Archive for June, 2013


Officially I started Howard Rheingold’s class “Think-Know Tools” by attending the second session of the online forum tonight. I was very excited about this opportunity to learn from the man who wrote “Smart Mobs” in 2002 and continues to be a force in thinking and learning. The small group session tonight was great with about 10 of the students attending (the rest participated in the first session the day before). We got to interact through Blackboard and learn how to navigate the different sections of the class website (wiki, forums, lexicon, blogs and mindmaps). The class will have weekly virtual sessions, although I will not be able to participate in many of them because of the time difference. But most of the real work will be done interactively yet asynchronously online. To get familiar with different elements we each volunteered to take on some role contributing to learning like “search jockey” to search out websites for ideas mentioned in the chat. I really enjoyed the session but I came away discouraged. In March I went through two surgeries for glaucoma. I thought that the healing had progressed enough to be able to handle an intensive online class. But I found that wasn’t the case. At the end of an hour and a half, I walked away from the computer almost blinded by weariness and a headache.

In a slow-paced learning environment where you can control the media, it is possible for me to take breaks and resize screens so that I can learn. But in the Blackboard live session, the chat font and the video was very small (no matter how large I sized it). And even the whiteboard began to get blurry toward the end as the topics became smaller as more were dropped onto the mindmap. My physical limitations certainly play a role in the mind map we were building on augmentation where cognition may be limited by problems with perception which could possibly be enhanced or modified by technology.

I’m hoping that I can continue with the asynchronous part of the class but the reading may also defeat me. I have had to limit reading to some extent and go to audio books whenever possible. But I think that I can contribute some unique perspectives for those with disabilities whether old ones or newly acquired regardless of the reason why.

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Yesterday I started listening to “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg.  Due to glaucoma,  I now find it easier to listen to audio books than read especially if I have been working on the computer all day.  It takes longer and I have to replay some parts, but I’m enjoying the process.

So far I’m only through Chapter 2  since listening takes much longer than reading (I haven’t yet been able to listen effectively to 1.5 or 2x speed and learn anything).   Much of what Sheryl Sandberg talks about is familiar to me after 38 years in a heavily male dominated workplace like the US Army and Department of Defense.  I plan to do some blogging as I read and will share some of my own personal experiences as I go.  I was partly inspired to write these thoughts by an awesome letter by Phyllis Richman 52 years after the event that changed her career plans.  I would encourage you to take the time to read this letter.

As I listened to Lean In, some key points emerged:

* Chapter 1 – Women have to do better than men in the workplace. Men are promoted based on potential while women are based on performance.  Early in my Army career (started in 1975), it became obvious that women always had to do about 110% whereas men could by with 80%.  I reported to my first assignment with a male counterpart.   I had completed  specialty training by graduating in the top 20% whereas my male colleague had failed the courses once before finally passing.  But that detail didn’t matter – no commander wanted the  female 2nd Lieutenant.  So I was thrown to the least politically astute commander (ultimately to the chagrin of the commander who got the male 1st Lieutenant).   I didn’t know this till about a year afterward when the other commander apologized for his biased mindset.  The lesson learned here is that you never know when your performance can change someone’s mind.

* Chapter 2 – Getting ahead in your career requires taking risks and advocating for oneself – both traits that women are not encouraged to learn. I think this is partly true – women are encouraged to take risks for the family but are expected to be self-sacrificing with no need for the skill to advocate for oneself.     Women are willing to take risks but sometimes get locked into a mental model that says they can’t without upsetting the family.  I think that Phyllis Richman’s letter highlights that even in a family setting, women can take risks to have a rich career and still maintain a great home life.   However, I totally agree with the lack of skill or experience to advocate for oneself.  I have seen this so often with many extremely competent women and experienced it myself.   This is a rich topic worth exploring more later so I’m not going to say much now.   However, about three years ago there was a lot of discussion on Twitter as to why there were more men than women speakers at conferences (especially technical conferences). Many factors played into that but one of the key areas of consensus was that women didn’t advocate for themselves as speakers.  And in most cases they weren’t aware that they needed to or how to acquire the experience to do that.  I know from personal experience that I don’t advocate for myself as I should.  I know my abilities and potential and expect that others should be able to see them without trying to sell myself.  Yet I can recognize when I see women who do it gracefully.  Perhaps this is something where mentors can help.

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