January 4, 2014

Day 4 - Getting down to business

Ok, so I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out how I would create lesson plans. I ended up with a whole-lotta-nothing after about five hours. I did read a lot and I found some good resource websites with information, but alas, I didn't find any tool helpful to me.

I sat here feeling oh-so frustrated and thinking that what I needed was a mind-mapping software application. I have used these before, but they are not what I need or rather not aligned with how my brain works. I stare at the screen and then when I add things to the map, I find the whole imagery messy and not to my liking.

I am a sticky-note person. What I mean is that I use sticky notes in a way to help me process information. As a visual learner, my brain is like a gigantic white board. I put sticky notes with snippets of information all over it and these sticky notes are used to help me remember information. I then move the sticky notes as needed or connect to them to process information quickly. My brain is a rapid filing system with sticky notes as the note holder (or information container). As such, when I try and process externally, I search out an organization system that approximates what is in my head. I have struggled to find such a system for years, and usually end up mashing together lists, binders, note files on the computer, etc. Most of the time, I have to let things go because I cannot organize them in the way I want them organized so I give up and walk away. I know how important it is to be organized externally, but without a system to help me process external information, I sit here and stew and then become depressed.

The processing system I am speaking about is called distributed cognition. I snagged this discription from a computer science website (http://www.computingstudents.com/notes/interactive_systems/distributed_cognition_cognitive_systems.php):

Distributed Cognition involves using the information processing cognition model but applied to work that involves more than just a single person. See Cognition and Human Information Processing for more information on Human Information Processing. Distributed Cognition looks at the performance, and co-ordination of collaborative work and it draws from fields of study such as cognitive science, sociology and anthropology.

In distributed cognition, the use of objects and tools in the cognitive process is analysed. Pen, notepads, sticky notes etc... can all be part of the cognitive process. Objects such as these which are used in this cognitive process are known as "artefacts". They can act as memory aids and general extensions of a person's mental processes. As well as being distributed over multiple objects, distributed cognition be distributed over a number of co-operating people.

A functional system of activity is an overall system which works toward the solving of problems. This functional system of activity is made up of separate parts which either transform or simply represent information. The way these parts inter-operate with each other creates the overall behaviour of the system given different inputs. In a distributed cognitive system, there are several components linked with the information processing component.

All the parts involved in the distributed cognitive framework are shown below:

- Sensory mechanism - receives external inputs and passes them to the information processing unit.
- Memory
- Information processor
- Action generator - produces actions or representational output / feedback
I was amazed when I found this information because it is the first time that I understood how I process information and why I get so frustrated when I cannot externalize a system to contain new information (volumes - like lesson planning for a college course)!

I can process information externally, of course. And, I am an organized person, generally speaking. I don't have issues processing tasks such as going to the store, remembering to go to the bank, etc. I make lists and I keep sticky notes on my desk or in my purse for important reminders. I usually am low-key about these kinds of reminders. If I forget something, I don't panic over it. I can handle minor stressors and the disruption to routine (I am not OCD).

No, my problem comes with organizing masses of new information, gathered from extraneous external sources. I have tried database storage, excel spreadsheets, mind maps, and other organizers. In fact, when I was home schooling, I spent hours and hours trying to categorize and create presentation of this information, and I failed miserably. My then-husband used to chastise me for the time I spent organizing information. He said it was overload, and that I was wasting time. He didn't understand that how I organized information externally would determine how well I could perform internally.

For me, the process whether internal or external is critical. I have struggled with the ability to process new information efficiently. This is something that other INTJ personalities would agree -- how we process information -- determines the speed and efficiency of accessing and interpreting information. Therefore, if we have a clumsy external system to feed our inner extremely-efficient system, we will stall and find the information entry process lacking quality. We will then seek to organize our external process to match the speed of our internal system. The two must be equal or quasi-equal to ensure that we can quickly input and access new data.

