Thursday, May 05, 2016

Interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor, Western Governors University (WGU) Washington

Welcome to an interview with Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. Western Governors University (WGU) has been a leader in the development and delivery of online learning and has been at the forefront of establishing best practices. A flagship and guide for all organizations seeking to provide accredited, high-quality online degrees, Western Governors University has maintained a commitment to competency-based online learning, and has maintained high standards. Now, Western Governors University has partnered with the State of Washington establish WGU-Washington specifically to accommodate the needs of the citizens of Washington. 

1.    What is your name and your involvement in eLearning?
I am Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Washington. I’ve devoted my entire career to higher education – including over 22 years as the President of Bellevue College, where we were an early pioneer in e-Learning.  Drawn to its competency-based, mentor-supported, affordable online delivery model, I joined WGU in 2011 as the first Chancellor for Washington.

Jean Floten, Chancellor of Western Governors University Washington
2.    What is WGU Washington, and what is its history, mission, vision?
Western Governors University – WGU Washington’s “parent” organization – was founded by 19 governors of Western states in 1997.  At that time, they knew education was becoming even more important to meet the needs of a growing knowledge-based economy. Their vision was to make education more available to people in their states. They wanted to create a new type of university that captured the power of the internet to transform the way education was delivered and evaluated student learning and awarded credentials based on demonstrated competencies. They wanted it to be affordable – so people would not have to go into debt to earn a degree – and open to anyone who could benefit from the programs. 

WGU has not veered from this founding vision. It is what drives us today.

In 2010, Indiana  Governor Mitch Daniels entered into the first agreement to bring a state-based WGU affiliate into a state.

Then, five years ago this spring, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation establishing a partnership with WGU. The legislative intent was to expand access to affordable, higher education for Washington residents. The result of that partnership is WGU Washington – the first and only legislatively-endorsed, online university in our state.

The impetus for the partnership in Washington came from community and technical colleges and legislators who knew more enrollment opportunities were needed in Washington, especially for transfer students. While more capacity was needed, budget shortfalls during the recession were making its funding impossible. WGU Washington operates on tuition only and is not dependent on state-funding or tax dollars to operate.

WGU Washington offers more than 50 job-ready bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four, high-demand fields: business, IT, teaching and nursing. WGU is the innovator of competency-based learning, a model that evaluates students and permits them to advance when they’ve proven what they know and can do, as opposed to the traditional model of using “seat-time” to measure progress. Competency-based education allows students the flexibility to work and learn at their own schedule – at a pace that works for them.

The flat rate tuition of about $3000 per six-month term permits students to take as many classes as they can, often accelerating their progress towards a degree and reducing costs. And, by the way, WGU’s surprisingly low tuition includes text books and additional learning resources! All of which keeps the cost of one’s education very affordable.  In fact, the average time for this year’s graduates to obtain a bachelor’s degree was 26 months for a bachelor’s degree and 21 months for a master’s degree.  The national average is 60 months! 

Delivered online, the model is suited well for hardworking adults who often have trouble balancing school, families, and work. Because WGU’s content is delivered online, students may study at any time and from any place – during breaks, late at night, early in the morning, weekends, or on public transit.  This permits many people to work their education into already busy lives. 

Our students are non-traditional learners. Their average age is 37 and many of them, 68 percent to be exact, are classified as underserved, meaning they live in rural areas or have low incomes.   More than a third of our students are the first in their families to attend college – a fact that makes us proud. 

3.    What does WGU Washington do? How is it unique?
WGU Washington helps hardworking Washingtonians to change their lives by qualifying them for positions that carry a living wage – enabling them to take jobs as nurses, teachers, IT or business professionals, or to qualify for advancement or even change fields altogether.

WGU uses a pioneering, competency-based model that allows working adults to apply the knowledge they have gained through work experience and previous education towards their degree, enabling them to focus on learning what they need to, when they need to.  Rather than award credit for time spent in class and listening to a single message that goes to every student, WGU Washington presents content that students cover at their own pace. Additionally, the model allows students to advance when they demonstrate they’ve mastered the course material – at a level that prepares them for professional effectiveness – by passing “high fidelity” assessments, both objective and performance based.  This unique model allows time, place, and pace-bound learners to pursue their degrees.

Studies have predicted that by 2018, 67 percent of jobs statewide here in Washington will require postsecondary education. Washingtonians— including busy adults who already have jobs, families, and lifestyles that make a traditional university setting unrealistic — will need to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees to qualify for these positions. WGU Washington is able to open doors for these nontraditional students and make further education possible.  For example, WGU Washington is a perfect choice for registered nurses who received an associate’s degree from a community college and are now expected by their employers to complete their bachelor’s in nursing.  With the challenging hours nurses work, WGU Washington offers the flexibility to complete the degree on their own schedules.  It is also a great choice for military personnel and their dependents who may be transferred often. They can attend WGU and never have to worry about transferring credits at their new duty station.

4.    How did WGU start to achieve its goals?
WGU Washington is proud to be part of the higher education family in Washington.  It provides a viable option to many Washingtonians, because of its affordability and accessibility, who thought getting a degree was just a distant dream.

In just five years, the university’s enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 percent from roughly 800 students in 2011 to more than 9,000 full-time students statewide today.

WGU Washington is the locally-based affiliate of Western Governors University – or, simply, WGU. WGU currently serves over 70,000 students nationally. Interestingly, Washington is home to more WGU students than any other state in the country. In addition, nearly 6,000 men and women in Washington have earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees in career-focused fields from WGU.

This staggering growth highlights the demand for the type of education WGU Washington offers.  The needs of nontraditional students – those who are historically underserved – are different from the needs of a typical undergraduate.  WGU Washington provides access to higher education for people that wouldn’t be able to earn degrees otherwise.

