There is little to compare to getting a major project completed. Yesterday I sent the last 3 chapters of my book to the publisher. It was as if I finally got the driveway cleared after a 6 foot snowfall. I came home and celebrated by NOT turning my computer on. I know, that’s not much of a celebration, but, hey it was a change of pace and it felt really good.

What made yesterday great was that not only did I get the last 3 chapters completed, but I felt the work was high quality. This is a new edition of an existing textbook and the 2nd edition I have worked on. Overall it’s the 8th edition of the book. We are a team of 3 and joined together to become the new authors. When you first take over someone else’s work it feels a little like getting a bunch of hand-me-down clothes. They are a little worn, don’t quite fit, not sure that I would have purchased them, but hey, they were free. The first edition of the book felt a little like that. Our publisher’s expectation was what I call a quick and dirty. Just get it out and in less than 6 months. At times it felt like I was going through a cave without a light, just feeling our way along. Those weren’t particularly comfortable moments. But, we got it done, and learned far more than we gave. That first edition was not our best work, but given the circumstances it was a great learning process. It set us up for a far more successful 2nd edition.

This new edition is considerably better. Some of the chapters will have minimal change, others have considerable change. All of my chapters had considerable change. We divided one chapter into two, both in areas I’m not particularly comfortable. My solution was to find 2 colleagues to work with me.

The futures chapter was the most challenging. I had done some work on it in the last edition, but this time I probably trashed 80% of the text. I’ll write more about the process of updating the futures chapter. I had some significant learning experiences with this chapter.

The next test, and our editor will let us know if we were successful, is if the 3 of us can sound like a single voice rather than 3 disparate voices. That is a significant challenge. It can make or break a book.

I start my next book revision tomorrow – Friday! It has been 7 years since the last revision and in my field it is a best seller – in part because it is the only comprehensive book on budget and finance available.


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The Christmas Train

December 30, 2006

We (my wife and I) have tried a new experience this Christmas season – taking the train. The official Amtrak distance was 1563 miles, beginning in Chicago. We decided early this fall that rather than fight the airports and arrive all exhausted we would extend our trip by a factor of 8 and take the train (that’s 5 hours air time versus 40 hours train time).
Observation  Lounge
It was a pleasant trip from Indianapolis, IN to Provo, UT with one train change in Chicago. See the companion entry on Denver after the storm. We took the California Zephyr and splurged getting a sleeping compartment. That’s first class on the railroad! The compartment was small, but comfortable and quiet, especially with the ability to close a cabin door. The price of the sleeper covered our meals and while I wouldn’t have eaten in the meal car very often had I not been in the sleeper, I figured we saved $240 in food costs. Given that the sleeper cost $300 more than 2 airplane tickets and that airplane food just plain sucks, it was quite a deal.

Beyond that we had a great time on the train. Every meal you meet someone new and visit with them and learn a little about them. The California Zephyr is a great experience. You need your sea legs and plan to be patient. The railroads are not the smoothest ride in the world. If I was on an airplane I would be white knuckling the arm rests, but here, it is part of the charm. There are times you feel that you could run or walk faster then the train is going, but I wasn’t going to try it. Western Nebraska has a washboard track system that needs serious work, but I think I slept through most of it.

There is no wifi on the train and frequently there is limited cell access, especially through the mountains. I found neither of these to be a challenge. There is a learning curve on the train, but the stewards in each of the sleeping cars are very helpful. They put the beds together and make them up in the morning. There are two kinds of sleeper cars and we went with the sleeperett which gives an upper and lower bunk. It takes a bit of being a contortionist to get into that upper bunk, but the difference in cost was significant to us.

We are on our way home now and will post this when we arrive. I do strongly recommend the train if you have the time. We will do it again. It harkens back to a more sedate pace. We have arrived at both locations – away and home – very relaxed and ready to pursue some fun and work. It is a wholly different feeling from spending 24 hour flying home from Cyprus. I’m exhausted after that trip.

Postscript after returning home: We arrived in Chicago 5 hours late with most of the trains gone. They gave us a hotel for the night (Hyatt which was quite nice) and then gave us the opportunity to ride the Greyhound to Indianapolis. I was feeling a little under the weather, so we got a car and drove home. For those who were waiting for the next train (the next day or two) they had to rebook the next day. The idea there were no booking agents was just a little crazy and disconcerting for those who had to wait. Still, it was a good trip.

