Social Constructivist Learning @ Work

Cognitive and Social

Learning Concepts — Basic Premise of Social Constructivist.

The concepts that we have studied around learning for children can be applied to adults as well.  There isn’t some date or time that cognitive psychology just short circuits and expires.   As a KM practitioner and consultant I am finding that simple is more effective than complex and that lessons learned from education applies directly to Knowledge Management and education in business.

What is Social Constructivist Learning?

Lev Vygotsky (http://www.ced.appstate.edu/vybio.html) a cognitive psychologist asserts that socialization and culture provide children with the cognitive tools required for development.  One of the best known concepts from Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is as follows:

Vygotsky’s ZPD emphasizes his belief that learning is, fundamentally, a socially mediated activity. Thinking and problem-solving skills can, according to Vygotsky, be placed in three categories. some can be performed independently by the child. Others cannot be performed even with help. Between these two extremes are skills the child can perform with help from others. those skills are in the ZPD. If a child uses these cognitive processes with help of others, such as teachers, parents, and fellow students, they will develop skills that can be independently practices. As Vygotsky (1987) puts it, ” What the child is able to do in collaboration today he will be able to do independently tomorrow.” Whereas an extreme interpretation of Piaget can lead to the conclusion that teachers teach best who get out of the way and let a naturally unfolding development take its course, Vygotsky’s theory requires an involved teacher who is an active participant, and guide, for student.

Vygotsky’s concepts assert that children develop best in social or group settings, the use of technology to connect students would be an appropriate practical application of these concepts.

“A constructivist teacher creates a context for learning in which students can become engaged in interesting activities that encourages and facilitates learning. The teacher does not simply stand by, however, and watch children explore and discover. Instead, the teacher may often guide students as they approach problems, may encourage them to work in groups to think about issues and questions, and support them with encouragement and advice as they tackle problems, adventures, and challenges that are rooted in real life situations that are both interesting to the students and satisfying in terms of the result of their work. Teachers thus facilitate cognitive growth and learning as do peers and other members of the child’s community.” (http://viking.coe.uh.edu/~ichen/ebook/et-it/social.htm)

There are four principles are applied in any Vygotskian classroom.

  1. Learning and development is a social, collaborative activity.
  2. The Zone of Proximal Development can serve as a guide for curricular and lesson planning.
  3. School learning should occur in a meaningful context and not be separated from learning and knowledge children develop in the “real world”.
  4. Out-of-school experiences should be related to the child’s school experience.

How does this translate to adults in business ?

A KM facilitator or Community Manager (CM) acts essentially as an enabler for employees as performers and subject matter experts.   The information and knowledge management activities are centered through collaboration and connectivity of information in context.  The CM can create activity based toolkits that experts and activity performers can leverage as part of a collaborative approach.

Key factors include:

  1. A safe environment for students to collaborate.  ~Translates to “safe and open environment for employees”
  2. A facilitated set of activities that introduce real life concepts for students.~Translates to “facilitate activities that are simulations of real business situations or labs”
  3. Technological capabilities that “enable” active collaboration. ~ SAME
  4. Appropriate feedback models and measures that provide information to teachers, librarians and students. ~ SAME for adult learners

What tools and technologies could be used for these activities?  (for teaching but … applies to business)

  • Reading and Writing Workshops:  This approach teaches students reading and language arts from a student-centric or student-centered process that gives students as individual performers and groups a great deal of responsibility on making decisions pertaining to what they will study and the reasoning behind it.  This approach emphasizes the collaborative and social aspects and nature of learning.    Collaboration activities that occur in the workshop are facilitated and conference driven workflows that include classroom and non-classroom based activities.  Students will create ideas, drafts and written products through explicit exchanges with peer groups, teachers, parents and other relevant members of the student’s social network.
  •  The collaboration activities are “for purpose” and have a meaningful outcome for students to aspire to as opposed to providing a summary of a teacher lesson and/or reiterating a teachers personal perspective or interpretation.   The function of a group discussion in both small groups and larger whole-class groups creates a feedback loop that informs both students and teachers.  In the case of this collaborative construct everyone has an opportunity for shared learning and communication.  Teachers who have the ability to take on active learning roles can inform and teach students how to listen, write, speak, read and effectively communicate.   Teachers actively teach students how to learn and think about information and further convert this information into knowledge that can be actualized.  This pragmatic approach can prepare students for education from a learning engagement perspective, social perspective and practical implementation perspective.

Here are some examples of this approach:

Whole Language:  “In the simplest terms, the “whole language approach” is a method of teaching children to read by recognizing words as whole pieces of language. Proponents of the whole language philosophy believe that language should not be broken down into letters and combinations of letters and “decoded.” Instead, they believe that language is a complete system of making meaning, with words functioning in relation to each other in context”. (What is the whole language approach?)

While these concepts are the basis for teaching children, they apply to adults almost across the board.

