Brain, Interrupted. New York Times article on yet another study that proves multitasking is a myth.
Disconnected: My Year Without the Internet. Interview wtih Paul Miller, who was disconnected for a year. He affirms some of what has been said about the problems of being hyperconnected, but disagrees with others.
Innovate 2013: Using Evernote to Help Flip the Classroom. Not a lot of details, but the idea is an important one to remember: “In a “flipped classroom” structure, students use technology to attend lectures outside of the classroom and use in-class meeting times to practice applying what they learned during lecture sessions…. Instructors who are “flipping the classroom” can use Evernote as a tool to support students’ interactive participation with course content.”
A progression of steps (tasks, events, interactions) that comprise a work process, involve two or more persons, and create or add value to the organization’s activities. In a sequential workflow, each step is dependent on occurrence of the previous step; in a parallel workflow, two or more steps can occur concurrently.
To this very “business process” oriented definition, I would also add the academic expectation of “create or perish”. Notice I substituted a key word here; in today’s world, academic product far exceeds the traditional “publish”. Today we have many additional expectations for being productive members of the academic community, including blog writing, hosting podcasts and/or webinars, being active in online research communities, creating multimedia supplements to our traditional articles, and more. Therefore, academic workflow is a subset of one’s everyday workflow; it is the process by which we discover, gather, synthesize, create and disseminate our own academic research, regardless of what form that final product takes.
Daniel Wessel (Organizing Creativity) suggests that “Today we have more opportunities to be creative than ever… The Internet not only gives us access to knowledge, affordable materials and tools, it also provides us with new and widely available distribution channels. Everybody now has the potential to be creative, be it in art, science, engineering (including DIY), commercial or private projects…” (preface)
This new expanded array of options brings with it the necessity to master additional applications, juggle an even larger number of diverse plates and amass various types of research knowledge and output while still being constrained by the same limits of time, resources and energy. Wessel declares that “in almost all cases [creativity] needs knowledge and skills, motivation and determination, time and effort to succeed. And it needs something else that is often falsely seen as an anathema to creativity: organization.” For those still searching for the magic grail of productivity and organization, he further cautions: “There is no simple one-size-fits-all solution for organizing creativity. Each person will need to find her own solution.”
Organizing Creativity explores the stages of creativity considering the way that organization plays a vital role in this creative process. Wessel identifies 6 stages in effective creativity:
Acquiring knowledge and skills with the topic(s) where your creative efforts will focus.
Capturing those ideas
Expanding ideas into projects
Realizing the creative product
Preserving the realized product.
I like how Wessel causes the reader to stop and think about thoughts and actions that might be instinctive or unconscious, yet by breaking down the elements of each stage, he allows us to consider alternative methods and ideas that could improve our workflows. Wessel also discusses tools that can assist the process in each stage.
Librarians are in the interesting position of both having their own academic workflow to consider as well as that of their patrons. In each case, the best tools for an advanced researcher may be not be the best choice for beginning students. Likewise, the tools and processes perfect for those in humanities may be lacking for those performing research in highly scientific disciplines. Carefully considering these differences can aid the librarian when making suggestions to help her users be more effective in their academic endeavors.
In “5 Steps to Make You a Better Researcher” the key digital tools are suggested to be a combination of bookmarking tools and concept mapping. Then we have Kalani Craig (Organizing a Digital Thought Process) who, like a number of other blog authors, has generously shared information about her research process in her blog. Nowhere in her process does she mention the use of bookmarking or concept mapping tools. She says, “Figuring out how I worked and what I needed was the first, and hardest step, and everything else falls into one of the areas of need I identified (and continue to identify, because systems evolve and change).” Just looking at these two different approaches to the digital academic workflow illuminates the fact that there are as many answers to the problem of optimizing workflow as there are people and products to suggest them.
Over the next several sessions of our program, Mary and I will be exploring tools that answer organizational needs for some of the steps of a typical academic research workflow. We will be discussing general digital workflow tools, citation, annotation and cloud storage tools as well as alerting tools and mind/concept mapping. Hopefully our smorgasbord of tools will provide you with options as you analyze the appropriate applications to improve your own digital academic workflow.
