Categories
Faith Personal

When you do good things and others see it

In the same address, Jesus is talking to the crowd and seems to offer two contradictory pieces of wisdom:

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

 

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:1-2

There are plenty of people in the world who want to do good.  But often if someone asks you for a favour, or you see an opportunity to help, your response is “what’s in this for me?”  You might not ask it out loud, but your mind is scouting out potential benefits for doing this: this person now owes you a favour, while you’re doing it that girl you think is cute might see you and be impressed, doing this might be able to go on your résumé when you begin your job search later this month, your company could really use a PR boost and this donation could be just the thing…  You wouldn’t be so rude to ask it, but secretly, you’re weighing up if it’s worth your time, effort or money to help out in this situation.

Jesus says that if you’re just helping out for the reward you can imagine just around the corner, then when you get that reward, you’re paid in full.  Even though the work you’re doing is good, you’ve done it more as a business transaction than as an act of love.  I’ll help you with this… and I’ll get this (from you or someone else) in return.

A truly transformed life, the kind of “kingdom” life Jesus is encouraging people to step into, will sooner or later result in the person wanting to do good… and not just as part of a business transaction.  When a life is transformed by receiving grace, it goes on to want to give grace – you want to give to people who don’t deserve it, people who’ll never be able to pay you back.

Once this grace overtakes you and motivates you, it’s no longer about what you will get out of it.  And you’ll start doing things and helping people where “the deal” clearly isn’t worth it for you – you’re giving a lot more than you’re getting.  Perhaps you’re getting nothing, no one will even know.  Jesus is saying that God loves it when we do this.  When we give with no expectation of reward – at least not in any way we can imagine.  When we do this – God promises to reward us generously later.

Ironically enough, it’s the person that cares least about public approval (and doesn’t give for that reason at all) that God wants to show off to the world.  You see, people doing good is nothing to write home about.  People do good all the time – most business deals are essentially someone helping someone else and being rewarded in return.

It’s the people who give and give with no expectation of repayment or reward – whose lives have been transformed by grace – that God wants to show off to the world.  Their lives Jesus calls “light”, it contrasts the give/take nature of the world, and forces people to see that these people live life differently: they are no longer driven by what they get out of something, they are driven by love and by grace.

When people see this, they can’t help but glorify God in Heaven, whose undeserved love changes a life so radically that the person lives, gives and works because it’s right and because it’s good, not because of expected returns.

If most of the good you do will pay off, in recognition, in returned favours, in some round-a-bout way, then maybe you haven’t let your life be transformed enough yet.  This is me at the moment.  The cure then, is to deliberately try to do good, but in secret – not thinking about how you will be repaid for this, but focusing on the grace you’ve already received.  And as you do this (and as I do), hopefully our attitude will change and the grace we’ve received will overflow into grace we give out.

And most things will remain under the surface – no one but you and God need to know about them.  But a few will float to the top – like an iceberg, the majority of what you do will be unseen, but a small fraction pokes out above the water.  When people see these, they’ll see that it’s different.  These are not good things done for an expected return, these are good things done as an act of love – and that realisation will help them see God’s grace at work in your life, and lead them to glorify him.

 

Categories
Edtech

Win when your customers win

In announcing several new tablets yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos dropped some wonderful quotes. One was, “Above all else, align with customers. Win when they win. Win only when they win.”

Bezos went on to say, “We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices. If someone buys one of our devices and puts it in a desk drawer and never uses it, we don’t deserve to make any money.”

Amen. I think the lesson is exactly the same for open educational resources. If we’re really trying to help learners “win,” an OER provider hasn’t finished their job when they’ve published content. They’re succeeding when someone benefits from what they’ve done – and only then. We need to think harder about how to make this happen, and how to do it sustainably.

David on the Open Content Blog

I love this sentiment.

How can you set up your business so that the better it is for your customers the better it is for you.

Examples of people doing this:

  • Amazon, mentioned above – sells their hardware at low profits, expecting to generate further money as the user benefits from getting more content. The more content they get, the more they use it.
  • Dropbox lowers the price for you the more friends you send invites. You get more customers, they get cheaper prices and more convenience sharing with friends.
  • Some restaraunts have a “pay what you think the meal was worth” policy, some software follows the same model. The better you perform, the higher your pay. Another variant is an “unlimited trial” on software, that gives you as long as you need to see if the software is “worth it” to you.

