Friday, September 28, 2007

Slowly cutting off the flow of knowledge

As regular readers of this blog will know, I work for a large corporate organisation in the UK. In the pursuit of excellence in my profession, I have made extensive use of social media and have learnt an enormous amount in the process.

A few days ago, I was trying to jog my memory on a specific point. I knew that the "blogfriends" feed on my Facebook page had displayed a link to a post that could help me. It was then that I discovered that Facebook had been blocked within the organisation.

Today, I'm looking for inspiration in dealing with a different challenge and somewhere at the back of my mind I recall that the topic was covered in one of the discussion boards on the Internet Time Ning community. Wouldn't you just know it? Ning is now blocked, too!

The frustration is enormous. I have all this information stored out there in my "outboard brain" and I can't get at it! I feel as if the lights are slowly going out all around me.

Anne McCaffrey wrote a book called "The Ship who Sang" (it's one of my favourite of her books, and it seems I am in good company - if Wikipedia is accurate, it's one of her own favourites, too). Anyone who has read it will remember the scene where Helva gets unplugged from her ship by fanatics who regard her as an aberration (apologies if you haven't read it). I'm started to gain additional insight into how she might have felt!

As it happens, today I came across this post from Luis Suarez. Sadly, it doesn't help for me to be reading it - I'm already convinced - and the people who make these decisions in the first place aren't likely to read it at all.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Shut up and let me teach!

I have just been up to my sons' school, where I bumped into my elder son's science teacher and she stopped me for a chat. Her head of subject had recently told me that she had complained that my son was constantly "winding her up" during lessons, so I asked about this. I have a particular concern in this area, since this woman has taught both my boys before and they have both hated the experience. In the light of the fact that my older son wants to study physics at university in due course, it is important not to have the subject "killed" for him through problems with the teacher.

It seems that he constantly bombards her with questions - that he wants to know this, that and the other thing. She cheerfully told me that during today's lesson, she had finally lost it and yelled at him, "Will you shut up and let me bloody teach?!"

With my younger son present, I didn't rise to the bait, but I am still reeling.

How can it be a bad thing to have a student who is brimming with enthusiasm and curiosity? How is it not teaching to answer the questions that child asks?

Believe me, I do appreciate that there are restrictions on a classroom teacher within a curricular driven system. Nevertheless, I wonder how anyone can still have so closed an approach in this day and age.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What do you know about Spock?

I got an email at to private address today from Spock, saying that people had been searching for me, as well as for my husband and one of my sons, both of whom it mentioned by name. My email account service had flagged the message as spam, but I felt I wanted to find out what I was dealing with.

I clicked the link, and was taken to an account page, where I was advised that I was already logged in - although I have no recollection of setting up an account for myself and would certainly not be able to say what my password is!

There was a list of tags associated with my name, most of which were accurate - including (bizarrely) the fact that I have a dimple! Apparently, you have the option to click on the dropdown arrow next to the tag to vote on its relevance. It doesn't work in Firefox. It does in IE (but in IE my login details weren't uploaded automatically, and I don't know what they are...)

I remember an application in Facebook, where you could create a cartoon of someone. It didn't generate very interesting cartoons, so I deleted it, but the sort of questions it asked in the process would have resulted in exactly this list of tags.

So who/what is Spock, why are they aggregating this information and should I be worried/taking some action? I don't usually go in for conspiracy theories, but something about this isn't sitting quite right with me. Possibly the fact that, in order to explore further, I had to confirm information about myself that appears to have been gleaned from a third party source.

Have you ever answered your home phone, to be greeted by a stranger's voice wanting to know "What place is that, please?" or "Who is speaking, please?" My response is always a bit: who wants to know?

So now I'm asking: who wants to know? Can anyone enlighten me?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mark Berthelemy: learning organisations today

Mark has created a graphic representation of his take on how a learning organisation should look, drawing on the thoughts and theories of Etienne Wenger and George Siemens. He's asking for reactions...

