My home on the interwebs

March 21, 2015

Thank you Chappee Rapids Audubon Society

 

I was honored to have been presented with the Exceptional Service award last night by the Chappee Rapids Audubon Society!

Technology is important to local and regional nonprofit organizations for maintaining members, spreading news, and fighting challenges. While maintaining their twitter site, working on the website, and configuring their Google apps I’ve learned so much about birds and the community. I’m glad I could help the organization and ultimately the endangered bird populations! Please check out the Chappee Rapids Audubon Society website at http://craudubon.com 

Chappee Rapids Audubon Society - Exceptional Service Award

 

 

February 4, 2015

Thotcon Speaker

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be speaking at Chicago’s best hacking conference: THOTCON on May 14th and 15th 2015:

“GATTACA – Final Warning!”

Abstract: You were warned in 1997 that a not-too-distant future was approaching. This dystopian future is here now due to rapid technological advances, much quicker than we initially imagined. These breakthrough DNA technologies are exposing your deepest darkest secrets. Who can see this information? What will they do with this information? Little does anyone know they are only one data breach away from public exposure.

September 30, 2014

23andme – Real Gattaca Future of Medicine

Gattaca is a 1997 futuristic sci-fi thriller staring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. The film presents a biopunk sci-fi vision of a future society driven by eugenics where potential children are conceived through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents. The movie focuses on Ethan Hawke overcoming genetic discrimination from the genetically modified “perfect combination of guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine” humans around him. DNA is everything in this world, from dating to job roles.

The movie is based on the premise of in “the not-too-distant future”, but flash into reality of 2014 and some could say we are already here. We have innovative companies like 23andme.com analyzing our DNA and guiding answers of the raw truth of health and ancestry information. Well, the healthcare information came to a stall in December 2013. 23andme.com was stopped by the Food and Drug Administration for giving too much information between providing scientific information and being a medical test.  In the meantime customers will still get ancestry data, be able to download their own raw data, and 23andMe will continue to use the data it collects for its own research. Regulatory review is in progress to define what direction the future will take on direct to consumer DNA results.

There is one loophole during the ongoing regulatory review which could take years, on ebay you can purchase 23andme DNA kits ordered prior to November 2013 that will grant you access to your DNA healthcare information. Most US consumers are waiting on the US government for decisions…

 

August 2, 2014

ENCRYPT – DECRYPT License Plates

Have you seen a Kia Spectra or Hummer H3 with Wisconsin license plates: ENCRYPT or DECRYPT driving around the Milwaukee area? Well, we’ll admit…that’s ours… we went completely Infosec / spy themed nerd crazy on our recent change to customized license plates. for our

encrypt / decrypt license plates

The credit for the idea of the spy themed plates came from Milwaukee’s most mysterious location: The Safe House Not sure what that is? check out the wiki of the famous restaurant & bar! They have on display Wisconsin license plates: Ncrypt & Dcrypt. When I was seeking possible clever choices for customized plates I saw Wisconsin now allows seven character plates and both were available.

HummerH3

 

July 17, 2014

Xbox Live 2002 Beta Tester Disc

Digging through my old discs, I found a old Xbox Live 2002 Beta Tester kit, with manuals, serial code, and beta disc! I recall 100,000 Xbox owners applied for the beta program and only 5,000 were selected by the Xbox Live marketing director! The first round of beta testers got a free online version of “NFL Fever” and the racing game “Re-Volt”!

Now in 2002, online service was nearly non-existent! Microsoft didn’t anticipate such a huge response of pent-up demand! Making it into the first round of beta testing was pretty low odds. Selection for the beta program was largely based on surveys sent by applicants that demonstrated a commitment to contributing to the beta program. People that could get feedback from, stress test the servers, and yell to all their friends how great Microsoft’s new online service was!

Now, Re-volt was a promising game for the Xbox back in 2002 during beta, the few thousand people who actually logged into their xbox live beta within the first week got to play the game before Acclaim canceled their plans to release an xbox version of Re-volt.

The demo included on the Beta starter kit is the only version available for microsoft’s system to this day. This created a collectors item! While supply is extremely low, demand is hard to gauge since the game is no longer playable online now that the xbox beta has long been over. Can pleasant memories of the xbox beta and the extreme rarity maintain some prolonged interested?

We’ll find out: http://www.ebay.com/itm/181457348895?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649

May 29, 2014

Low Light Cubicle Gardens

Michael Goetzman
*Work in Progress: Currently selecting plants.

Cubicle friendly low light indoor garden project introduction:

I’m a Cubicle Prisoner. Cubicles in traditional organizations usually consist of bland colors, coffee stained furniture, and cheap materials forming the walls which lead to quite boring unproductive days! Since I’ve been assigned a cubicle in a sea of boring cubicles I decided some foliage could help bring me a little peace to sometimes hectic days! Since I work in Information Technology, this quest poses some interesting challenges. Like most IT professionals, I live in a low natural light environment and next to A/C ventilation systems which could hinder most plant species.

On a side note regarding the nearby the ventilation, part of my interest in this garden project comes from Kamal Meattle’s 2009 TED Talk of using plants enhance its air-purifying properties. In his talk, he recommends homes use three plants:

  • The Areca Palm (or Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) does great air cleansing work during the day.  He recommends about 4 shoulder height plants per person.
  • The Mother-in-law’s Tongue (or Sansevieria trifasciata) which helps to convert CO2 to O2 overnight.  He recommends about 6 to 8 of these waist high plants per person.
  • The Money Plant (or Epipremnum aureum) which does the job of filtering out and removing Formaldehyde and other VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds)

I also recommend looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Clean_Air_Study which follows NASA’s research on plants helping sustain humans in space.

Although air-purifying is exciting and an amazing experiment; My goals of this experiment are simply to test my green thumb, increase morale in a traditional cubicle environment, and inspire others at the work-space with unique décor ideas.

Plant Candidate Selection & Research Process:

  • Maidenhair Ferns –“Adiantum raddianum”Adiantum_raddianum

Light: Do not expose to any direct sunlight, enjoys shade.
Water: Water freely in summer and keep moist in winter, keep humidity high by spraying with water frequently.
Temperature: These are best kept above 70ºF. Do not expose to drafts.
Soil: Rich, loose, organic compost.
Fertilizer: Feed biweekly with weak liquid fertilizer during growth season.

  •  Mint

Light:
Water:
Temperature:
Soil:
Fertilizer:

  • Swedish Ivy
  • Begonias
  • Succulents
  • Terrariums
  • Chinese evergreens
  • Cast Iron Plant

Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is almost indestructable, tolerating low levels of light, humidity, and water. The leaves are strappy and dark green, but you can find interesting varieties with variegated foliage. Cast-iron plant grows 2 feet tall and wide in low to medium light.

  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Dracaena Marginata
  • ‘Limelight’ Dracaena
  • Peace Lily
  • Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

Containers & Décor Placement:

The Experiment:

Assembly:

Stabilizing:

17-8-22 succulent plant spray?

Monitoring:

Success/Deaths:

May 29, 2014

Digital Influences: Social Learning Theory

By: Michael Goetzman

Introduction

Social learning theory has been regarded as one of the key theories in psychology long after Albert Bandura’s early research. Although social learning theory has its foundation in what is considered traditional learning theory, Bandura elevated the concept of social learning by suggesting that direct reinforcement could not be responsible for all forms of learning. Bandura’s social learning theory added a component previously absent in traditional learning theory by suggesting the social element wherein individuals are capable of learning and have that learning reinforced through observing the behaviors of other individuals. Modeling, or observational learning, became one of the primary elements of social learning theory as posited by Bandura (1977a).