Examples of people who do it wrong:

  • Phone companies use “cap plans” which give average users a cheap price, but the biggest users – who could be your biggest fans – get charged exorbitantly more, punished for using your product the most.
  • Gym memberships – here you pay a large fee no matter how often you use it. This may be viewed as motivation – go lots to get your moneys worth – but the reality is that it can make for a business model which separates the interests of the gym from the interests of the patron. The gym may avoid encouraging patrons to come regularly, because it means they can have more people enrolled and still not reach capacity. To take it differently however, there is no extra cost (no punishment) for using the gym as much as you desire.

Further possible examples:

  • A service such as Vimeo or Flickr, but if you achieve a certain level of popularity, they give you your account for free – for bringing so many new people to the site.
  • On signup, your client sets a target (to lose 10kg, to post a blog everyday, to finish a course). You only get paid as they achieve milestones on their way to this target. You are now motivated to help them achieve.

Of course, one problem with that last strategy is that it provides a financial disincentive to not finish – the further you get the more you have to pay.  In a way, this is then becoming similar again to the phone companies – you are charging people more for successfully engaging with you.

A different strategy again might be that of Fog Creek Software – your money back for any reason.  You pay full price up front, so you’ve already overcome the difficulty of paying money for something.  However, as a business you remain committed to making the whole experience worthwhile, or you risk them asking for their money back – and you’ve committed to give it to them, no questions asked.

It looks like a tricky balance, but one well worth pursuing.

Categories
Haxe

Mapping any SSH Server to a Network Drive in Ubuntu

My friend Justin showed me a cool trick this week – mapping any SSH server as a network drive in Ubuntu.  This is really useful for web development, where you have a whole bunch of servers that you have to connect to, transfer files to and from, and make small edits.

The integration is pretty seamless – it shows up in my file browser (just like a local USB drive), I can open files in any app I want, and every time I save the changes are synced back.  Pretty cool.

Here’s how:

  1. Open your Home Folder
  2. In the menu, choose “File -> Connect to Server”
  3. Change the type to “SSH”
  4. Enter the address of your server.
    eg. myvps.mydomain.com or 192.168.1.5
  5. Enter your username and password.
    (Note: If you have public / private keys set up, just enter the username.)
  6. Click Connect

This all comes built in with Ubuntu 12.04.

This is me browsing files on an Amazon EC2 instance, opening a few of them and editing them. Sweet!

Categories
Edtech

Long Term Thinking

Here’s another thought provoking quote from Peter Thiel’s Lectures (or Blake Master’s notes on Peter’s lectures):

But there’s an alternative math metaphor we might use: calculus. The calculus metaphor asks whether and how we can figure out exactly what’s going to happen. Take NASA and the Apollo missions, for instance. You have to figure out where the moon is going to be, exactly. You have to plan whether a rocket has enough fuel to reach it. And so on. The point is that no one would want to ride in a statistically, probabilistically-informed spaceship.

Peter Thiel’s CS183: Startup – Class 1 Notes Essay

It’s been a long time since I did Calculus in high school, but I remember the task of taking multiple points and applying a gradient or a curve to them: you looked for a pattern, developed an equation and you used that to guess at where future points might show up.

While at the moment I have two projects I’m working on (Enthral.us, and OurSchoolDiary), long term, there’s so much room for expansion. Seth Godin in his book Purple cow talks about how after a product has been developed and reach critical success, it’s crucial for the inventors to move on, and leave maintaining and “milking” the product for a team that’s better at maintainance. An inventor will just keep trying to break stuff – better to get them developing the next big hit.

Trends and Opportunities

So if I try to think long term, till after these projects, what trends do I see? And what opportunities do these open?

  • Decreasing price of technology (trend) -> Availability in developing world (opportunity)
  • Digital connectedness is increasing (trend) -> not being in the same physical space (or even the same point in time) as your teacher will seem less weird (opportunity)
  • Availability of stored content approaches infinite (trend) -> Every niche in content, and every variety in learning styles (or media types) can be catered to. (opportunity)
  • Computer profiling approaches scarily accurate (trend) -> Career / Interest prediction, based on passion, not assessment grades. (opportunity)
  • Ability to track behaviour, A/B testing procedures get really powerful (trend) -> Get statistics on the actual best practices for teaching – which way of teaching content is the most accurate? Improve the pedagogical effectiveness of your materials through data analysis. (opportunity)
  • IT specialist tools become more user friendly, accepted by other industries (trend) -> The incredible power of Git, and Github in particular, to co-ordinate teams of creators could be utilised in the creation (and modification) of educational media.