Cyberbullying guidance

The UK govt has released guidance materials on the subject of cyberbullying. Having involved people like Josie Fraser on the project, they have obviously decided to do this thing properly. Having recently been on the receiving end of some mild cyberbullying myself, I can only imagine how it makes less confident, more vulnerable people feel when the campaign is more sustained and severe. I just hope that there has been a high profile publicity campaign to back it up, so that the resource doesn't disappear into obscurity!

Web 2.0 workshop

Vicki Davis is the sort of person I would love to have teaching my children. Her attitude towards her vocation (no other word will do) is delightfully refreshing. For Vicki, teaching is not a process of working through a state set curriculum using tried and tested methods. Rather, it is the means by which to prepare her charges for the future. She has more energy and drive than a dynamo and has extended her classroom well beyond the campus.

On behalf of Atomic Learning, she has recorded an online workshop on Web 2.0 aimed specifically at teachers. While it is evident listening to the workshop that Vicki is not a professional voice over artist, she presents an easily digestible workshop in a series of bite-sized chunks. I would like to see something like this being made mandatory viewing for practising teachers. It should certainly form an integral part of ITT programmes.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The twitterverse posse

The twitterverse is, well, atwitter. One of Chris Lehmann's students went AWOL. He mentioned it on Twitter and suddenly everyone was in on the act. I don't follow Chris, but I could see what was going on through the comments of the people I do follow. Using the link in their messages, I could access an aggregation of Chris's outgoing tweets and follow the progress of the prodigal.

I've seen all sorts of uses for Twitter - some trivial, some more significant - but last night I saw the twitter community behave like a village. Just as in The Truman Show, when everyone was out hunting for the missing Truman, communicating via their in-ear devices, co-ordinated from the control centre hidden in the fake moon. It was quite endearing, and an indication of the personalisation of our online connections.

Yes, yes. I've read the stuff about how online relationships aren't really friendships. I've even contributed to the discussion. I'm not naieve enough to think that all these people are lifelong friends. But they do care. And in an impersonal world, where many don't even know their next door neighbours, it counts for a lot!

Still loving Animoto

Yeah, I know I've had my little say about how wonderful Animoto is, and I know I've bored you before with a collage of my sons, but this time, there's a learning link.

My elder son missed a cookery prac in food tech last week and agreed with his teacher that he would complete it independently at home. His review has to include a photo. So I took a few as he worked for him to choose from, and tonight I had a brainwave... check it out!

I'm going to show it to him tomorrow and hope it will inspire him to do more than just submit what will tick the boxes.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The personal learning journey

Today I received one of my assignments back from university. The module is called Reflective Professional Development and one part of the assignment involved a journal of our experience of the first year of the programme. At the start of the year, we wrote a 1000 word opening summary. This was supplemented by two 200 word reviews and topped off by a further 200 word closing summary.

It has been interesting to read the material through again and track my thoughts as the year has progressed. It has been particularly interesting to read my lecturer's comments, which included the following observations:

"Although sometimes frustrating, the world of the classroom is fascinating and needs the 'outside' view of someone like yourself"
I am the only person in the group not employed in the formal education sector, and I had expressed my frustration at one point at what seemed to me to be the very narrow world view of my classmates - in particular, a teacher of business studies who had never worked in the business world and certainly had no insight into the realities of the corporate environment. Most of the time I felt that the rest of the group looked on me as an inconvenience - someone who seemed to delight in rocking their wonderfully stable boats. Certainly, my tendency to grab hold of the reins of my own learning, rather than following the recommended materials seemed to be considered slightly subversive. I can only hope that, if nothing else, I planted a few seeds of informal, learner-driven learning that might bear fruit in the future.
"Your MA seems such a personal rather than professional journey... because the course has limited use to your work"
I found this an interesting observation. As I have mentioned more than once, I have abandoned all pretence of boundaries between my professional and personal life - to me it's all just one thing: my life. And at the end of the day (as someone I feel I should credit, but can't identify, once said) everything is personal if you're a person.

Which brings me to my closing thought. It's a theme I've flogged to death in pretty good company often before:

My personal learning environment? I'm living it! It's called life.