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Value-Added Management

November 30, 2006

I like to think that I do a fair job as a manager. In fact, I like to think that I do better than a fair job, but I’m not sure that is always true. I am a firm believer in servant leadership (Robert Greenleaf) and its principles. However I do find at times that I fall into a slump. I’ve been in one of those the last couple of weeks. I’m getting work completed, I’m meeting the expectations of my Dean, but I’m not moving beyond that level. I’ve not been a servant leader – at least not to the level that I believe I should. As I was pondering this yesterday the term value-added came right to the forefront. I asked myself, “What can I do today that will be value-added for one of my colleagues?” It didn’t take me very long to figure out two or three things to do. I wanted to work on them right away when I got to work, but first had to complete required tasks – such as teaching a course. Then of course there were students to meet with, lunch with a colleague, and faculty to talk with, and oh yes, an hour with the Dean. I found time, however, to get two projects including three tasks off my desk that were value-added. I felt pretty darn good about that! However, I did miss a couple of tasks that I needed to do. They weren’t high priority tasks and I was able to put them off until today.

What does all of this mean – this value-added stuff? For me it means that each day I need to do something for someone else that will make their job easier. Maybe it will be a kind word. Like yesterday, it might be completing tedious paperwork, it may involve facilitating someone else’s success. The bottom line is to serve others in a way that makes them successful, efficient, effective, feeling good, or any number of other things. The value-added comes in my good feelings of accomplishment and support of others. In the end, isn’t management in great part about helping others to be successful? The answer is a resounding yes!

Did it get me out of doldrums? Yes it did because I was no longer thinking about myself, but about others.

Postscript – I realized today that value-added can also include doing something for me that allows me to be successful – that I may not have done last week.

In my last post I talked about organizing my office and touched a little on working with people. No great secrets there. In this post I am focusing on the GTD tasks I have put in to place that have helped me. Secondly, I want to identify a couple of behavior changes that have made a difference.

As I completed the office reorganization and structured files I spent the requisite time to “put things away.” But since this was a reorganization it involved more than just putting things away. It allowed me to focus on where to put things. For example I have a drawer titled “personnel” for those types of issues. A second drawer is titles “classes” and another “publication” and another “projects”. The classes drawer is a history of my classes along with the paperwork I really do need to keep. I can go into those files quickly and identify what I need. I do have to walk over to those file, but I don’t use them much. The projects file is to the right and slightly behind my desk. I merely spin around and open the drawer. Everything is organized A to Z. I’m still working on how to label individual files, but I’m getting better about that. The personnel file is a little inconvenient to get to. it is again to my right and in front of me, but is partially blocked by my computer desk. That was done deliberately since I don’t get into them often and don’t want to make it easy for others. So far this arrangement seems to be working well.

On top of my lower lateral files I have several notebooks. They contain notes from (1) academic meetings and (2) current courses I’m teaching. between the two lateral file cabinets is my HP 4600 color printer. It is as close to me as it can get. Underneath it on a printer stand I purchased almost 20 years ago (and fits perfectly These are just a arm’s reach away. To the right is my telephone and it is the most inconvenient location I think I could find, but it was also about the only place I had left. I don’t spend much time on the telephone, but when I do I take notes. I keep a 4“ x 6” spiral notebook by the telephone that I record all of my call on so I can follow-up on them.

On my computer desk I have a dual screen (20 inch and 17 inch) with e-mail on the right hand screen and my work on the left larger screen. To the right of the monitors I have a magazine file that contains the campus telephone book, undergraduate and graduate catalogs, and the current schedule of classes. These are essential items that I use all of the time. To the left of my desk is an office chair (padded) that a visitor can sit in and visit with me. I use this when we have “work” to do that involves creating or signing forms, scheduling classes, reviewing class work or theses, or resolving an immediate problem. Probably 70 percent of my visitors sit in that chair.

