Week 3 Reading Post

The major theme of this week’s readings was how important social interactions on the internet are. I’m not very business savvy so a lot of the material in chapter 6 was new to me. The concept of network effects is pretty intuitive, the more users a service has the more users it will continue to get. It’s an exponential increase rather than a linear model. I had definitely never heard of one-sided or two sided markets before or same-side or cross-side exchange benefits before. From what I understand now a one-sided market gets its value from just one type of users where as a two-sided market gets its value from two different participants in the business. Same-side exchange benefits are the increases of a product’s value caused by more use by just one type of user. Cross-side exchange benefits are the increases of a market when one type of user grows in size which then causes another type of user to grow in size.

These network effects are most notable in the social media industry. Facebook started small but because it was the first of it’s kind it and had attractive personal features it was able to quickly gain a large number of users. The number of users has since increased dramatically because people want to communicate where the largest amount of other people are communicating. This network effect can make it difficult for other companies to be successful in social media because why would someone join a new social media site when all of their friends are already on Facebook? Even the behemoth Google has seemingly failed at competing with Facebook. It released Google+ a few years ago and I signed up out of curiosity but I almost never check it because no one else is on there. Everyone is already on Facebook and Google+ didn’t offer enough new and better features to make up for it’s lack of popularity. This isn’t to say that network effects are impossible to overcome for new social media platforms but they have to do something different than Facebook to attract users.

Blogs like this one allow authors to write long-type posts to fully express their opinions and work online in a custom format. Facebook is meant for just connecting and sharing with others, not in depth analysis. Wikis also provide a service that’s very different from other social media formats. They crowd source information and use healthy amounts of moderation to organize heaps of data in a meaningful and understandable way. Microblogs like Twitter are interesting because they limit the amount of characters an author can type but this limitation increases the speed at which the information can be delivered. I personally use Twitter, and Reddit to an extent, for most of my news, at least as a source of links for news. As a medium Twitter doesn’t require users to be particularly active participants for it to be engaging, unlike Facebook and standard blogs. Despite that I’ve sent out maybe 50 tweets in my 3+ years of having a Twitter account I check it almost daily for different news ranging from basketball to statistics to weather forecasts to politics.

Social media has changed how humans interact and I think that despite the privacy concerns the change is for the better.

Reading Blog Week 3

To begin, I would just like to say how much I have been enjoying the Lynda videos included as part of the weekly readings. I am very much a visual learner, and while I love reading, I find that my ability to concentrate and retain more information increases when I watch video tutorials as opposed to reading alone. As an example, whenever I want to learn how to do something the first place I usually look is Youtube. If I cannot find a video, then I will proceed to reading the information I am searching for, but I definitely prefer video learning. It is as close as you can get to being in the classroom, which works best for me.

One of the key takeaways that I got from reading the textbook material was the importance of network effects. In fact, network effects are so important, there is an entire chapter dedicated to the subject from the text provided. Some of the major characteristics of network effects include exchange, staying power, and complementary benefits. The text mentions in chapter six of Getting the Most Out of Information Systems that “When network effects are present, the value of a product or service increases as the number of users grows”: http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/getting-the-most-out-of-information-systems-v1.4/s10-understanding-network-effects.html. The text also mentions in chapter eight that Facebook is a company that exemplifies having proper network effects. Facebook is a company where people can exchange information. Facebook also has the most users of any social networking website, which says something about its staying power. Facebook also benefits itself by benefitting its users. The more present Facebook is online leads to more ad revenue and more users. The more users Facebook generates can help users and businesses advertise themselves, and thus growing an even larger community.

Another common theme among this week’s readings was the tendency for companies who possess strong network effects to also possess monopolistic tendencies. In an economic landscape it is easy to see why. In a market system like the one in which we participate here in the United States, the number one goal of a company is to increase revenue. It is not surprising that a company would want to eliminate competition in order to control a certain market, but I do not believe that monopolies are something that companies should strive for. Personally, I believe that monopolistic behavior should be discouraged through laws and penalties for businesses who display them. The triumph of ebusinesses on the web in the last few decades has shown that there is a whole new territory for businesses to potentially gain new monetary success. I believe that it is important for regulatory powers to be aware of how businesses are operating on the internet in order to discourage monopolistic behavior in this uncharted territory. Whenever companies control the market, they essentially set the rules about pricing for their product. This can be dangerous whenever companies have this sort of power. If the product is something that everybody relies on and uses every day, it may be important that users have options. As our society continually become more reliant on the internet and technology to become successful, it is important that everybody has an equal opportunity and an even playing field.

Some Thoughts about Leadership

As a leader I will strive to:

Plan, Plan, Plan. Involve the team in the planning.
Communicate clearly. Explain as necessary.
Empower my team to make decisions. Trust them.
Set an example by joining in the work that I have asked the team to do.
Encourage team members frequently.
Laugh at myself.
Listen.

My team agreed on these leadership characteristics:

  1. Motivation
  2. Direction
  3. Setting an example
  4. Flexibility/adaptability
  5. Communication
  6. Resourcefulness
  7. Organization
  8. Intuition
  9. Integrity/honesty
  10. Sense of humor

I would add truth and trust. These traits differ from Integrity and Honesty in subtle but important ways. Honesty is being truthful, not lying or cheating. Truthfulness corresponds to reality, what is real. The two are interconnected and one is used describe the other. A leader needs to have both.

Trusting in a leader (or anyone) holds an implication of many of the other traits listed here and instills in a team the motivation to make contributions towards the success of the team. Trust should be reciprocal. A team should trust the leader to make good decisions and the leader should trust the team to do the same. As I reflect on leaders I have known, my trust predicates loyalty, direction, motivation, and ease of communication. Trust allows me the freedom to make mistakes and in turn, motivates me to put even more effort into quality work. It gives me freedom to take calculated risks knowing that my intentions will be respected even if I fail. I am more motivated to be proactive in delivering any information, good or bad, trusting that the leader will make decisions or act rationally.