Some key characteristics of the whole language approach are:

  •  Acceptance of learners. This means, in part, that all learners are accepted regardless of their cultural or socio-economic background or other characteristics or labels. But in whole language classrooms, “acceptance of learners” also means that whole language teachers develop the classroom environment and the curriculum for and with the students, to meet their needs and engage them in learning about what interests them, as well as to cover essentials from the curriculum guidelines.
  • Flexibility within structure. Instead of having children do one brief activity or worksheet after another, whole language teachers organize the day in larger blocks of time, so that children can engage in meaningful pursuits. Thus they engage in fewer different tasks, but larger and more satisfying projects. They may have a readers’ and writers’ workshop, for instance, when the children read books and perhaps use them as models for their own writing. They may study a theme or topic at least part of the day for several days or weeks, using oral and written language and research skills to pursue learning in the realm of social studies and/or science and math, and using language and the arts to demonstrate and share what they have learned. Together and individually, the students have many choices as to what they will do and learn, which enables them to take significant responsibility for their learning. However, the teacher guides, supports, and structures the children’s learning as needed. Flexibility within the larger time blocks offers the time that learners need (especially the less proficient) in order to accomplish something meaningful and significant.
  • Supportive classroom community. Many whole language teachers help children develop skills for interacting with each other, solving interpersonal conflicts and problems, supporting one another in learning, and taking substantial responsibility for their own behavior and learning.
  • Expectations for success as they engage in “real” reading, writing, and learning. Kids aren’t kept doing “readiness” activities, in preparation for later reading and writing; rather, they are given the support they need to read and write whole texts from the very beginning. Whole language teachers have discovered that virtually all children can learn to read and write whole texts. This is true also of children who have heretofore been sent to resource rooms because they had difficulty with skills work. Indeed, reading whole texts is often easier for these children than doing the skills work.
  • Skills taught in context. Instead of being taught in isolation, skills are taught through mini-lessons and conferences, in the context of students’ reading, writing, and learning. For example: phonics is taught mainly through discussion and activities deriving from texts the children have read and reread with the teacher, and through writing the sounds they hear in words. Spelling is mainly taught when children are editing their writing, and grammar is mainly taught as the teacher helps children revise and edit what they’ve written. Skills like using the index of a book are taught when students need to locate information on a topic they want to research, while using the yellow pages of a phone book is taught when children need to locate resources within the community. In short, skills are taught while students are engaged in real-life tasks.
  • Teacher support for learning: scaffolding and collaboration. Teachers provide “scaffolding” for learning in many ways. For instance, primary grade teachers read Big Books and charts to and with children again and again, enabling the children to read whole texts before they can read independently. Whole language teachers help children write the sounds they hear in words, thus enabling the children to communicate through writing. They collaborate with children in carrying out research projects and, in the process, they model and explain how to do things that the children could not yet do alone. By collaborating on projects, children provide similar support for each other.
  • Contextualized assessment that emphasizes individuals’ growth as well as their accomplishments. Assessment is based primarily upon what children are doing from day to day as they read, write, do math and science, research topics of interest, and express their learning in various ways. Comprehensive, “portfolio” assessment will include data not only on the products of children’s efforts, but on their learning processes. Whole language teachers commonly involve children in assessing their own work and progress, and in setting future goals for learning. Parents and peers may also be involved in assessment. Individual growth and strengths are emphasized, along with progress in meeting agreed-upon goals and predetermined criteria.
  • Situated Learning- The concept of situated learning has been put forward by Lave and Wenger (1991). The idea is to look at social process and engagement over cognitive process and conceptual structures.  William F. Hanks puts it in his introduction to their book: ‘Rather than asking what kind of cognitive processes and conceptual structures are involved, they ask what kinds of social engagements provide the proper context for learning to take place’ (1991: 14). The fundamental idea around situated learning is based in the concepts of “communities of practice.”
  • Collaborative Learning- This is the idea that more than one person can work together to learn together.  Further that participants in this kind of learning approach will overall perform better than individual performs.
  • Anchored Instruction- “ refers to instruction in which the material to be learned is presented in the context of an authentic event that serves to anchor or situate the material and, further, allows it to be examined from multiple perspectives.” (Barab 2000:5)
  • Gamification (Gamification) is the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. Children today are extremely responsive to playing electronic games. There are number opportunities for social and collaborative learning thought live virtual construction and other virtual technologies. Some examples are Minecraft, World of Warcraft and even a new site called Growtopia. Working with the Librarian teachers can leverage these technologies with students both in and out of the classroom.  Additionally, children can extend their reach by employing these same technologies at home.
  • Model Based Instruction(Simulation)– Technologies have advanced in modeling and simulation well beyond the traditional block Lego.  There are Snap Circuits for children to create electronic modeling, amateur computing like the Raspberry Pi where students can create software applications, programs, games and operating environments.  Librarians can use lessons learned and best practices to reproduce and construct scientific models to describe, to explain, to predict and to control physical phenomena.

 

 

Community Managers and Knowledge Managers with a clear understanding of business AND employee needs as “requirements” can work alongside their peers as enablers.  A clear understanding of technology and the applicability to the various approaches in context of collaboration and social learning will educate the subject matter experts and practitioners alike .  As technology, process, and practice evolve facilitators can maintain their role as the implementation and facilitation specialists which  create, maintain, grow and facilitate the various lessons learned, best practices and technological capabilities in order to support the shared objectives of facilitated collaborative learning and instruction for the specific purpose of enhancing business.

 

Harold has it right!