Social learning theory conveys its focus on the kind of learning that transpires via a social context (Ormrod, 1999). Imitation, modeling and observational learning are considered important ways in which social context learning takes place. Generally, social learning theory argues that individuals are capable of learning by modeling the behavior of others as well as the outcomes of the observed behaviors. Even in the absence of behavioral change, according to social learning theory, learning can still take place and imprints the individual with a modified norm. However, researchers who study social learning theory advise that learning can also occur through observation, but may or may not be reflected in the individuals’ performance. There may not be a behavioral change (Ormrod, 1999). Social learning theory further suggests there is a role of reasoning relevant to the learning process and that expectations and awareness of possible punishment or reinforcement may have an effect on an individual’s final decision.

                       “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention

hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their

own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human

behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from

observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed,

and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for

action” (Bandura, 1977a, p191).

This research is based on Social learning theory, which derives from the work of Albert Bandura and the progression of social learning theory over new media such as the advent of the Internet.  The statement “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe” has changed in a drastic way since the popularity of new technology with Internet based protocols and emerging information media. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past ten years and is doubling every 18 months according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD), (Gonzalez, 2004). Additionally, the mechanisms and tools by which individuals learn has drastically changed as well. With the advent of online learning and virtual classrooms, learning is now accessible via the internet and web based learning has become a supplemental as well as replacement tool for traditional classroom learning.

These new learning environments in combination with the plethora of resources made readily available through new technologies and internet advancements have created a new culture of learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011). Differing from the traditional sense of culture, the new learning environment seems to thrive on the fast paced changes that occur and is flexible enough to expand the boundaries of learning previously highly regarded in more traditional learning environments. The learning environment and with it the cultural context for learning has been significantly expanded and individuals no longer have to simply adapt to what has been learned but now have the ability to expand their learning terrain pushing the boundaries of the social learning environment (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).

With that being said, one of the questions that arises is the level of influence digital media has on the learners and the level of influence derived or perceived by others as it relates to learning. One of the most effective ways learning influence can be determined is by looking at blogs. Weblogs, or blogs as they are now known, developed as an internet medium of communication in 1999 which allowed those who used the software developed by Pyra Labs to articulate their own thoughts in an online format and organize these thoughts into a webpage. This page was then indexed with others that were generally about the same content. Blogs are now considered one of the most radical means by which individuals are able to express themselves online (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).

This research will academically examine the influence of learning within digital communities. In particular, the examination will explore decision making handled from blog posts which require the input of viewers. In digital communities, information is acquired at an alarming pace but this speed normally offers great benefits of knowledge by cutting time spent on evaluating the source. The business world, including management, will rely more on decision making from external sources and digital communities. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something while evaluating its credibility is becoming more challenging.  Following the introduction a review of scholarly literature demonstrates impacts of social learning theory, and the development and influence of digital media. The paper concludes with conclusion and recommendations for future studies.

Literature Review

Social learning theory originating from the work of Albert Bandura has been regarded as one of the most influential learning and development theories.  According to Bandura, all learning did not result from reinforcement, as previously theorized by the learning theory. Rather, Albert Bandura suggested that modeling or observational learning could significantly influence the learning curve for an individual and greatly affect his or her behavior. Bandura (Bandura, 1977b) asserted that observational learning could transpire in relation to

(1) Literal observation wherein an individual demonstrates the behavior that is desired.

(2) Oral instruction wherein an individual describes the desired behavior explicitly and instructs another to participate in the desired behavior.

(3) Symbolic representation wherein modeling or observation occurs via various media outlets such as the radio, television, internet, and so on.

In these particular models, a fictionalized character demonstrates or models the behavioral response that is desired (Bandura, 1977b). Social learning theory also stresses the importance of viewing the whole picture of research defined as a person’s behavior, for example by the environment or other variables, could be the actual cause of research results (Mae-Sincero, 2011); as such, the contributing dynamics to an individual’s behavior arises from not only what they observe but also his or her personal characteristics and the environment interdependently.

Bandura recognized within his argument that just because behavior is observed does not ensure the behavior is learned. As such, compelled (Bandura, 1977b) to create the following process

(1) Attention from the individual to the components of the behavior being modeled;

(2) Retention as memory would be critical to learning the modeled behavior and have the ability to reproduce the behavior at a later time;

(3) Reproduction as the person would need to organize his or her responsiveness as it relates to the desired behavior;

(4) Motivation as incentive is determined necessary for effective reproduction to occur (Mae-Sincero, 2011).

He further discusses the importance of basic reinforcement, which significantly influences behavior and learning. Such feelings could be a sense of satisfaction, pride, accomplishment, or perhaps even some forms of negative feelings to avoid.

Reinforcement

According to Bandura, there is a distinction between imitating what has been learned and observing what has been learned. Learning without performance gives a perspective on punishment and reinforcement factors. Although punishment and reinforcement are influential in an individual’s exposed behaviors, they do not necessarily cause behaviors. Cognition is influenced by the expectation of reinforcement and as such attention, influenced by reinforcement and expectation, is very important to the process of learning (Ormrod, 1999).

The environmental punishment and reinforcement model offers a number of ways in which individual’s behavior are reinforced for the behavior they model. An individual can reinforce the observer by acknowledging or praising the behavior of the modeler thereby reinforcing the behavior for those observing. The imitation of behavior itself acts as an environmental reinforcement because the consequences of imitation are most often favorable (Ormrod, 1999). A component of the environmental reinforcement and punishment model also includes Bandura’s notions regarding vicarious reinforcement. Vicarious reinforcement asserts that the reinforcement of the model for a particular response leads to an increased response in the same manner by the observer (Bandura, 1977b).

He further speculated the importance of intrinsic reinforcement that suggests influences outside of the individual, notably environmental reinforcement, significantly impacts behavior and learning. Intrinsic reinforcement within the contextual framework of social learning theory is a form of reward derived internally such as feeling a sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment. Internalized cognitions and thought processes aid in the connectivity between theories of cognitive development and behavioral theories.

Current perspectives on punishment and reinforcement assert that both factors indirectly effect learning but are not the primary or most significant facilitator of behavioral change. Although punishment and reinforcement are influential in an individuals’ exhibited learned behavior they do not necessarily cause the behavior. Cognition is influenced by the expectation of reinforcement and as such attention, influenced by reinforcement and expectation, is very important to the process of learning (Ormrod, 1999). There are both cognitive as well as behavioral factors that comprise contemporary social learning theory. According to Bandura (1977b), there is a distinction between imitating what has been learned and observing what has been learned; learning without performance.

As previously noted, there have been many academic theories regarding the process of learning. However, many scholars and researchers agree that the theories most applicable in the 1990’s are founded on many common assumptions as to how learning actually transpires (Jonassen & Land, 2000 pg 3-9). Many researchers now ascribe to the notion that knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge is not only based on an individual’s cognitive processes “but also in the discourse among individuals, the social relationships that bind them, the physical artifacts that they use and produce, and the theories, models and methods they use to produce them” (Jonassen & Land, 2000, pg3)   With the introduction of the internet and cyberspace as a new medium for communication, theories have evolved to include these new learning processes.