Speaking of failure, Read more

Leadership Assignment

Leaders can be motivated by a large number of things. Some leaders are motivated by their desire to accomplish a goal in the best way possible, other leaders are motivated by competition, and others are motivated by wanting to help improve those they are leading. Some bad leaders are even motivated by their thirst for power and control.

I am an avid fan of the NBA and I would love to interview Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. In most circles he is considered the best coach in the NBA today and one of the top 5 coaches of all time. He is famous for successfully using team oriented basketball and for bringing in players who had been seen as mediocre by the rest of the league and turning them into great contributors to the team by bringing out their best qualities on the court. I would ask what leader had influenced him and his leadership styles the most in his life. I would also ask him how he balances being stern when the situation calls for it and more lighthearted and forgiving in other situations.

Questions of nature vs. nurture are difficult ones to answer, especially ones regarding personality traits of humans. That being said I think the so called “natural leaders” are not born that way but were raised in an environment that promoted good leadership, or perhaps even around especially bad leadership that allowed them to learn what not to do. But I also think that given the right environment a person who is not normally considered a leader can take that position if they happen to be particularly enthusiastic about the topic.

When faced with failure good leaders will recognize what caused the failure and what they can do better next time, if there is a next time. In the moment of failure a good leader will commend the ones who he led on the things they did well and remind them that failure is only temporary and that it is an opportunity to learn things about themselves and each other so that they can improve in the future.

Last semester I took a history course that involved weekly group discussions in which he had to answer questions about the readings from the week. From the beginning I naturally took the leadership position of the group because I was very interested in the specific course and I think my fellow group members could sense my enthusiasm for the subject. A few weeks into the course a couple of the members of the group had noticeably been under contributing to the discussions, leading to two of the other members calling them out on it in a less than polite manner. When class ended that day I spoke to the two irritated members of the group and asked them what they thought the other members could do better and I also asked them to present their criticisms in a less hostile manner next time. During discussion the next week I more actively tried to involve the two members who hadn’t been contributing enough by asking what each of them thought about the reading and what their opinions on the questions were. I also made sure to thank them each time they gave helpful responses. By engaging and celebrating my previously underperforming group members I was able to help get the group working a lot better and to get along better.

Leadership is having a clear vision of what one wants to accomplish and being able to motivate others to join together and help each other accomplish this goal. It is also being able to adapt one’s methodology to unexpected problems while still keeping one’s ultimate vision in mind.

As a leader, I will motivate others to not only reach their individual potential but also to work as a cohesive team that is greater than just the sum of its parts. I will lead by example and focus on the accomplishments and strengths of others.

The qualities of leadership that my group decided on this week were: motivation, direction, setting an example, flexibility and adaptability, communication, resourcefulness, organization, intuition, integrity and honesty, and a sense of humor. Leaders must be able to motivate people in order to accomplish any task. A leader must set a good example because that’s where a lot of people get their motivation from. A leader must be a good communicator and organizer because people need to know what everyone is trying to accomplish. Being resourceful can help you find better ways to complete your goals. A leader must possess integrity because those under him won’t work as hard for him if they don’t respect him. And like all human interactions a sense of humor is necessary for a leader because it helps breaks interpersonal tensions that might be getting in the way of accomplishing a goal. I think being able to positively reinforce good work is an important part of leadership. Honestly it was not included because I failed to contribute to the discussion last week.

I think that I possess a strong ability to motivate people if I am personally enthusiastic about the project, and I tend to try to set a good example when working with a group. I am also very good at communicating with others and using my resourcefulness to help do so. I know I am not always the most organized person and I can get frustrated when I have to change my methodology in the middle of a task. Over the past couple of years I have been continually trying to improve my organizational skills but I think I can further improve them by keeping a dedicated folder on my computer for the overarching plans of my various projects.

 

What Makes A Great Leader?

Having a great leader involved in a project can make any task easier for the whole group. Great leaders come in all different leadership styles, with each having their own set of pros and cons. However, over the past week, our discussion group has tackled the question of “what makes a great leader?” including making a list of key attributes that every great leader seems to possess.

The first quality a great leader should possess is empathy. A leader needs to be able to put themselves in a follower’s shoes in order to fully understand how they think and feel. From a follower’s perspective, they would be more likely to follow someone if they believed the leader truly cared about their issues. Similar to empathy was a quality we decided to call “emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence includes how to read and work with others, and understanding the needs of their followers. Having a high degree of emotional intelligence will allow a leader to cater their decisions based on their individual followers, because different people respond more positively to different leadership styles. For example, some people need a shoulder to cry on, when other people facing the same exact situation need to be nudged in the right direction.

Another quality great leaders possess is selflessness. A leader needs to be selfless in order for their followers believe the leader’s actions are truly for the benefit of everyone involved, and not just to better themselves. A leader should also be kind. Although they sometimes need to make unpopular decisions, a leader should be kind because it builds a stronger rapport with followers. Great leaders are also confident in their decision-making. Even if they aren’t truly confident, it is in their best interest to appear confident, because no one wants to follow someone that doesn’t appear to know what they are doing. Although a leader should be confident, they also need to be flexible in their decision-making, as well. Being a flexible leader allows one to make compromises for the good of the group, and shows the followers that their input is appreciated and taken under consideration. Leaders also need to be intuitive. This would allow a leader to sniff out good decisions from bad ones, and be able to weigh the future consequences of their actions, as well. Another critically important characteristic for a leader to have is to be able to communicate. Communication skills are imperative for leaders in order to fully explain their ideas and give out directions for their followers. The final characteristic our group included in the list was humor. A leader should be able to lighten the mood by laughing at themselves, as it shows humility.