And when students meet their goals, our university meets its goals – goals focused on high quality, affordable and accessible higher education for students statewide.

Both students and their employers report high satisfaction with WGU.  Student satisfaction is 96%, and 100% of our employers say our grads are well-prepared for their jobs. That is what makes it all worthwhile! 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Interview with Dr. Kozhi Makai, Understanding Culture's Influence on Leadership Styles

Bringing people together in a rapidly changing environment is just one of the challenges of leadership in a world characterized by disruptive technologies, rapid economic reconfiguration, and shifting notions of how we should relate to each other. Dr. Kozhi Makai has studied leadership from many vantage points and today is here to share his unique insights.

1.  What is your name and your educational background?
Kozhi Sidney Sakangende Saulongo Sikoongo Mwachawoka Namundondo Hamudulu Mweetwa Hangambwa Hanene Chingangauka Hanyimbo Makai. You asked...
I seem to have a name for each of the original American colonies.
But my driver's license simply reads: Kozhi Sidney Makai.
My BA is in Speech Communication, with a minor in Psychology.
My MA is in Business Communication, with a specialization in Leadership & Influence.
My PhD is in Applied Management and Decision Sciences, with a specialization in Leadership and Organizational Change (my research is in understanding culture's influence on leadership style).

Life Edge 036: Kozhi Makai had a dream... from RELATECASTS on Vimeo.

 2.  How did your childhood help you become interested in leadership?
Both my parents were leaders in Zambia.
My mother was a business leader as an entrepreneur who ran a produce company, restaurant, and farm with a poultry, dairy, and rotation of cabbage and potato harvests. She was a very hands-on leader who modeled what she expected and, while we had staff to tend the farm, my siblings and I were expected to work along the staff.
My father worked for the government and was the number two man at the Special Investigation Team for Economy and Trade (SITET) as Deputy Director of Administration and Research. This team is the equivalent of the American Secret Service or FBI Dickson that handles White Collar Crime. Watching him interact with his subordinates showed me an example of influence (something that John Maxwell feels leadership is) without a hard hand.
Both my parents encouraged me to be a leader among my friends and stand out - ethically, honestly, and sincerely.
Once I got into athletics, I was able to use these skills I learned from watching my parents and, literally, sitting at their feet and learning from them.

3.  What was it like to grow up in Zambia? How did you feel when you first arrived in Houston? What were some of the cultural differences that you did not expect?
Interestingly, I didn't grow up in a hut or without shoes, running water, or electricity (I know, I just ruined it for you). I grew up like many children here in the U.S. in the 80s and 90s...playing Nintendo Gameboy, riding my bike in the neighborhood, terrorizing neighbors with my crew of 6 friends, and hoping to get a glance at the new girl(s) in the neighborhood. I went to fantastic schools (the best in the country, actually) in Primary School (1st to 7th) and Secondary School (8th to 12th), and spent time with some of the brightest minds of my time. At one point, I went to school with the President's children; never a dull moment, really.
Houston was BIG. That was probably the great change for me - the vastness of the roads, the volume of vehicles, and the consistent busyness. And, would you believe, I thought people in Houston spoke too fast!

I didn't expect to find a culture that was unlike my own - specifically my Latino/Latina friends. Very much driven by strong family values, music, and food, I found myself connected to people who had a similar outlook and passion for family and staying close to them.

Yet, I also found some of the most generous people I've ever met. Just like my parents in Zambia took in strangers and family members alike, two families took me in and raised me as their own - my youth pastor and his family, the Brantleys, and my education benefactors, the Eberlys. To this day, the Eberlys remain my American family; Michael Oher and "The Blind Side" came long after me and the Eberlys lived out that life. My parents (American and Zambian) have met, and I'm fortunate to have had two sets of parents doting over me and encouraging me to be the best man I can possible be.

4.  What are the themes of your books?
Relationships. Communication. Personal Development. Leadership. All of them are driven by a desire improve the human condition. So I wrote them to ensure that my readers could connect to the concepts through my own experience; I want my readers to always know that I've experienced what they have and I want them to learn from my mistakes. Rather than be a simple "how-to" book, I want the reader to see me as a helpful coach and guide.

 5.  What is the name of your forthcoming book, and how did you choose the name? What is the theme?
I chose this title because it's what I want everyone to be: unapologetic. Completely themselves. Warts and all. This does not preclude us from improvement, but it's hard to improve what we don't understand. So, unapologetic is about self-discovery and loving/appreciating what we discover - our humanity.
We live in a world that tends to shun anything that isn't perfect - basically, our humanity. Perfect hair (I know, I don't have that problem). Perfect families. Perfect homes. All done to create a ruse about our lives when we often hurt and are nowhere near as put-together as we portray. This book is about ripping the mask off and being exactly who we are and what we were meant to be.
I believe we all have lines to sing in the musical of life; when we don't, the show loses its value and luster. Life is supposed to be a blockbuster, not a box office flop; only those who sing their lines by living authentic lives can ever hope to see their life become that blockbuster.

6.  Who are some of the thinkers / writers / leaders who have most influenced you?
The late Zig Ziglar is atop my list. Great speaker, writer and thinker.
The late Og Mandino is among my favorites. I read his book, The Choice, at least twice a year.
The Apostle Paul. His doctrinal thoughts truly have a touch of the Divine. Along with the Book of Proverbs. I read that anthology of wisdom monthly.
Dr. John Maxwell influenced my development, long before he became prolific. As the head of Injoy, his tapes (yes, cassettes) were amazing!
Dr. Dennis Kimbro of Clark Atlanta University mentored me from afar without knowing me in my early years in the U.S. This year, I get to meet him face-to-face after getting acquainted with him via email over the last two years.
Dr. Steven Beebe, the premier mind in communication. Another mentor from afar, until a few years ago when we met and became solid friends. I consider him a confidant, and continued mentor.
There are many more, but these come to mind first. My personal library is over 700 books strong (and that's the trimmed version), and I continue to read and accumulate more.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Video-Assisted Mobile Learning: Free e-Book & Repository

What is the best way to incorporate videos in your mobile learning? A free download of the 289-page comprehensive guide to video-assisted e-learning, Video-Assisted Mobile Learning, is now available. 