Because of the revolutionary perspective social networking mediums have provided theories such as the constructivist theory began to emerge in the late 1990’s (Hrastinski, 2009). This theory suggests there is not unconditional or definitive meaning of the world in which we live, but that as individuals’ we are constantly making efforts to understand it. Rather, the argument is founded on the notion that there are a number of ways that the world is structures and as such, many perspectives and meaning for concepts and events (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992). The theoretical shift, taken by many toward constructivist theory, shifts the concept of learning from “objectivist knowledge transmission towards active learner models” (Hrastinski, 2009, pg. 78). The difficulty, however, with constructivist theory has been its singular focus on individualized learning separate from the peer cohort (Edelson, Pea & Gomez, 1996).

Contemporary thought regarding the social aspects of learning has become the current focus of many researchers and theorists (Saljo, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978; Wenger, 1998). The focus of these posited theories is on conversation between individuals as a means of learning through dialogue and social negotiation (Jonassen & Land, 2000). No longer is learning required to be grounded in the experiential realm of the real world; rather, knowledge can be constructed and fundamentally understood via social activity (Hrastinski, 2009). With this understanding regarding the learning process, there has been somewhat of a return to social learning theory partnered with the constructivist theory as many scholars argue that the two complement each other as it relates to online learning and cyberspace social interactivity (Hrastinski, 2009). As such, many no longer feel a need to choose one theory over another but rather use the theories in tandem. “Sociocultural perspective informs theories of the conditions for the possibility of learning whereas theories developed from the constructivist perspective focus on what students learn and the processes by which they do so” (Cobb, 1994, pg 13).

Community

One of the more pronounced components of this new learning environment that rivals traditional classroom learning is the concept of community (Jaldemark, Lindberg, & Olofsson, 2006). Feeling connected and participating within a group is considered to be an essential component for there to be this sense of community. Those individuals that have a sense of attachment and connection to the group tend to participate at a much higher level. On the other end of the spectrum, those not vested in the group tend to participate at a much lower rate. According to Palloff and Pratt (2005) community and collaboration work hand in hand and are considered to be a vital part of creating the ideal learning process.

Many regard online learner participation as a complex process that involves high and low level conceptions with an emphasis on the social perspectives learning entails, acknowledging that learner participation is not something that “can be turned on and off” (Wenger, 1998 p.68). Some scholars argue that even when learners are not actively participating, for example with reading and writing exercises, there is still participation via perception of the learning environment; particularly as it relates to “…taking part and maintaining relations with others. It is a complex process comprising doing, communicating, thinking, feeling and belonging which occurs both online and offline” (Hrastinkski, 2008).

In defining the learning community, Rovai (2002) maintains that community has to have the following “mutual interdependence among members, sense of belonging, connectedness, spirit, trust, interactivity common expectations, shared values and goals and overlapping histories among members” (p.5). This definition of community is somewhat different than the one (Wenger, 1998) offers in the sense that in the Rovai’s definition there are no negative attributes associated with community. Wenger, on the other hand, makes a point of recognizing that community participation involves a variety of relations and relationships that may be “conflictual as well as harmonious, intimate as well as political, competitive as well as cooperative, (p.6).

Palloff and Pratt (2005) look at the concept of community and the learning environment as one that is recurring, inferring that the collaboration demonstrated between group members tends to support the development of the community and in turn the community supports the collaborative process. The learning community supports and learns from the members within it, as well as from the culture of the community and the environment in which it exists (Palloff & Pratt, 2005; Wilson, 1996).

Virtual

Virtual community participation, according to Vygotsky (1978) is supported via the use of tools, both psychological and physical. The physical tool in the virtual world is the computer that aids individuals in accomplishing certain tasks and goals. Vygotsky maintains that the psychological tools equals the language shared between users and is combined, most often, with the physical tools. Moreover, with both the physical and psychological tools in place, participation happens on the social and personal level (Hrastinski, 2009). The argument here, particularly as it relates to the virtual environment is that social learning can transpire even when there is no verbal communication via dialogue or conversation.

This idea represents somewhat of a departure from social learning theories in that, according to Vygotsky (1978) and Hrastinski (2009) participation is “not tantamount to talking or writing” (Hrastinski, 2009, p. 81). Talking and writing, according to Hrastinski is only a portion of participation in the virtual environment as reflective observation, abstract conceptualization are also a part of the process of participation. There should, then no longer be the assumption that “passive recipients” are not actively engaged in the participating or learning process because the effective measures of participation have been summarily redefined. (Romiszowski & Mason, 2004). Simple quantitative measures used to identify levels of participation tend not to include the more abstract and passive factors that are a significant part of virtual participation and communication and in Hrastinski’s estimation are insufficient as a determinant tool of measurement (Hrastinski, 2009).  “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.” (Kolb, D. ,1984, pg. 41)

“Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory presents a cycle of four elements:

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Reflective Observation
  3. Abstract Conceptualization
  4. Active Experimentation

(Kolb, D. ,1984)

Kolb also proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristics:

  1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.
  2. Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.
  3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension).
  4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.
  5. Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.
  6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge.

(Kolb, D. ,1984)

Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) in their book, “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change” argue that “a growing digital, networked infrastructure is amplifying our ability to access and use nearly unlimited resources and incredible instruments while connecting with one another at the same time” (p. 18).

The authors regard the new learning processes as a ‘cultural phenomenon’ that provides the foundational elements of the affects and experiences of a number of individuals in a variety of ways (p. 18). Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) do not posit that the new learning processes and methodologies make traditional classroom teaching obsolete; rather, they argue that this new form of learning actually supplements the traditional classroom education setting.

In an effort to understand and ‘harness’ these new learning processes in a sociocultural environment that continues to “ebb, flow, change and evolve” Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) suggest that there must be a change and shift in the way we contemplate and consider learning. Our “arc of learning” is then considered to be inclusive of activities of daily living that fosters the growth process (p. 18). As such, the framework required to understand learning in this new environment requires understanding that “the new culture of learning” contains a large network of information that offers virtually unlimited resources and access that are structured and bounded with the contextual framework of the environment where individuals are able to experience and experiment within the boundaries provided (p. 19).

In the new learning environment, Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) argue that motivation is revealed through a variety of platforms, with various intents and purposes and the freedom and ability to share generally personal experiences adds to the influx of knowledge the virtual community offers. The authors, then, see the new learning environment as a bridge between traditional learning communities and contemporary learning communities that is expansive and laden with information such as from search engines, databases and blogs and the more personal and structured such as community components like classrooms, family and colleagues (p. 31).

The fusion of the plethora of information readily available with personal experiences is what helps the new community to be meaningful as well as the platform where imagination could be cultivated thereby redefining the learning community.

Historically, the process of learning and education has been that of the transferring of information from an authoritative source, most often an instructor or teacher, to a student. This could also be a manager to a report. The power structure in the relationship of teacher/manager to student/report has always been very clear. Education was not necessarily a two way educational process, but rather linear from the instructor down to the learner. However, Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that this kind of thinking and educational structure is unable to contend with current and evolving learning environment. Thomas and Seely-Brown regard traditional learning through classrooms, textbooks, and even in the workplace as mechanistic wherein “learning is treated as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine or even, in some cases, as if the students themselves were machines being programmed to accomplish tasks” (p. 35).