Yeah I'm a geek. So sue me ;-)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dependency on technology

Have you ever noticed how, when an organisation's network goes down, people say things to one another like, "Isn't it tragic how dependent we are on computers these days? When the system goes down, everything grinds to a halt." They say this with a sad shake of the head, as if we should have seen this coming and done something to prevent it. Perhaps this is just an indication that the technology has not yet become invisible.

Last night, we had several power cuts in our area. The first started at around 10:30pm and lasted for about an hour, I don't know the exact times or durations of the others, but, judging by the display flashing helpfully on my clock when I woke, I would say that the last one ended at around 2am. Of course all the appliances were disabled, including things like the fridge, the freezer, the kettle, the TV and the power shower. My shower last night was taken under the most unsatisfactory trickle of water. Every alarm clock in the house started flashing 00:00 and failed to go off this morning, resulting in pandemonium when we all woke up late. Our lives were totally disrupted.

If we were to have a power cut at work, we would have to go home - there is no way we could continue our jobs without electricity. How many places of work have a store of candles and torches so that people can continue work in the event of a power cut? I acknowledge that places like hospitals and large food suppliers have back-up generators to keep vital equipment running, but anything beyond that would grind to a halt. Yet we don't hear people tutting over our dependence on it.

I wonder if they did, 100 years ago.

I wonder if there was a time when people said, isn't it tragic how dependent we've become on books, running water, flush toilets, coal, iron, bronze, fire...?

Once a technology becomes so integral to society that it is rendered invisible, it seems to me we stop whingeing about our dependence upon it. Perhaps the day will come when stop seeing our dependence on computer technology as being a sad reflection on the state of society.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ethnicity, Race, Politics, Nationalism - are they inextricably intertwined?

Mark Oehlert's recent post about ethnography started a ball bouncing in my head. It must have been a rugby ball, though, because it bounced in unpredictable directions! It kept bumping up against experiences and observations past and present and was threatening to shake a few things loose. Then I found myself on the receiving end of a torrent of vitriole on a facebook discussion board and the bouncing got out of control. The time has come for me to set down my thoughts before the ball gives me an aneurism!

During my childhood, in the apartheid years in South Africa, there were signs everywhere that said "Europeans only". Ludicrously - although I had never been to Europe at that stage, and was the product of several generations of people born in South Africa - this meant me. The Afrikaans version of the sign more accurately declared "Blankes alleenlik" (whites only). It has to be said that, later, the English signs were changed so that they, too, said "Whites only". Later still, they were removed altogether, but that's not where I'm going with this. This distinction was based on the colour of my skin.

When I fly back from a holiday to the UK, where I now live, I have to enter the airport through a gate set aside for non-Europeans, while my husband and sons enter with other Europeans. This distinction is based on my passport, which is assumed to indicate my nationality.

According to the haters I've met on Facebook, you have to be black to be African. Once again, a skin colour distinction. Not only that, but it seems a black woman from Omaha is African, while a white woman from Cape Town is not.

If you use the term "African", most people assume you are talking about a black person. South Africans are no different. Most white South Africans don't class themselves as African. So here we seem to encounter a racial connotation for the word. But surely Africa is a continent, not a race? How can you be South African without being African? Are Canadians not also North Americans?

In the UK, if you say "Indian", you are referring to a person from India. A British person descended from Indians is "Asian". Russians, Chinese and Japanese people are not "Asian", it seems. In South Africa, "Indian" is a racial classification and refers to people descended from Indian nationals brought to South Africa to work on the cane farms, while in the USA, "Indians" are more likely to be native to America than India. Go figure.

Filling in forms where you have to declare your ethnicity is another interesting situation. There is no parity in the descriptors. Some of them refer to countries, some of them to skin colour, some to continents. Some are combinations (such as Black African or White European).

As I was taking a walk a little while ago, I had a one-person brainstorm of the kaleidoscope of terms one encounters in this hornets' nest. I tried at first to group them in terms of whether they were anthropological, ethnographic, racial or national in nature, but completely bogged down. Have a look at the following random list and see for yourself (apologies if you find any of the terms pejorative, or if I have misused capitalisation):

Chinese, Asian, mongoloid, slavic, negroid, black, caucasian, white, African, Malawian, arabic, American, Native-American, aboriginal, coloured, oriental, occidental, Scandinavian, European, American, North American, Canadian, indigenous... the list goes on.