This book contains free resources to incorporate into your online courses – they are snippets primarily focused around the writing process, but also include many prompts for writing having to do with leadership, literature, and travel/discovery. All are in available for free via YouTube, and are designed to be easily embedded or linked to. They also contain notes and suggestions for use.

Effective Mobile Learning: The three cornerstones of effective mobile learning are authenticity, collaboration, and personalization. 

One great way to build in the authenticity is to include video snippets that trigger thoughts and give guidance. Snippets that have to do with writing can nicely tie to the learner’s individual needs, and encourage collaboration, or at least a conversation.

The video snippets are actually learning objects, and they are sufficiently granular to be used in many places in a single course. They are also ideal for micro-learning (or chunked learning).

Advantages of video content:
Here is a brief list of some of the advantages of video snippets:

•    Snippets that are brief capture and keep the learner's attention
•    A video with a person in a natural setting is engaging, humanizing
•    Video appeals to audio as well as visual learners
•    The personal delivery of the presenter triggers thought and internal “conversation”
•    The format builds in a call for action by encouraging "check your knowledge" kinds of reflection
•    The informality creates a relatable experience
•    The snippets, when stored in the cloud and downloadable to one's smartphone, tablet, or laptop, are highly accessible 
•    Perfect for smartphone or tablet access

Mobile learning can be extremely effective, but all too often, it’s just a series of monotonous narrated PowerPoints, with multiple choice quizzes along the way and at the end.

This collection, with all its spontaneity and unusual venues, can be incorporated directly, or inspire instructors and students to create their own snippets and use them within their m-learning courses.

For those wishing a printed copy, a paper copy of Video-Assisted Mobile Learning is available on demand.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Interview with Darlene Beaubien, Energy Economist: Micro-Learning Module

Many people wonder why the price of oil fluctuates so dramatically, and what factors affect both supply and demand for petroleum. Welcome to an interview Darlene Beaubien, an economist who has specialized in energy economics. In addition to the written interview, Darlene was featured on LifeEdge.

1.  What is your name and your connection to economics and the oil industry?
My name is Darlene Beaubien.  I have worked as a corporate planner and economist for  major oil and gas companies for more than 20 years.  Also, I’m former president of the Houston Chapter of the International Association for Energy Economics.
Following are some short and simple explanations of common issues in the current environment.

2.  Why does the oil industry seem to have boom and bust cycles?
Boom and bust cycles are caused by imbalances between worldwide oil supply and demand.  
During periods of high oil prices producers make investments in the oil and gas industry that create jobs, increase the number of operating oil rigs and encourage investments in new technologies.  These oil investments lead to discoveries that produce oil for several decades. 

However, consumers respond to high oil prices by reducing their demand for oil products such as gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel. The result is lower consumption and the potential for an oil surplus. Periods of significant surplus and shortage of oil result in dramatic changes in prices and create boom and bust cycles in the oil industry.

It should be noted that movements in supply and demand are influenced by factors including international economic performance, government actions, technology, and geopolitical factors.

 Link to a conversation on oil price fluctuations and global economics with Darlene Beaubien on LifeEdge.

3.  What causes companies and countries to produce too much, even though they know that by producing too much, they'll cause the price to collapse?

Oil companies and countries may produce during periods of surplus for various reasons including:
•    The dependence of some countries on oil exports to fund their governments.
•    The decision of some energy oil countries  to maintain their share of the worldwide market or even to suppress prices to the point that higher cost producers can’t maintain operations
•    Contract commitments for services, rigs and products that prevent producers from making immediate reductions in production operations 
•    The need to continue producing in order to meet cash requirements or to maintain leases. 
•    Time lags between reduction in rigs and production due to the physical characteristics of the producing properties

 4.  How has political uncertainty and war affected the price of oil in the past?
Geopolitical events and war are a major risk factor in oil and gas markets.  Supply disruptions in major producing countries can cause dramatic price increases.  On the other hand, the restoration of production by a previously war torn countries increase supply and could suppress prices.  Following are a couple of examples.

•    The Iraq war and ongoing violent during the past decade, caused dramatic supply disruptions due the destruction of physical assets (ie. Fields, pipelines) and threats to personnel.
•    The restoration of production in Libya in 2015 added to world production and exacerbated the already existing supply surplus.
Changes in political regimes are another geopolitical factor in oil markets.  New regimes may attempt to change the terms of existing profit sharing agreements or even nationalize oil producing assets contracted to foreign oil companies.

5.  What is the "ideal" price of oil that's high enough to allow producers to cover costs and have a profit, but is low enough for the transportation industry other consumers to not suffer?
The price of oil is set on the global market based on worldwide supply and demand.  The ideal price is difficult to determine because exploration and production costs vary widely by location, production source (ie onshore vs onshore), technology, regulations and other factors.

6.  What do you think will be the final outcome of this down cycle?  Winners? Losers?
In general, the winners in today’s down cycle are the major consumers of oil and gas.  Winners include major oil and gas consuming industries including chemical, refining, transportation and electric generation.

Winning countries are net oil importers including Japan, India and non producing European countries.