The Desired Path #KM

off-the-beaten-path.jpgKnowledge Management activities are often pathways created as a consequence of doing business and normally represent the shortest route to an individual performer or group getting their jobs done. 

desire path (also known as a desire linesocial trailgoat track or bootleg trail) can be a path created as a consequence of foot or bicycle traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. The width of the path and its erosion are indicators of the amount of use the path receives. Desire paths emerge as shortcuts where constructed ways take a circuitous route, or have gaps, or are lacking entirely.

A Knowledge Manager..

Looks at activities, patterns, work flow, behavior, sentiment and seeks to identify that “desire line.”   People are looking to accomplish a goal, a task or some objective right NOW at this moment.  They seek to remove impediments and increase opportunity for successful outcome.  People do what they “have to do” to make things work.

Embracing Silos

For over 30 years or so management and leadership teams talk about “silo thinking” in fact, I was on board with the mentality of breaking down silos for a long time.  I am starting to change my mind on this because it really goes against the forces of nature.   The reason why people work in silos is because it is a natural way to work.    Instead of wasting resources on breaking down silos, we should help the silos become stronger and consider allowing the silo communities to reenforce and engage their areas of  expertise as they feel comfortable.    We do need to share information from silos but it should be the right information at the right time as needed.

 

In the silo

People and organizations operate in the form of a silo because this is how groups work.    A person can work in a group or silo and interact with others in other groups and other silos.

 

We shouldn’t seek to change this at all.  What we need to do is (INFORM) the group and the individual in ways that make sense.  That is why Twitter works and other social apps like Yammer.   Small bits of information in the form of a question, answer or statement set to inform an individual or group.  Raising the level of awareness where it makes sense but leaving the groups and communities as they feel comfortable intact.

Mission

 

Knowledge Managers struggle with organizations that seek to introduce tools to solve problems.   I often wonder why I can stand in a room of 100 people and ask 

Does your company spend more on technology for knowledge management over the practices of knowledge management?”  Almost always most if not all of the room says “YES.”  

“In Finland, planners are known to visit their parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible.[1] People naturally choose desire lines, which are then clearly indicated by their footprints and can be used to guide the routing of new purpose built paths.”

  • Instead of creating a path.. why aren’t we looking at what people do after the snowfall?  — What happens when a new member joins a team?  How do they learn to collaborate, communicate, cooperate and acculturate?
  • Instead of creating a path.. why aren’t we looking where people are walking in general?– What happens when we ask staff what they do and what they believe they need?
  • Instead of creating a path…why don’t we lower barriers? –What are impediments that our staff have as they perform their jobs? How can we move boulders out of their way?

Fundamentally… we should seek to enable through learning what people do as opposed to providing something we think they need.

 

 

Water, Air, Knowledge.. You need this .. remember?

5 Generations Mixer

Organizations throughout the world are now challenged to maintain business continuity by transferring knowledge from the older generations to the younger. According to some studies there will be 5 generations in the workforce all at the same time.

Gaps and Seems Less Seems…

There are a variety of reasons why people in the older generations have to work but more over there are fundamental business challenges due to this situation. Many organizations are having problems in estimating or planning for people to retire.
They are engaging older workers often too late for effective knowledge transfer. They may be unable to gauge what the real business value of a person relative to their functional capabilities are in a position. When companies or organizations focus on process and methods over people, they find that their bus-ability is literally walking out the door.
What is worse than this reality is that organizational transformation is not occurring as fast as needed to accommodate the younger generations.
Younger workers have a dramatically different view of work than older generations. This is directly impacting an organizations ability to build, maintain, grow and stabilize the workforce.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of issues organizations have now in terms of workforce stability are things they bring on themselves by treating employees like expendable trash.

Paying Attention

This is a narrative that really needs more attention. Organizations large and small aren’t going to necessarily go out of business because of knowledge transfer and knowledge management issues but it will cost them a lot of money. I can also think of some conditions where it can cause more serious concerns.

 Gen X Reflection

When I was a child, I thought that once you have a job it was what you did for the rest of your life. I think that my generation was a witness to the end of a sort of this renaissance of labor. I watched my father work as a pharmacist my entire life which in turn meant that he would be a pharmacist for most of his life. He could tell you about the interactions between two or more drugs, foods or other things you consume in less time than a google search. He didn’t need google, he is still around today and I would venture to say that for his area of work, he still probably depends much more on his tacit knowledge over his need to search something out.

Knowledge is fluid and changes constantly but time of exposure to information and knowledge creates wisdom. Wisdom isn’t just about information and knowledge itself it is married up with the experience over time of a person and the conditions in which the person lives and has lived. All of the factors and facets of a person come together in a point of convergence in a split second to form that point in which a person chooses left or right, up or down, in or out, etc.

What is different today is that we know less and depend more on the explicit query.

The discovery of information from an inherently explicit source that positions us to make a decision. It is a decline in specific experience and wisdom. They are replacing the pharmacist with automation. Automation doesn’t and won’t pull out tacit information from a patient, only a human would. Click click .. medicine dispensed and the young pharmacist walks up to the machine and validates the label, the canister and the pills themselves. She takes the bottle and places in a paper bag and hands it to another young lady to ring the customer up. On the side of the bottle,it says “do not consume this medication with grapefruit” The young lady goes as far as telling the customer not to consume the medicine with grapefruit. What she doesn’t know is Mrs. Miller (the customer). She doesn’t know anything about her and she doesn’t know that Mrs. Miller was a Russian immigrant that doesn’t read english well or understand what she is saying. She doesn’t know that she is nodding her head in acknowledgment out of courtesy. No one taught the pharmacist or the young tech how to interact with the customer and how to question a customer. How to elicit important responses and how to dig for answers.