Organizing my work

The above section continued to discuss my office set-up I still need to figure make sure that I record what needs to be done. My focus is on next actions (see Mark Taw, 43 Folders, DIY Planner). I focus my energies on writing everything down that needs to be done and then determining what is the “next action”. I use Omni Outliner Pro with the KGTD shell. Omni is currently creating Omni Focus which will replace KGTD. I look forward to it. I make sure that I enter data into my KGTD file daily and sometimes right as the task is being identified. Since I can create next actions on the fly by simply indenting on the task. The advantage of inputting directly into KGTD is that I don’t have to come back and enter it on Friday afternoon when I’m anxious to leave the office.

When I take the time to write things down I also take time to think about them. Later I can reflect even more. It is the mere act of writing it down that causes me to give it more thought. If the task has a suspense date on it I decide what date I must begin working on it or what date it is due from someone else and create a task in iCal. I have just started using zoodo and have great hopes for it. I really don’t like Apple’s “to do” interface.

I previously shared that I’m a list person and don’t do things off the cuff really well. I can sit and stare at my desk for hours, but put a to-do list in front of me and I can literally fly. My to-do list gets accomplished two to three times a week. I print out a copy of my KGTD list and then focus on the next tasks, telephone calls (from my list by the phone), look my in-box of hot items that have popped up, and look at my current to-do list with all of the additional notes I’ve added. It takes maybe 20 minutes to create a new to-do list. I print it on a Franklin-Covey half sheet of technical design. This has a date, but is jsut single lines and I have set up my Pages template to print perfectly on the page. Hot items have a yellow background. Other items have a white background. If I want to highlight something I use another color, but I have learned that more than 2 colors makes the page too confusing. I also set
major heading. These can change from list to list but normally focus on project. I include a telephone list also and have a telephone icon to remind me. I don’t really like telephones so I have to focus my time. Once I’m on the phone I’m ready to spend as much time as necessary to clean up all my calls. It’s just tough getting my index finger to punch the button the first time each day. This process has worked for 2 years quite effectively for me.

The most important change for me this year is to start and end each day with a focus session. I only need 10 minutes in the morning (or less if I’m pressed for time) to review the previous evenings focus session and get ready for the day. The evening focus session usually begins around 4 pm (the office closes at 4:30 pm) and I work until I have enough off my desk that I can come in the next day without feeling overwhelmed. On average it takes about 45 to 60 minutes. If I have a night class (once a week) then I will spend 75 to 90 minutes. This has almost alleviated all of my midnight to 5 am projects and taken considerable stress off of me.

Finally, this whole process is allowing me to focus more of my energies on people. Getting up from my desk and walking over to the couch allows me to let people know they are important. More importantly, it gets me away from my desk where I am easily distracted. If I stay at my desk I swing my cursor up to the corner to turn on the screen saver and take my eyes off of it and take my existing work, organize it and put it to the right side of my desk.

Does it work? Well so far so good. Of course I’m in Cyprus writing this so maybe it won’t in the long run, but I have told my wife I can see the difference in my effectiveness, in my attitude, and in my productivity.

In part 3 I will discuss some of the processes of creating priorities for involvement.

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One of the issues that constantly frustrates me is the amount of work that appears in my office, via email, memos, voice mails, telephone calls, notes and tasks from meetings, needs of other people, or work that I generate. It seems at times as if I have too many masters and I feel the slave to all of them. At the end of the spring term I told my Dean that I had spent the last two years knee-jerking responses for the campus administration and it was at the expense of what I was paid to do (I realize that may be a perspective of only one person). While I appreciated the administration’s need to deal with some difficult issues, I was beginning to see the work we had spent years building beginning to slip. We were so busy responding to external requests and demands for information that we weren’t taking care of our primary business. I resolved at that point to make significant changes in my commitment levels and work habits. I have toyed with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” for a couple of years now. I have read various blogs including 43 folders, hawk wings, and kinkless along with many others. I probably have 50 plus articles I have copied and organized over that period. Some are good, most all are instructive, and many are repetitive. They all get down to personal commitment. I was ready and anxious for a change.

My personal perspective is that I’m pretty well organized, but I do know that I work best from a to-do list and not off-the cuff. I keep note-cards in a special holder so I can write quick notes and to-dos. I keep a moderate in-box and I try to use the 2-minute rule effectively. However as the semester wears on I usually fall behind on my commitment to staying well organized. I have always used the excuse, “I’m too busy, I haven’t got time.” I knew that excuse would no longer work.