A riposte from the woman in Omaha I referred to earlier advised me to accept that I was a "European African". So should white Canadians call themselves European Americans, then? Should only First Nations/Native Americans have the right to call themselves American? While the term African American is commonly used, I have never heard any black people in Europe refer to themselves as African European.

Where does race end and ethnicity begin? What is the role of nationalism is determining labels? Which set of descriptors is appropriate to teach children, and which are simply tools for racism?

When our children were little, my husband and I determined (somewhat idealistically) that we wanted them to be race-blind. So we simply omitted references to race from our conversation. When our older son referred to a "black man" at the age of 2, there was no point in looking around for someone with a dark skin, because he would have been referring to the colour of the man's clothing. He came home from nursery school with a puzzled frown one day because someone had referred to one of the staff as "black" when he could see perfectly well that "her fingers are brown, Mom, I looked!" For a boy who had just mastered his colours, it was confusing.

But worse was to come when our younger son was spitefully informed by a classmate at the age of 4 that he would not be allowed to marry the love of his life, the beautiful Emily. Since he and Emily had made the decision to get married some two years previously, this news was rather unwelcome, as you can imagine. The bearer of these ill-tidings told him that the reason for this was that "Emily is brown and you are white". My son was well acquainted with his colours by then and could not deny that Emily was indeed brown - this was integral to her beauty - and he was indeed white. He was devastated that I had not told him of the moritorium that existed against their ultimate union. Since this was post-apartheid South Africa, I was able to reassure him on that score, but this still left me with a dilemma: while Emily had a very dark olive skin, she was in fact a white child. I made the mistake of mentioning this entirely irrelevant fact to my son and the worms escaped the can. Having never before raised the issue of race, it was very difficult to try to distinguish between race and skin colour, especially when they overlapped in this particularly instance. All he knew was that everyone had a unique colour that fell somwhere within the beige/brown spectrum and it had never before occurred to him to attach any significance to it. In the ensuing few weeks, he kept demanding to know the race of people who weren't immediately identifiable as being at one or other end of the spectrum. No matter how often we told him we weren't sure and/or it didn't matter, he needed to get it straight in his mind. And of course it refused to come straight!

To this day, I'm not sure what we should teach our children. Scientifically, there are differences between people groups, which would be ludicrous to omit or ignore when identifying remains or seeking a suspect in a criminal invesigation. Our different heritages contribute to the tapestry of life - my children have been raised in a mixed-cultural household all their lives and know no different. But heritage and ethnicity are two completely different things... aren't they?

Culture. Heritage. Ethnicity. Race. Nationality. How do we teach our children to acknowledge and value these things without using them as a tool to pigeonhole people or, worse, grounds for prejudice?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

11 September

Today is the day Americans call 9/11. Because we write our dates differently in the UK, for us the date today is 11/9 - yet we have still adopted 9/11 to refer to the significance of this date in history.

Six years ago today, I was invigilating an exam session at the college where I was working. Some of the students were taking an exam in the use of the Internet and every single on of them suddenly lost access to the www. I was puzzled by the co-incidence, but, after trying unsuccessfully to rectify the problem, I decided our ISP's server must be down and sent them off to reschedule their exam.

Out of the corner of my eye, I registered that there seemed to be a general hubbub outside of the exam area, and assumed that one of our students had brought in pictures of a grandchild or shared news of a bereavement.

When I emerged at the end of my 2 hour session, the centre administrator told me that two planes had flown into the twin towers in New York. "Yeah right," I sneered, "it's a hoax." Undoubtedly, some tragedy could have resulted in a plane flying into one of the towers but both? It was beyond the realms of possibility.

As I got into my car to drive home, the news report confirmed the story. I was shocked but still doubtful. Someone, somewhere had gotten their wires crossed.

I arrived home and turned on the telly. Every single channel was showing footage of the scene of devastation, interspersed with such footage as existed of the actual incidents. Unbelievable. Like something out of a Bruce Willis movie. The shock, the horror, the fear, the worry. In real time, it unfolded before my very eyes and created an empty space where my innards were supposed to be.

