Articles Posted in Productivity

490819_ipod_videoInformation is expanding exponentially. Applying database concepts to your information diet can mean the difference between overload and sanity, chaos and productivity. Database fluency is mandatory in a digital world. Students and teachers should be practicing and refining this skill so that today’s learners can make the most of the sea of data they swim in.

Almost anything you encounter in digital format can be managed using database techniques. At their root Facebook (relationships), iTunes (music, movies, tv, books, etc.), (bookmarks), flickr (photos), Moodle (lesson plans, learning management), and We Are Teachers (referrals) share a common database DNA. Even blogs through their categories and tag clouds are databases.

Email is an example. Treat the sender’s address as a data point. Then set up rules (database queries) to have all your boss’s emails sent to a high priority folder and Aunt Mabel’s political ravings sent straight to the trash. This approach allows you to target the urgent items amidst a sea of dross.

The Education Need

Educators and educational publishers have a vital role to play in our move to a database driven world. Why?

  • Students need to develop database fluency if they are going to get the most out of their digital lives. Learning Management Systems (LMS), social networks, and on-line research are all core tools for 21st Century education. Database fluency should become part of the curriculum along with textual, numerical, and visual fluencies.
  • Teachers need access to networks of peers, experts, and content to be able to deliver on the promise of individualized instruction.
  • Administrators and Policy Makers need to measure results across groups and efficiently allocate resources.

Every one of these needs is best met by a database and fluent users.

The Goal

The end result should be personal growth, valued relationships, and effective organizations. But in the first flush of widespread adoption we are losing sight of this. Consider the statement “I “friended” 1,000 people on Facebook therefor I have 1,000 friends.” Wrong. Many people are confusing the database with their relationships.

A teacher could take the Facebook example above and build an interesting set of discussions around the meaning of friendship, how to find a small network of people who are interested in the same things you are, what you can do to contribute, and how to manage the relationships that emerge. It isn’t creating huge numbers of meaningless connections that matters – it is finding the needles in the haystack of humanity that you want to build bonds of friendship with.

Database Fluency

What is database fluency – what are the core skills proficient users need to master?

  • Ubiquity – See every digital file you touch as a potential data point. Emails, MP3 files, Word documents, student records, and your photos are all potential data points.
  • Searching – Understanding how to craft logical questions that return useful information takes ongoing practice (“and”, “or”, “greater than”, “before”, etc.). Learning to to harness the advanced search features almost all applications have is another part of this skill.
  • Homing – The ability to find what is meaningful and valuable in large data sets by asking the right questions at the right time. Is this a reliable source? How recent is the data? Does this address the question I set out to answer? Is it usable or a tangled mess? How does it compare with other results?
  • Tagging – Users tag data elements to personalize them. This can be through formal taxonomies provided by the database author (“Male, Female”) or informal folksonomies created on the fly by users (flickr tag clouds). Since tagging is so open-ended having some basic rules in place can help insure you are able to use the tag cloud later to search the data.
  • Cleaning – Any collection of data gets messy after a while – knowing how to clean your data just like you clean your room is an essential part of working with large data sets. Without maintenance your searching and tagging get bogged down.
  • Reporting – Creating clear usable reports that make the point you are after is an important part of turning data into information and eventually into wisdom. When is a table better than a bar chart? Should I focus on 5 or 500 names?

None of this involves database programming. That is a skill more akin to auto mechanics – I don’t need to know how to tune my engine to drive a car. I also don’t need to know SQL to use a social networking site. However, for driving and networking I do need to know the rules of the road and how navigate where I want to go.

How these elements appear in different applications varies widely – understanding the underlying dynamics helps harness their power across many environments.

RSS readers click through to see the full article – 3 detailed examples that bring these concepts to life and some suggestions on where to start.

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Overloaded carSchools are inundated with paper and instructional materials at this time of year. Those of us who build education products and create marketing collateral should be cognizant of is how wasteful so much of this is.