When evaluating myself using this rubric, I found that I have some of these leadership characteristics, but lack others. I can say for certain that I fit the criteria for humor, empathy, kindness, and selflessness. I do not feel confident enough in my emotional intelligence to place it on that list, but I feel it is probably average to above average. I would not pass the confidence test because in situations where I would not be confident, I would not be able to act like I was. I am confident in situations where I know exactly what to do, but would not feel comfortable leading someone else into a situation I had never previously been in. I would not describe myself as flexible, because I can be stubborn and reluctant to change my mind once I have made a decision. I would not describe myself as intuitive, either. My communication skills could improve, especially verbal communication. I am much more confident giving out written directions instead of verbal ones. However, most of these can be improved upon. I can improve my communication skills by practicing my public speaking. I can also improve my flexibility in decision-making by taking a deep breath, relaxing, and letting someone else take the reigns.

In my opinion, leadership is that intangible quality that allows one to be able to motivate, inspire, and direct others to accomplish a common goal. Leadership is putting aside your individual goals for the group’s goals. A leader is able to influence others in a positive fashion, while their followers willingly listen to their instructions. Leaders are followed out of respect, not out of fear. A leader is motivated not by personal success or accolades, but by the success of the group. This definition applies to me because I will be placed in many situations where I will have to exhibit leadership qualities whether it is in work, school, or in other areas of life. Also, understanding what leadership is, and what makes a good leader, can help me weed out the good leaders I interact with from the bad ones.

One situation in which I had to be a leader was a club soccer team I was on, in which I was the captain. I was never the best player on the field, but I was made captain because my coaches and teammates respected me and the decisions I made. I was mainly responsible for organizing the defense and making sure everyone was in the right positions to succeed. My team was playing in the state final, and we were tied heading into overtime. During our team talk, one of my teammates suggested we change part of our defensive strategy. Even though I was confident with what we were running, I decided to take his suggestion because our other teammates seemed to respond to it. We ended up winning, so my decision to defer to my teammate ended up paying off. I chose this anecdote as an example of leadership because I believe I showed two characteristics from the earlier list: flexibility and emotional intelligence. I was flexible enough to take my teammate’s suggestion, and showed emotional intelligence by choosing the scenario in which most of the team was happy with the decision.

Although leadership is a quality that some seem to inherently possess, I believe it is also possible for circumstances to form a leader. If a leader leaves a group for whatever reason, a void is left that needs to be filled. I believe that someone can rise from a following position to a leadership position to successfully fill this void. Many of the leadership characteristics listed at the top can be learned or practiced, ensuring that some series of events can occur that would lead someone to become a leader after not being one previously. One such circumstance could be failure. Failure can be a great motivator because no one wants to experience it more than they have to. Experiencing failure could change someone by making them more driven, to ensure that they do not fail again.

If I could interview any leader throughout history, I could choose Mahatma Gandhi. I would pick Gandhi because of all the people he influenced, from his followers in India to later civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. What sends Gandhi apart in my eyes was his steadfast commitment to nonviolence. In fact, the first question I would ask him is how he stuck to that mantra even when times got tough. Other questions I would ask Gandhi would include what characteristics he thinks are most important in leaders, how to make your followers believe in the genuineness of your actions, and when to stick with your own decision and when to defer to others.


Leadership Blog

It is mentioned in the introduction for this assignment that “vision” is often a term associated with leadership. Most leaders have a vision in mind that motivates them to pursue a particular end goal. Whether that vision is to settle down and raise a healthy well-adjusted family or to become president of the United States, leaders have some sort of ideal life in mind in which they are motivated to pursue. It may be a cliché, but if I could interview a leader who I really respect I would want to interview Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was a president who came into office at one of the worst times in United States history. The Great Depression was in full swing and the nation was desperately looking for a leader with a solution. He was not only able to help the nation overcome many hardships on a large economic scale, but also was able to deal with many personal problems, including polio in the middle of his presidency. The most important question that I would have for FDR, if given the opportunity to conduct an interview with him, would be how he was able to stay motivated to lead a nation while also dealing with so much pain and hardship in his personal life. It is amazing to see a person put an entire nation of people ahead of his own personal sufferings. FDR also made a lot of changes that many still find controversial today. Because of FDR’s vision and goals for change, our nation was able to make it out of one the most economically depressing periods of its history.

Leadership is most certainly something that can be developed over time, but some qualities of leadership can also come naturally to some people. We actually discussed leadership in a nature vs. nurture context in our group discussion blog in week 2: http://mollydett.com/team-a-discussion/week-2-team-a-group-discussion/#more-16. Being cool, calm, and collective is sometimes a personality trait that someone is born with. Qualities of leaders, like developing a vision and working towards goals, are often something that a person must learn and does not necessarily come naturally. The ability for a leader to overcome failure and move on when they encounter setbacks is something important that a leader should possess as well, whether they are born with it or not. A person in a leadership position who is unable to cope with failure is most likely not going to hold that position for long. Strong leaders know how to recognize failure and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than letting setbacks destroy the vision in place.

In my personal life, I had a great leader who I was able to look up to while growing up. My father exemplified the qualities that should be present in a good leader. He was the type of person who would be the first to jump in and lend a hand whenever an opportunity presented itself, always with an excellent attitude and strong motivation. Unfortunately, my father passed away a little over a year ago. My family now consists of my mother, my three younger sisters, and me. Upon his passing, there were many areas in my family’s personal life where he was largely responsible. It has been an amazing experience to see the members of my immediate family, as well as my extended family, step in to fill the void. I had never realized the amount of leadership qualities that were present within my family and in me as well. I have thought many times about how much worse our situation could be now if any of us had given up, as I am sure that some of my family, myself included, probably felt like doing at certain times.

Many of the qualities mentioned in the introduction to this assignment and within our group discussion blogs are what I would attribute to defining leadership. In our discussions, our group listed the following characteristics as qualities that should be displayed in a leader. Our group believed that a leader should possess strong emotional qualities such as empathy, selflessness, kindness, humor, and emotional intelligence. Being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes, while also being legitimately concerned with their well-being were common themes discussed in our group discussion. Our group also mentioned qualities such as confidence, flexibility, intuition, communication skills, and other more authoritative skills that a leader should possess. Not only should a leader be tuned in to what others feel, but they should also have the self-confidence and motivation needed to lead others.