So during the course of the summer I spent time evaluating my commitments and realized I really did have too many masters. I was spreading myself too thin and trying to do to many things for too many people. As result of my evaluation I began to do several things and the first and most important was to get organized. I had purchased new furniture for my office to replace the 25-year old couch and chairs (I visit with a lot of prospective students and parents and need a comfortable place to meet) with newer and larger furniture. The two chairs and couch took up 30 percent more space than the old ones did. By early August I knew I had to bite the bullet. It wasn’t just that I needed more space for the furniture, but I needed more organization. I started by setting a goal of consolidating 11 file drawers into 4 drawers. That involved throwing away 30 years of combined materials I have toted around from job to job. I ended up with 3.5 partially full drawers. I removed the old vertical files cabinets and replaced them with two 2-drawer and one 4-drawer lateral file cabinets which fit across the back of my office and under my window. Next I needed to attack the books. I had 5 book cases crammed with books, plus another 4 at home. This was painful, as an academic I love my books – even if I haven’t opened them up in 20 years. I eliminated one floor to ceiling bookcase and over 100 books. Once I got started throwing away the books was not uncomfortable at all. My faculty were happy with the new finds I provided them and what was left went to the library book sale.

I had an old wooden executive desk pushed up against the back of the office (looking out the window at the trash cans of the student union). It was no more than a large open filing space with drawers that contained little of value. I gave it to the associate dean and kept only my computer desk. I had two small rolling file holders and one of them I retained for my “right now” projects the second is still empty and may go home (but where would I put it?). And I took one of my now empty file drawers and turned that into my “projects” file. In addition, by removing the desk and the vertical file cabinets for lateral file cabinets the files were now just a turn around away from my desk, rather than a walk across the room.

All this gave me about 30 percent more space and I used that to open up the visiting space. I purposely focused on minimizing and increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the workspace to create a people-space. On a good day I probably have 20-30 interruptions by faculty, students, and staff. On a bad day it might be double that. I need an area where I can encourage people to sit and visit. If I don’t have time to sit and visit I stand up and don’t offer a seat, or there is a chair next to my desk where they can sit, but it’s not as comfortable as the couch. When we need to get something done the wint-o-greens come out and we sit on the new furniture. I find these very productive moments. Between the couch and my workspace (the filing cabinets, server, and storage space) I have a portable divider (screen) that works great for creating space and hiding what I consider clutter.

As a side note, in an academic culture where the closed door seems to becoming more and more common mine rarely gets closed. If a faculty member comes in and closes it I usually open it right back up indicating unless it is a personal issue or a need-to-know issue the door can stay open. I know that violates lots of GTD principles, but one of my primary expectations is to be available and I will do that. I have learned how to focus on single tasks and set them aside when interrupted and return to them with limited rethink time.

I have the office organized, but I still need to get myself organized. That will be part 2.

By the way, I’m just beginning to try out the focused 50 and I accomplished this with 4 minutes to spare.

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The Power of a Quilt

October 3, 2006

QuiltMy wife is one of the most powerful people I know. As I read various blogs and other sources of information I find bloggers and others talking about themselves in terms of the number of readers they have and their penetration into a market. For many of us we strive for rewards through external recognition. That recognition comes in many ways, be it verbal or written. That is not the power and recognition my wife strives for. She would rather give herself to others (and that is not to say many who blog do not do the same thing). She has done this in many ways over the 39 years we have been married, serving as a leader in service organizations, providing service to many individuals, including the needy, and now she has committed herself to bringing beauty into people’s live through quilts. She finds great joy in making quilts. Let me give an example. Our granddaughter fell of a slide about 10 days ago and broke her left forearm in 4 places. As she laid in the hospital she asked her mother if Grandma would come and visit her. Since we live over 2,000 miles away that really wasn’t an option. Our daughter explained this to her and then this little girl said, “I want Grandma to make me a quilt.” My wife was busily engaged in making two quilts, finalizing a children’s program for church, and other activities. Did she let that bother her? No. I left the country on Saturday evening (she took me to the airport) and by Sunday morning at 1:30 am the quilt was done; mailed on Monday and received by Wednesday. That is the power of love that she has for others. If we took more time and worried less about what was in it for us and spent our time determining how we could serve others we would be much better off. I know that I am better of because of my wife’s continuing example. I frequently tell others that she “leads by example.”

