technology has a major role in the answer to that question…

With apps for almost everything – including calendars, note-taking that syncing across devices (Evernote, Sugarsync), learning management systems (Blackboard and Moodle), cloud printing (ePrint, Google Cloud Print), and everything in between – administrators, teachers, and students have the technology created to go completely digital.  The problems = funding, upkeep, updates, technology leaders in the school, etc.  I completely understand that there are still many issues which need to be addressed in the schools for technology to completely take over – and some schools are doing great jobs at this, but even more are resistant to change.

There is an immediate need to change!

My wife is in dental school and they tell them about apps that are available to tremendously help them, but…they are over $200.00 a piece!  My brother-in-law finished up PA school in southern Kentucky and they mandate the use of apps for such prices.  Which…you guessed it…forces the student to have a smartphone or computer capable of supporting this type of learning.  Higher education (at least at most flagship universities) are beginning to push this technology into the classrooms, but primary and secondary schools are missing the mark.

When we have a high school with the name of “Information Technology High School” and they can’t keep a 1:1 initiative going and don’t have anything else that a normal high school has for students to learn, then what message are we conveying to the future of the kids, the future career opportunities, the future of our nation?  School used to be a place where learners grasp an exemplary understanding and knowledge base of the latest theories and hardware for their disposal in the job market upon graduation.  We wonder why we need more degrees for every generation in order to get a job?  It’s because we spend more years catching up rather than moving forward.  Technology is here, technology is now, and technology needs to be the new “normal” environment rather than the impossible “enriched” environment.

Where does data visualization and evaluation come in?  Try understanding 200 years of information through looking at and studying charts, diagrams, and numbers (it would take forever).  Hans Rosling helps us to see 200 years of health and wealth data in a matter of minutes and understand how that data interacted as a result of the past and implications for the future!  Videos, infographics, interactive visualization sets for students and teachers, real-time visualizations for administrators to monitor school performance, networking technology for schools to work together for the students rather than competing for personal recognition…the possibilities are at each of our fingertips…we just have to dive in and make our mark on the future!

Don’t wait for tomorrow when you can change your life today.