April 30, 2010

Reducing management to bullet points

Here's an interesting article from the NY Times about Powerpoint (Microsoft's wonderful/evil software program) and briefings in the US military.

Teachers have somehow joined the Powerpoint joy-ride, even though we know Powerpoint lectures, for the most part, are simply horrid. It's kind of like an artist who knows that paint-by-number is bad, but decides it's the easiest way to work. And, besides, all their friends are doing it. Funny thing is that we (teachers) complain about students' lack of creativity and critical thinking...but if you look back at our students' academic careers, they are mostly a 4-year set of powerpoints. Acckkk!

There is no doubt that Powerpoint stiffles discussion in class. If the "three effects of X on Z" are already typed out as bullet points on the screen, there's no need to ask students to generate those three effects during class. And, discussion takes too long, anyway...gotta get through lots of material, right?! I've tried reverting back to my days of teaching with 'overheads' by just using Powerpoint to display images (it is really good for that), while writing all lists/notes on the whiteboard while talking with students. My year in Namibia reminded me that I still knew how to teach without a Powerpoint presentation (photo below). A fun test for any teacher...pretend the projector bulb died! What would you do?!

In related news, instructors are increasingly becoming worried about students playing around on laptops in their classroom (after, of course, encouraging students to purchase laptops to bring to our classrooms!). Perhaps if we created lectures/discussions which 'made' them take notes, and didn't place all of our thoughts on bulleted lists, they would be writing (or even typing our notes) instead of emailing/Facebooking friends?!

Finally, it is interesting to think about wildlife management and Powerpoint. Perhaps the article about the Pentagon briefings has it dead-on...if we think an issue can be simplified to a linear set of bullet points, it's no wonder we can't get stakeholders to understand the complexities of ecological systems and management decisions. I think it's time to abandon the bullet points.

This isn't simply a matter of 'electronic' versus 'paper' or 'blackboards'. It is very possible to use computer software (including Powerpoint) to record discussions during a meeting or in class. But, you've got to get out of the "canned show" mode and interact.

April 24, 2010

Cross-property management: Nobel prize winner advice

I spent 2009 interviewing farmers and leaders of NGO's in Namibia about their efforts to set up 'conservancies'. These entities are groups of landowners who come together to manage their properties jointly. For some groups, it may simply be allowing hunters from one farm to hunt on another farm. For other groups, it may be conducting a joint marketing effort to bring hunters to their group.

But, many group members join a group to 'do management' for wildlife on a landscape scale beyond their individual property. Could be purchasing animals to stock for the benefit of the group. Could be an effort to bring various types of habitat together under one management scheme. Could be an effort to get rid of invasive plant species (doesn't do you any good to get rid of your thistles if your neighbor doesn't, right?!).

Namibia is ahead of the US in the country-wide implementation of conservancies...check out the Conservancy Association of Namibia to see a map.

But, many landowners in the US are starting to work on similar projects. The question is...how to you set these things up? How do individuals successfully make decisions about resources that are held in common?

In Namibia, wildlife can be owned by individuals, but in the US, wildlife is 'common' property of all people in each state. And, even in Namibia, when you join together with your neighbor, you have just created a 'commons'. Commons are quite hard to manage (think: "Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett Hardin; think: why most of our marine fisheries resources are a case study in failure of such attempts to manage common property). One conservancy president in Namibia told me, "This conservancy thing is hard work, because you are managing people."

Well, there is some guidance to how to think about proper management of commons (how to manage the people managing the commons). Thanks to my colleague Drew Tyre for finding this information. And, the advice comes from a Nobel Prize winner, Elinor Ostrom (2009 prize for Economics).

These suggestions certainly should be at the forefront of any conversation between a group of landowners considering the creating of a conservancy-type arrangement. During my stint in Namibia, I heard each idea mentioned at least once, but they are struggling with the 'dispute resolution' portions of this list. But, successful Namibian conservancies adhere to the majority of these suggestions:

Define clear group boundaries.

Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.

Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.

Make sure the rulemaking rights of community members are respected by outside

Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.

Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.

Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.

Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

Citation: This list was adapted for
America: The Remix, the Spring 2010 issue of YES! Magazine, from Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, edited by Elinor Ostrom, 1990.

April 23, 2010

Namibia photo show

It's been about 4 months since we returned from Namibia. We've given over 10 talks about our trip, and we still haven't run out of material. Several more are planned for next fall at UNL.

We have enjoyed sharing some of our photos in a show called "Beneath the Sand". The first show ran for a couple weeks in January in Hardin Hall (my office building). Now, the photos are in the East Campus Union in the Loft Gallery.

If you're not from Lincoln, and are interested in viewing the photos, we've put together a downloadable PDF file (click here). It includes the photos and the descriptions of the photos ("Stories Behind the Photos"). It's about 8 MB, so give it some time. Hope you enjoy (photo at right by Kelly).