The computer does not convey that experience

and when SmallGreens let go of all their older workforce and had a workforce knowledge continuity practice, they didn’t capture this sort of information from the practicing pharmacists. They just captured the process and maybe things to look for but not the value or importance of caring about every customer individually and looking for ways to find out information that could save your customer’s life or prevent a serious mishap. My uncle who is also a pharmacist told me that some companies value the quick dollars of a flu shot over the overall practice of pharmacists. The reason why this is important is because a young inexperienced person might easily succumb to a corporate short-term win scenario where the experienced professional would follow corporate guidance but take a more balanced approach to short-term thinking.

I talk to Boomers all the time about their lives at work or their experiences including military experience.  A great deal of the time they don’t even realize how much information they know and it is all wrapped in the narrative of their stories. As they are transitioning out of their jobs and they are asked probing questions the stories aren’t coming across. The questions can get to some of the areas but most of the time these sessions are 1.5 hours with some one to one or group mentorship later on. This isn’t enough. Some transfer will occur but there will be gaps that are significant. This could also be good depending on the job as someone might think of a new way to do the job better but unless the older way is known there is no way to measure. This unknown condition introduces risk and a lack of understanding of cost.

The other aspect of this is that some of our young people don’t want to be in one job for their lives and they want to walk into open heart surgery as the practicing surgeon after watching it a few times on you tube.

Kid only missed one You Tube video.. but a friend on glass will help him out.
Kid only missed one You Tube video.. but a friend on glass will help him out.

There is a sense that they lack the patience to learn and experience performing tasks and they are seemingly anxious to be recognized as subject matter experts. This is a pervasive problem that is systemic in our culture and society. It is something that we cannot avoid but we can’t afford to ignore.

Boomer Gen

I met an old warrior Green Beret this past week while on travel. He is a security specialist that looks at various concerns of physical, cyber, port and infrastructure security. He has 28 years of military service and a great deal of time on the ground in the commercial world as an expert. One thing that struck a chord in me was a story he told me about how a young security expert performed an assessment on a client site that took into account only the explicit information of information given to him about identified weaponry that would be a threat. It was as if this “dumb ass” didn’t know the physics of what happens when a weapon goes off or a bomb explodes.
I asked what happened after he read this assessment and he told me that he knew and reached out to one of the world experts on this subject to get this client squared away. You could say a lot about the young security expert in his defense but I would argue that his level of commitment, his heart, the nature of his honor and integrity and his tacit knowledge all come into play.

How many information technologists are out there that are called “system engineers” these people aren’t engineers, they don’t have engineering degrees or carry a card. They can’t engineer themselves out of paper box but they are called engineers and they gladly take on the title because it sounds glamorous.

 What’s next?

 

As companies are now recognizing these concerns and looking for ways to deal with them, there must be an effort to be realistic and honest about the situation.

Organizational leaders are going to have to set aside resources including labor to deal with these types of challenges.
  • They are also going to have to look at organizational governance to evaluate what changes need to be addressed.
  • They are going to have to face the facts that any efforts in knowledge management, knowledge engineering, and talent management are tied to change management and operational resilience.
  • They are also going to have to spend time thinking about the inside of their organizations as much as they spend thinking about the outside. The unspoken rules of labor don’t apply anymore.
  • The last part of this is that organizations are going to really have to focus on people. Not pay lip service to how they care but really make clear and visible efforts to engage their workforce.

As a senior leader once said “If people don’t like what we do they will show us with their feet.”

This statement is simply true and we have to wonder how much will that show cost!

Why People Leave Online Communities

As a Forge.Mil Community Manager, I wanted to understand the psychology of online communities.   I spent a lot of time reading posts about why people stay online or leave communities.  I also wanted to develop measures and metrics that would create a clear picture at any given time for our leadership and other Community Managers.  I posted a discussion about metrics here in June.

Community1

I was looking at the community from the perspective of a Community Manager and even though I worked really hard to empathize with the community.  What I came to realize was that I may have been part of the community but not the part that really counted.   I did have experience with being part of new online communities and I have a long history of interacting with people online in many forms.  The point is that I was a Community Manager and that I have experience with the technical, social and human factors concerning this subject area.

Now that I got that out-of-the-way, my friend Matt asked me this week to write about why people LEAVE online communities.   I recently left a work related community and he felt that it would be good to share some why people leave.

 I apologize profusely ahead of time if I offend anyone. 

Community 3

Oh, did I just apologize?

When a community starts up, you get the early adopters.  These are people who are really interested in making the concept of the community work.  They work hard to be flexible and understanding.   If something comes across inappropriately in text, they will more likely than not help a community member self correct or they will as a group help govern the community in tactful and thoughtful ways.  Not.. “You are an ass#%^@ get off this page.”