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I’ve Been Blogged

September 18, 2006

As the title suggests I have been blogged, but not from my blog, instead from my account. I have published over 100 articles in academic publications, published a number of books, but never been blogged before and the feeling was as good as it was for any of the traditional publications. I have. I didn’t discover the blog, my daughter had to point it out to me.

While in Cyprus I was walking and went right by a small mosaic museum. In the window was a scooter that has been completely covered Limassol, Cyprus - 34with mosaic tiles. My daughter and her husband are big Vespa fans and so when I took the photo I was thinking this would be way cool for them to see. I was blogged on Make Mine Mosaic blog. I have spent a little time wandering around the blog and it is quite interesting – lots of good photos of mosaic products.

Summer Readings

July 24, 2006

Summer is a time for focused reading. It is a time when I catch up on my reading or get started on new reading. I typically have 5 or 6 books going simultaneously, in addition to my writing. Someone asked me the other day why I read so much. Well, I love to read many different writing forms. I read my share of fiction, yet I am finding that there is so much more forms of writing that I do enjoy. This has been a lifelong process for me.

Reading popular or pulp fiction provides a release from thinking. That’s about all it is good for, but I do enjoy a good author. Other authors, in fact many other authors write devastatingly beautiful novels that challenge the reader, capture him or her and allow a different kind of escape. A number of years ago I discovered Willa Cather and immediately had a love affair with her writing. The personal narrative in her writing were eloquent beyond description. Death Comes to the Archbishop is a magnificent work. It evokes in me a sense of perspective, a feeling of presence, an understanding of the character. She does it in ways that pulp fiction will never approach. Works of this kind allow us to grow.

Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, suggests that a life spent reading is a life well spent. I would agree, but reading is not enough. We also need to find ways to make that reading come alive. For me that is in writing. No, I don’t pretend to be a novelist and while I might try my hand at it someday I am more interested in the personal narrative and the historical narrative. I feel that my contribution may lay in that area. Textbooks are okay, I’ve written a few, but they represent a different kind of writing, a kind of writing that dies when you leave the profession or choose not to write anymore. The frequent revisions that publishers demand are rarely because of the availability of new information, but rather a matter of economics. I am not looking for immortality in my writing, but I am looking for a way to convey my feelings thoughts, and yes even philosophies if I can.

So what am I reading this summer? The list is incomplete, but shares some of my better reads. From a pulp fiction side I have read almost all of Harold Coyle’s books this spring and summer. They focus on army small unit tactics and if you are inclined that way they are quite instructive. You need to ignore the geopolitical aspects of some of his newer books. Coyle’s are day books – good for those 8 hour flights. They aren’t philosophically challenging. I suspect they are good for the beach too. Now to the list. . .

Socrates Cafe
I was slow finding this book and it is an easy read with good content. I have enjoyed reading the approach he uses in his “cafe” readings as well as his own reflections. It is an easy read, not overly given to philosophy, but will lead you to some good additional books for reading.

This book is extremely well written and I look forward to reading more of the author’s work. Some of my notions of goodness about the Pilgrims have been dashed, but having enough sense of history to understand the challenges of living cut off in a new world would challenge many of us. While others may not agree I see some of the behaviors described in Willima Golding’s Lord of the Flies in the behavior described in the book. The tribal mentality of the pilgrims is quite evident in the book. While I am partially repulsed by their behavior I cannot measure it against the moral standards of 21st Century America.

The Writing Life
Part of the beauty of reading is discovering new authors. I have discovered a number of new authors this summer. I sometimes ask myself, how could I have missed this author for so long. However, finding new authors is a little like prospecting for gold. It takes time, you can’t tell the quality of the rock (read as “book”) by its cover. There may be gold or fools gold inside and there is no sure way to tell until you’ve cracked the rock open. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard is one of those books. It is gold on the inside. In fact I have already picked up Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek in anticipation of how good it will be. I have learned from previous readings that just because a book gets the Pulitzer prize does not make it a gold nugget. Come to think of it, a gold nugget is obvious to everyone, a writer’s ability to produce a gold nugget is dependent entirely upon the reader. The Writing Life is full of good thoughts. It is a short 111 pages, but it is not a short read. I suspect I will read it several times before I feel that I have gleaned all there is to find in the book.