Planning to be “ahead of the game”

Given these trends, and the likely opportunities that will develop, can I position my products to be embracing these trends just as they hit critical mass?

Just a few thoughts:

  • Be working on a “normal person friendly” interface to GIT – possibly changing mental models / system models to match.
  • Don’t tie to a single platform – with the rise of the developing world, there is a high chance that the current big players (Apple, Samsung, Microsoft etc) will not carry over. New markets = new giants. So plan software and media that can adapt.
  • Get as much experience with A/B testing as possible, so that I can transfer those skills to educational media later.
  • Find teachers who are willing to experiment with out-of-class teaching, and work with them to pioneer online lessons.
  • etc…

Admittedly, these trends/predictions are not very long term. Most will probably be well underway within 5 years, some will be underway even sooner. Still, it’s a useful exercise, and thinking 5 years ahead of the competition is still better than chasing the competition. A good exercise to revisit.

Categories
Edtech

Most people believe in X. But the truth is (something other than X)

Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, runs a unit at Stanford on business start-ups.  Blake Masters was in the class, and took a whole bunch of notes, which he then re-wrote as essays and shared with the world.  Reading them feels like I’m back at uni – lots of learning, lots of new ideas, and a whole bunch of things to think about.  I’ll probably have a few posts that come out of reading these.

In the first essay, he says:

You know you’re on the right track when your answer takes the following form:

“Most people believe in X. But the truth is !X.”

For OurSchoolDiary, my tag line might be:

Most people are trying to get technology into the classroom.  Meanwhile, we’re using technology to get parents into the classroom.

Categories
Edtech

Copying the Best Ideas (from other industries)

I’m reading a classic for inventors and entrepreneurs: Purple Cow

One of his suggestions is:

Copy. Not from your industry, but from any other industry. Find an industry more dull than yours, discover who’s remarkable (it won’t take long), and do what they did.

I’m going to do just that.  The applications are for education.  Not any specific product, just ideas to upset everything in general.

Fast Food: Subway

What they did: made their main marketing campaign about an obese guy who ate only Subway and lost a huge amount of weight.

What education could do: get a struggling student to use your textbooks / media to catch up, and document their success story.  It doesn’t just show that your product works as advertised, it also provides hope to those who need it – they too can catch up.

Music Industry: iTunes

What they did: They made it possible to get pretty much any song, ever, at a moments notice.  If you wanted to hear a song, you could buy it.  Right now.

What education could do: When someone has a moment of curiosity – satisfy it.  No matter what the topic, have a quick explanation (with links to more in depth reading / watching) available at a moments notice.  Like Wikipedia, but more teaching oriented.  Possibly even have multiple versions of the same article (a 9th Grade student will want a very different summary of Newton’s laws to a Physics Major).

ISP: iiNet

What they did: Organised their entire branding around a persona (the friendly nerd), and hired an actor who played it perfectly.  Even when he’s not on screen, their communication follows the personality of the (lovable) persona.

What education could do: It’s known that students respond better to some teachers than others.  It’s also known that if a student feels the teacher “likes” them, they will work harder.  With education materials, the “narrator”, rather than adopting a dry persona, could adopt the persona of a teacher that will actually motivate students to study diligently.

Computers: Apple

What they did: They mastered the art of emotional design: approaching the design of everyday objects and optimising for positive emotions.  This massively increased loyalty to their product range.  See Donald Norman’s book Emotional Design for an exploration of this.

What education could do: Hire an interior designer to deck out every aspect of the classroom – walls, seats, lighting, decoration.  Plan lessons to appeal to each of the levels of design: visceral (Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste), behavioural (Is the content relevant?  Is it well structured and well presented?  Am I learning?) and reflective (Is this experience challenging me personally?  Am I creating memories? Does it make me feel good about myself and my choices? Does it have special emotional attachment?

Blogging Software: WordPress

What they did: Created some software which web designers could utilise for their clients – adding a huge diversity and richness to the ecosystem.  Meanwhile they offered a hosted service that anyone could use without the help of a web designer, and could be set up in minutes – giving them an income stream and a wide range of content (blog posts on all sorts of topics).

What education could do: Have a system that acts as a great base for Instructional Designers.  Take some of the grunt work out of the way, so they can focus on great learning experiences.  Meanwhile have a hosted service for a teacher with no budget to hire an instructional designer.  They can still add their content and benefit from some of the same tools, even if their usage is a little more limited.

Photography: Instagram

What they did: Encouraged people to see (and share!) the beauty in the world.