The end goal of a system that is built on mechanics is efficiency. In essence, master as much as possible in the fastest amount of time. In this view, the reasonable way to test and measure is through standardization and a test of the results; with little regard for the processes that are required to reach the end goal. Value is in the results (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011). The structure of the learning environment that Thomas and Seely-Brown argue for is one that incorporates the richness of available resources through digital medium, information and the teachers and students coexisting and shaping the environment mutually, with one reinforcing the other. Boundaries established within the environment offer constraint but further act as a catalyst for creativity and innovation (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011).

The authors concede that the environment they advocate has not traditionally been considered one in which standardization and testing has been the applicable measure. However, Thomas and Seely-Brown content that the set of pressures this kind of environment creates offers a substrate for the evolutionary process the learning community is in. Moreover, as the notion of the learning environment is reframed and re-conceptualized the augmentation rather than the replacement of more traditional methods and learning processes can occur (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 36).

“Unlike the traditional sense of culture, which strives for stability and adapts to changes in its environment only when forced, this emerging culture responds to its surroundings organically” (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011, p. 37). When one considers the learning environment from this contextual frame of reference, the authors argue that the most significant difference becomes that of the teaching based to the learning based approach of education wherein the culture provides and is the environment in the first and culture emerges and emanates from the environment in the latter. Digital media, then offers a powerful informational source with the environment considered integral to the end results. There is no longer the necessity for students in the teacher based approach to prove understanding and comprehension of the information that has been provided. Rather, in the new learning community it is considered okay to acknowledge what one does not know and understand and continue to inquire and accept exponential and incremental learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 38).

A Participatory Medium

Technology, in the aspect of a medium, keeps information from being static and is considered no longer a simple means of relaying information. Rather, Thomas and Seely-Brown assert that knowledge is participatory and is shaped by participation (p. 42). The greater the level of interaction within the informational process, the more the learning environment changes and is reshaped. Given this assertion, manipulation of data through the experimental process can also alter and reshape information. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that the change within the learning environment is an incremental and adaptive process that transpires over a period of time.

Thomas and Seely-Brown challenge the general notions posited by social learning theory where memorization is recognized as a basic foundation element of education; however, the authors argue that the memorization of things does not necessitate the use of knowledge in the real environment of the learner (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 44). A recent study conducted by Giles (2005) compared Encyclopedia Britannica to Wikipedia as a means of comparing more traditional tools of learning to contemporary learning tools. The focus of the study was purportedly based on errors in facts, statements said to have been misleading as well as omission. Giles determined through the course of his study that Wikipedia was as accurate as the more traditional Encyclopedia Britannica. As such, it can be reasonably argued that Wikipedia is the new method which makes knowledge stable in a changing world in a game determined to be unwinnable.

When the changes noted above are embraced, then it becomes possible to see learning as a collaborative evolutionary process rather than one that is isolated. Learning can then be viewed as a social and cultural process of engagement (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 47). As such, traditional methodologies and approaches to learning are incapable of keeping up with the changes transpiring in the current environment. There is the need for balance between traditional educational structures and the free flowing unlimited information and resources provided in the virtual learning community. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) maintain that the challenge continues to be a way in which freedom provided virtually can be balanced with structure offered traditionally (p. 49).

Scholars argue that in the new learning environment, individuals gain knowledge through participating and interacting with others in a relationship that is fluid where shared opportunities and interests are offered. Participants are equal abandoning traditional teacher student roles (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989). In the new learning environment, any person who has an understanding or knowledge regarding particular subject matter are able to share on a platform in the role of a mentor or merely as the voice of a knowledgeable individual. When passion in the sharing individual is recognized, there is a viral spread amongst the peer cohort and amplifies to various outlets what is being shared (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 51).

This form of learning is not revolutionary in and of itself, which is contrary to what has been believed or accepted by many traditional educational institutions (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009). The new learning environment is earmarked by what has been referred to as the collective – an interspersing of talents, skills and individuals that together produce a more significant result than any one of the elements individually could produce. Thomas and Seely-Brown (2011) argue that the collective is different than the traditionally understood community in that traditional community has the ability to be passive; where one must learn to belong. The collective is considered an interactive community where individuals become a part of in order to learn (p. 52). Collectives are considered to be ‘content neutral’ opportunities for engagement and facilitate peer to peer interaction and learning (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 53).

The collective, as suggested by Thomas and Seely-Brown is absent a center and individuals are able to move freely within and into the group process, where no ‘standard’ concept of an individuals’ level of participation is defined or required to be defined. For example, the blog begins with the original author or authors and readers are able to interact at will by leaving comments, posting opinions or replying to inquiry and combines the passive and active as some who may read the blog may not choose to participate in the commentary.

New Media: Blogs

The blog developed as a concept in 1999 that facilitated the use of journaling online, organized in such a way that the information could be indexed via the web page. Although originally referred to as weblogs, the terminology was later condensed to blogs (Herring, 2004).  This was considered a revolutionary concept, outside of what had been traditionally considered a public forum of expression where more of an individual’s personal expression was made evident. “This was the first time that Internet users could create a space on the web without some knowledge of HTML coding” (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 63).

Blog success has been determined to be contingent upon two primary factors; both outside of the control of the author(s). Those components are external linkage and comments left by readers. Blogs that are active are linked by other bloggers whose attention has been garnered by the level of activity, and the level of use by readers and commentary left facilitates increased commentary by current and new users (Herring, 2004). At the foundational level, “blogs serve as a means to kick start a collective around conversations about ideas that spring from the personal” (Thomas & Seely-Brown, 2011, p. 65).

Atlantic Senior Editor, Andrew Sullivan started a blog “The Daily Dish” in 2000. His work has been considered transformative in the collective and personal sharing arena in the new learning environment. In November 2008, Sullivan wrote,

The blogger can get away with less and afford fewer

pretensions of authority. He is – more than any writer of

the past – a node among other nodes, connected but unfinished

without the links and the comments and the track-backs that

make the blogosphere, at its best, a conversation, rather than

a production” (Sullivan, 2008).

Blogging Credibility

In his address at a Harvard conference on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility, Alex Jones, Director of the Shorenstein Center, pointed that “Credibility is something that’s relatively fragile. It is something that mainstream journalism has lost an awful lot of in the last decades, something that mainstream journalism, traditional journalism is trying to get back.” and “Bloggers, on the other hand, are in the early stages of figuring out how to win and lose credibility with their audiences”  (MacKinnon, 2005, p. 11). Now that viewers are going directly to online resources, those in the mass media are following suit. These days blogs are the watchdogs and critics of the mass media, and journalists have taken due notice (Sweetser, Porter, Chung, & Kim, 2008). Many professional journalists have begun to use blogs as sources for stories. Blogs are increasingly cited as a source of information for the public (MacKinnon, 2005, p. 7). But rumor and inside information alongside flagrant errors fill the Blogosphere today. This gives rise to the question: How can social online communities (blogs) influence the behavior of readers and professional journalist outlets, regardless of the authenticity of the content?

