Saturday, April 21, 2012

Deliberate Practice (2)

It comes as little surprise that, the more time one spends noodling over something, the deeper the learning effect. Learning research shows that the quality of your practice is just as important as the quantity, and expert-level performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice , not innate talent.

K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist and scientific researcher out of Florida State University in the paper titled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance:

"People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults. This view has discouraged scientists from systematically examining expert performers and accounting for their performance in terms of the laws and principles of general psychology"

One of Ericsson's core findings is that how expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback. Another important feature of deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it.[4] Deliberate practice is also discussed in the books, "Talent is Overrated," by Geoff Colvin[5], and "The Talent Code," by Daniel Coyle,[6]among others.

What is the technique?

In music, it may be the "chunking" of performance. In other areas of learning, the intentionality of the focused attention is important. In one study, a researcher Wieman trained a postdoc, Louis Deslauriers, and a graduate student, Ellen Schelew, asked students to think like scientists and puzzle out problems during class. For 1 week, Deslauriers and Schelew took over one section of an introductory physics course for engineering majors, which met three times for 1 hour. A tenured physics professor continued to teach another large section using the standard lecture format.

The results were dramatic: After the intervention, the students in the deliberate practice section did more than twice as well on a 12-question multiple-choice test of the material as did those in the control section. They were also more engaged—attendance rose by 20% in the experimental section, according to one measure of interest—and a post-study survey found that nearly all said they would have liked the entire 15-week course to have been taught in the more interactive manner.

(I'd like to see more about the impact of assignment, task-framing or  purpose.)

Medical Education (Wikipedia article)
Duvivier et. al. reconstructed the concept of deliberate practice into practical principles to describe the process as it relates to clinical skill acquisition. They defined deliberate practice as:
  1. repetitive performance of intended cognitive or psychomotor skills.
  2. rigorous skills assessment
  3. specific information feedback
  4. better skills performance[8]
They further described the personal skills learners need to exhibit at various stages of skill development in order to be successful in developing their clinical skills. This includes:
  1. planning (organize work in a structured way).
  2. concentration/dedication (higher attention span)
  3. repetition/revision (strong tendency to practice)
  4. study style/self reflection (tendance to self-regulate learning)[9]
While the study only included medical students, the authors found that repetitious practice may only help the novice learner (year 1) because as expertise is developed, the learner must focus and plan their learning around specific deficiencies. Curriculum must be designed to develop students' ability to plan their learning as they progress in their careers.
Finally, the findings in the study also have implications for developing self-regulated behaviors in students. Initially, a medical student may need focused feedback from instructors, however as they progress they must develop the ability to self-assess.


A good post, citing examples from musical performance:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pattern Language for the Standing Desk

Returning to  Pattern Language, my revered old bible of 1960's utopianism, I discover that there is no entry for "standing desk", "writing desk", or "workbench".  They missed it! Even though there is considerable anthropological evidence for the universality of standing work, Alexander and the others assumed that all sustained work is done whilst sitting on a floor or chair.

There ought to be a new pattern for what I'm about. It would go something like this:

Standing desk or workbench

In every workplace, there should be provision for close and precise work to be executed from a standing position. The resulting work surface would be from 40 to 50 inches from the floor. It would be deep and broad enough to accomodate one's papers, screens, keyboard, etc. There should be storage at hand (open shelves, 200) for papers, writing implements and hand tools, and a vertical display area for pictures, reference items and other objects comprising the personal shrine (two more missing patterns!)Secondary and rest seating should also be provided (stools, footrests or high-chairs) to allow for postural diversity during extended work sessions. 

  • The optimal work height for an individual would be determined by where the hand rests when the elbow is bent, forearm level to the floor (see waist-high shelf, 201). 
  • The optimal depth of the bench shall be the distance one can reach forward comfortably to retrieve a tool.

I'm copying out some of Jason Yip's post on stand-up meetings. He has figured out how to make this practice work, and in doing so has identified some of the relevant sociology and psychology of the standing desk as well:

It's Not Just Standing Up: Patterns for Daily Stand-up Meetings
Jason Yip, ThoughtWorks, Inc.
The daily stand-up meeting is simple to describe: the whole team meets every day for a quick status update. This short definition does not, however, sufficiently communicate the subtle details that distinguish between an effective and sub-optimal implementation of the practice.

People who have experienced effective stand-ups will generally know what should be adjusted to improve a bad one. This is much more difficult for people with limited stand-up experience to reflect upon. This paper is an attempt to alleviate this difficulty by describing the benefits and consequences of common practices for daily stand-ups.  They are intended to help direct the experimentation and adjustment of new practitioners as well as provide points of reflection to experienced practitioners.

Goals of Daily Stand-up Meetings
Summarizing several papers and references ([Anderson, 2002], [Beedle et al., 2000], [OrgPatterns, 2003], [Rising, 2002], [Rising and Janoff, 2002], [Wells, 1999]) daily stand-ups should achieve the following goals:
· communicate daily status, progress, and plans to the team and any observers,
· identify obstacles more quickly so that the team can take steps to remove them,
· set focus for the rest of the day,
· increase team building and socialization.

Perhaps the key value of requiring daily status is what it requires of the participants: daily reflection.

The goal is to get everyone moving in the same direction.  The stand-up is used to continually remind the team what that direction is......However, there is a different “feel” to a well-run stand-up that distinguishes it from an empty ritual. The original description of daily stand-up meetings called them Daily Scrums [Beedle et al., 2000] with an intentional association to the rugby term. The energy level of a daily stand-up should perhaps not be quite as high as that of a rugby scrum but it should still feel energizing. Quickness and high energy support the goal of setting focus.  Long, low-energy meetings tend to distract and mute the day.

When things are going right, there isn't much direction or facilitation of the stand-up. It tends to be more self-organising.  This is really more a side-effect of an effective, motivated team.

People  and representatives from various areas wish to know about and/or contribute to the status and
progress of the project.  Communicating status in multiple meetings and reports requires a lot of duplicate effort. Therefore
Replace some or all of the meetings and reports with the daily stand-up. Anyone who is directly involved in or wants to know about the day-to-day operation of the project should attend the single daily stand-up meeting.
But People not directly involved can disrupt the stand-up (See PIGS AND CHICKENS).  This suggests that another
forum would still be required for queries outside the scope of the stand-up.
Too many people in the meeting may cause disruption and/or cause people to be uncomfortable in sharing
information. For very large stand-up groups, it is even more important to followPIGS AND CHICKENS and TAKE IT OFFLINE in order to ensure all contributers can provide their input in a timely fashion. Not all forms of reporting will be, nor should be, covered by the stand-up format.  For example, overall project progress would be better communicated with a “big visible chart”[Jeffries, 2004] such as burndown, burn-up, cumulative flow diagram, etc. As a side-effect, some otherwise participants of the stand-up may be receiving sufficient information from the chart that they don't need to attend the stand-up regularly.
A chicken and a pig are together when the chicken says, "Let's start a restaurant!".
The pig thinks it over and says, "What would we call this restaurant?".The chicken says, "Ham n' Eggs!"  The pig says, "No thanks, I'd be committed, but you'd only be involved!".
[Schwaber and Beedle, 2001]

[Beedle et al., 2000] Beedle, M. et al., “SCRUM: An Extension Pattern Language for Hyperproductive Software Development”

[LaPlante, 2003] Laplante, Phillip A., “Stand and Deliver: Why I Hate Stand-up Meetings”,ACM Queue, 1, 7 (October 2003)