In my personal life, I believe that I possess some the qualities that our group mentioned about being a leader, but not all of them. Many of the emotional characteristics our group mentioned, such as empathy, selflessness, kindness, and humor, are characteristics that I would define as personal strengths. Before switching to the School of Library and Information Studies, I was taking classes in the School of Social Work. I believed myself to be an empathetic person before taking classes in the School of Social Work, but I see now that many of those courses strengthened some of the characteristics I possess. I also think that I share some of the characteristics that I mentioned about my father. I try to be the person who jumps in and gets things done when necessary. I believe that leading by example is one of the most defining traits of leadership. While I may find strengths in some qualities mentioned about leadership, I also lack in many others. Confidence is a leadership quality that I find a big weakness in my personal life. I believe that my lack of confidence in some areas hinders my vision and goal setting abilities, which has been mentioned as key characteristics in a leader. I believe that putting myself in unfamiliar situations where I am able to succeed would help improve my confidence, and thus contribute to making me a better leader.

245 00 ‡a Reflections on leadership /

I personally feel that leaders are motivated by a variety of factors. They can be driven by the need for success or the feeling of accomplishment. Leaders can also be driven by the desire to advance the company or organization for which they are working, or by the need to personally improve themselves.

If I could interview and leader from history, I would probably choose to interview the current Dalai Lama because I find his vast wisdom incredible. I would ask him about the importance of leaders believing in what they stand for, and how he finds the strength to continue his leadership while continuing to face hostility and exile by China, and how other leaders can find strength within themselves to persevere in their leadership.

I think that in ways, leadership is both a personal quality and influenced by external events. Certain people may be more inclined towards leadership than others, but based upon the situation, anyone may have the opportunity to display leadership. Whether that person takes the opportunity and displays leadership may be another story, however.

I feel that leaders are unique when they face failure or setback. Setback and failure is always disappointing and disheartening, but what I think sets leaders apart is that when they are faced with this, leaders adapt to the situation and carry on, and adjust their future plans and methods to incorporate what they learned about what may have caused them to fail or face setback earlier.

One particular time from my life that illustrates leadership comes from when I was an undergraduate. As an undergrad, I was an RA, and during my third and final year in that position, I had the opportunity to mentor the new RAs and answer their questions and provide them with advice during our training and while we worked together. I feel this displayed leadership because I was able to be there for the rest of my co-workers, and help them through new and sometimes difficult situations.

Based on the previous group discussion on the topic of leadership, we determined that, there are many different characteristics and traits which leaders possess. This makes it very difficult to create a definition of leadership which can be a “one-size-fits-all-situations”definition. Despite this, I think that leadership can be defined as knowing when one needs to step in and take the initiative to lead, while keeping the team motivated to persevere and complete the task at hand. Based on this definition, and the following list of traits our group developed my personal vision of leadership is one where the leader still functions as though he or she were other team members, but when needed takes the initiative to provide organization, guidance, mentoring, and decision-making, while maintaining a positive team environment.

From the discussion, our group was able to develop a well-rounded list of traits that we felt were the most important characteristics of a leader. Some traits have been grouped together due to strong similarity or relationship to other trait(s):

  • Adaptability – by being able to adapt with situations as they change, a leader is not only able to successfully handle the stress of these situations, but also able to help adjust to the changing needs of his or her team members as well.
  • Organization – a successful leader needs to be organized to help keep the team on track to meet established dates and deadlines, but also to use time efficiently. Disorganization can lead to wasted time by looking for or redoing things that have already been completed.
  • Charisma and Empathy – Charisma and empathy were grouped together because there needs to be an equal balance of both for these to contribute to successful leadership. A good leader not only needs to have the charisma to inspire the cohesiveness and devotion of teamwork, but also needs to be aware of the team members’ needs to maintain a positive team environment.
  • Responsibility – Successful leaders also need to take responsibility for their actions and stand by their decisions
  • Vision – Visualizing “the big picture” and how your work fits into this is another important quality of a leader. If the leader is not able to visualize how everything fits together, he or she will not be able to successfully show team members’ how what they are doing is important.
  • Being informed – Being informed is important as it relates to adaptability. If a leader is informed about events/situations and changes that may be occurring, he or she can plan for and adapt to these changes.
  • Listening – Listening to team members and their concerns is important in shaping a successful leader. There cannot be a team of one, and a leader must listen to others to help maintain a working team environment.
  • Selflessness and teamwork – This two traits relate to one another, and a successful leader must also realize, or possess the selflessness, to understand that even though he or she may be the leader, he or she is also still part of that team.
  • Sound judgment – An effective leader needs to base all judgment on a good quality, sound basis without letting unnecessary external factors hinder the decision-making process or outcome.
  • Mentoring – A good leader also mentors and provides advice and guidance to those whom he or she is leading .
  • Commitment and perseverance – Successful leaders also believe in the cause for which they are working, and are willing to work toward that cause and see it through to the end.
  • Courage – Effective leaders need to have the willingness to step-up and support their cause, even if it risks becoming unpopular with others
  • Character ­– A leader’s character should be solid, people of questionable character may have their leadership abilities questioned.
  • Decisiveness and Assertiveness – Leader’s should display decisiveness and assertiveness. Leader’s who flip-flop or constantly change their mind, and are not assertive may lose the respect of their team members
  • Energy – Successful leaders are also energetic and inspire those they lead to put their energy into their work.
  • Initiative ­– Perhaps most importantly, leaders need to display the initiative to be able to successfully complete things.

After reflecting upon this list of traits that we as a group developed, I feel that there are two more that should be included—delegation and honesty. Good leaders delegate tasks to their teammates and do not let themselves (or others) take too much upon themselves as it can end up hurting the team in the long-run. Good leaders also need to be open and honest with their team members; if they are not it can cause distrust between them and the team.