Losers are those entities that are major producers of oil and gas.  Analysts estimate that 70 small U.S. producers went bankrupt in 2015.  Many more are likely to go bankrupt these years.  Losing countries include those for whom oil and gas make up large a share of government revenues such as Nigeria, Venezuela and Russia. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A 19th-Century Nod to Jane Austen: Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House

Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House (1859) is a very engaging and entertaining read. Many readers have compared Eden with Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell. Eden, who was the seventh daughter of William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, and his wife Eleanor Elliot, renders a whimsical comedy of manners and satirizes the domestic sphere.

Emily Eden
The novel starts as Lady Chester, who is expecting her first child, moves into "the prettiest villa" to be near her Aunt Sarah and Cousin Blanche while her husband, Lord Chester, is away on a special mission to Berlin. The house that has been contracted is "semi-detached," or what would be referred to as a duplex in the U.S. A bit of snobbery creates the initial tension with the neighbors, who consist of the wife of a sea captain who has become wealthy with frequent merchant voyages to India, and her two daughters. The father / husband is still away on his sea voyage. In the meantime, various characters are introduced and they interact in ways reveal the daily lives and concerns of middle class society and the gentry.
The Semi-Detached House
There are many characters in The Semi-Detached House, and the represent a kind of cosmology or tableau vivre of society. There are rogues (the Baron Sampson) and the mobile middle class. However, as opposed to the protagonists in Austen and Gaskell, in Eden's narrative realm, the reader does not plumb the depths and explore the inner landscape of the main characters with all their contradictions and longings. Instead, Eden's omniscient narrator observes all the characters and their interactions, but does not establish such extreme intimacy. Thus, there is not the episode of awakened self-awareness (accompanied by an epiphany of shame and self-recrimination that you would find in Austen (I'm thinking of Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey). Nevertheless, Emily Eden's characters are quirky but not to the point of farcical, and as a comedy of manners, the novel effectively satirizes behaviors and customs.

While Eden does discuss social situations as impacted by the economic context (bank crisis and swindlers), she does not go as deeply into the vast changes brought about by technological and socio-economic change as she does in the case of My Lady Ludlow and North and South.

For me, Emily Eden is something of light-hearted and modest antecedent of some of Anthony Trollope's work, namely The Way We Live Now (according to many, his masterpiece), in the sense that it satirizes society and the types of people bred by them.

Some of the elements of the Semi-Detached House that made the book memorable to me:

1. Details of daily life in the early 19th century
2. Description of going into labor and childbirth (Lady Chester)
3. The shamelessness of a swindler and he and his wife's extravagant lifestyle; the betrayal of trust
4. A morose brother-in-law (and the traditions of mourning, etc.)
5. The upward mobility and opportunities provided by becoming a captain of a merchant vessel
6. The potential for positive transformation by means of friendship (casting off playing a part of morose mourning, and allowing one's cynicism / defensive carapace to break down a bit)

Eden's later work, The Semi-Attached Couple, is a darker look at human nature in relationships, replete with the pain of misinterpretations and gossip.

Eden, who spent time in India, also wrote letters that chronicled her travels. The book, Up the Country is available via Project Gutenberg. Her Letters from India are available atA Celebration of Women Writers. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Finding ways to make skills training enjoyable, effective, and affordable continues to be a major challenge for organizations. SkillStore has tackled the challenge via social learning, and has deployed training that incorporates what we know about how people learn and gain confidence about themselves.

Welcome to an interview with Srikant Vasan, SkillStore. For a limited time, SkillStore is offering six free courses. The instructions are at the end of the article.

 1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is Srikant Vasan, and I've been working in e-learning for 7 years. In that time, I have served as a Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was their first Entrepreneur-in-Residence, where I had the opportunity to learn about the latest innovations in online learning. I was also the Founder and President of Mount St. Mary's Online College, a nonprofit online college (funded by leading donors including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and the Walton family) focused on helping low-income Americans get quality college degrees affordably.

Srikant Vasan, SkillStore
Now at SkillStore, we offer an effective and scalable soft skills training solution through our social-learning app. We launched the app last year, in collaboration with leading companies like Western Union and SAP. SkillStore’s approach to transforming soft skills training – where learners record their practices and get feedback from coaches and peers – is catching on. Users in over 40 countries now access SkillStore from their laptops, smartphones or tablets for leadership development, communications and management training.

2.  How did you become interested in elearning?
I became interested in elearning because of my background in both education and technology. Elearning is an effective and engaging tool to empower learners. Technology, especially mobile learning, is the future of training and development.

3.  What are some of the soft skills that most professionals need to have, regardless of their specialty?
People skills are critical. Research estimates that 85% of professional success is due to strong social skills. In particular, listening and observing others, effectively communicating, negotiating, and empowering others are essential to success in a professional environment. In a competitive business environment, managers are increasingly seeking employees who have strong people skills and can work well with others in the office as well as with clients.

4.  What causes much of the training that is offered in today's environment to be less than ideal?
Research estimates that about 80% of training is wasted, especially that focused on soft skills development. We think the root cause for this is that today’s training methods – both in-person and online – have severe shortcomings. These programs tend not to be engaging or effective. They typically focus on delivering content, but don't allow learners to practice the skills in real-life situations. Learners spend a lot of the day reading, watching videos, or listening to someone speak. They don't retain the material.

Additionally, instructor-led workshops are expensive, time-consuming, and hard to scale and standardize, and thus are not a realistic option for most organizations. Not to mention, millennials tend to hate long lectures and classroom settings. And web-based training typically offers few opportunities to practice these skills interactively and learn with other people in a social learning environment. People skills are best developed by practicing with other people.