Shortly afterwards, waiting for my children outside the school, I learnt that a friend had not heard from her sister-in-law who worked in one of the buildings. Two days later I discovered one of my other acquaintances had had a relative in one of the towers. Both were found to be unharmed, but the world suddenly felt claustrophobically small. Here I was, a South African nobody living in a small English village no-one ever heard of and I personally knew two families that were directly impacted by the incident.

Knowing full well that Portland, Oregon is the full width of the USA and several time zones away, I still felt compelled to phone my sister-in-law straight after the incident to make sure that she and everyone she knew were accounted for. They were.

Even more illogically, I then had to phone my mother in South Africa, mark you, to make sure that she was safe.

I guess I was stocktaking. Today, I'm doing it again. Remembering where I was when I heard the news and how that far away event touched even my insignificant life.

If you're doing the same, this is my virtual eye contact with you. If you're grieving all over again, please accept my ineffectual condolences.

Monday, September 10, 2007

September's Big Question: ay chihuahua!

The LCB big question for September is "Where to work?" I can see a lot of people treading very carefully here so as not to pick up their P45/pink slip ;-)

The points we are urged to consider are:

  • What should be considered such as innovative work, interesting projects, real impact, pay, life style, etc.?
  • What types of companies make sense in different situations?
  • What resources exist to help make sense of this?
  • How does this differ for different roles such as Manager, Instructional Designer, Trainer and Authors?
  • Does this apply in the US, UK, India, etc. equally?
  • If you aren't at a "best place to work", how might you make a transition?
Whenever I find myself thinking that I have reached the end of my tether with my current job, I ask myself what I would change. The harsh reality of course, is that where the grass is greener, the water bill is also higher!

Sometimes I am frustrated by the lack of opportunity to try my hand at something really innovative. But it isn't my employer that prevents me from doing that, in the final analysis - it's the market place. Even when we have won a bid because our solution has seemed the most innovative and forward thinking, the client often backs off from many of the innovative features as the scoping proceeds. It seems that the appetite for risk hasn't quite reached what Kathy Sierra called the koolaid point.

Sometimes I am frustrated by my lack of face to face interaction with learners. I really do miss them. I am a born teacher and completely in my element in the classroom. Then I will be approached by a company that offers me a face to face role and I realise I will have to give up a lot of my access to social media, that I will gradually eased out of blended solutions into pure f2f. I couldn't do that. I have tasted the online fruit and lo, it is good! It seems there are few opporunities to get a balance of both.

There are times when I think I missed the boat by not moving into a management role years ago when the opportunity first arose. Then I watch my own manager grappling with all the management-y things that take him away from learning-y things and I heave a huge sigh of relief that I still get to grapple with learning-y things every day.

I often think that my cultural "type" would succeed better in the US, then I hear yet another anecdote that indicates that the American working environment is heavily weighted in favour of the employer. That holidays are shorter, working days longer and the work-life balance way worse. That said - I still have a hankering to try Australia :-)

I would have to say - regardless of whether I work for a large, blue chip corporate (which I do at present) or for myself (which I did for 11 years), my ideal job must meet the following criteria:
  • It has to be enjoyable... even fun. There is nothing more sould destroying than grinding away at something that grinds away at you.
  • There needs to be a pleasant atmosphere in the office. It is very difficult to remain motivated in a tense atmosphere.
  • The work should be interesting, stretching and challenging. I can't imagine ever being satisifed with approaching each project in exactly the same way each time.
  • The salary must pay the bills. Well duh!
  • I need to know that there is scope for advancement. I would like to be able to plan for the future - I can't imagine doing the same job in 5 years' time.
  • I can't be expected to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear more than once in a blue moon. Once in a while, it's kind of fun to face a challenge of this magnitude (I've had my fair share), but they can wear you out if they come along too often. If you don't have the tools, you can't do the job properly.
  • There can be no argument on the point that my family comes first. In my last job, I had a scare when my younger son took seriously ill while I was at work. My manager was away from her desk so I asked my colleagues to explain what had happened and dashed home to attend to him. In less than an hour I was back, having left him in the care of my mother-in-law, only to get a rollicking from my manager for leaving the office without her permission. I assured that, under the same conditions, I would do exactly the same thing again! Ironically (and perhaps it's spiteful of me to relate this), when she later became a parent, this rule was mysteriously forgotten!
  • I long to be able to go home at the end of the day, secure in the knowledge that someone is in a new place tonight, because of something I did or - better still - helped them do. That I made a difference. That I enabled or empowered someone - gave them a leg up to place that they couldn't reach without help.
I think that will have to be it for now - the fried brain I mentioned has just gone into spasm!