For Further Exploration and Insight:
1. Take a few minutes to contemplate your current academic workflow. Journal about the steps, tools and challenges you experience.
2. What is your favorite tool(s) that you regularly use while doing academic research? Post a comment on this blog post about your choice and why it works so well for you.
It seems very hard to believe, but time has been flying and the first 3rd of our yearlong program to increase productivity is now complete. Next week we will be moving on and turning our focus from topics that focus on how to improve productivity, and instead begin looking at the concept of academic workflow and exploring tips and tools to help streamline that process. Before we do that, however, we want to check in with our readers to see how the program is going so far.
We would greatly appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to complete this short survey (only 9 questions!).
Thank you for participating! This will help us to understand our readership better and to have a better idea if we are meeting your expectations and needs. If you would like to provide us with additional feedback , please leave a comment or email us at email@example.com.
All the tasks that we have to keep up with when using web applications would exceed the amount of time and attention that any one of us could handle. It follows, therefore, that the more we can automate tasks we need to do, the better. Moreover, the web is, if not a series of tubes (as the late Alaska Senator Ted Stephens once claimed), it does rather resemble an almost infinite series of silos. Each web page or service is independent, which means if we want to do the same thing to more than one silo we have to repeat the task. Or at least that was true before mashups (Quote below from this Wikipedia article).
A mashup, in web development, is a web page, or web application, that uses and combines data, presentation or functionality from two or more sources to create new services. The term implies easy, fast integration, frequently using open application programming interfaces (API) and data sources to produce enriched results that were not necessarily the original reason for producing the raw source data.
For example, HootSuite became available in 2008 and serves as a dashboard for controlling one’s social media accounts. It is often used by companies or other organizations to coordinate their brand. Posterous also started in 2008 (though sadly has just shut down) as a blogging platform that allowed one to disseminate the same blog content across sevices such as Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Live Journal, etc. Rebel Mouse also works with social media to provide a newsletter-like presentation. Organizations can use it to display their social media content, and students could use it to create a newsletter for an assignment. Particular operating systems have, for some time, tied together the software in their own ecosystem. Outlook and Onenote work together as do various Apple products. New apps that integrate web services are announced frequently and trying to name them all would take up a month’s worth of blog posts.
Currently the winner and still champion of task managers, however, is IFTTT (If this then that). As of this writing, Ifttt offers connections between 61 web services (called channels). The code that connects two channels is called a recipe, which consists of a trigger channel (the “if” part), an action, and the result channel (the “that” part). For example, if I post to my WordPress blog, and want to send it automatically to Twitter or Facebook or Evernote, then WordPress would be the trigger channel, Twitter, Facebook and Evernote would be the result channels and the action would be sending the WordPress post to the three result channels.
Channels include all the usual suspects, such as the four just mentioned, but also a variety of cloud storage apps such as Dropbox, photo sharing services including Instagram and Flickr. There are more unexpected channels such as date/time, weather, email, and recently the Belkin WeMo brand controllers for home appliances – so you could, for example, set your lights to come on at a certain time. Nor are you limited to your imagination. Ifttt users have been very generous in sharing their recipes. So generous, in fact, that one drawback of the service is that many new users of Ifttt wind up enthusiastically activating so many recipes it adds to the confusion rather than decreasing it, with an overload of, for example, emails with the latest free books in Amazon, or free tunes.
Another drawback is that while the service is advertised as simple to use, it helps to see it in action first. In the readings section are some quick tutorials to view first before trying Ifttt out yourself. Note: I have a Google alert for ifttt, and there are a huge number of articles about it, but the majority are blog posts with simple introductions to ifttt. So the readings consist of only a few articles or videos that are the best I’ve seen at showing how to use ifttt.
The last drawback that I want to discuss today is that there is a dearth of research-oriented channels. Certainly Evernote, Dropbox, WordPress, even Twitter and Facebook have legitimate academic uses. For example, one might send new RSS items from a saved database search to a specific notebook in Evernote with specific tags. Still, the service could be more useful for academic research.