One of the biggest attractions to using online communities is FREEDOM!  I can say what I think or believe within reason and that is bound by social norms and culture.  In other words, if I am on a church forum, I probably wouldn’t post about that girl I met last night and what happened after she got me all tipsy.   Well, maybe if I were the Pastor.. ohhhhhhh nooooo..  I shouldn’t have said that. **humor alert**  I wish all my words had context tags.

Bottom line, you can say what you want unless it is offensive to the community itself.   The community is a body and this body can and will deal with outliers as needed. “If you don’t stop your behavior you are OUT of here.. ”

Once early adopters get some traction, you start getting a lot of other people.  If you are interested in measures or why people come to communities or any of that stuff, you can find some thoughts on that in the other link. This post is about why people leave.  Now to the meat and potatoes, unless you are a vegetarian then it is on to de beanz and rice.

  1. I am bored 
  2. I am hurt
  3. I offended someone
  4. I am getting angry
  5. Oh, I shouldn’t have done that
  6. I was hijacked by corporate
  7. There is little or no value in spending time here

1)I am bored

If you want to know the SECRET to online communities I could tell you the answer.. it will cost you a million dollars if you click this link or.. I could just say that it is all about feedback.   How does the community relate to you?  What is the context?  When you post or publish something did anyone notice or respond?  If not, it won’t be long before you are bored or other factors drive you to stop participating.  It is like talking to the wall, unless you have the need to talk to yourself in a public space, why do it?  People leave because they are bored and there is no feedback.

2)I am hurt

More than me hurting you, I am upset because you hurt me.   This is the way things are..  Once you hurt my feeling and it is possible to hurt my feelings with words, I am leaving.  Why should I stay here and take this kind of abuse?  People leave because they are hurt.

3)I offended someone

Just imagine on a company website someone posts a picture of themselves in a suit but they are disheveled, obese and holding a turkey leg in one hand and a can of diet soda in another.  Someone is bound to say something funny, I mean offensive and that isn’t going to work out when the picture becomes contextually relevant.   Like you find out that the guy was at his fathers funeral and he is of a cultural background in which they celebrate life and death.   If I made a joke or comment.. I am now feeling bad and I may leave the community, especially if this is a company site.  I could take this a step further, we can’t talk about religion, politics, sexual orientation, economic issues, company concerns, current issues we are facing or the weather without someone being offended.  Next step.. leave the community.

4)I am getting angry

I am trying to deal with an issue or something I need help with and I post a question about it and instead of getting help I get a reprimand or it turns into something that is totally out of context.  I was trying to deal with one thing and I got hijacked.  Yep.. happens all the time because PEOPLE want attention.  Some people want to be the mayor of the community and they fight hard for it.   Watch this.. ready.. I am out..  Yeah and other people leave for that reason too. 

5)I shouldn’t have done that

Offending the community is one thing, making a big mistake like posting something that you shouldn’t have is another.   One time when I was working at Forge.Mil, I posted a tweet that was meant for my personal twitter account.  I had to delete it but not before a lot of people saw that tweet.  Needless to say it wasn’t something that would have gotten me terminated but certainly something that I should have been more careful about.   If that happens on an online community people try to delete it and close their account to make-believe it never happened. It did happen.. whoops.

6)I was hijacked by corporate

It was bound to happen, companies realize how cool all this talking and communication stuff can be.  They realize that people are self organizing and making things happen so they want to get involved.  Makes perfect sense, except that it will suck the soul out of the community.  People will operate under a different set of conditions and the reality is that FEAR may devalue the community.  I said “may”, this is my blog so I will say that corporate getting involved in a community even though that community is related to the business is a recipe for a “Stepford Community.”

Post#1 “Hi, got my timecard done today.”

Post#2 “cool, me too.. remind everyone to get theirs in by 3:00.”

Post#3 “wow, being online is great #iluvthis.”

7)There is little or no value in ME spending time here

I can’t say what I am thinking, I have to filter through 100 posts about how people love their cats and babies and when I do post something that is about the work or something that is interesting that adds value it is carried away in a sea of words.  If the community doesn’t provide healthy and useful feedback to ME then I leave.   “Oh Howie.. the community is not about YOU, it is about the COMMUNITY.”

A community is a group of people and people are individuals that make the community with individual choices and so it is ultimately about YOU and ME but since we are individuals it has to be about ME first then YOU.  Those aren’t my rules, that is the way it is.   We can’t help others until we help ourselves and this is no different.  You could argue around that communities themselves are the body but the fact is that we can’t be a WE until there are a bunch of me’s involved. Then it becomes the greater group or body.  There is an order to these things.

Clarity of..

Disclaimer, I am for the record speaking generically about communities with some discussion of corporate communities.  This isn’t specifically about any one company.  Because if it were then I would be on #5.   I don’t want to be on #5 because I stepped on #2.

Summary

There are more reasons that people leave online communities.  I just put a few to consider.   Just remember that anything you put online will stay there until the “Singularity” occurs and then your thoughts and comments will be part of the machine anyway.  Don’t put anything online that you don’t want to be accountable for.  I can’t even get my Intel friends to send me a note in email.

Community 4

What are your thoughts?  Do you think I am right or wrong?  If you have a different perspective, please share it.

Meet in the middle

 

When I was a child my mother put this picture on the refrigerator, it is simple and telling.   I put this picture up at work as a constant reminder of the benefits and challenges of working with others.

