10 Tips for Managing Information Overload

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Yesterday at BLC I presented on how to manage information overload. Together we looked at the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for this all too prevalent problem. Here is a list of 10 things you can do to keep your Online life under control.
1. Have compassion for yourself – We are all works in progress, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t know everything. No one can know everything. It is OK Not to know.

2. Measure – There are many tools that you can use to measure your use computer use. They run in the background and will give you data on the sites you visit, the applications you use and how much time you spend on each tool.

3. Set goals – Before you open up a browser consider what you are hoping to accomplish.

4. Triage – Filter on the way in, not on the way out. Look through your email and create filters so that not everything comes in to your inbox. For example, if you are CCd on an email you probably don’t have to look at it immediately. Filter those messages into a separate file to look at later. Also check out Howard Rheingold’s resources on mindful infotention.

5. Ask a Librarian – Don’t overlook the human resources in your own building.

6. Don’t check email until lunch – If you are the fastest responder to a problem, you will get all the problems. If you wait to respond, they may figure out their own answers.

7. Be effective, not just efficient – Being efficient is doing things right, being effective is doing the right things. Make sure you are doing the right things right.

8. Use a productivity tool – Applications like Evernote and Remember the Milk can help you to keep track of all your tasks and information. You can learn about other productivity tools here.

9. Mark as read – Don’t be afraid to go through your reader and mark everything as read. Start fresh. If it is important it will come back up to the top.

10. Take time outs – Explore the Pomodoro technique which suggests you use a timer and set it for 25 minutes of work time and then take a 5 minute break. And, during the work time you keep track of your distractions and take a look at when they occur and what they are.
Do you have a good strategy for managing your information overload? Have you tried something on this list that has worked for you? Please leave a comment and share it with us.

image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelmarlatt/3150759027/

It’s about story… and connection

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(A colleague of mine says I need to put a disclaimer on this post — affirming this is a true story, because when I told her about it, she didn’t believe me.)

Yesterday afternoon I presented for the first time as a mainstream BLC presenter. For me, this was nothing short of a VERY BIG DEAL. My session was about data visualization. In short, how new technologies and transparent access to real-world data make it possible to “democratize” visualization. We focused on a site called Many Eyes, the best known application of which is Wordle.

I decided to frame my presentation around myself as a learner, because I’m not the stereotypical person (e.g. statistician, economist) you might expect to geek out over “charts and graphs.” My themes, as such, were “curiosity” and “story,” because that’s what drives me as a learner and meaning-maker. I was hoping for (trusting!) my participants to connect my “presentation story” to their own contexts and lives.

One of my examples of data “telling a story” involved survival on the Titanic. A particular visualization showed that all the children who perished were in Third Class, and we considered the possible meanings and reasons for that. But the comments included a note about a little girl in first class who died, suggesting the data was wrong. However, it gave no source or details. So this became an exercise in information literacy — finding the truth.

I searched for the manifest online and found a family with a little girl. Sure enough, a two-year-old girl from First Class, Helen Loraine Allison (called Loraine), died along with her parents aboard the Titanic. The nanny had taken her baby brother and boarded a lifeboat without telling the family. Mrs. Allison was put in a lifeboat with Loraine, but refused to leave the ship without her son, so she stepped out. I showed participants a photograph of Loraine and her baby brother, reinforcing the theme: “Data tells a story.”  In this case, a very human one. From a “matrix chart” to the fate of an individual child. (And, scene!)

I then asked my participants to explore the Many Eyes site, to “test drive the possibilities.” While they were working, a woman named Cindy approached me and said “Now I need to tell you the rest of the Titanic story.” She then shared that the Allisons were her family, that Loraine was named for her grandmother, and that she had the original photograph that I had displayed. The Allisons nearly missed boarding the Titanic because Mrs. Allison had forgotten her passport. She also told me that some years after the tragedy, some people brought a child to her family, claiming (fraudulently) it was Loraine, and that she had been raised by nuns!

My follow-up slide to everyone’s exploration of Many Eyes contained the question “What did you discover?” I practically Snoopy-danced waiting to share Cindy’s story with the group. I couldn’t have planned for such a gift! And now my third graders, who study Titanic, may be able to interview Cindy on [insert tool here — whatever works!] and authentically experience the “story in the data.” It really is a web of connections.

I have been part of many conversations about the fear of technology dividing us from each other.  But my gut feeling (and personal experience) has been that it can (and does) powerfully connect us. In his compelling, moving keynote this morning, I think Michael Wesch had it right — leveraging these new tools for “dark or light” is really up to us. What will we create and share? How will we connect? What stories will we tell?

Headed to the front row…

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BLC is an environment and learning culture like no other that I’ve experienced in my professional life.  Where else do our teachers sit alongside us as co-learners, asking for our ideas, and working as colleagues to unravel some of what makes teaching with new literacies practices so complex (and exciting)?  We are all learners here.  And, maybe that is why I woke up well ahead of the alarm this morning – shot out of bed – and was ready for the learning to continue (no matter what the clock said).