BIGresearch (2007) recently found that people consider bloggers (5.8%) are more reliable than the media (4.4%). It appears that professional journalists are using blogs as an extension of their regular work. While there is no go-ahead for using blogs professionally, it is believed that blogs will have a strong impact on mass media and especially journalism. This has made it imperative to establish the credibility and authenticity of the information contained in the blogosphere. Obviously amongst the millions of blogs posted on the net all cannot be genuine. There are many blogs that misinform the readers on purpose. Some are sponsored by interested parties to forward their personal agendas and are thus biased; others are deliberate misinformation campaigns to reduce credibility of rivals; yet others are posted to form false public impressions on current affairs. For example in China the 50-Cent Party is a group of 280,000 Chinese bloggers who get 50 cents for each comment they post online; their job is to identify susceptible online debates and try to commandeer the conversation in a direction favorable to the Chinese government (Morozov, 2009).

However all blogs are not spun or erroneous; in the case of Wikipedia, companies and individuals have not been able to notably spin their information pages to their liking. Wikipedia’s restrictions make this impossible. Similarly there are other blogs that contain authentic information that can be traced back to reliable sources (credible websites, governmental data, reports etc.) It is relatively easy to separate the “wheat from the chaff.”   Authentic blogs typically have names and contact information of the author/organization plus hyperlinks/references to their information sources. These blogs include blog rolls established blogs and not just linking in a restricted/cultish manner, linking only to friends or to blogs on same host and only to blogs with identical political beliefs, etc. In order to understand the motives and reasoning behind the enormous web of lies spun by some people we must first examine the collective behavior of people, how they process and authenticate the information made available by the mass media.

Conclusion

Social learning theory has been established as one of the most prominent theories in psychology and Albert Bandura has raised the collective bar on what genuinely constitutes learning via direct reinforcement, modeling and observational learning. The focus of social learning theory is learning that transpires within a social context and suggesting the significance of learning through the modeling and imitation of others. Bandura maintained that the environmental influences, those that exist outside of the individual, significantly impact not just behavior but learning as well as intrinsic reinforcement.  Moreover, intrinsic reinforcement offers a kind of reward that is derived internally, offering a sense of price, accomplishment and satisfaction. With the advent of the Internet as a new social media, social learning theory and the tenets posited by the theory have been taken to a decidedly higher level.

Statistical experiments could examine the relationship between two categorical variables, Test A and Test B. Quantitative statistical measurements establish a non-existence relationship between these two variables. The null hypothesis would show observed patterns. There have been several theories posited regarding social learning with many ascribing to the idea that knowledge acquisition is not only based on an individual’s cognitive processes but is also fostered between individuals within social relationships that in essence, bind them together. The proposed sample experiment could either show or not show that users believe they are getting this cognitive social relationship. Generally, these social relationships are bolstered by the accessibility and the lack of geographical limitations offered by the Internet.

Learning is no longer required to take place in traditional settings or even grounded in the ‘real world’ as the world has become expansive for those who utilize the World Wide Web. This new learning environment offers a sense of connectivity to those who participate at an even greater level than what may have been experienced in more traditional settings. The new learning environment offers a level of collaboration with common expectations, shared goals and values and mutual interdependence. Learning takes place between members within the community and is supported by this new environment, both physically and psychologically. This growing digital community thus amplifies accessibility to virtually unlimited tools and resources while simultaneously connection individuals one to another (Thomas & Seely, 2011).

Within the context of Management and the ever-changing business environment this new learning environment, scholars maintain that individuals are able to gain information and knowledge through interacting and participating with others in a fluid and shared relationship where mutual interests are offered. Anyone within this new learning environment that has sufficient knowledge on a particular subject matter has the ability to be considered an expert and can then use the internet media platform as a means for mentorship; fostering a viral spread amongst peer cohorts that is then amplified because of the numerous outlets the internet offers.

Thomas and Seely (2011) regard this new form of learning as the collective; where individuals are able to move freely within the learning environment, absent a center, and no specific requirements for standardization of participation. This in the author’s opinion is the definition of management to get a team to participate along with fostering information among each other to collectively complete a task. The blog has been referred to as an exceptional example of the collective learning environment for experimentation of this theory as readers are able to interact with the author (manager) or authors (managers) via replies, comments, posting opinions, or being a passive observer with no requirement for interaction.

According to the American Society of Training and Documentation, knowledge is increasing at a remarkable rate based upon increased availability with internet based learning. A new culture of learning has been created that seems to thrive on the accelerated pace and the flexibility the internet offers. The question of the level of influence is one that has been raised, particularly as it relates to the advancements and availability of information via the internet, and whether this influence is derived or perceived. Because blogs are considered to be one of the most radical means for individuals to express themselves online and potentially influence the decisions of others, the nature of decision making via blog posts has been undertaken. Within digital communities learning takes place via modeling and direct reinforcement and is supported by the expeditious nature in which information, reinforcement, decision making can transpire; and because of the heightened pace, the time it takes to critically evaluate the source of that information is significantly diminished.

According to experts, the success of a blog is contingent upon factors that exist outside of the control of the author. Active blogs that are linked to others and the level of use by the readers determine whether a blog will be successful. One of the issues that has arisen as a result of blogging as a news or journalistic medium is whether or not blogs can be considered valid. There are many arguments on both sides. Many argue that because a blog is an individual’s own opinion, much like an online diary, than validity is a non-issue because the information is derived based on personal opinion. Others argue that when blogging moves into the realm of reporting the news or acting in a more ‘journalistic’ capacity, then the information offered should be valid. However, according to Sullivan (2008), bloggers are not required to have as many pretenses of authorities as journalists do.

Validity and credibility continue to be an issue hotly debated in the scholarly community. MacKinnon (2005) asserts that because viewers en mass are moving toward online resources such as blogging, mass media is following closely behind. Blogs are now seen as the watchdogs  as well as the critics of mass media and this watchdog mentality has not gone unnoticed by traditional journalists. As a matter of record, there are many mainstream journalists who have taken to blogging as a primary source for the stories they write. Whether or not blogs are laden with fact or fiction has given rise to the question of whether or not online social communities such as blogs have the ability to influence readership behavior despite authenticity or validity of the content.

And to this end, the public has spoken. Many regard blogs as more creditable and reliable than traditional media. There are blogs that offer genuine information that can be tracked back to original sources through backlinks and hyperlinks. Journalists are taking license with blogs as an extension of their work and blogs continue to have a strong impact on mass media. There are millions of blogs on the internet and not all of them can be considered credible or authentic because there is no mechanism in place to do so. Many blogs are based on opinion, or are sponsored by interest groups and certain parties that determine the agenda for the reader and the author. Information can be presented in a biased way with deliberate misinformation offered if it supports the agenda posited by the blog. One of the primary issues, as evidenced by this study, is that not all blogs are genuine and authors have the ability to remove or obscure information that may be deemed unfavorable that the readers may never be privy to. In that way, the blog can be considered less than authentic and less than credible.

In view of lowered standards for news and information it is important that caution should be exercised while assimilating news from the net and other mass media. Establishing credibility and authenticity of information is of great importance. The net is transforming the way news is reported and understood. The rise of the net has eternally changed the way readers interact with the news; stories are uploaded the instant they break and the audience usually expect to be able to access numerous perspectives. There is an urgent need to regulate this medium to raise the journalistic standards to an acceptable level. Audiences are conditioned to accept journalism as factual and authentic reporting in comparison to fiction or comedy which is universally accepted as fantasy. Although audiences do question the agenda or biases behind journalism, it is implicit that the facts included within a journalistic article are genuine and verified even if they represent a small part of a bigger story. Thus journalistic stories such as the one posted by Lyndon are usually taken at face value. The surprise however comes not from the audiences’ acceptance but the formal media’s inclusion of it without verification of facts.