Regardless of who is at fault or the challenges we face it is my hope that our politicians and leadership realize this simple message.   We can all benefit from being less stubborn and through the realization of working together move forward and live well.

 

Thanks mom ..

“It boiled down to courage and tenacity”: My “Inbox Interview” with Howard Cohen, Community Manager at DISA Forge.mil and Technologist by Chris Maher

I was interviewed a few weeks back by Chris Maher on Linkedin.  The topic was concerning “Trusted Computing”  and ramblings on security.

CM: Howard, as you know, I quoted you at the 2011 NSA Trusted Computing Conference & Exposition: “Well.. I believe in Americans. I believe that when we see various challenges that we individually step up and out to deal with them. We have put your faith and trust in leadership and leadership has been pounded with more work than they can handle (yes, I am being nice). That being said, it is up to us individually to lead where we are. We must individually work to change our own behavior and look to influence others by leading from where we are. If I am a Janitor, then I look for ways to be efficient in cleaning and thrifty in spending for supplies, or find ways to reuse supplies. If you are an Executive Assistant, find ways to make a difference in the office. If you are a Technical Strategist, teach everyone everything you know about Service Orientation and Trusted Computing and technical reuse models. It doesn’t matter who you are, it matters what you do. Our jobs do not define us holistically. In recent days I have seen civilian leaders (you know who you are) step up to the plate and take risks in order to share their ideas on how to create a more effective and efficient acquisition solutions. It isn’t only up to them. We will find more success together by working to change these behaviors and tackling the challenges we can see one person and one problem at a time…” (SOURCE):https://cohenovate.wordpress.com/category/howard-cohen/

It’s a great quote for a variety of reasons. That said, I want to focus on your awareness of and experiences with Trusted Computing. How you were first introduced to Trusted Computing?

Chris,  Thank you very for clearly understanding and articulating the message of “leading from where we are.”  I have been working for the Department of Defense for close to a decade now, before that I worked at a school division and the commercial industry.  I have worked for Joint Forces Command, Joint Staff and now DISA.   I started hearing about Trusted Computing while working at the school division, if anyone is going to break your system it will be the kids.  I learned a great deal about system hardening as I entered the world of military architectures at J8.   I started at US Joint Forces Command by using security technical implementation guides (STIGs) as we call them.   Prior to that I was using non-military oriented technologies like hard drive sheriff, deep freeze, bootable cd os (barts PE), stuff like that. 
And, in your estimation, why does Trusted Computing matter? Why is it important?
In enterprise computing you want to be able to leverage standards. We need the ability to look at metrics and we need to understand what “expected behavior” is.  In other words, we need to be able to know when something is not working right.   So you need standards so that experts can be on the same page and understand what they are looking for as “normal” as opposed to seeing something that “interesting” , if everyone is doing their own thing at the enterprise it makes it very complicated to know what the heck is going on.   You have “shadow IT” that will compromise the integrity of the network simply because it exists.   When working in an enterprise users and operators need to trust that mechanisms are in place to protect them.  I can go on about this but the bottom line is that to know if something is wrong you need to establish that something is right.  I believe that is why Trusted Computing is important. 

CM: As you may know, Richard Stallman once rebranded Trusted Computing (TC) as “Treacherous Computing” which made a neutral set of technologies out to be a threat to open computing and/or our civil liberties. Stallman conflated Microsoft’s Palladium effort with the word of then TCPA. Ever since, TC has been dogged by the adjective “controversial.” For me, TC (including self-encrypting drives) actually protects my civil liberties by arming me, the digital citizen, with technologies that can defend my information from any intruder… including an intrusive government. But that’s just my opinion. How do you assess the intersection of Trusted Computing and civil liberties.

As long as there are people involved in computing, there are going to be hackers.   As long as we are at war with others, there will be people who will look to harm us in the real world or through technology.  Sure you are sharing the standards but I would say process and method are two different things.  In other words, you may have common technological frameworks and standards but how enterprise strategists think about and employ these technologies are different.   For example, I know of an organization that uses two layers of username and password and additionally requires a common access card, all of which are standardized.   The practice is abnormal but if a technologist was brought in to help solve a problem once he or she understood the architecture and because they are using standardized technologies and platforms they can help solve the problem.   I equate it to having a human in the loop.  People are your greatest protection mechanism as well as your greatest threat.   In terms of civil liberties, I think we have some problems with the law more than technology.  We don’t have a right to privacy, it isn’t guaranteed by the constitution and that means corporations and people are free to snoop around our business.  When that gets into information gathering and data aggregation it poses a much bigger problem than just technical mechanisms to protect our data.  It is more about what information did your city just put out about you and your home value, stuff like that.  So, in other words I am not sure that Trusted Computing makes a difference here unless we are just talking about me protecting my local hard drive.

CM: Much noise is made by IT professionals about the difficulties of using TC, specifically going into the BIOS and having to turn on TPMs. And it must be said that there has not been the development of many applications that leverage TPMs. In your experience, is Trusted Computing too hard to implement?
I have seen full disk encryption at the corporate level and while working with the government.  I have not seen BIOS based modules employed and I don’t have personal experience with BIOS based secure computing.  As I mentioned earlier, while working at the school division we used a device call hdd sheriff and some technology out of Israel to perform persistent drive management and encryption.   This was over 10 years ago too but the concepts have been around for a long time.   There aren’t a lot of commercial options that I have seen at the application level that use TPM’s but I think there is value there depending upon the requirement.   This is all about balance.  Risk is the key.  How much is this going to cost you?  What are the implications?   If I am working in the financial sector, I want as much technology as I can to protect my information.  The same could be said for the medical industry, I haven’t figured that one out yet but I am sure there is a good reason.  