In our personal lives many of us go through the “more shelves or less stuff” debate all the time, and all too often we end up at Ikea with another Sbrorg shelving unit strapped to the top of the car.

Please stop.

1037Information overload is one of the defining trends of the last 10 years. The explosion of email, social media, and cellular technologies have created 24/7 leashes that drown us in information.

As publishers (and citizens) we have a responsibility to help today’s kids build good information habits in this new world.

I’ve written elsewhere about how our old behavior patterns make this worse than it needs to be. The question for today is – are you managing your information diet or is the information managing you?

DSC00106.jpgBlog years and dog years have a lot in common. They go fast, take constant care and feeding, and bring companionship and warmth into your life. Dogs force you to get up and move your body, blogs force you to get out and work your mind.

Social media are reshaping the business landscape and I’ve never found a better way of learning something than just wading in and messing with it. Under the tutelage of my blogfather Richard Carey and the folks at Justia I launched this site last May.

So what have I learned?

Information Overload is a serious problem in our culture today. People are frustrated and overwhelmed by the fire hose of information they are trying to absorb. But, as the American Philosopher Ann Landers was fond of saying:

“No one can take advantage of you without your permission.”In summary:618617_firemen_hose_practice

  • Personally we need to take control of our information diet. We need to discard our old paradigms and seek information only when we need it.

How should we design textbooks and education technology for a world where information is no longer scarce or hard to find? It is time to rethink how we build education products based on new paradigms of information management.

In Part 1 of this series we explored the broken paradigms about information that are driving most of batty. In Part 2 we explored strategies for adopting a new information paradigm to help us survive and thrive in the new climate.

956183540_18bff94222_m.jpgToday we take a look at ten ideas for how we can build products that tap into the new zeitgeist. These are nuts and bolts tactics publishers can use to rethink product development.

“Time without attention is worthless, so value attention over time.” Tim Ferris

873928_junk_mail_2.jpgIn Part 1 I talked about how our old paradigm of consuming information is at the root of our information overload problems. Today I present some practical ideas you can use to experiment with changing your paradigm.

I suggest starting with your personal experience with the new paradigm because until you have tried it and seen the results for yourself it will be difficult for you to think about how it applies to building products and services for your customers.

Are you drowning in information? You are not alone, almost all of us are. But the information is not to blame – we are.

Information overload is a meta societal problem that affects our whole industry. From the personal (we are overwhelmed) to the products we build (we need to teach kids how to avoid it) to marketing (cutting through the noise) it is driving change across our businesses.

DrowningInInfo.jpgMost of us have had the experience of going to a web site to find something and 45 minutes later found ourselves off in some far corner of the internet on a completely unrelated topic. Or maybe you have been unable to empty your email inbox for the last year – or two. You didn’t take your Blackberry on your last vacation did you? You did take a vacation – right?

Input has become infinite while our individual output is still quite finite. What does this mean for teaching and learning in our schools?


“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge. This level of information is clearly impossible to handle by present means. Uncontrolled and unorganized information is no longer a resource in an information society, instead it becomes the enemy.”

Does that sound like something written recently on one of the many blogs dedicated to helping us manage the deluge of information? No – it was written in 1988 by John Naisbett in his book Megatrends. We’ve seen this coming for a long long time.

05_large.jpgCell phone ettiquette check. This morning on my outbound flight I cleared security and headed for the bathroom. For the second time in two weeks I encountered that most noxious creature – the guy who thinks it is appropriate to chat away on his cell phone while taking care of more personal business.

This wasn’t an urgently expected call with a quick “can I call you back in a couple of minutes” plea. No, this moron was prating on in full baritone about some meaningless bit of office gossip, and on, and on. On the concourse I wouldn’t have noticed it. But in the porcelain echo chamber every nuance was amplified.

As noted in my entries on email etiquette – our tools have changed so dramatically in the last 20 years that our cultural norms are struggling to keep pace. But puleeze, no one has to be 24/7/365 that much. One of the great liberating technologies of the last 25 years is ubiquitous voice messaging. Trust me, if it is important they will leave a message.