My issue has been processing information externally when it comes from a variety of sources. For example, if I am reading a course book for my class, I will sit down and read the assigned chapters, make notes in the margin, highlight sections, and be done with it. The book will then contain the sticky notes, and the interpretation of the information will be neatly stored within the sticky notes in my brain. I will refer back to the book when I need it, but the "impression" of the work, the sum total of information needed for the task, will remain inside my head.

If I am processing data from any single source, I am fine. I can handle the input and extraction process simply. It is when I must take multiple sources and evaluate them BEFORE processing that causes me the most problem. I think this is because INTJ's and VSL (visual-spatial learners) must sort and analyze each piece of data prior to it's inclusion within the taskstream of the brain. In short, I must validate each piece of information to see if it is worthy of being placed into mental storage. Once I add a new piece of information, I then must re-order the existing sticky notes so that the new note is in it's proper order and sequence. Otherwise, I will have a disordered mess with notes that have no connection or relation to one another. AKA - a nightmare of gobbled bits of information or to use computer terminology - my disk (my brain) will be fragmented to such an extent it could easily crash with the next addition of new data! EEK!

My son tells me that as an INTJ, all data is processed in this way. We recompile every new piece of information to ensure that the program functions properly. I wish my brain were organized as a RDBMS - a relational database model - where everything was stored neatly in relational tables. But, alas, it is not.

My mind is not quite as neat and orderly. Yet, really, my mind is very ordered. It just doesn't store the data in relational containers. Instead my mind stores individual data in a solitary container, then these individual items are linked to other related items.

I do mind-map, clearly I do. The problem is that most mind mapping software approximates a database design. For example, when I was working at NurseWise, I used Visio software to create flowcharts for business processes. The software was nice, and the end product was clean, and visually pleasing to view. However, the process was very logical so if you wanted to add something off stream, Visio would attempt to connect it in a structured order. My mind is not like that because it is organic and fluid.

I think sticky notes are the best choice since I can see each item in detail, and I can move it around, and place it where ever I want it to be.

Finding a Solution

Late yesterday afternoon, after much frustration, the Lord prompted me to go over to Prezi.com and login. I had seen Prezi in action last semester. A number of students used it for their class presentations, and I thought it was really cool. It has neat transitions built into it, and it is very graphical in nature. It is like Power Point on steroids.

I had tried to use it in early December, but then got preoccupied with other things. I then created my intro power point using MS Power Point, which by the way, turned out very nicely. However, at the Lord's prompting, I went and logged into the service website.

It took me a couple tries to figure out how to use it, but after a little bit of time, I created a nice intro presentation.

Today, while thinking about a mind-mapping program, and then deciding to organize my course using sticky notes on a white board, the Lord reminded me of Prezi. I googled it and this is what I found:

"Prezi is a cloud based presentation software that opens up a new world between whiteboards and slides." - Prezi.com

Now I am thinking about using Prezi for my course organization. I can visualize the entire semester, connect items of interest, add video and other links, and generally keep my entire course online and accessible to me.

Hmm...the Lord really does know what He is doing (VBG!) God is so good to me. He knows me well, and He understands how I learn best. I need Him to help me through this semester. I need Him to do this for me, through me. I need Him to succeed so that I can be a full-time instructor (someday), and live out the plan I believe He is calling me to live. 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for showing me Prezi, and for helping me to learn how to use it. I know that I will become an expert Prezi creator in no time (thanks to my years as a designer). Now help me to see how I use Prezi for organization of my courses. I trust you to provide a way for me to get organized so that I can relax and enjoy teaching. I ask for the grace to learn what I need to learn, and for the creative ability to use this tool for effective teaching. I thank you for your grace, and for keeping me focused on the task at hand. You are Good, so very Good to me. I thank you and I praise you. I trust you and I rest in your instruction. You are a GREAT teacher, and I trust in your experience as TEACHER to help me learn this tool, and become a teacher patterned after your style and your abilities. I ask this all in Jesus' Name. Amen, so be it, thy will be done!

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