5.  How is helping?  What makes SkillStore unique?
SkillStore helps because it addresses skills that helps professionals succeed, such as emotional intelligence, running effective meetings, negotiating a promotion, and nonverbal communication. What makes SkillStore unique are the following features of its learning model.

•    Focus on practice. Consider that one week after a lecture, learners remember only about 10% of the information. Even after re-reading the material, one week later they will only retain 39%. If they practice these skills, the retention rate goes up substantially, to as much as 80%. Ideally, at least 50% of time training on any subject should be spent on active practice. Practice is one of the most fundamental aspects of skill development, yet it is likely the most overlooked element in corporate learning programs.

•    Enable feedback
. Practice and feedback go hand-in-hand for skill development. The best type of feedback involves observations and suggestions about a practice session, delivered in a candid, constructive manner. This includes self-evaluation (because watching yourself on video is incredibly instructive) and feedback provided by peers and managers.

•    Enable social learning. Social interaction creates richer experiences and increased application opportunities. With peer interaction and feedback, learners enhance their understanding from others’ experiences, approaches, and perspectives. This aspect of social learning leads to greater engagement with and effectiveness of training programs. An important side benefit is that learning together is a powerful community builder that helps to forge deeper relationships and a vibrant company culture.

•    Offer micro-learning.  Learning is more convenient and effective when offered in small chunks, especially with today’s hectic schedules. Even better is when learning is an ongoing, on-demand initiative available to managers when and how they need it. In a survey of learning professionals, 90% reported preferring more “bite-sized,” or micro-learning.

•    Let you learn anywhere. Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, so their preferences help define learning approaches for the future. They are tech-savvy and value flexibility regarding when and where they work and learn. They expect learning to be as accessible as a map to the nearest restaurant and available in the palm of their hands. This means fewer classrooms and schedules, and learning that can be accessed anywhere – on the Web, on smartphones, or on other mobile devices.

6.  Please describe a few of your favorite courses -- give an example of some unusual and beneficial things that happened in the courses.

It might makes more sense to describe some of the curricula. Leading Change has learning modules that help managers manage change in their organizations; Working in Teams has learning modules that develop strong professional teams; and Hiring the Best has learning modules that demonstrate best practices in hiring new employees. Our feedback from clients has been fantastic. One learner used the Negotiating Salary module in the Women in Leadership curriculum and then successfully negotiated a higher salary for herself. She said that before going through that lesson she never would have thought of asking for a higher salary.

7.  What are your plans for the future?
We believe SkillStore has the potential to transform leadership and management skills training at scale. We aim to become the leader in soft skills training programs that help organizations efficiently develop their employees' skills. We are just getting started and it will be exciting to see where we go from here.


All you need to do is to go to our website, and click the sign up free button.

To go directly to the sign up form, click

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Rwanda and East Africa Petroleum Discoveries: Opportunities and a Country on the Verge....

A transformation has happened in the East African nation of Rwanda, where the gorgeous misty mountains and the mysterious waters of Lake Kivu are part of one of the most stable countries in the continent. Located on the flanks of a geological province where new discoveries of oil and gas have been made, Rwanda could have even more transformations in its future.

Will discoveries to East Africa be a blessing or will they usher in the notorious “resource curse”? Check what you know about Rwanda and what is planned. 

Brief Profile of Rwanda
Rwanda, the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” is home to endangered mountain gorillas, many of which live in the Volcanoes National Park.  Characterized by gorgeous mist-filled valleys and verdant slopes, the hills have a magical quality.

The capital city, Kigali, with one million inhabitants, is nestled in the hills. It is the governmental and financial center, with a number of office complexes and hotels.

 While Rwanda is still well known for the genocide that occurred in 1994, what is less well-known is the fact that the government has achieved an impressive level of stability. The population is 12 million, of which only 29 percent live in urban centers.   The economy consists primarily of subsistence-level farming by small-holder owners.  Because of Rwanda’s relatively high population density, there is a need to find a way to diversify the economy and create more efficient farms and to develop mineral resources. 

Petroleum Exploration in Rwanda
Interest in the hydrocarbon potential of Rwanda has intensified in the last five years after the discovery of significant reserves in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.  Sedimentary rocks in Rwanda primarily consist of sandstones, alternating with shales. There are numerous granitic intrusions, which has resulted in significant areas of metamorphic rocks. According to Schluter in the Geological Atlas of Africa, Rwanda’s sedimentary sequences indicate a former shallow marine environment, typified by  high energy. (Schluter, 2008).

There are sedimentary megasequences in the Miocene that correspond to tectonic events.  Miocene extension and volcanism resulted in possible fluvial sediments. Later, a Pleistocene eruption produced Lake Kivu.

Currently, Tertiary Rift exploration has resulted in new discoveries. The new Ngamia Discovery extends the Lake Albert Play into the Lake Turkana area. It is similar in size to the entire North Sea Graben system.  There are more than 80 prospects and leads mapped from seismic and other data.

It is important to note that Lake Kivu’s methane gas resources are currently being partially exploited by Rwanda and also the Congo Democratic Republic, which shares the lake and the resources.  Lake Kivu, contains approximately 60 billion cubic meters of methane and 300 billion cubic meters of carbon dioxide. These gases are generated from the decomposition of organic material and volcanic activity (Rosen, 2015). Extracting the gas has two benefits: first, it can generate electricity, and second, a dangerous and destructive natural eruption/explosion can be avoided.

What lies beneath Lake Kivu, and the potential for significant petroleum accumulations in the underlying sediments is a question that has been fascinating geologists for several years, and now has gained the attention of the region.

