This presentation by Dave Thomas talks about the Dreyfuss Model of Skill Aquisition and how it applies to software development. However, the ideas and insights seem to apply to a number of other contexts, in particularly learning and teaching at Universities. I certainly found a lot of points that resonated.
After our flight we spent the afternoon of the 12th wondering around Paris, seeing what we could see. The plane was mostly to look at the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower.
Walked along the Champs Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe, all not very far from where the apartment is. We’re we feeling somewhat hungry by this stage, time for some lunch. Ended up settling for one of the places close by, which are undoubtedly of the type to pander to tourists that haven’t ventured too far from the sights.
We can’t complain. I had a brilliant Steak au poivre and pommes frites. Very, very nice. Sandy had some sort of salmon dish, the fish melted in your mouth.
Full of energy we decided to climb the Arc de Triomphe and see what we could see. Your certainly get a good view of Paris from the top. Provided an opportunity to understand where things lay. The following shot of the Eiffel Tower was taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
You get to the Arc de Triomphe via an underground tunnel that goes underneath the round about that runs around it. It’s an experience in itself simply to stand and watch the traffic as it goes around. It certainly appears that the Australian round about rules don’t apply. There are no lanes – choose your own. And you give way to any folk to your right. Which means cars do stop on the roundabout to allow for in coming traffic. I guess that cessation of motion causes the odd bingle. And we happened to catch the end result of such.
After this we headed down the Champs Elysees and through some other streets to get to the Eiffel Tower. The grand plan being that we would go up the top and perhaps partake in some ice skating. The following shot was taken on the way there. During this journey, the closer we got to the Eiffel the greater the concentration of hawkers trying to make money selling souvenirs.
Once we arrived at the Eiffel tower the grand plan to head up the top was thwarted by three factors. First, and foremost, was that it was cold. Too cold for Sandy she was not looking forward to being out for too much longer. Second, was the line. Even on a winter’s afternoon the line was quite long. Lastly, by this stage we were getting pretty tired. 30+ hours of travel was starting to take its toll so sadly, we wussed out and started walking back to the apartment for sleep.
By the time we were getting back near the Arc de Triomphe the moon was up and so we had the opportunity for the following shot. After this we stopped at some small stores in a “square” just near the apartment and purchased some coke (to go with the 12 yo Scotch) and some bakery products for food. Retired to the apartment for an early dinner and then to bed.
After much shopping (mostly winter clothes – much needed and used already) and a bit of time in the QClub – time to get back on a plane for the 13+ hours to London. The upgrade to Business didn’t come through but the nice check in lady from Brisbane had put us in the next best thing. A row of seats behind a partition that meant we had enough room to our legs out straight. Very nice. Both Sandy and I slept a reasonable amount for this type of thing. Watched a number of movies and basically waited for the flight to be over.
The highlight for me as about halfway into the flight when we were over the middle East somewhere. Having a window seat I looked out to see clouds below shining in a full moon. Just above and to the left of our plane were two contrails from other planes. One of which I could see their navigation flights flashing in the distance. The moon was shining on these and making them glow. Very nice. Pity the camera was lodged up above and the scene only lasted for a few minutes.
On arrival at Heathrow (Terminal 4) we had to make our way to the new Terminal 5 that has been in the news for last bags (thankfully ours made it through no worries). However, we did have a long walk through various cold and draft passage ways to get to the bus for Terminal 5. What followed was a good 15 minutes on the crowded bus. The time taken did generate some negative comments from the locals.
Once inside Terminal 5 things went okay. Very noticeable that it is a new terminal. The security process is fairly quick and well though out, however, it is somewhat different from previous experience (e.g. you don’t take your computer out of the bag for screening) and the novelty seems to slow folk down. At this point I could also make disparaging comments about whinging Poms who did not seem happy with the process, but I am now more culturally aware and realise that this sort of generalisation is fraught with weakness. Of course, all the way through this process there were signs along the lines “Don’t talk nasty to us as it won’t help you get through any quicker you whinging pom”.
Inside the terminal there were lots of nice shiny and large duty free stores including some with very nice deals on alcohol. However, we didn’t have time to partake as by the time we visited the facilities we were being called to our gate. A gate that happened to be down stairs and out of the way. The size, location and lighting did not bode well.
The process for getting on the plane, once the boarding pass was checked, was to go outside onto another bus (remember this is a winters morning in London – 1 degree and wet – though not raining). After a 10 minute drive we’re back outside climbing up into a Airbus 319 that is parked with others away from the terminal. Thank god it wasn’t raining. At this stage it was then another 20 minutes before we started moving, another 20 minutes taxing before a 40 minute flight to Paris.
