Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning Solutions 2014 - Day 3

Okay, it's taken me a bit of time to get this up here (I blame a terrifying wave of post-conference exhaustion) but here's your wrap up of Learning Solutions: Day 3 (AKA: the half day in which everyone is both ready to fall over from tiredness AND still sad the conference is almost over).

1) BYOL: Awesome Audacity - Tips and Techniques for This Free Tool
Speaker: Don Bolen
This was a walkthrough of the basics of using Audacity, so it's a bit hard to give you all a rundown of what happened other then yes... we did get a great introduction to the tool. Instead, here are a few links that will help you get up to speed with this tool:

  • You can download Audacity for Windows, Mac, and Linux (yes, Linux!) here.
  • Learning the keyboard shortcuts in Audacity will speed up your workflow a lot. Here's a handy dandy keyboard shortcut cheat sheet I found.
  • One of the first steps in getting used to Audacity is figuring out what everything on the Control Toolbar actually does. Here's a quick guide to it.
  • Finally, here's the Audacity help manual. Among other things, it also has a number of tutorials.

I'd actually never used Audacity before this session, but had previously had friends tell me it was a great tool. By the end of this session I'd have to say I agree. While it's not remotely as easy for newbies to just pick up and go the way Garageband can be, once you have someone show you the ropes it's pretty simple. It's also substantially more powerful in a lot of ways than Garageband. I honestly wish there was some way to mesh the ease of use and friendly UI of Garageband with the power of Audacity.

2) Today's Visual Design Trends: What Non-Designers Need to Know
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Yes, I actually did two sessions at Learning Solutions this year.

I'm going to do the exact same thing I did with my Thursday session: show my work by giving you the link to my session resources website. It's got links to all the tools I talked about in this session (plus a few more I thought were worth sharing), the session slide deck, and my full speakers notes. Enjoy!

3) Keynote: Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
Speaker: Cathy Davidson
Awww... the last session of the conference. It's always a bit bittersweet.

In this session Davidson explored the idea of attention, in particular how our perception of how well we pay attention to the world around us doesn't typically mesh well with reality. In our heads we think we're fantastic at paying attention, but as it turns out we're rather rubbish at noticing things outside of what we're focused on.

To make matters worse, it's incredibly easy to manipulate our focus. Take this famous video: the Monkey Business Illusion (AKA: the Gorilla Test). Don't read any farther... just go watch this video and come back.

Did you watch the whole video? Great.

So did you notice all the other stuff going on in the video? Chances are you missed most or even all of it beyond the basketball. Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with you in particular, this is just a demonstration of how human brains tend to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Our attention can be influenced by others (such as the directions in the gorilla video telling you to focus on the basketballs), but it can also be influenced by our own experience. Yes, your expertise can actually make you less inclined to notice some things because your attention is guided by your expectations and past experience. This is why sometimes a newbie can notice things that experts can't, particularly if that thing is surprising.

Yes, our brains sometimes betray us. So what can we do? Well, we need to leverage tools and partners to help us see the whole picture and catch the things we miss. Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Like I mentioned before, think about including thoughtful non-experts (or people who aren't close to a project) in some of your reviews and discussions. Their lack of expert focus will actually cause them to see things and expert might miss. Of course, thoughtful is the key word here in choosing who to ask to be your non-expert in the room. 
  • Don't do everything alone. Team up with other people who have different skills and experiences from you. These differences will help your group pick up on different things (this is one of the great arguments in favour of team diversity).
  • Just simply talk about ideas/problems with others.
  • Everyone has different things that help them focus their attention. Do some reflection and think about what things work specifically for you, then remember to use these techniques regularly.
The session wrapped with Davidson talking about how our current education system is rooted in the Industrial Age mindset of just teaching kinds to have singleminded focus and punctuality... the exact skills required to work in a factory. However, these skills don't prepare us for our world today, a world in which it's much more important to be able to see topics both deeply and broadly. A world in which it's not just important to know how to learn skills, but also know how to unlearn and relearn skills too. A world in which we're lifelong learners. Changing how we teach (and the values our teaching methods imply) is the best way to strengthen our ability to notice more and come up with better solutions.

And so Learning Solutions 2014 came to an end. As always I found myself happy I had attended, but really ready to take a nap for about three days straight.

As a final side note, this year the conference was helpful not just for learning from sessions and other attendees, but also for this spectacular reveal about DevLearn 2014:

Oh HECK yeah!!!

Yeah, the fangirl squeeing will be non-stop until October.  :)

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