Recently, an exciting announcement from ifttt developers has promised a forthcoming enhancement which will allow web services with open APIs (for example, Mendeley and Zotero to name only a few) to create channels as well. Enhancements such as this make the future of task automation for academia look bright, and it is exciting to contemplate what it might look like in ten years’ time. Will universities set up their own instances of Ifttt, for example, which could tie together the Learning Management System, research databases, secure cloud storage, research management tools, and notebook software? It will be fascinating to see what develops!
Ekart, D. F. (2012). Tech Tips for Every Librarian. Computers in Libraries, 32(4), 36-37.
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– – – William Butler Yeats
The Yeats quote is a good way to start a review of Flow for a couple of reasons. First, it is one of those books that changes how one views the world, which engages the mind – lights a fire, in other words. Secondly, the book is specifically about that kind of engagement, which Csikszentmihalyi calls “optimal experience”, or flow.
” ‘Flow’ is the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.” (p. 6) In flow, a person’s attention is wholly focused on what they are doing and they are being challenged to stretch their skills, but not in a way that causes anxiety. In a life devoted to flow, a person constantly strives to establish goals, obtain new skills or enhance their existing skills and use those skills to successfully meet new challenges. Such a life is creative and satisfying in ways no other way of life can match.
In another quote a life that has flow does so by working on a goal or goals and mastering the skills needed to reach the goal:
From the point of view of an individual, it does not matter what the ultimate goal is – provided it is compelling enough to order a lifetime’s worth of psychic energy [attention] . The challenge might involve the desire to have the best beer bottle collection in the neighborhood, the resolution to find a cure for cancer, or simply the biological imperative to have children who will survive and prosper. As long as it provides clear objectives, clear rules for action, and a way to concentrate and become involved, any goal can serve to give meaning to a person’s life. (p. 215)
Csikszentmihalyi, the author, is a psychologist who has spent his life studying positive psychology – what makes people happy. Perhaps this is not surprising in someone who in his childhood endured the horror of World War II. He and his team have studied thousands of people over the years, specifically looking at when people are the happiest. One technique used was to send people a page at 8 to 10 random times a day. The participants knew that when they received a page they were to write down the time, where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt.
The results are fascinating. While flow occurs fairly commonly in the arts or athletic competition as expected, there are people who find flow in repetitive factory work or hard labor such as farming or raising herds of animals. Moreover, wealth, position, and ease of life do not necessarily create flow:
Such events do not occur only when the external conditions are favorable, however: people who have survived concentration camps or who have lived through near-fatal physical dangers often recall that in the midst of their ordeal they experienced extraordinarily rich epiphanies in response to such simple events as hearing the song of a bird in the forest, completing a hard task, or sharing a crust of bread with a friend. (p. 6)
So why do some people achieve flow while so many others do not? Most people have experienced it at some point, but didn’t realize it at the time. For others it is a common experience. There are some personality traits that make optimal experiences more common. The people who cultivate flow most successfully are neither self-conscious (anxious about how others perceive them) nor self-centered. “Children who grow up in family situations that facilitate clarity of goals, feedback, feeling of control, concentration on the task at hand, intrinsic motivation [doing a task for the joy of the task itself], and challenge will generally have a better chance to order their lives so as to make flow possible.” (p. 89) Csikszentmihalyi also mentions (p. 236) that lives full of flow are more likely to happen to those who were read to as children. In addition, the person who is successful is able to negotiate both differentiation, or self-awareness and growth as an individual, and integration, an ability to be a part of something larger than ourselves, to be part of the community’s growth. (p. 223).