The flight went well in Paris quickly. A reverse of the Heathrow experience in terms of bus and terminal. Pick up a bottle of 12yo Scotch and pass through customs – quick look at the passport and through.
Now came the big test. Would our bags have made it through Terminal 5 and all subsequent change overs. It wasn’t looking good, waiting, waiting. One of the baggage service folk came over for a talk, but no, we’re not the ones they were after. A few of our other colleagues from the flight were milling around looking worried. Just as it was looking bad, out comes our bag. There’s a win. Things might be looking up.
Next to go through security. Four stations either side of an open hall. No line, people walking through. Do we walk through? Why not. Yep, all the way through, no checks.
Now comes the task of ringing our landlady. First set of phones would not work. Credit card, coins (had to get change for Euro coins) and phone card did not work. Bugger. This might not work well.
Move onto another set of phones. Ahh, this one takes coins. Put 1.40 euro in the phone, make the call and wallah – talking to Mme Rivaud. Organise to meet her out front of the apartment building in an hour – but the phone cuts out before we could say goodbye. Lets up she doesn’t take this the wrong way. The funny thing is, the phone gave me back 40 euro cents. It only like the $1 euro.
Outside for a taxi and a hope that the written directions will be sufficient for him to get us there. A 40 minute drive and we’re deposited outside the apartment. At which we have to wait for 10 minutes or so for the landlady to turn up
Not all that bad, get a chance to walk around the neighbourhood, but it is cold. Sandy’s putting her “cold” boots on when the landlady arrives. Shows us the ropes, helps us settle in and then were alone in our little French apartment for the next 7 days.
For the purposes of informing my family and keeping a record for my faulty memory I am going to blog, where possible, Sandy’s and my trip to Paris for ICIS’2008. This first installment is from the start of the travel in Struck Oil through to the QANTAS Club in Singapore Airport.
The day started early. Awake in bed thinking about getting up. Zach came in about 10 past 5 and the packing started. They day went down hill from there. Getting packed and the kids in the car went okay, pretty well. Then we got to school to drop Anna off.
A misunderstanding around the appropriate sharing of a scarce resource between two minors led to a dictatorial response from the paternal side of the family that only served to exacerbate tensions with the eldest child. Creating a far from harmonious note on which to part company for 10 days. Sorry Bear.
On arriving at child care, the plan was to phone a taxi to pick us up from my parents place (where our car is resting whilst we’re away). At this stage it appeared that I’d left my phone at home – possibly the first of many things left at home.
Further investigation, after some less than acceptable language, revealed that the phone had been included and the taxi could be called. Of course, at this stage I proceeded to give them the wrong address for Mum and Dad’s. Which meant that it would be somewhat difficult for the taxi driver to arrive on time. With time running out (not really, but it felt like it) we forced mum to get out of her pyjamas and act as driver to take us to the airport.
Okay, we’re there. Just check in and everything will flow. But it didn’t. The guys at the check in counter couldn’t check us through all the way to Paris. Apparently our upgrade to business class on one leg hadn’t come through. They could only book us through to Brisbane. Which meant we had to pick up our bag and take it across to the international airport in Brisbane.
We arrive in Brisbane, get off the Dash 8 and wonder into the domestic airport to pick up our bag. We didn’t hurry as it normally takes some while to arrive. We didn’t think it would be quite so long. Due to the delay, we waved goodbye to the train that takes you from the domestic terminal to the international. 30 minutes until the next plane. With the time getting very close to problematic.
We do finally get in. Though we do get an “express” card to get through customs quicker. Not that we really needed to worry because the plane was at least an hour late leaving Brisbane due to “the late arrival of the in-bound airplane”.
Having checked the flight details a couple of days ago I expected we’d have a QANTAS Airbus, a 320 or such like. Instead we had a 747-300 which going by the external look is quite ancient, in fact it looked like the tail had a dent in it. The internals of the plane, once we got on, reinforced this. (According to wikipedia the 300 was “sold” between 1980 and 1985.) And it went downhill from there.
The menu we were provided to provide an overview of the food we’d be provided did not match the food which we received. The Q Entertainment Guide which is meant to inform about which channels which movies would be on, didn’t match the reality of the entertainment system. The ancient nature of the entertainment system (and I imagine its configuration) meant you needed the guide. The system did not tell you which movies were on which channels. You were simply told that there was Movie Channels 1 through 7, not what was on them. Gotta love flying QANTAS.
The one advantage was that the apparently bigger plan meant that there was room. Sandy and I shared 3 seats between us.