Personally, I fee as though I am organized, take responsibility for my actions, and a team player, listen to others, and have perseverance. I think that one area from this list that I could work on improving would be my decisiveness. Often times I find myself struggling with making decisions (especially complex decisions). I think that in these cases, once I make up my mind, I need to stick to my decision rather than going back-and-forth, and carry on once I have made the decision.

 

Randomization Wonderland

In a typical semester, I teach one class with 30-40 students and another class with 50-60 students. Those are not "big" classes I guess (at my school, you can get a grant to help with course development for "big" classes... which means enrollments of 600 or more!), but they are big enough that the sheer level of activity in any given week can be very daunting: stories and other blog posts, comments, projects ... it's a LOT of stuff.

My goal as the instructor is to keep an eye on everything (thank you, Inoreader and the magic of RSS!), but that is not a reasonable goal for students. Instead, students need to find their own individual pathways as they connect with others, and my goal is to help them find those pathways, either by means of making their own choices OR by providing them with random choices that can lead them in totally new directions, meeting new students in class, encountering new stories, etc. Choice is great, but random is also good, a fun and effective way to just take the plunge and get connected!

At the bottom of this post, I've provided a list of links to the different kinds of randomizers that I now use in my classes. But first, some history:

Let the Fates Decide

I first discovered the power of random way back when I built the Myth-Folklore class online back in 2002. Each week, there was a choice of two reading options (now, with the UnTextbook, there are so many more choices; more on that below), and so I created a simple little javascript called "Let the Fates decide!" for students who couldn't decide on their own, either because they really liked both options or because they had never heard of either option and thus had no grounds on which to choose.

When I made the javascript (it was the first javascript I ever wrote by hand!), I was scrupulously fair, making sure each choice had a 50-50 chance of appearing. Much to my surprise, students were really fond of the Fates, and they would sometimes writing in their blogs about how "The Fates told me to choose King Arthur three times in a row!" and so on. Those old pages are still up; here's an example: Medieval Heroes.


I was only half-joking about the Fates: ancient divination was a topic that had fascinated me in graduate school, and many of the ancient practices were based on what we would call randomness, like the casting of lots (sortilege, cleromancy). There were even some wonderful book-based forms of divination — bibliomancy — such as the sortes Virgilianae: open the book by the poet Vergil (at random), choose a passage (at random), and it will provide the answer to your question, whatever it might be. The English word "sorcery" comes from this Latin word for the casting of lots, sortes. Of course, in modern times we have the Magic 8-Ball

Enter Randy Hoyt and RotateContent.com

I will not dwell too long on the weird coincidence that the builder of the randomizer I use most, RotateContent.com, is himself named Randy (cue Theramin music...). Randy Hoyt was a student in the very first class I taught at OU back in 1999 and we have been friends ever since; he is now a genius computer programmer and also a maker of board games (see his latest Kickstarter for Foxtrot games: Lanterns). Randy went on to take Myth-Folklore online back in the very early days, and also Indian Epics in early days; a lovely poem he wrote for that class is still online here: Song of Kaikeyi. 

So, probably around 2003 or so (honestly, I don't even remember when exactly), I hired Randy to build me a randomizer. It actually started out as a date-based content tool, but it was Randy who realized that the same table-based content could be deployed by date OR at random, and so the free online tool, RotateContent.com, was born. Randy has been so kind and generous to host the script on his server all this time, long long long after I paid him for the project. All you need to do is put content in an HTML table and, presto, RotateContent will give it back to you as a randomizing javascript or as a date-based javascript. 

To show how that works, here's the latest script I wrote with RotateContent: it's a randomizer for the Amar Chitra Katha comic books that will be part of Indian Epics starting next year! 



I hope to add lots more comic books in June and July; right now there are about a dozen comic books, which makes for an okay randomized experience. But by the time I get 50 or 60 comic books by the end of the summer, it will be really fun.

Random: FUN and EFFECTIVE

As the "Fates" example above shows, randomness has a quality of fun to it, even mystical fun, which students can really appreciate. In a world where so much of school is scripted and predictable, sometimes to the point of being mind-numbing, the UN-predictability of randomness can provide some much needed fun.

At the same that it is fun, randomness is also a very effective tool for distributing attention and effort. So, for example, by putting the students in random commenting groups each week, I can help make sure that over time they all get about the same number of comments on their blog that originate from this assignment (other commenting assignments are 100% student-choice based, and that's good too; some blogs do become quite popular compared to others). In any given week, some students get more comments from this assignment and some students get fewer (because student participation is itself random too), but over time the power of random evens it all out.

So too with my participation in the form of blog comments: I spend a few minutes each day commenting on student blog posts at random — literally at random, using a randomizer to highlight blogs for me to comment on. Over time, that helps make sure I am involved in all the blogs without having to use tedious checklists. I don't have a lot of time to spend commenting on blogs, and the randomizer helps me make sure that the time is indeed well spent, attending to all the students but at random over time.

Random content presentation is also important in terms of distributing the students' attention over all the content equally, at least in terms of the first contact. Not all content will interest them to the same degree, obviously, but I want them to be exposed to all the content equally. So, when I have lots of content, like hundreds of past student projects, just putting them in a list is not a good idea: the items at the top of the list will inevitably get the most attention, and for no good reason. A list does not randomize attention, and I want the students' attention to be randomized; then, when one of the random items really gets their attention, they can click to learn more.

Example of Randomizing and Randomizers

So, I hope the preceding paragraphs have managed to convey how powerful randomization can be, both as a way to engage students and also for distributing effort and attention. For the nitty-gritty, here are some of the ways I use randomization and randomizers in my classes. I use RotateContent to build the randomizing widgets that I insert into blog posts and web pages, while other examples are casual randomization done on the fly using GoogleDocs spreadsheets.