Rwanda took the spotlight at the 7th East African Petroleum Conference and Exhibition in March 2015. Bolstered by new discoveries in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, as well as significant shows in neighboring Burundi, geologists signaled reasons for optimism, and pointed to the similarities of the geological provinces.  Thanks to extensive preliminary work by several companies, including Black Swan Energy Services, the Rwandan government has supported further exploration. Here is an overview: 

Lake Kivu is on a hydrocarbon fairway (western arm of the rift valley) that starts with 1.5 billion barrel oil field under and adjacent to Lake Albert approx. 300 kilometers to the north. To the south is Lake Tanganyika with oil seeps. Lake Kivu has equally encouraging SAR slicks. In addition, excellent seismic results on Lake Edward 100 kilometers to the North will result in 3 wells being drilled there this year by Dominion Resources.

While the Kivu basins may not be as large as other basins in East Africa, this in no way minimizes the oil potential of this Basin. The Albertine Basin is estimated to have generated well in excess of 100 billion barrels of oil within its confines. Tullow and Heritage are estimating a 3% to 10% trapping ratio for this resource and have already publically stated they have found 1.5 billion recoverable barrels of oil and have not yet scratched the enormous potential of this area. (Vangold, 2009)

The most up to date and extensive work done so far in Lake Kivu is from Black Swan Energy Services. In February 2015, BSES was hired by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Rwanda to review the existing data, make a study on the HC potential of the sediments underneath of Lake Kivu.

With the dual resources of methane from Lake Kivu, and the potential for Albertine-type petroleum reservoirs, Rwanda could transform itself into an important oil producer in a near-term time frame.

Tender for Seismic Acquisition and Processing
The government of Rwanda, located in east-central Africa, has completed two projects that deal with exploring for oil and gas in the areas that are most prospective for the kinds of discoveries now being made in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. Now, a third project has been authorized, which involves seismic data acquisition and processing in Lake Kivu, Rwanda.   The objective is to acquire and process multichannel seismic data in order to map the sediments beneath Lake Kivu, where methane seeps and near-surface accumulations are already being used for energy generation. Now, the goal is to evaluate the sediments beneath Lake Kivu for their hydrocarbon potential.

The first step for interested individuals and companies is to submit an Expression of Interest by March 28 at 17:00 pm to the Ministry of Natural Resources Office in Nyarugenge Pension Plaza, KN 3rd Road, KIGALI.   The details are in Section V of the Tender Notice No. 24/15-16/MINIRENA.

Interview with Eva Peza, Black Swan Energy Services

1.  What is your name and your relationship to Rwanda?
My company is Black Swan Energy Services (BSES), an Oklahoma based company. BSES is an Advisor/Consultant for the Government of Rwanda

2.  Where is Rwanda in terms of geological settings?  What makes it positive for oil and gas exploration? Have there been any exploratory wells?  Any shows of oil and gas?
It is in The East African Rift System, which has had a lot of discoveries such as in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, etc. BSES made a study last year that indicates a lot of potential reserves. There are no wells yet. It is in the appraisal/ exploration phase.

3.  What is the government of Rwanda doing to stimulate interest in oil and gas exploration?
Has organized studies and is investing itself for exploration program. It is also inviting companies to participate in this tender and also has put oil and gas regulations in place.

4.  What is the purpose of the tender?
Seismic data acquisition and processing

5.  What are some of the main elements included in the tender?
The main elements are the technical requirements for offshore seismic acquisition and processing. The tender will come after. In this first stage the companies need to express the interest to take part in the tender.

6.  When will the tender take place?
In about two months from now.

If they don't express interest by March 28, by providing the requested documentation, they are not qualified for the tender.

The Road Ahead
With a revitalized governmental structure, political stability, and a willingness to invest in reconnaissance work, Rwanda has positioned itself to fully assess the oil and gas potential of the nation. The timing is excellent, with a temporary downturn freeing up resources, both in terms of expertise and equipment.  In the future, the individuals who established expertise and also who facilitated knowledge transfer to help develop the human capital within the nation, will be in an excellent position to lead projects and forge new ideas.


CIA World Factbook Entry

Rosen, J.W. (2015) Lake Kivu’s Great Gas Gamble. MIT Technology Review. April 16, 2015.

Schluter, T. (2008). Geographical Atlas of Africa, With Notes on Stratigraphy, Tectonics, Economic Geoogy, Geohazards, Geosites, and Geoscientific Education Of Each Country.  Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Vangold. (2009) Vangold Granted 90 Day Extension for Lake Kivu. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Interview with Eric Hung, -- Innovators in E-Learning Series

Having access to the best instructors and the best course content can provide learners with the support they need to excel in high school AP courses, college and in their professions. For, the goal of providing outstanding instruction and content in science and math has been a goal that they are achieving via innovative e-learning platforms and a way that brings out the best in outstanding instructors and content.

Welcome to an interview with Eric Hung, co-founder of

1. What is your name, affiliation, and relation to elearning?
Hi, my name is Eric Hung and I'm the co-founder of  I've been with the company since its launch in 2009.  My co-founder and I created the company after college to address a problem of having less than stellar instructors in our high school and college career.  We imagined a site where you could access all the best instructors' lesson.

Eric Hung,
2.  What is  How does it help people? is an online math & science instructional video service (think Netflix for online tutoring).  We help students reach their potential with effective and time-saving videos taught by passionate teachers.  We differentiate ourselves from other services by going really in-depth with an average course length of 30 hours.  Our platform also uses two videos, one traditional video that shows the handwriting of the instructor, and another video of the actual instructor to give our lessons a one-on-one tutoring feel.

3.  What is's target audience?  What are some of the services and offerings?
Our target audience is the high school or college student who needs help in their math & science courses.  We specialize in AP exam help for high school and pre-medicine courses for college students.  Some examples of our top courses include Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, and AP Calculus AB.  We fill the gap for families who value education but either can't afford private tutors or have inconvenient schedules, as well as give students a 24-hour option for help in addition to in-person tutoring.

