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Lessons From a Weekend of Training Cadets

US Civil Air Patrol members practice searching...

This past weekend, I spent my Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday out in the Blue Hills reservation just south of Boston, MA training the cadets of Boston Cadet Squadron.  These young adults are members of Civil Air Patrol, the volunteer organization that I have been a part of for eight years now.  Our goal for the weekend was to work as a single team while we trained in Emergency Services, survival, and overnight camping.  At least that had been the plan.

I have been instructing these same topics for a number of years now but of late, my lessons have focused on learning through my teaching.  Working with cadets that are from ages 12 to 18, I have found it a challenge for me to properly orient my instruction and leadership style to suit the varied needs of the cadets in our squadron.  Timing can be ironic - I'm currently a teaching assistant and candidate for Teach for America.  This means that I've been working in the "teaching" area for a while now and I am just starting to notice the issues that come along with being a teacher.

There are such varying levels of support needed by our cadets - everything from complete autonomy to complete and total supervision.  There are a few that I would trust to be out in the woods for weeks on end but others that I would prefer to have a physical leash to.  How does one cope with these situations?  How do I change behavior when I don't have the "full" story on cadet conditions, attitudes, and history?  Answer: you do your best and work as a team.

In order to make legitimate change with these cadets, I need to alter behavior.  Through my experience, I have found this to be a difficult task, though not impossible.  The United States Air Force Academy taught me many things about leadership and one of the most powerful tools we experienced was the power of peer accountability.  This is the idea that you are responsible for the actions of your teammate, and they are likewise responsible for yours. 

We are making changes in the way that we work within the group.  I am changing my role within the power structure.  We will go back to basics in order to obtain the correct temperment and attitudes.  We will remove priveledges such as talking, break times, and "fun" activities if need be.  We will provide structured rituals such as current event and news reviews, squaring of corners, and the buddy system.  Finally, we will delegate responsibility to the lowest level possible while enabling those levels to make good decisions.

Hopefully, these changes will create the environment necessary for proper learning to take place, for friendships to form, and leadership to flourish.  My goal for these kids is for them to develop into leaders with a sense of purpose, drive, and self respect that their peers in inner-city Boston do not have.  I want them to be constantly thinking about the group, not just themselves, I want them to work as a team.

If you have suggestions for making this process easier, please email me at james(dot)m(dot)connors(at)gmail(dot)com or leave a comment here for people to share.

[Edit: removed "children" from first paragraph 10.10.08]

Google As a Social Commentary

 

Image via Wikipedia

I'm not sure if this is the post that you were looking to find on this blog but stay with it for a few minutes because I think it's going to turn out fine.

For many of us, "Googling" has become the new standard for information searching.  I know for my own self, Google has become the center of my world.  After UCD blocked our access to outside mail servers (they were afraid of scary viruses...) I had to find other email solutions outside of Boston University infrastructure.  Naturally, I turned to the one parent figure in my digital life - Google.  Gmail, GCalendar, and GTalk are now the focal points of my information gathering.  I have embraced the Goog and it feels good.  I know that I am an early adopter of sorts but I can't be the only one doing this.  Google is now inseperable from our society and we from it.

Yesterday, Thursday the 5th of June, Google announced a new feature to their ever popular GMail service - GMail Labs.  This beta service, along with many other Google Labs program, is a way for you to access non-mainstream features in order to make your life easier.  Features such as changing the way your signature is displayed, adding the old Snake game, or even locking yourself out of GMail for 15 minute email time-outs are all part of the offering.

So, that's all well and good, James.  We know you are a geek and love this stuff but what about the social commentary part of all this?  Here it comes.

Google doesn't do things lightly - they move relatively slowly, though much faster than other corporations of its size.  The launch of a new service is a definite sign that there had been interest in such a feature as well as someone that was interested in developing the tool - perhaps part of their progressive 15% time allocation for employees to pursue their own projects.  To me, this is a sign of a new wave of human.  In my mind, this is the same sort of movement that is propelling Barack Obama through to the Democratic party's nomination - we want change and now there is a voice, a drive to get it.

Let me expand.  As part of this new feature, private users will be able to code their own features for GMail and have them integrated with the service.  Sure, you can do similar things using extensions and personal scripts such as Greasemonkey and Better Gmail 2 for Firefox.  Those services are great but they aren't native, each user has to go out and get it for themselves.  GMail Labs will be for the masses and supports all those that are out using Google products.

Some are bashing Generation Y as the generation that will ruin the world with our preoccupation with social networks and social media.  I happen to believe that we will be the agents of change that our parents could never dream to be.  We have a drive, a carnal need to change things.  We are driven to make an impact on the world around us.  Generation Y will be a seen as the network of individuals that come together to make change in this world.

The launch of GMail Labs is a perfect example of this.  When a company like Google makes a move, it's for a good reason.  Their strategy reflects society and our passions, our desires.  I would look to Google to become the next Microsoft... but in a rather friendly, positive partnership rather than the hostile prisoner relationship we have with Redmond.

 

 

People Search With a Twist

When you post messages to your friend's wall, do you consider how an outsider might perceive your message?  Are there any items in your "interests" or "activities" sections of your profile that you wouldn't want your mother, teacher, or future employer see?  If so, you need to keep reading. Computer users my age have a false sense of privacy while they prowl through the pages of Facebook and Myspace.  They tend to believe that just because someone isn't their "friend," they can't see what information you've posted.  This isn't true.  There are a number of technologies out on the market and in development that facilitate the quest to gather more information about YOU.

Two new projects are leading the charge of indexing social networking as a method of profiling every user on the internet.  SPOCK is a search engine in private beta testing that browses and analyzes internet profiles of a few major social communities.  The fore-runner of the social indexing project is WIKIYOU.  This search engine launched last month and provides a robust interface delivering search results for close match names as well as exact match.  Both of these engines have the same mission but  operate in a different manners.

When searching for myself, SPOCK presented to me four pages of users with real names matching "James Connors" scattered all around the world.  My actual entry existed on the last page and contained a number of inaccurate items.  Spock prowls profiles looking for identifying information such as your zodiac sign, age, hometown, occupation, etc.  The engine then builds a tags for your entry into a profile that users can then "claim." Similarly, WIKIYOU allows users to claim their profile for their engine as well.  Their method of indexing is to pull clippings, or small snippets, of your various profiles online and reproduce them in their search results matching keyword searches.

This movement towards social indexing represents a major shift in the way the internet works.  Instead of categories or keywords, tags and social networking provides the basis for search results.  The most important bit about these programs is that you do go and claim your profiles because, as in my experience, there can be false information contained within your profile.  Claiming these profiles also allows you to build out the interface with your activities, other links, and aliases throughout the net thus providing potential employers or other checkers the accurate and correct information.

I'm planning another blog entry regarding this idea of claiming your identity on the net in the next few days because I think it's a really important issue to remember as an internet user of the 21st century.  Thanks for reading, and I'll see you... next time.