~ ~ ~

Crystal Ball. The Crystal Ball is the updated version of "Let the Fates decide!" for the UnTextbook which presents the students with many choices each week. That links shows all the crystal balls, but the students only see one ball at a time as I link to the individual posts week by week as the students progress through the semester. For example, in the Myth-Folklore class Week 4 has India and Middle Eastern reading options.

Random Storybooks. It is really important to expose the students to as many past student Storybook projects as possible out of the hundreds in the archive, so I use random Storybook widgets on the homepage of the online course syllabus, at the eStorybook support site, as part of the Favorite Storybooks exploration assignment during the Orientation week of class, in the sidebar of the class announcements blog, etc.

Other random content widgets. I have other randomizing content widgets as well such as the random Indian Epics comic book widget shown above, a random Indian Epics image widget which you can see in the sidebar of the Indian Epics image blog, random Myth images in the sidebar of this words and writing blog, etc.

Random weekly groups. Each week I use a GoogleDocs Spreadsheet to sort the students into random groups each week. The reason I put them into groups, as opposed to just having students visit the blogs and projects totally at random, is to promote a sense of back-and-forth dialogue (you are commenting on the work of the same people who are commenting on your work that week). Here's a screenshot of how that looks: the students find their name in the alphabetical list, which lets them quickly find their group for that week, new random groups each week.


Random participation by me. While I read every page of all the projects, my participation in the students' other work is done at random. I have links to their blogs in a spreadsheet, and I randomize the listing of the blogs when I spend some time each day commenting. Once I get to the blog, I choose what to comment on there, but the choice of blogs is random.

~ ~ ~

Randomizing in a spreadsheet is easy (I just use the RAND function in a cell and sort on that column; details here), but RotateContent can require some advance planning, especially if you are using images. Here's a write-up I did about creating a RotateContent widget: Using RotateContent to Make Widgets. I wrote this up when my Latin LOLCats won a contest for creative widgets sponsored by D2L. There's no love lost between me and D2L, but I do love widgets! :-)



And . . . .  drum-roll please . . . here is my first-ever screencast! In preparation for DML2015 and our panel "The Open Show" I made a little video: Laura Loves Randomizers. It gives a quick rundown of both the content randomizers built with RotateContent and also the blog randomizers that I run in a spreadsheet. Please be kind: I never made a screencast before. It was fun! :-)

Randomization Wonderland

In a typical semester, I teach one class with 30-40 students and another class with 50-60 students. Those are not "big" classes I guess (at my school, you can get a grant to help with course development for "big" classes... which means enrollments of 600 or more!), but they are big enough that the sheer level of activity in any given week can be very daunting: stories and other blog posts, comments, projects ... it's a LOT of stuff.

My goal as the instructor is to keep an eye on everything (thank you, Inoreader and the magic of RSS!), but that is not a reasonable goal for students. Instead, students need to find their own individual pathways as they connect with others, and my goal is to help them find those pathways, either by means of making their own choices OR by providing them with random choices that can lead them in totally new directions, meeting new students in class, encountering new stories, etc. Choice is great, but random is also good, a fun and effective way to just take the plunge and get connected!

At the bottom of this post, I've provided a list of links to the different kinds of randomizers that I now use in my classes. But first, some history:

Let the Fates Decide

I first discovered the power of random way back when I built the Myth-Folklore class online back in 2002. Each week, there was a choice of two reading options (now, with the UnTextbook, there are so many more choices; more on that below), and so I created a simple little javascript called "Let the Fates decide!" for students who couldn't decide on their own, either because they really liked both options or because they had never heard of either option and thus had no grounds on which to choose.

When I made the javascript (it was the first javascript I ever wrote by hand!), I was scrupulously fair, making sure each choice had a 50-50 chance of appearing. Much to my surprise, students were really fond of the Fates, and they would sometimes writing in their blogs about how "The Fates told me to choose King Arthur three times in a row!" and so on. Those old pages are still up; here's an example: Medieval Heroes.


I was only half-joking about the Fates: ancient divination was a topic that had fascinated me in graduate school, and many of the ancient practices were based on what we would call randomness, like the casting of lots (sortilege, cleromancy). There were even some wonderful book-based forms of divination — bibliomancy — such as the sortes Virgilianae: open the book by the poet Vergil (at random), choose a passage (at random), and it will provide the answer to your question, whatever it might be. The English word "sorcery" comes from this Latin word for the casting of lots, sortes. Of course, in modern times we have the Magic 8-Ball

Enter Randy Hoyt and RotateContent.com

I will not dwell too long on the weird coincidence that the builder of the randomizer I use most, RotateContent.com, is himself named Randy (cue Theramin music...). Randy Hoyt was a student in the very first class I taught at OU back in 1999 and we have been friends ever since; he is now a genius computer programmer and also a maker of board games (see his latest Kickstarter for Foxtrot games: Lanterns). Randy went on to take Myth-Folklore online back in the very early days, and also Indian Epics in early days; a lovely poem he wrote for that class is still online here: Song of Kaikeyi. 

So, probably around 2003 or so (honestly, I don't even remember when exactly), I hired Randy to build me a randomizer. It actually started out as a date-based content tool, but it was Randy who realized that the same table-based content could be deployed by date OR at random, and so the free online tool, RotateContent.com, was born. Randy has been so kind and generous to host the script on his server all this time, long long long after I paid him for the project. All you need to do is put content in an HTML table and, presto, RotateContent will give it back to you as a randomizing javascript or as a date-based javascript. 

To show how that works, here's the latest script I wrote with RotateContent: it's a randomizer for the Amar Chitra Katha comic books that will be part of Indian Epics starting next year! 



I hope to add lots more comic books in June and July; right now there are about a dozen comic books, which makes for an okay randomized experience. But by the time I get 50 or 60 comic books by the end of the summer, it will be really fun.

Random: FUN and EFFECTIVE

As the "Fates" example above shows, randomness has a quality of fun to it, even mystical fun, which students can really appreciate. In a world where so much of school is scripted and predictable, sometimes to the point of being mind-numbing, the UN-predictability of randomness can provide some much needed fun.