Where do flow experiences most often happen? Despite the fact that society tends to denigrate work and exalt leisure, most people are considerably more likely to experience flow at work than in pursuing leisure activities, particularly if the leisure activity is a passive one such as watching television. Work can become more conducive to optimal experiences by being redesigned with that goal in mind, and helping workers to have the kind of personality that is most open to flow, “by training them to recognize opportunities for action, to hone their skills, to set reachable goals”. (p. 157)
Can one increase the ability to be in the flow? Yes. “It does not matter where one starts – whether one chooses goals first, develops skills, cultivates the ability to concentrate, or gets rid of self-consciousness. One can start anywhere, because once the flow experience is in motion the other elements will be much easier to attain.” (p. 212)
While many speak of the virtues of simplicity, Csikszentmihalyi writes continuously in this book about the beauty of increasing complexity. For example:
The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy – or attention – is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action… A person who has achieved control over psychic energy and has invested it in consciously chosen goals cannot help but grow into a more complex being. By stretching skills, by reaching toward higher challenges, such a person becomes an increasingly extraordinary individual.” (p. 6)
It is in striving for something better that individuals and humanity as a whole become something better. If the earth were to disappear tomorrow, the memory of Shakespeare, Ghandi, Rosa Parks, and multitudes more, sung and unsung, would continue to resonate. Humanity has achieved that which will last. The author says something similar:
It is true that life has no meaning, if by that we mean a supreme goal built into the fabric of nature and human experience, a goal that is valid for every individual. But it does not follow that life cannot be GIVEN meaning. Much of what we call culture and civilization consists in efforts people have made, generally against overwhelming odds, to create a sense of purpose for themselves and their descendants. It is one thing to recognize that life is, by itself, meaningless. It is another thing entirely to accept this with resignation. The first fact does not entail the second any more than the fact that we lack wings prevents us from flying. (p. 215)
While mulling over how to write this review, I came across a video with a snippet of a graduation speech by Neil Gaiman (whom I suspect has the kind of personality Csikszentmihalyi celebrates) given to the University of the Art in 2012 . Gaiman gave this advice to the graduates for how to deal with adversity: “Make Good Art”. It is advice Csikszentmihalyi would endorse, and Flow is the manual to achieve it.
Now that we have spent a couple of months together talking about managing our knowledge and some of the online tools that are available to us, I feel like we should spend this week taking a step back and considering the safety of our information. We are all very aware of cautions we need to take to protect our privacy on social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, but how many of us have considered all the other online tools we use every day?
It is easy to become complacent about our online security. Many of us have whole departments of IT professionals who are busily keeping our emails relatively clear of spam, and alerting us to possible infestations of computer viruses and worms. With our Knights in Shining IT Armor guarding our systems, it is easy to overlook other kinds of vulnerabilities that might be targeting our data instead.
Information Security with regards to cloud computing was highlighted for me recently by our Security Policy and Compliance Manager in our systems area. Our conversation was eye opening for me and resulted in a new page that I post in my research guides and discuss in my workshops and classes. And he is far from alone; in fact, Forbes has an entire section of their website devoted to latest news in Cloud Computing.
For example, I had never thought about the vulnerability of Dropbox. That wonderful tool that just automatically syncs my computer with the Dropbox files when I log in, could be vulnerable to being hijacked. All anyone needs is brief access to my account name and they could add their own computer as a new location for syncing. This would result in anything I added to my Dropbox being automatically sent to this hijacker as well. I am told it is somewhat tricky to determine all of the locations that sync to my account, so this could easily go unnoticed for some time. Now I do not put sensitive information in my Dropbox, so this is less of a concern to me. Consider however, your researchers who DO deal with sensitive information as well as data on new discoveries and possible patentable research. This could be devastating to them as well as the university should they have their data prematurely revealed. The University of Michigan has a great page that their IT folks put together on their view of data safety in cloud based storage and Google Docs. The page is very user friendly and brings up great issues for faculty and researchers alike to consider.
Then there are mobile devices. Mobile devices are often more vulnerable to security breaches and offer hackers more opportunities of access to cloud services. The most secure company computer can be derailed by just one unknowing employee syncing their infected mobile device with the secure environment. Free WiFi hot spots are also a vulnerable area; Bob Rankin did a very nice writeup on this topic on his site: “The Big Problem With Free Wifi Hotspots”. If sites you visit or email providers you use don’t encrypt their connection, then anything you send or even read could be vulnerable to being vulnerable to other eyes as well.
So should we go back to just using our mobile devices offline? No, of course not, but being aware of vulnerabilities and taking precautions such as authentication procedures using strong passwords, and cryptography for sensitive data can go a long way to making our mobile use safer. Ellyssa Kroski wrote a lovely post in January for the Open Education Database on online privacy tips for librarians.
For Further Exploration and Insight:
1. Do you know the IT policy of your university? Search it out or talk to an IT professional about possible vulnerabilities for you or your users.