What education could do: Encourage people to apply their learning all around the world.  Imagine a website called “in-the-wild.com”, where people try to post a scientific phenomena they see in their day-to-day life (“in the wild”) and link it to a topic they are learning, with a brief explanation.  For example, a student could post about their car windscreen which fogs up when it’s cold, and give a simple explanation based on what they’ve been learning in class.

As many students do this, you build up a library of great examples.  (There may be some not great examples, but you could let a “like” or “rate” button raise the good ones to the top).

More importantly, it will encourage students to approach their everyday life on the lookout for how the things they have been learning about play out in the real world.  It will hopefully encourage them to approach life more thoughtfully and inquisitively.

This could also be used for other subjects:

  • English – examples persuasive writing / speaking (link to websites & videos)
  • English – examples of bad grammar and spelling
  • Science – experiments you can conduct at home
  • History – examples of history repeating itself
  • Geography – urban morphology patterns & google maps
  • Maths – everyday problems where maths proved useful (with or without a calculator/computer)
  • etc…

Coffee Shops: Greens and Co.

What they did: Greens and Co. is a coffee shop in Leederville near where I work.  They bought the biggest building on the strip, filled it with couches, music and cool decorations.  It’s big enough, open enough, and casual enough that it’s become the default hangout place for many people.  They sometimes even buy coffee.

What education could do: Set up the coolest hangout around.  Make the environment sweet, and convince them to come to this place.  Then while they’re there, have something beneficial for them to do. They come for the cool vibe, but while they’re there, they might get some coffee (or some education).  This could be more tutoring oriented (cool place to do homework, hey, we have some tutors around!).  It could be more exploring oriented (like Sci-Tech, with hands on learning environments.  Completely optional, of course).  Or it could be more to do with extra-curricular activities: leadership training, music shows (bands the kids are in!), drama productions, or even a chance for chaplains to catch up with students and encourage them in their holistic development.

Conclusions

I have no idea if any of these ideas will come to fruition.  Or if they do, if it’ll be me or someone else. But what I’m realising is that this piece of advice from Godin is priceless.  Copy the best ideas from other industries, and apply them to your own.  Great thinking.

(If you want to use any of these, go right ahead! Would love to see any implemented.  Let me know how it goes!)

Categories
Uncategorized

We could have had a great time together

We could have had a great time together.
Instead, you tried to sell me something.

Comment by “Gulliver” on “Creating Passionate Users” blog.

Categories
Edtech Personal Reading & Inspiration

Optimize for Happiness (Tom Preston-Werner of Github)

Optimize for Happiness (Tom Preston-Werner of Github)

Categories
Edtech Haxe

A new project: OurSchoolDiary

So I’m working on a new project that has been brewing in my mind for a while. I’m going to aim to have a working prototype by the end of August, have users beta testing through till December and hopefully have my first paying clients by next year.

A screenshot of some of the first code for the project.

What is it?

The App is called “OurSchoolDiary”. It lets each school create their own School Diary app, where students can sign up and keep track of their homework, assignments and tests. The big win over competing solutions is that here, when the teacher adds an assessment or task, it automatically shows up in the students diary. We’re helping even unorganised students stay on top of their work.

On top of that, we’ll let parents receive emails informing them of their child’s progress. This way parents and teachers can work together to make sure they support their child’s education as much as possible.

And the final advantage, the school gets to show off how cutting-edge they are because they get their own “app”.  Logo and everything!

A Blog

As I go, I hope to keep track of my progress on this blog. (I’ll post to this category specifically, so you can subscribe by RSS).

Why keep a blog?

  • For the history, in case it is ever significant
  • For my own reflection and understanding, regardless of if it is a success.
  • To show off some cool technologies I’m using:
    • Web Apps – I’m not aiming for distribution through the App Store, I’m going a full HTML stack. Not even a hybrid using PhoneGap. This is a page you can view in a browser, and use offline, and the experience will be identical.
    • Haxe – this is a sweet programming language that lets you target Flash, Javascript, PHP, Java, C#, C++ and a platform called Neko. Up until now it’s main success has been in the indie-games market, but I believe it is mature enough to work for a full web-based productivity app.  Client and server. We’ll find out how that goes!
  • To look back on my decision making processes after we’ve launched, and see if my thinking was accurate.
  • To raise interest in the project
  • To explore some of the topics I find fascinating:
    • Usability
    • Design
    • New Marketing
    • Business Strategy
    • Contribution to the community
    • And a few more…

That’s all for now. I’ll try submit a couple of posts a week (at least) until I get this thing off the ground.