At the same that it is fun, randomness is also a very effective tool for distributing attention and effort. So, for example, by putting the students in random commenting groups each week, I can help make sure that over time they all get about the same number of comments on their blog that originate from this assignment (other commenting assignments are 100% student-choice based, and that's good too; some blogs do become quite popular compared to others). In any given week, some students get more comments from this assignment and some students get fewer (because student participation is itself random too), but over time the power of random evens it all out.

So too with my participation in the form of blog comments: I spend a few minutes each day commenting on student blog posts at random — literally at random, using a randomizer to highlight blogs for me to comment on. Over time, that helps make sure I am involved in all the blogs without having to use tedious checklists. I don't have a lot of time to spend commenting on blogs, and the randomizer helps me make sure that the time is indeed well spent, attending to all the students but at random over time.

Random content presentation is also important in terms of distributing the students' attention over all the content equally, at least in terms of the first contact. Not all content will interest them to the same degree, obviously, but I want them to be exposed to all the content equally. So, when I have lots of content, like hundreds of past student projects, just putting them in a list is not a good idea: the items at the top of the list will inevitably get the most attention, and for no good reason. A list does not randomize attention, and I want the students' attention to be randomized; then, when one of the random items really gets their attention, they can click to learn more.

Example of Randomizing and Randomizers

So, I hope the preceding paragraphs have managed to convey how powerful randomization can be, both as a way to engage students and also for distributing effort and attention. For the nitty-gritty, here are some of the ways I use randomization and randomizers in my classes. I use RotateContent to build the randomizing widgets that I insert into blog posts and web pages, while other examples are casual randomization done on the fly using GoogleDocs spreadsheets.

~ ~ ~

Crystal Ball. The Crystal Ball is the updated version of "Let the Fates decide!" for the UnTextbook which presents the students with many choices each week. That links shows all the crystal balls, but the students only see one ball at a time as I link to the individual posts week by week as the students progress through the semester. For example, in the Myth-Folklore class Week 4 has India and Middle Eastern reading options.

Random Storybooks. It is really important to expose the students to as many past student Storybook projects as possible out of the hundreds in the archive, so I use random Storybook widgets on the homepage of the online course syllabus, at the eStorybook support site, as part of the Favorite Storybooks exploration assignment during the Orientation week of class, in the sidebar of the class announcements blog, etc.

Other random content widgets. I have other randomizing content widgets as well such as the random Indian Epics comic book widget shown above, a random Indian Epics image widget which you can see in the sidebar of the Indian Epics image blog, random Myth images in the sidebar of this words and writing blog, etc.

Random weekly groups. Each week I use a GoogleDocs Spreadsheet to sort the students into random groups each week. The reason I put them into groups, as opposed to just having students visit the blogs and projects totally at random, is to promote a sense of back-and-forth dialogue (you are commenting on the work of the same people who are commenting on your work that week). Here's a screenshot of how that looks: the students find their name in the alphabetical list, which lets them quickly find their group for that week, new random groups each week.

Randomization Wonderland

Random participation by me. While I read every page of all the projects, my participation in the students' other work is done at random. I have links to their blogs in a spreadsheet, and I randomize the listing of the blogs when I spend some time each day commenting. Once I get to the blog, I choose what to comment on there, but the choice of blogs is random.

~ ~ ~

Randomizing in a spreadsheet is easy (I just use the RAND function in a cell and sort on that column; details here), but RotateContent can require some advance planning, especially if you are using images. Here's a write-up I did about creating a RotateContent widget: Using RotateContent to Make Widgets. I wrote this up when my Latin LOLCats won a contest for creative widgets sponsored by D2L. There's no love lost between me and D2L, but I do love widgets! :-)

Randomization Wonderland


And . . . .  drum-roll please . . . here is my first-ever screencast! In preparation for DML2015 and our panel "The Open Show" I made a little video: Laura Loves Randomizers. It gives a quick rundown of both the content randomizers built with RotateContent and also the blog randomizers that I run in a spreadsheet. Please be kind: I never made a screencast before. It was fun! :-)

Randomization Wonderland

In a typical semester, I teach one class with 30-40 students and another class with 50-60 students. Those are not "big" classes I guess (at my school, you can get a grant to help with course development for "big" classes... which means enrollments of 600 or more!), but they are big enough that the sheer level of activity in any given week can be very daunting: stories and other blog posts, comments, projects ... it's a LOT of stuff.

My goal as the instructor is to keep an eye on everything (thank you, Inoreader and the magic of RSS!), but that is not a reasonable goal for students. Instead, students need to find their own individual pathways as they connect with others, and my goal is to help them find those pathways, either by means of making their own choices OR by providing them with random choices that can lead them in totally new directions, meeting new students in class, encountering new stories, etc. Choice is great, but random is also good, a fun and effective way to just take the plunge and get connected!

At the bottom of this post, I've provided a list of links to the different kinds of randomizers that I now use in my classes. But first, some history:

Let the Fates Decide

I first discovered the power of random way back when I built the Myth-Folklore class online back in 2002. Each week, there was a choice of two reading options (now, with the UnTextbook, there are so many more choices; more on that below), and so I created a simple little javascript called "Let the Fates decide!" for students who couldn't decide on their own, either because they really liked both options or because they had never heard of either option and thus had no grounds on which to choose.

When I made the javascript (it was the first javascript I ever wrote by hand!), I was scrupulously fair, making sure each choice had a 50-50 chance of appearing. Much to my surprise, students were really fond of the Fates, and they would sometimes writing in their blogs about how "The Fates told me to choose King Arthur three times in a row!" and so on. Those old pages are still up; here's an example: Medieval Heroes.