Or, it could be that I’m headed to the front row for this morning’s keynote with Prof. Michael Wesch.

We learned from Ben Zander’s keynote last year that there is power in sitting in the front row, in learning with “shining eyes,” and in, just maybe, being so engaged that you aren’t even fully sitting in that seat.  A confession – I’m not usually the front row girl.  I’m usually closer to a door as I’m half present, checking my email, popping out for a phone call, or rushing out early to set up for a presentation set to begin as soon as the keynote ends.  Not today.  Today, I’m eager to learn from one of my biggest teachers.

When I last saw Prof. Wesch speak (at a small venue at Virginia Tech in 2008), he effortlessly rattled off a sentence that I’ve spent the better part of two years attempting to meaningfully unravel and translate into meaningful classroom energy, offering “this information environment is not just a download but an upload world – we need to prepare students to create their world and to do so as not just knowledgeable but knowledge-able thinkers.”

Perhaps of bigger importance – as much as he is lauded for his work in engaging learners in his classrooms, Prof. Wesch continues to refine his pedagogy.  Yes, he teaches in large lecture-halls, but the core of his pedagogy resonates across grade levels.  He shared in that VT talk that, “students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them.”  No matter our technological literacies or levels of expertise, I think that this is exactly what unites us as a learning community here at BLC – we work each day to REALLY SEE kids.  We value the multiple literacies that our students bring into our classrooms.  We know what it means to learn together and co-construct what it means to teach and learn in this ever-changing and rich new media landscape.  Together, we are teachers.

Enough writing.  Time to get that seat.  See you there.

Let the Learning Begin

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Getting ready to travel to Boston is always exciting, but tonight it is especially so because tomorrow is the first day of BLC10 – the pre-conference. If you haven’t been before, but are joining us this year, get ready for the learning experience of a lifetime. Alan November has a knack for collecting energetic, innovative, inspirational advocates for education. This will make the eleventh year that they have converged together for one week during the summer months to push, stretch, and invigorate the path of educators from all over the world. All levels and disciplines are represented; superintendents, university professors, principals, and technology coordinators learn elbow to elbow alongside classroom teachers. The challenge to improve our methods for the sake of students is palpable. The discussions are rich and passionate.

The presenters from last year left a lasting impression on me and I have been able to continue sharing the learning on their blogs. Check out some of these before you arrive to taste the variety:

Darren Kuropatwa – A Difference
Lee Kolbert – A Geeky Momma’s Blog
David Jakes – JakesOnline!
Angela Maiers – Angela Maiers Educational Services Putting Learners and Learning First
Lisa Thumann – Thumann Resources
Liz Davis – The Power of Educational Technology
Sara Kajder – Real Reasons to Write (Sara started this blog after presenting her first session at BLC08 – powerful!)

Jeff Utecht – The Thinking Stick After following Jeff’s blog for years I was finally able to both hear him in person and meet him at #BLC09

Lorraine and Jeff Utecht

The list is endless really as so many participants also blog and share.

Get ready to make connections that will move your career path to a deeper level. If you need help along the way, look for the smiling faces in blue November Learning shirts. I look forward to meeting you.


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Last summer, I had the opportunity to work with a lovely group of educators from the Montcalm School District. They invited me to lead a two-day teacher workshop on using technology in the classroom. Recently I had a chance to visit their schools and talk to a few of the teachers that participated in the summer training. I’m glad I did. I was pleased to learn that the teachers were using some of the ideas and tools we had discussed in the workshop. It felt good to know that I had a small part in bringing about changes in their teaching strategies.

Mrs. Ruggles is an example of a teacher willing to change and take a risk. She had the self-confidence to tell her students she didn’t know everything! She took a risk and let her students use technology even though she didn’t know everything about the tools. She was willing to let her students independently learn how to use the technology. She is a great example of how to develop independent, life-long learners.

Mrs. Ruggles is a middle school and high school teacher. One of the assignments that she gave to her art students was to create a poster of an artist of their choice. She had different elements that needed to be included in the assignment: history, favorite work, impact and other information about the artist. She changed her assignment by allowing students to choose how they would present their artist. Imagine, giving the power of choice to students! She pointed them to some online tools and provided some ideas of what they might produce. The students could do the traditional poster if that was their choice.

I was amazed at some of the projects the students produced. Also, some students chose technologies that the teacher hadn’t suggested. The samples she showed me included:

· A presentation created in Prezi (prezi.com)

· A traditional poster board that the student took a picture of and posted it on the web.

· A “mock website” for an artist

· A Glogster poster (glogster.com)

· A PowerPoint Presentation posted on Scribd.com

Choice is important to all of us. We want to have a say in our destiny. These projects illustrate the power of giving students a choice. They did excellent work and should be proud of what they have accomplished.

Teachers are often threatened by technology and change. They sometimes feel that they are being forced to change what and how they teach. This project illustrates how technology can be used in meaningful ways and is a small step in a much larger picture. I look forward to seeing more great projects from Mrs. Ruggles’ class.


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