4.  What do you think are some of the most intense challenges facing young learners today?
I think one of the most intense challenges is wondering if what they are learning in the classroom will actually help them in the future, aside from passing the class and scoring well on standardized tests.  I always get asked if my college degree in Biomedical Engineering (Duke) and Master's Degree in Medical Devices (USC) helped me out in creating Educator.  I respond with a resounding yes, that the background aided me in fact checking lessons in the beginning.  But how it really helped was how it instilled my work ethic and interpersonal skills along the way.  I doubt I could get great instructors to take me seriously if I weren't educated myself.

5.  Young learners may prepare for high-stakes standardized tests by following a specific instructional strategy. What is it?
I believe the strategy to prepare for high-stake tests is to first understand the underlying concepts.  However, then the edge goes to students who can afford to take prep courses where they can focus on strategy and tons of practice.  I definitely believe there's a place for standardized testing, but that it should just be one piece of evaluating a student.

6.  Learners may be good at taking high-stakes standardized tests, but lack the confidence to be creative. How can you help build that confidence?
I believe it starts both at home and in the classroom, with parents and teachers nurturing students' natural curiosity.  Standardized tests might be a necessary evil but they shouldn't take all the classroom time which could be spent with more creative projects.  I also hope that parents aren't too obsessed with afterschool test prep to let their children pursue other non-academic activities.

7. What are some of the theoretical underpinnings incorporated in the offerings?
Our primary belief is that great teachers can change everything.  If you ask anyone to think of their best teachers, they usually don't have trouble coming up with one, but seldom do you find someone coming with several. aims to change that by finding the best teachers for every subject.

Our secondary belief is that there needs to be a personal connection with the instructor.  I know that with static videos, it's a little tough, but we think that with our two video model, just seeing the instructor in addition to their handwriting and slides, can make the lesson much more effective.

8.  Can you tell us something about the software, interfaces, and architecture? How is it better than the competition?
Our primary difference is in our two video interface which combines both handwriting and slides along with a video of the instructor.  We believe this leads to a better learning environment. 

We also dive into subjects more in-depth than our competitors and break down each lesson down to each individual topic and make it searchable.  This way our students can search and find exactly what they are looking for.  In creating the syllabus of a course with an instructor, we actively tell them to create their dream course where everything they feel students need to learn is included.

9.  What are the theoretical underpinnings that assure you that example and sample questions are effective and demonstrate learning?
This is one area we can see some room for improvement.  As of now, our lessons include several extra worked out examples at the end of each lesson, along with a "quiz bank" underneath each video.  However, we are working on getting the questions to be adaptive so students can find out what skill they are missing and quickly watch the segment in the video again.

10.  What are some of your strategies to assure engagement and persistence?
There are only a few students that will actively sit down for 30+ minutes to watch a video and we understand this.  That's why we handpick our instructors to be as engaging and effective as possible. 

We ask them to weave in real-world examples and be as passionate as possible. 

We find persistence is tied to really helping students out in their homework, classes, and exams.  However, we also find that our subscriptions are cyclical with the school year and that more students sign up a month or two before the AP's and/or finals, and pause their accounts during summer.

Some of the things that make special:

1. Dropdown Menu Screenshot (100+ courses, screenshot shows our science courses, top courses right now are organic chemistry and biochemistry + a variety of AP's)

2. Instructor Introductions (meet our awesome instructors and also check out the free sample lessons and syllabus below)

3. Sample Video in Biochemistry (full free lesson where you can see our unique learning interface which has two videos, one of the tablet slides and one of the instructor, to give it a one on one tutoring feel)

4. Tons of Example Problems (almost all lessons have several worked out example problems that go over types of questions students will likely see in class)

5. Sample Questions (most math lessons will have sample questions beneath each lesson, and almost all subject lessons have study guides and downloadable lecture slides)

6. In-depth syllabus
(every lesson is broken down by sub-topic and time so you don't waste time and can search for the exact part of the video to watch)

Additional links:

Monday, February 08, 2016

Interview with Syreena Mortimer, Instructional Designer: Innovators in E-Learning Series

How can you bulletproof yourself in a quickly evolving world?  One of the best ways is to continually evolve by reinventing yourself.  But how? That is where the instructional designer does his or her magic.

The world of the instructional designer is challenging, constantly evolving, a wonderful place to express your creativity in a way that builds human capital through effective training, education, and knowledge transfer. 

Welcome to an interview with Syreena Mortimer, an instructional designer who has recently earned her Instructional Design Certification from Rollins College. 

1.  What is your name and your relationship to e-learning?
My name is Syreena Mortimer and I am an instructional designer.

Syreena Mortimer
2.  How did you become interested in instructional design?
I became friends with an instructional designer several years ago. She told me all about her job and introduced me to other instructional design contacts. They each shared unique perspectives about their job roles in academic, federal, and commercial projects. I was really inspired by the all of the different ways they shared information with their learners. Because I was looking for a way to expand my career, I realized that instructional design is a rapidly expanding field with many opportunities. My background is in library science and I wanted to explore ways to organize content and teach others, so I decided to pursue the Instructional Design Certificate at Rollins College.

3.  What are some of the uses of instructional design that excite you?
I love to teach others, so I get really excited when I get to chunk and structure content to make it more accessible to learners.

4.  When you worked on your certificate at Rollins College, what were some of the aspects that were most interesting to you?  What were the courses that you took?

I took six courses for my Instructional Design Certificate at Rollins College: Introduction to Instructional Design, Learner Motivation and Engagement, Learning in the Connected Age, Learning Technologies, Introduction to eLearning, and a Capstone class.