I was only half-joking about the Fates: ancient divination was a topic that had fascinated me in graduate school, and many of the ancient practices were based on what we would call randomness, like the casting of lots (sortilege, cleromancy). There were even some wonderful book-based forms of divination — bibliomancy — such as the sortes Virgilianae: open the book by the poet Vergil (at random), choose a passage (at random), and it will provide the answer to your question, whatever it might be. The English word "sorcery" comes from this Latin word for the casting of lots, sortes. Of course, in modern times we have the Magic 8-Ball

Enter Randy Hoyt and RotateContent.com

I will not dwell too long on the weird coincidence that the builder of the randomizer I use most, RotateContent.com, is himself named Randy (cue Theramin music...). Randy Hoyt was a student in the very first class I taught at OU back in 1999 and we have been friends ever since; he is now a genius computer programmer and also a maker of board games (see his latest Kickstarter for Foxtrot games: Lanterns). Randy went on to take Myth-Folklore online back in the very early days, and also Indian Epics in early days; a lovely poem he wrote for that class is still online here: Song of Kaikeyi. 

So, probably around 2003 or so (honestly, I don't even remember when exactly), I hired Randy to build me a randomizer. It actually started out as a date-based content tool, but it was Randy who realized that the same table-based content could be deployed by date OR at random, and so the free online tool, RotateContent.com, was born. Randy has been so kind and generous to host the script on his server all this time, long long long after I paid him for the project. All you need to do is put content in an HTML table and, presto, RotateContent will give it back to you as a randomizing javascript or as a date-based javascript. 

To show how that works, here's the latest script I wrote with RotateContent: it's a randomizer for the Amar Chitra Katha comic books that will be part of Indian Epics starting next year! 



I hope to add lots more comic books in June and July; right now there are about a dozen comic books, which makes for an okay randomized experience. But by the time I get 50 or 60 comic books by the end of the summer, it will be really fun.

Random: FUN and EFFECTIVE

As the "Fates" example above shows, randomness has a quality of fun to it, even mystical fun, which students can really appreciate. In a world where so much of school is scripted and predictable, sometimes to the point of being mind-numbing, the UN-predictability of randomness can provide some much needed fun.

At the same that it is fun, randomness is also a very effective tool for distributing attention and effort. So, for example, by putting the students in random commenting groups each week, I can help make sure that over time they all get about the same number of comments on their blog that originate from this assignment (other commenting assignments are 100% student-choice based, and that's good too; some blogs do become quite popular compared to others). In any given week, some students get more comments from this assignment and some students get fewer (because student participation is itself random too), but over time the power of random evens it all out.

So too with my participation in the form of blog comments: I spend a few minutes each day commenting on student blog posts at random — literally at random, using a randomizer to highlight blogs for me to comment on. Over time, that helps make sure I am involved in all the blogs without having to use tedious checklists. I don't have a lot of time to spend commenting on blogs, and the randomizer helps me make sure that the time is indeed well spent, attending to all the students but at random over time.

Random content presentation is also important in terms of distributing the students' attention over all the content equally, at least in terms of the first contact. Not all content will interest them to the same degree, obviously, but I want them to be exposed to all the content equally. So, when I have lots of content, like hundreds of past student projects, just putting them in a list is not a good idea: the items at the top of the list will inevitably get the most attention, and for no good reason. A list does not randomize attention, and I want the students' attention to be randomized; then, when one of the random items really gets their attention, they can click to learn more.

Example of Randomizing and Randomizers

So, I hope the preceding paragraphs have managed to convey how powerful randomization can be, both as a way to engage students and also for distributing effort and attention. For the nitty-gritty, here are some of the ways I use randomization and randomizers in my classes. I use RotateContent to build the randomizing widgets that I insert into blog posts and web pages, while other examples are casual randomization done on the fly using GoogleDocs spreadsheets.

~ ~ ~

Crystal Ball. The Crystal Ball is the updated version of "Let the Fates decide!" for the UnTextbook which presents the students with many choices each week. That links shows all the crystal balls, but the students only see one ball at a time as I link to the individual posts week by week as the students progress through the semester. For example, in the Myth-Folklore class Week 4 has India and Middle Eastern reading options.

Random Storybooks. It is really important to expose the students to as many past student Storybook projects as possible out of the hundreds in the archive, so I use random Storybook widgets on the homepage of the online course syllabus, at the eStorybook support site, as part of the Favorite Storybooks exploration assignment during the Orientation week of class, in the sidebar of the class announcements blog, etc.

Other random content widgets. I have other randomizing content widgets as well such as the random Indian Epics comic book widget shown above, a random Indian Epics image widget which you can see in the sidebar of the Indian Epics image blog, random Myth images in the sidebar of this words and writing blog, etc.

Random weekly groups. Each week I use a GoogleDocs Spreadsheet to sort the students into random groups each week. The reason I put them into groups, as opposed to just having students visit the blogs and projects totally at random, is to promote a sense of back-and-forth dialogue (you are commenting on the work of the same people who are commenting on your work that week). Here's a screenshot of how that looks: the students find their name in the alphabetical list, which lets them quickly find their group for that week, new random groups each week.

Randomization Wonderland

Random participation by me. While I read every page of all the projects, my participation in the students' other work is done at random. I have links to their blogs in a spreadsheet, and I randomize the listing of the blogs when I spend some time each day commenting. Once I get to the blog, I choose what to comment on there, but the choice of blogs is random.

~ ~ ~

Randomizing in a spreadsheet is easy (I just use the RAND function in a cell and sort on that column; details here), but RotateContent can require some advance planning, especially if you are using images. Here's a write-up I did about creating a RotateContent widget: Using RotateContent to Make Widgets. I wrote this up when my Latin LOLCats won a contest for creative widgets sponsored by D2L. There's no love lost between me and D2L, but I do love widgets! :-)

Randomization Wonderland


And . . . .  drum-roll please . . . here is my first-ever screencast! In preparation for DML2015 and our panel "The Open Show" I made a little video: Laura Loves Randomizers. It gives a quick rundown of both the content randomizers built with RotateContent and also the blog randomizers that I run in a spreadsheet. Please be kind: I never made a screencast before. It was fun! :-)