Wind, Sand and Stars
Some books you find by reading recommendations from others. In this case I was in a small bookstore on the square in Bloomington, Indiana with my wife and daughter. We were taking a book back we had purchased two days before. My daughter did not realize she already had the book, so while she was making the change I wandered around this small bookstore. Small is an anomaly in today’s bookstores. The bookstore is less than 1000 square feet and yet I never fail to find good books. There may be a few best sellers around, but there are more gold nuggets per square foot than in Borders or Barnes & Noble. Size does not replace the quality of a good proprietor that knows their trade. Published in 1939 and billed as a National Geographic top 10 adventure book of all time does not do this book justice. It is a philosophy book and I have curled up with it several times in the last few days. Good writing requires good reading and for me good reading means I slow down and ponder on the words of the writer. Some words require more reflection than others.

That’s the short list. It reflects about 15 percent of my summer’s efforts.

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Summer Writing

June 4, 2006

I’m in the midst of using the summer to revise 3 books simultaneously. Some would consider that reason enough to commit me to a hospital and in lucid moments I consider them not far off the mark. Sometimes forces conspire to overwhelm us and when you have difficulty saying no it makes it all the easier to be overwhelmed. I am not I have a plan. How well will it work? Keep up with me this summer as I share my experiences.

I have put off the revisions for 2 books for far too long. As a result sales for one are dismal and for the other sales continue to be surprisingly good. They both have a demand among students and academicians. I feel compelled to endure a summer of writing to update my work. I have put off vacation, relaxation (well mostly), and travel (except when required), and have hidden from my secretary to accomplish this work. I should turn off my cell phone, but I’m not a monk. I’m just another author who enjoys seeing his name on a book. I will keep you posted on my challenges and successes as I write this summer. Watch my blog “Dan’s Mussings”.

Climbing the wall
Even us authors need a break to climb a wall once in a while.

Classroom visit

May 15, 2006

This past week I had the opportunity to visit my sister’s elementary school. Just for clarification, she is the principal. This afforded me a little different perspective of the visit, and I came away very impressed with the quality of what I saw happening in the classroom and the among the students and faculty. This is a year-round school located in central California. My sister shared with me what was happening as we toured the classrooms and observed teachers in action. For a college professor this was an eye-opening experience. All of my children are grown and gone. I see the products of our educational system and while many in our society seem to be able to find much fault with the educational system, I find much success. Granted, I am at the top of the heap receiving the best that high schools have to offer and not what doesn’t make it through. If I was managing a business where we had high turnover of high school dropouts I might have an entirely different perspective. Back to my visit. . .

As I watched kindergardeners practicing words and sentences I kept reminding myself that when I entered first grade I still couldn’t count past 10. Now these kindergardeners are expected to be readers by the end of that first year of half-days. In a society where English may not be the first language for 50 percent or more of them, that is a daunting task. It is one I believe they are accomplishing. If not, it is not because these teachers are not working hard with the students. Considerable resources are being expended to make our children successful. We should all be thankful for that.

Wandering around the classrooms we got to visit with students, teachers, and support staff. They all radiated a sense of commitment to what they were doing. I even met a university professor visiting student teachers. There was an easy confidence among the faculty. The faculty knew their students and my sister knew every student (and I was impressed) by name. They knew the students strengths and weaknesses, what motivated them (in most cases), when there were problems at home, what needed to be done to help the student grow, and much more than I can share in a short blog here. One young teacher was keeping a photo journal of her class.

For those that suggest American education is failing, I would argue just the opposite. It is succeeding and succeeding quite well. I can’t speak for high schools, but I can for one elementary school in California. I know that my children received a better education than I did and my grandchildren are receiving yet a better education. It may be that in this highly competitive society we need to keep pushing the limits of learning. I don’t believe we have hit those limits yet and as technology improves so will our ability to deliver learning. I was struck by the limited technology being used in the classroom. I saw overhead projectors that were little changed from when I was a student, yet the overhead transparencies were improved. I saw none of what we call smart classrooms. When I asked my sister about this she said it was beyond their budget capability. Do smart classrooms make students smarter. No, but their use can enhance the opportunity for learning. I need to be careful here as I move into discussion areas I am not qualified to discuss.

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