I was particularly interested in the Learner Motivation and Engagement course because I was exposed to the key concepts of learning psychology. I studied some thought-provoking theories and applied them in my daily life for designing learning, working in a team, and setting personal goals. The capstone course was the most useful to me because we created and enhanced our professional portfolios- something crucial for an instructional design career!

5.  How did you use your instructional design knowledge gained from the program?
The knowledge that I gained from the program directly supported my job interview performance as well as my daily work.  I was familiar with instructional design terms and processes, able discuss learning theories, and was ready to share my portfolio. In my daily work, I use these skills to contribute to my team instructional design team in order to create, develop, and implement web-based training.

6.  What sorts of opportunities have you been able to explore as an instructional designer?
I’ve had fun working on different types of projects over the past couple of years. I had an informal internship with an instructional design mentor at a publishing company, and I helped her create quick reference guides. We also interviewed stakeholders in order to update training guides. When I worked for a consulting company, I got to participate in planning meetings about the instructional design process for a commercial client, and then I was staffed on a military client. I traveled onsite to meet with client representatives and worked with a small team to create web-based training. I will be transitioning into the hospitality industry to be a learning designer, where I will create and conduct in-person and online trainings.


7.  What is the most enjoyable experience that you've had so far in designing instruction?
There have been many enjoyable experiences! One that stands out is when I learned how to use an eLearning authoring tool by watching videos online, and then I taught my team members how to use the tool- all within two weeks. When I taught them, first I shared an example of the end product, then demonstrated the development steps, and then I had the learners practice alone (with feedback for any questions). The training was a success and my team members were able to create mini-presentations using the tool within 1 hour.

8.  Please list the cloud-based apps you find most useful and fun.

Marvel App: great for collaborative prototyping

Thing Link: fun and easy way to make pictures interactive

Creatley: design diagrams and charts

Prezi: create engaging presentations

Canva: make infographics, posters, advertisements, and other graphic designs

Monday, February 01, 2016

Interview with Brian Kalt, Fairmont Brine Processing. Innovators and Entrepreneurs Series.

Protecting the environment is critical in oil and gas operations, and the fact that many oil wells produce significant amounts of saltwater that must then be disposed of safely can be both expensive and can lead to unintended consequences. As a result, there has been a great deal of work done to develop processes that can dispose of produced water in an economic way.  Fairmont Brine Processing has developed and implemented an evaporation and crystallization process that has been used in the Marcellus in the Appalachian Basin with great success.

Welcome to an interview with Brian Kalt, Fairmont Brine Processing.

1.    What is your name and your new process?
Although evaporation has been going on since the dawn of time and crystallization since the 1800s, utilizing both processes to manage the wastewater produced in the natural resource extraction process is a novel concept and has allowed Fairmont Brine Processing to pioneer its patented evaporation and crystallization process for not only the natural gas and oil industry, but the environment and the community as well.

2.    What exactly does your process do?
 As an alternative to the sequestering of trillions of gallons of water beneath the earth’s surface via deep well injection, Fairmont Brine Processing is able to receive flowback and produced fluid from the drilling and hydraulic-fracturing process and recycle it into three reusable products.  Throughout the entire Appalachian Basin, our distilled water is reused in the drilling and fracturing process and drastically reduces costs at the wellhead by eliminating biocide, scale inhibitor and friction reducers.  The dry sodium chloride rock salt is used to keep highways open and safe during the winter.  Additionally, this sodium chloride is used in the chemical manufacturing process.  Throughout Appalachia, we also produce a liquid calcium chloride that is reused in the natural resource extraction process.  Fairmont Brine Processing is the lowest cost producer and supplier of this product in the entire country and because of this, TETRA Technologies, Inc. was smart enough to sign a 15 year sales and marketing agreement with us, which gives them the sole rights to market and distribute this product.


3.    What does the process accomplish? What are the main advantages?
 On average, a well can produce hydrocarbons for 30+ years.  In addition to natural gas and or oil, water is also produced throughout the life of a well.  Water that was used during completions (flowback) and salt water (produced fluid) that’s trapped in the earth’s formation will return to the earth’s surface and must be disposed of in one of two ways.  Historically, this wastewater is trucked hundreds of miles in and out of state only to be sequestered back beneath the earth’s surface via deep well injection.  Secondly, black-box water treatment technologies have popped up to “recycle” this water for reuse in future operations.  However, this is essentially a Ponzi scheme in a sense that if an exploration and production company is not completing any wells, this recycled water is useless and must then be pumped back beneath the earth’s surface, which has led to increased seismic activity in Oklahoma, Texas and now Ohio.

4.    Where are you currently using your process?
 The current operating facility in Fairmont, WV receives fluid from all around the Appalachian Basin.

5.    How much does it cost?  Is it an economic solution?
 This is an environmentally responsible and cost-effective alternative to deep well injection.  The cost varies by Basin and is dependent on an exploration and production company’s volumes and length of commitment to utilize the facility.

6.    Where can your process solve problems?
 First and foremost, Fairmont Brine Processing’s evaporation and crystallization process can immediately address what’s going on in Oklahoma.  I used to say that behind closed doors industry veterans would tell you that it’s not the drilling and fracturing process that’s causing the technically enhanced seismic activity, but rather through the uptick in the media’s coverage, O&G industry veterans and geophysicists are and have successfully correlated the earthquakes as a result of deep well injection.  In addition to replacing deep well injection, this process would be a waterfall all throughout Texas.  In places like the Eagleford and Permian where it’s a struggle to keep the frac going on a daily basis because fresh water is so limited, Fairmont Brine Processing’s evaporation and crystallization process would produce enough distilled water to offset the dwindling water supply and drastically reduce chemical consumption at the wellhead.

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