So a few hours in Singapore airport was spent eating (not memorable), shopping (somewhat memorable) and sitting the in QANTAS club writing this. Sandy has just headed out to buy some sneakers as the boots she has on don’t work well after podiatrial swelling.
One of the laughs of Singapore airport was the Disney promotion. Just near where we were eating was this big, fake Disney set up. A stage of some sort with a cartoon pirate ship nearby. The pirate ship had a pirate Mickey standing on it, eye patch and all. Fairy lights all over it, very “nice” and lots of folk taking their photo in front of and on it.
You could climb up onto the pirate ship to have your photo taken near Mickey. Near here was the mast with fairy lights draped down the mast to a height where kids could touch the lights. Thankfully, from a health and safety perspective, there was a rather nice sign warning of the high voltage nature of the fairy lights.
I came across this quote from Peter Drucker, who according to Wikipedia was known as the father of modern management
Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer
This resonates with me and my experiences within universities. In particular, in connection with trying to achieve anything with academics. Folk who generally take the concept of “volunteer” to the extreme.
It particular resonates with me as I increasingly see attempts made to apply project-based, plan-driven attempts to implement major change within universities. For example, we’ll improve learning and teaching at the university by having a large scale review, evaluated by a small panel of experts, who will develop an objective, that will be handed over to a project group, who will roll this out.
This ignores the importance of engaging academics and their tendency to be volunteers and, in particular, volunteers who don’t volunteer.
There will be no widespread, sustainable improvement in learning and teaching within a university unless the institution adopts approaches that encourage and support the academics in volunteering to engage in the process.
Require them to volunteer and they won’t.
As part of my current work I provide support to academic staff using a learning management system. The reactive part of this support is funneled though an organisational helpdesk that is run along fairly common IT helpdesk processes and uses a fairly common enterprise helpdesk application.
For me the reactive part of this sort of support involves solving peoples’ problems. In most part, it is a communication problem requiring helping the person understand how the reality of the system and how it operates does not match what they understand and what they are trying to do. In some of these instances, the people who are having these problems are stressed and frustrated.
Something they thought was going to be simple, didn’t work. Possibly that something is important to them and they fear negative ramifications if it doesn’t work (e.g. a teaching staff member in charge of a large course where assignment submission has just gone down). Perhaps their best laid plans are now in tatters.
All of this brings me to the view that the act of providing this type of helpdesk support is a communication activity. A critical success factor is how well you communicate with the client in a way that puts them at ease, assuages their fears and frustration, and solves their problem. It is primarily an act of communication between two people.
Which makes me wonder why the current IT helpdesk application I’m forced to use actively makes effective communication horrendously difficult? Why does this application provide so little support for ensuring that the communication is effective and more importantly is perceived by the client to be positive?
My current explanation is that the folk who select and implement these helpdesk systems are central IT units. Generally, IT units that have been infected by the ITIL disease and all the burdens that brings with it. Point of order – it might be argued that Itil isn’t all that bad, perhaps, but the way most IT units implement it is. They tend to end up focused on stats, SLAs and management of client dissatisfaction rather than on actively helping the client.
Because of this focus, the helpdesk application vendors know that they have to provide support for what the IT units want. After all, it’s the IT units that will make the decision to purchase. Since the IT unit places emphasis on stats and management of the helpdesk, that’s what the IT applications place emphasis on.
An example of this emphasis is the amount of screen space on the interface that is set aside for communication activities as opposed to management activities. On the web interface of the system I’m looking at there are two boxes with about 20 characters for a summary of and the details of the problem reported by the client. The rest of the page is taken up with “management” stuff. This includes 10 or tabs to related pages that contain “management” stuff.
If the client attaches various files to their original email (e.g. screenshots) you have to visit one of these additional tabs, select the appropriate file, click on view and have a Microsoft application to be able to view it. It takes more work to view the information provided by the client.
What’s worse, the way the system is configured the client gets canned, badly formatted email messages as the default form of communication. Emails that come from the helpdesk system and make it incredibly difficult for the client to know with whom they are talking. In addition, if I use my web browser most of the content of what I send is sent without any line breaks.
I compare this experience with a commercial helpdesk system with my experience with an open source system (RT). The vast majority of the interface with this system was devoted to showing the communication and it made communication easy.
There looks like there is scope to do research around the importance of communication to client satisfaction with helpdesk systems and support. Flowing from that, how well do existing helpdesk system support this and how should would you design a better, more appropriate helpdesk system. Would such a system also require changes to processes and management of this process by IT units? Would such changes bring benefits? What are the information systems design theories that could be developed from this?