CM: It’s been my contention that government MUST take the lead in adopting and recommending Trusted Computing. In this regard, I’ve been heartened by the NSA’s (more or less) full-throated endorsement of TC and by the CESG’s recommendation in favor its use. Further, as you may know, NIST 800-155 (in draft form) has recommended (or will recommend) the use of a hardware root of trust as a foundation for BIOS Integrity metrics. Still, it seems like .gov and .mil domains have been quite slow to fully adopt these open standards and technologies. In your view, what’s the state of play re: TC adoption within our government?
This is about cost of implementation and ability to implement.  In other words, as long as there are programs that are “Programs of Record” with Title 10 authority, essentially meaning that they can control their own technical destiny there won’t be adoption unless it becomes part of the culture.  For example, while working for Joint Forces Command I stood up one of if not the first accredited virtual infrastructure.   Most people were getting rejected at the time because hardening didn’t exist aside from the vendor best practices.   Information Assurance folks were afraid to take the risk, although it could mean millions in savings.   It boiled down to courage and tenacity.   The government leadership I worked with and for championed the idea and helped me bring people together by supporting our teams ideas.   It took many briefs and I think I have stock in some chocolate company now as well to get people to believe that there was value in virtualizing the infrastructure.   I know that sounds funny now because so many have adopted virtual technologies.   Here is the kicker though, today even though virtualization has proven to be of great value there are many government programs that haven’t virtualized and / or won’t go because of requirements and title 10 authorities.  CM: A great deal of academic and industry research has focused on the value of TC when it comes to authenticating users in a cloud-computing context…as well as using TC to protect user’s data in the cloud from the “insider threat.” Speaking specifically about the cloud-computing context, how important do you think TC technologies (TPMs) and protocols are as enablers?

As I started working on enterprise computing concepts and strategies, I started to see a trend.  Thomas Erl talks about this in his service oriented architecture books but it has to do with understanding dependency.  Cloud computing may increase risk.  Notice I say “may” instead of will, the reason is that every enterprise situation and IT ecosystem is different, remember earlier when I was referring to process and method being two different things.   Regardless of the situation organizations will have dependencies, for example you need communication services to connect to the Internet.  As you increase services and connectivity requirements it is likely that you introduce more dependency.
The cloud really refers to “off premise” services. These services are interconnected enterprise services that go beyond an organizations local physical infrastructure.   This is very important to realize because it means that hardware and IT resources are still potentially under trusted controls of an organization which of course then leads to leveraging organizational standards etc.   

The difference is that when you have a dependency on a “cloud provider” that is outside of your organization you build dependencies in which you may lose control over the IT resources.  As you give up autonomy or operational governance, you become more reliant on legal remedies.  In other words, SLA’s or Service Level Agreements become critical to the organization.   This relates to Trusted Computing in a lot of ways, for example a service provider may need to employ certain (TPM’s) prior to an agreement of use.  This increases the cost to service providers and also may limit choices as to what service providers’ organizations can use.  An example is that Amazon offers Federal services with enhanced security.  I am not advocating for any service provider, I am simply saying that as cloud services increase, the costs of these services will increase and the demands of security and stability increase.   In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that long ago that most folks were on dial-up, it was $9.95 to $19.95, today most people pay $40.00 for Internet services not including the extra services they pay for while on the Internet.  As these costs increase, it pushes the price of everything up, simple economics.  Trusted Computing in the cloud is costly, but organizations when moving to the cloud will need to absorb these costs.  

My key point is that we can’t rely on technology alone.  Technology as it is today can be overcome by the human brain.  That being said, we still must put barriers in place to slow down attackers enough so that we can identify in some manner that our information is being attacked.   It is the difference between having a lock on the door and adding a security system.   Some people would say that adding a security system adds no value or is a waste of time.  I think as we continue to build technological solutions to thwart attackers or secure the enterprise, we strongly need to consider how we can keep “a human in the loop” and have people involved in watching the various stores.   As we move forward with these kinds of discussions we truly need to consider people, process, methods and finally tools which in my mind is where a lot of the Trusted Computing area currently addresses.  

Happy 4th of July (SPECIAL DISPATCHES FROM THE FIELD)

Today is the 4th of July.   What does it mean to you?  Joni Douglas writes “Do we ever reflect on the hardship and terror that the early Americans must have lived through day after day? Do we truly understand the hopes and dreams that lay secretly hidden away in the hearts of the people back then?”

I appreciate our past, it is what defines who we are and what we will be.  Americans as a whole, are smart, bold, brave, courageous, tolerant and most of all… AMERICANS.  Meaning when times are tough we pull together and we take care of each other.   We have a long history of thinking on our feet and challenging oppression.  We are people as one but independent, we are a tapestry that is tied together by the concept that we are all created equal and that we have unalienable rights Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  

Freedom isn’t free and our rights that we as a people have declared through our “Declaration of Independence” come at a cost.  As an American, I served in the US Navy and frankly I was too young at the time to really understand these concepts.  As I have become older, I have learned that how truly lucky we are to live and be part of this nation.   What is unfortunate and clear is that we are distracted by entertainment and we aren’t paying attention to the wars that we are fighting RIGHT NOW today.