On the other hand not everybody agrees that the implications of ‘loose’ reporting on the internet are wholly negative. Davis & Owen (1998) make the old media argument that the rise of tabloid journalism may not be completely harmful because it “can foster a sense of intimacy with the public,” and also draw audiences to news sources. But how can this logic be applied to the websites such as Matt Drudge’s that encourage rumor while ignoring the high standards of journalistic verification? Apparently, the lowering of standards will encourage audiences to seek out more news. This attitude is totally illogical as although support of rumor-mongering may have short term benefits it causes great harm in the long term.

The impact of mass media is far reaching and complex. And more often than not, the mass moves blindly in the decision making process because of the collectivity that is associated with many online media platforms such as blogs. The ease of use the internet offers as well as visual stimulation has created a mass audience that has created collective behavior referred to as sociological masses. Within blogs, fact or fiction are promoted equally, without fear of repercussions or reprisal, particularly in countries that value freedom of speech. Regular users of the internet are inclined to believe what they read but the formal media taking all weblogs at face value is unacceptable. Seib (2001) writes “The ‘Drudge effect’ – shoot-from-the-hip sensationalism – will give online journalism a bad name if the public perceives it to be a dominant characteristic of this medium,” (p. 5).  It is incumbent on professionals to verify their sources if they are to maintain the reputation for responsible journalism. There is another paradox of collective behavior.  The ethical governance of the global Internet is an is the demand of the day; yet the key paradox this medium is that it allows individual and collective decision making to co-exist with each other. Until that day the individual will have to fend for himself. Davis and Owen (1998) maintain, “Anyone can put anything on the internet” and many do. Decision making by the readership is frequently determined by what is there and by what is not there due to deletion by the author. There is no insurance of reliability, accuracy or credibility of the information. The further from the source the information is passed, the less reliable it may become.

As a researcher fascinated by the affects the Internet has on human learning I was struck by the results of the learning decisions made by users from unverified sources that ended poorly. In careful and cautious statistical summaries this demonstrates reasonable proof of social learning theory in digital communities by the lack of questioning. For example a blog administrator could change the observations of their viewers in a drastic way using many other variable methods, but the observer ultimately decides their own fate regarding actions. In the proposed research future I would experiment with a larger sample pool along with a more cross-functional case of learning theory such as altering environmental influences, real world application, and preparation stimuli.  I’ve learned that the observational results of this research demonstrates one must foster their own understanding of what they read and not rely on the masses of participation without proper peer evaluation. The most important thing humans should learn from this research is the proper questioning and evaluation of any instructions found from online sources. The ever-growing use of internet sources to resolve problems in the work environment may pose a major threat to organizations. One simply has to post directions that would lead to exposing sensitive information at any level of the organization, aka social engineering.

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May 29, 2014

State of Information Technology: Cuba

By: Michael Goetzman
2012

Background

Contrary to common US belief, Cuba’s international telecommunication infrastructure is in better condition and better able to meet current and future demand when compared to neighboring countries and their internal infrastructure, although that is also improving. Demand for Information Technology and telecommunication is rising in spite of the economic effects of the loss of Eastern Europe and the US embargo and internal “political” embargo. Key industries such as tourism and biotechnology which generate the most hard currency require communication and their requirements are being funded both by internal and external resources. Information Teechnology has played a pivotal role for promoting both sectors.

Cuba still holds steadfastly to communist ideology and while the country remains backward in many areas, technology is not one of them. The country has had close association with the former Soviet Union and the East European Bloc of communist countries and thus benefitted from their technological advances. The Cuban authorities have always understood that communication was a priority even though the main beneficiaries were government institutions and not the general public.

Electronics were introduced in Cuba in the sixties when radios were assembled for widespread use. By 1974 black and white television sets were produced and it was quickly followed by manufacture of batteries in 1975, color television in 1985 and production of semiconductors.

In a parallel but separate branching out of technology was the creation of the National Institute of Automated systems & Computer Skills (INSAC) in 1974 with the aim of keeping Cuba abreast with communication technologies. Consequently a new company, named Cuba Electronica, owned by the Ministry of Foreign Trade, was promoted with the objective of importing computers, peripherals, semiconductors as well as software for developing local systems and networks. However the entire purpose of these efforts was to promote industry and the military. Indeed this has had a most profound effect on the Biotechnological Industry in Cuba.

The Impact of Information Technology on Biotechnology Industry

An important feature of Information Technology and its impact on Cuban industry has been that due to the government being the sole investor, the aims and objectives were clear cut and decision making was swift. Consequently all Information Technology engineers were trained with a purpose. Health was a priority for the nation and as such it was decided very early to introduce health related technology at an early stage.

Another important characteristic of development was that in absence of competition and having a dictatorial regime the positive fallout was the easy collaboration of departments on collaboration. With help coming only from other friendly and likeminded states the options were limited that also hastened the development of biotechnology as the route to encourage research. Thus national and international collaboration became the driving forces and scientific developments resulted in quick commercialization yielding good profits from overseas sales. An outstanding example is the highly successful development and deployment of the vaccine to fight meningitis that was a deadly disease in the country.

There was also a compulsion and a vision to improve the health of the population and despite economic hardship the government continued to support the biotechnology industry and it proved to be the step in the right direction. Not only did it make Cuba a success in this field but it also provided a thrust to Information Technology and Communication technologies in general.

Benefits from biotechnology are particularly sought by places facing economic challenges due to globalization or decline of traditional industries.Nevertheless there is need for infrastructures that will help assist in its development, sustenance, support and growth. The contributory components are the value chain and finances. In case of Biotechnology institutions of learning become the most important element as they supply the human capital on which the entire foundation of Biotechnology rests. In Cuba various institutes and universities played that role under the effective directives of the government. Several Biotechnology Clusters were created. From 1990 to 1996, the Cuban government invested around 1 billion US dollars in what is currently known as The Western Havana Bio-Cluster, and it was the first such place that could conduct research in human healthcare and agri-animal biotechnology. This cluster comprises of 52 major research, education, health, and economic institutions devoted to the biotechnology segments (Kaiser, 1998). Research generated by the various clusters has developed a number of products, which are already having a significant impact on Cuban society.

Biotechnology in Healthcare

Health of the population has always been a concern for the Cuban authorities and efforts have been on to eliminates diseases like hepatitis-B that has disappeared in the infant population. Cuba now hopes to not only eradicate this infectious disease altogether in the near future but also to eliminate the virus circulation. The international acceptance of this medicine can be gauged from the fact that it has been on the purchase list of WHO for over a decade for worldwide use and amply demonstrates Cuba’s excellence in biotechnology (WHO, 1996).

In another striking example the Finlay Institute, CIGB and the Center for Bioreagents has successfully met the challenge to produce and supply a safe tetravalent vaccine for the Cuban Immunization Program. This new combination vaccine called Trivac HB is used for protecting children from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and hepatitis B,

One of the main features of biotechnology is to provide innovative delivery systems and since the main objective was to promote technology for healthcare today Cuba has become one of the most advanced electronic biomedical instrumentation manufacturer in Latin America. Besides the Central Institute of Digital Research (ICID) has developed sophisticated and highly technologically advanced biomedical equipment like the Cardiocid-M that is an electrocardiographic system for diagnosing cardiovascular system diseases; the Neorocid, an electromyographic and electro-neurographic system for diagnosing peripheric nervous system diseases, and various applications for state-of-the-art genetic engineering research (Cereijo, 2001).