If you didn’t know, I will share this with you, we are constantly under attack.  Right now while you are potentially firing up your grill to make some dogs, men and women are working to protect us on every shore including our virtual borders (cyber).

THANK YOU to our service members.

What I am about to share with you is very special.  This comes from a man that I personally consider a living hero and true patriot. This is message that he sent me today July 4th, 2012 from Bagram, Afghanistan.   As long as he is sending me notes and allows me to post them, they will appear here on my blog.

Thank you Ken Williams!

“Dispatches from the Front:4 July 2012.”

They are provided to give you a bit of insight into what is happening in this hostile land.  It is hard to imagine that in ancient history, Bagram, Afghanistan was once the primary crossroads between the civilizations of India, East Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and thence Europe.  Today, Bagram is the crossroads to hell.

Dispatches from the Front: 4 July 2012

Happy 4th of July and I wish for you and your family only the very best this world has to offer.

Today is a regular work day here.  That is fine by me for there is no Dairy Queen to cruise and there is much to be done.

This dispatch is to inform you on the strategic objectives of Regional Command – East (RC-E) and a few personal observations.  The following information is unclassified.

There are five operations objectives.

1.            Accelerate the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF)

capacity and the transfer of lead security responsibility to the ANSF.

2.            Improve security by, with, and through the ANSF.

3.            Support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

(GIRoA) in the development of sub-national institutions, civil service capacities, Rule of Law, and Socio-Economic Development initiatives and programs across the Coalition Joint Operating Area-Afghanistan (CJOA-A) and synchronize their efforts to support security objectives.

4.            Inform and influence the Afghan populace.

5.            Reset the Theater.

There is a Classified Campaign Plan that lays out what needs to be done.

It reads as a “tall order” from anyone’s perspective.  However, as I review the nightly situation reports, I am seeing the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) do more and more and they are successfully taking the fight to the enemy.  This may be out of necessity for I am sure the Taliban are eagerly awaiting our withdrawal.  We all realize that history is written by the victors, but honestly, the ANA is doing well.

There are still many hurdles to cross and acceptance of different ways

of doing business by both the CJTF and ANA.   I cannot state any

stronger, the real test of their effectiveness will be measured when there are no coalition forces in country available to  provide efficient and lethal support when needed.  I worry also about long term sustainment.

A real surprise to me is the obvious absence of the Afghanistan Mission Network here in RC-E.  It must be in Kabul and used by the International Joint Commission and ISAF HQ for it surely is not being used here.  The primary means of C2 by the commander of RC-E and his subordinate commanders is CENTRIXS ISAF at the SECRET level.  As I become more recognized in the JOC, I will find out for sure if the AMN extends here.

Personal observations:  Since the very beginning of my career, and now as I have grown old with white hair, one thing has always remained constant; the men and women of the U.S. military are our greatest National treasure.  What gives me hope is knowing they are a microcosm of our society proving the majority of our U.S society is still solid.

As hard as the liberal media tries, they have never been capable of tarnishing the trust most U.S citizens has in our men and women in uniform.  As long as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guard men and women continue to display unbridled strength, ethics, morality, integrity, courage, duty, and honor, I fear not what the politics of this world brings forth. But I do fear that our politicians have lost sight of what it takes to keep this Nation secure in the freedoms so precious to all of us.  They are the ones who in my opinion have lost sight of their duty.  They should try to remember as Gen. R.E. Lee once said, “Do your duty in all things. You cannot to do more.  You should never do less.”

Sheets arrived yesterday and were immediately installed.  This morning I realized they do make a difference in the comfort of your rack.  Life is great!!

At 0900 local yesterday, I attended my second “Fallen Hero” ceremony.

This time it was a civilian killed in his bed asleep when his luck ran out.  A rocket attack on a different forward operating base (FOB), south of Bagram, ended his life.  Whether the man was a contractor or a GS, he was given the same respect and honors as given to a fallen military person.  I am not ashamed to say that tears once again fell down my face as the open HUMVEE carried him slowly pass me.  The stars of his flag seemed larger and the strips wider and brighter as the sun bore down on

us.   This time there were 5 musicians and I recognized one of the songs

as, “Amazing Grace”.  You are left humbled once the Sergeant Major dismisses the formation.  It is then you realize, “only for the grace of God, go I.”

Later, at 2000 local, I attended my third “Fallen Hero” ceremony for a young soldier killed in action against the enemy.  The moon was positioned perfectly over the center of the awaiting C-130.  It was full which made the bare mountains surrounding us more ominous and they seemed closer.  The wind during this time of year, at night, is constant and blows up to 20+ mph.  The color guard struggled to keep the flags under control.  Honors were rendered.  Silent tears fell as one more soldier was taken from the field of honor and sent on his way home to Arlington.

Semper Fidelis,

Ken

CJTF-1, ID, CJ5 Assessments

Task Force Defender

Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan

APO, AE 09354