Despite these advances the Cuban Biotechnology industry is still small by world comparison. The Biotechnology industry in the developed world, especially US, has acquired huge importance and to reach such high standards needs huge resources. Since Cuba faces economic sanctions from the US and other developed countries it progress of late has slowed down and needs foreign assistance to keep up its former advancements (Giles, 2005).

Biotechnology for Plant/Animal Life

Apart from improving human welfare, several projects have been directed towards using biotechnological advances in improving efficiency of plant and animal breeding. Attention has been paid to genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics, besides advanced tissue culture techniques. There are Transgenic plants with resistance to biotic (pest and diseases) and abiotic (drought and salinity) stresses and various strains are also under development. Extensive use of plants and animals as bioreactors is the goal of several ongoing projects and the results are recognized for their high value. In fact there are many publications that report and mention these discoveries and have found these discoveries and their methodologies to be of high caliber. The CIGB has published 680 peer-reviewed papers in various scientific journals from 1986 to 2006. These CIGB papers have been cited in more than 3,000 papers demonstrating their contribution in their field (CIGB)

The Information Technology Sector in Cuba

The Cuban establishment has actually thought far ahead of its times, although its focus has been narrow and not meant for the benefit of its general public, and with this in view it commenced development of its own second generation of minicomputers in the seventies. For this it initially got its engineers trained in East Germany. Due to closure of many industries in early nineties in Cuba the government created special units like the Bejucal base, the Wajay complex, the Paseo complex, and the several computer related research centers where engineers trained at Russian, German, French and Chinese research labs were employed. Cubans have also received training in Holland, Sweden and Austria.

Within a decade it established two main centers at Cujae and Universidad Central for research and development. The country got connected to international internet services using CENIAI, TINORED, Informed and CIGBnet. Of these CENIAI has had open internet access ever since 1993. However internet access is not freely available to the common citizens. There are connections available for tourists as this industry cannot survive without online connectivity. But even this is suffering from slow speeds. The cybercafés that are allowed to serve the tourist traffic are few and need upgrading with both computer hardware as well as well as connectivity issues.

Information Technology Influence on Military

The two main targets of technology have been the medical industry and the military. For the military intelligence one of the main tasks has been attempts to sabotage US communications. So far the focus has been creating virus infections but the Cubans have a far more dangerous potential.  They are a potent force in cybercrimes. They have now developed the Transient Electromagnetic Device (TED). This can trigger an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and can cause immeasurable destruction. With their knowledge and experience Cuban engineers can now build TEDs using spark-gap switches, automobile ignition parts fuel pumps and similar inexpensive and innocuous components. This restively simple device can trigger off a remote explosion. It can generate a pulse that will act as a spike of only say a hundred picoseconds but will be enough to explode a nuclear device resulting in a huge disaster.

Nevertheless it cannot be said that all of Cuba’s intentions are malicious or even vicious. The Cuban establishment realizes that it has to join the world communities, even those that are friendly, through cyber communications. It is also understood that for enhancing business and commerce a robust communication system with technologically advanced devices and networks needs to be in place to attract international companies. A further shift in attitudes is seen in the need to open doors with US based Cubans who can be a great aid to the country similar to the US based Chinese who are a great linking bridge with their home country. Key industries like biotechnology and tourism that generate hard currency require communications, and their requirements are being slowly funded by the government. The expansion of these industries needs foreign investments and the potential investors too need modern communication facilities to ensure free and quick flow of information.

There appears to be some change in the environment and an encouraging report from the Cuba Study Group, in collaboration with the Latin America Initiative at Brookings and the Council of the Americas, reports the recommendation of a unique and comprehensive set of policy objectives aimed at reforming the current U.S. approaches to facilitating communications on and with Cuba. The recommendations of this Group are the result of several months of intensive review, involving representatives from the business community and civil society, as well as information technology and telecommunications experts. The participants discussed the report’s recommendations, as well as current U.S. telecommunications policies toward Cuba, and suggest policy revisions to enhance the Cuban people’s access to information, technology and communications tools. If and when accepted these will go a long way to redress the situation (Report, 2010).

Conclusions

Investments are required in upgrading and expanding the communication facilities  and here the Cubans have the advantage of possessing a strong but very limited internal infrastructure. The current needs are a political collaborative environment that can encourage flow of information, technology and investments from outside the country. An improved and open communication set up will go a long way to accomplish all of the above objectives.

Due to the existing political situation in Cuba and continued economic sanctions from US the Cuban economy finds Cuban citizens find it difficult to expand in any significant way. However small inroads are being made in regional directions and for over a decade there has been a growing relationship between Jamaica, Venezuela and Cuba has seen some progress. During my 2012 visit to Cuba, the the office of the Prime Minister of Cuba officially announced that within months the first undersea fiber optic line is expected to be completed. This will link the three countries to vastly improve communications. These attempts may increase bandwidth outside of the country but for a real boost a more open economy and a mature approach is desirable to attract foreign capital and interest.

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May 29, 2014

Difficulties in Facilitating Change

By: Michael Goetzman

1.0 Introduction

“Change is constant and occurs with great frequency” (Nutt, 2001) but strangely organizations find it difficult to implement change. When it is known that competitive advantage (Porter, 1980) is the driver for survival why is it that a company is generally unsuccessful at change? Why are changes so difficult when it is recognized that environments require change; globalization and outsourcing being a great example that has affected both small and large businesses in equal measure? Why do employees find comfort in routine habits? Why can’t employees be outgoing and do something different each day? Why do employees constantly resist change in their workplace? This noticeable paradox gets more complex when some researchers claim the biggest variable to change are the employees, while the other researchers claim it to be the failure of leadership.

The answers to these questions and concerns are not easy. Over a period of time a company develops core competencies (Prahalad & Hamel, 1990) and sometimes management jealously guard these and resist changes for fear of losing them and putting all their trust in them. They tend to overlook that changes take place all around them externally and that these have a profound effect on their internal environments as well. Similarly, there are power groups in a company and political resistance occurs when change threatens these powerful stakeholders (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

This paper covers that in the current scenario technology, economic forces, socio-political and cultural diversity factors are of greater relevance to change at the workplace (Ivancevich & Matteson, 2002). But, it is finally up to both the leaders and the employees to assume larger responsibilities as change agents in using these factors to bring change to a successful conclusion.

2.0 Change Models

Academics and researchers have attributed change issues into three broad areas: Organization, Leadership, and Employees. However, they are all inter-related and overlap occurs in any review or research, including this paper on difficulties in facilitating change. External business relationships have an effect on the culture and relationships within the organization. Change in external environments demands structural changes within the organization for which it falls back on the study of its architecture and review its fit in the environment (Porter, 1996).

Research is easier explained using various academic models. The process of organizational development begins with identifying a model for a focused understanding. Successful diagnosis requires in-depth perception of its architecture or design of the organization. One has to look at the informal and formal side; whether the leadership is more bureaucratic or organic; and if it is operating in stable or changing environment?  (Cummings & Worley, 2005). This is the Model of the Organization. These models provide a framework for examining an organization and deciding where and when change would be suitable and how to plan and execute it (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

Change is resisted as people naturally prefer status quo and organizations wish to avoid chaos. Very early in 1958, Lewin (Lewin, 1958) had suggested that a better way to overcome resistance to change was to reduce the forces resisting change instead of increasing the forces to crush it. This has been corroborated by others in later years (eg. (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990), (Bate, 1990) and (Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, & Sanders, 1990)) that the focus of change has to be the work practices and not the worker. Although terminating employees based on attitude or behavior is another matter on improving moral within the organization.

3.0 Change Methods

(Cummings & Worley, 2005) have drawn upon and elaborated on (Lewin, 1958) and described the three phases of change as un-freeze, freeze and re-freeze. They argued that initially organizations must unfreeze the system. This means creating a sense of urgency about the need for change, educating managers and leaders to behave dif­ferently, merging with another organization and so on; the under­lying idea being to shake the system demonstrating a compelling need to do business differently, and by making it open to change interventions.

Thereafter, the change is propelled in new directions with different technologies and ways of oper­ation. Lewin’s (Lewin, 1958) point was that unless and until an un-frozen condition is achieved, the system will not move or change in any meaningful way. Once change, or movement, is underway, the third stage, re-freeze is initiated since the new, changed condition or state needs to be established with a process and accompanying infrastructure like new technologies in place to maintain the newly acquired system. This calls for installing a new extrinsic and intrinsic reward system (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001) to support the performance that fits well within the new changed conditions. The employees are now able to see a clear and direct relationship between the organization’s mission and strategy and their individual employee roles and responsibilities.

On the group/department level, organizational culture has a powerful effect on the performance and long-term effectiveness of organizations. Research findings indicate the importance of culture in enhancing organizational performance. But culture change is intimately tied up to individual change. Unless managers or leaders are willing to commit to personal change, the organization’s culture will remain unchanged. Research has indicated that introduction of TQM and other measures of excellence, as well as downsizing have made for effective change (Cameron, Bright, & Caza, 2004). Different methods of interventions should be experimented with until a measurement of a success outcome can be detected.

Finally, it is the farsighted, motivated, and dynamic leadership that can usher in change. Having recognized the essentials the leaders or managers at levels have to offer; a vision, strategy, as well as leading by example. Successful leadership means that the leader connects with employee’s values and excites them. Change plans are finally executed not based on plans but the active transformational participation of leaders who pull in their subordinates into the new system more as partners and co-sharers of their visions (Senge, 1990). Finally, it is the pull and not the push that motivates workers. The knowledge of desired outcomes, the preparation for contingencies and removal of obstructions (Atkinson & Millar, 1999) are the ingredients of a successful change program. The leaders along with management play critical roles as change agents.

In the current scenario where globalization and outsourcing has flattened the world, change practices have come under severe strains. Change is more often the norm and practice rather than a planned event and task to look forward to. Unplanned change plans are often difficult and lack the ability to change faster than the competition which could lead to an unsuccessful response to the changing market conditions. Competition is on the increase with new factors of foreign organizations coming in with different cultures and views and with outsourcing of work to various parts of the world. This is even more of a fact during the recent recessionary times and with financial markets in an unstable state.

Recent technological advances have drastically altered the workplace, the job processes, and the workers. The conventional worker had one or two skills, was uncomfortable with change, had very little motivation, a poor education, and had few training opportunities. Politics within companies more conventional cause many conflicts and power struggles. In stark contrast, the modern worker is multi-skilled, willing to change, looks for opportunities and is highly motivated towards personal career enhancement. He is better educated, usually at a college level and technologically aware and can teach himself continuously by harnessing the education from the internet.

Within the new working middle class, there is yet another kind of worker known as the knowledge worker. He is highly mobile, widely networked, very opportunistic, willing to work odd hours and believes that change is always best for him. Such a worker is outspoken and his attitude speaks out his identity and aspiration (Perloff 2003). The generational differences between the younger knowledge worker and the generally older more conventional managers, leaders, and change agents have caused a phenomenal shift in successful management methods. For example, the knowledge worker does not respond well to micromanagement and prefers peer support from the decision makers.

This changes the perception of change management. The new workers, especially the knowledge worker, are eager for change and therefore change becomes the burden of the leaders and management. If the managers refuse change, they will find high turnover rates of workers and the competitive advantage of their organization slipping away. Indeed workers have now become Human Capital and just as important as the traditional capital of the company. Technology advancement is becoming more and more a major focus and tool for these new knowledge workers.

4.0 Conclusions

Change within organizations has so many inconceivable depths and unpredictable variables that each situation would never be the same. Researching the present conditions, the possible future outcomes, and abandoning tactics that have been unsuccessful all equalities back to experience of the change process. The key to a successful change process is the motivating change agents who can align the employees behind the given task.

The ultimate ingredients of successful business change in modern times are: coordination, commitment, and competencies. Employees are usually already motivated and interested in their personal career enhancements. The leaders and management can easily capitalize on this and as the new change agents they can recognize the competencies and by offering participation and commitments can expect high degree of cooperation to achieve their visions.

The market as you would expect will force change if ignored for any length of time with possible indicators of decreased profits, turnover of staff, difficulty within the supply, or many other negative impact within the organization. This lack of change will disrupt the market and those who don’t survive the transition will be replaced with an organization who adapted to the new environment. Competition demands improvement of these environmental conditions by reducing costs, adjusting the process, and streamlined supply chains as this is the foundation of the American business.  It is no longer as difficult to bring about change to the various sectors of business as all stakeholders are now eager to participate as they are aware that it is a welcome step away from tradition and necessary to grow any business.

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May 29, 2014

Astroturf Social Engineering

“The application of falsified sociological principles “a con game” to change specific behaviors or perceptions towards a wide scale audience that ultimately ends up exploiting a system or exposing sensitive information. “

What is Astroturfing?

The practice of masking the originator of multiple identities  to change public perceptions in favor of one’s agenda. (e.g. political, advertising, religious or public relations)

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering describes a non-technical kind of intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves gaining the confidence of an authorized user  to break through normal security procedures  confidence of an authorized user. Social engineers appeal to various human weaknesses of persuasion  such as exploiting vanity, an appeal to authority, an appeal to greed, or just plain old-fashioned eavesdropping techniques.

Examples of Astroturf Social Engineering:

Falsified ‘spam’ and ‘news’ techniques are commonplace for attempting to influence and manipulate the stock market, especially in  western societies. Imagine an anonymous individual which operates many twitter personas to spread the impression of widespread panic of falsified twitter posts and fake news of an impending exploit on cypher-currencies such as Bitcoins.  The difference here involves one person acting on behalf of millions of fake accounts to give the perspective that the collective is panicking on a fake bitcoin exploit.

Another example would be one ‘herder’ responding with 1000 personas to comment on digital news articles directing users to goto the competitor or phishing site on falsified intentions. Perhaps the 1000 comments suggest that anyone who doesn’t give their social security number to linked company website opened you to increased tax.  Users may think, wow 1000 users can’t be wrong, and follow the instructions!! The same thing could be used on forums or other online communities.

Astroturf Social Engineering is similar to a longlining attack which is defined as high volume, mass customized phishing techniques with just a few emails looking alike, but different in it’s approach.