Friday, September 07, 2007

This Facebook thing part 4

I think I'll make this the last in the series.

In the light of the fact that some companies have recently blocked access to Facebook on the grounds that some of their staff are spending all their time facebooking and neglecting their responsibilities. Apparently it is increasingly being recognised as an addiction.

Our IT manager hinted that our company might follow suit. I can understand his position, but I’m just at the early stages of exploring the potential of Facebook as a professional development tool, and have seen some early signs of potential.

For example, one of my Facebook friends’ employers recently went into administration. I discovered someone was recruiting and was able to send her a message via Facebook and connect the two of them.

Later this month, I am attending my first Facebook event, namely Teachmeet2007. I have no idea what to expect, and am trying very hard not to form any preconceptions.

I have joined several groups related to my professional sphere and have been able to follow discussions around issues that face us all. Not, I hasten to add, that we have yet been able to overcome the challenges or solve the mysteries, but it’s really encouraging to know that, in spite of the fact that most of my colleagues think I’m somewhere between pretentious and daft, there is a whole host of learning professionals out there with the same drivers, the same passions and the same longings.

What’s even more encouraging is the spread of those like-minded learning professionals across the range of:

  • corporate and academic institutions
  • formal and informal provision
  • face-to-face and online delivery media
  • early years, through school and higher ed to adult audiences
Now more than ever, we are in a position to bring down those wretched walls between these various facets of this vast field. At the end of the day – we’re all a bunch of learning geeks, passionate about learning and eager to find a way to provide learning that will empower the learner and transform the conscripts and PoWs to volunteers. It may be just a pipe dream, but FB is a place where we can experience an ongoing, asynchronous barcamp, stubbornly humming the theme tune from Man from La Mancha.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the unbeatable foe just hove into view...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

This Facebook thing part 3

Since joining the blogosphere two years ago, I have come into contact with a wide range of learning professionals. I have learnt a great deal from them and have even been in the happy position of discovering that some have learned things from me. The occasional personal observation included in posts and comments provided glimpses into the people behind the blogs.

However, since opening a FB account, the nature of my conversations with these people has taken on a whole new facet. We have gone past the people-behind-the-blogs stage to become just people.

  • When Stephen came off his bike, we flooded his wall with good wishes and unsought advice, and he graciously complied with my request for a photo of his black eye.
  • When my FB status had been blah for several days in a row, Harold sent me a message of encouragement and I felt comfortable telling him what had happened to send me into the slough of despond.
  • Lynn and I are meeting for coffee next week. It will be our first "real life" meeting - although not for want of effort. Since her previous employer went into administration, I’ve kept her apprised of opportunities I’ve encountered.
  • I have made friends with Jacinta’s son Zane and am looking for ways to support him with the assignments his Mom sets him as she homeschools him. Since he is of an age with my own sons, I have directed them towards each other for MMPORG opportunities (it remains to be seen if they bite).
  • I have played Scrabble with Dean and Cammy (your move, Cammy!).
While I continue to learn from these people on a professional level, they have become three dimensional. The black-and-white of their stated position in some areas has gained a measure of grey as their humanity has emerged.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This Facebook thing part 2

In this post, I would like to explore the group dynamics I have observed as a member of several FB groups. These groups are formed by anyone and everyone within the FB community. Membership can be open, restricted to invitees, or managed by the originators of the group.

Professional SIGs
The discussions on the groups related to professional development and interests have remained largely just that: professional in focus. Nevertheless, the contributions represent the views of the individuals who put them forward and there is no observance of corporate, national or sector-specific boundaries. To date, I have not received any personal messages from anyone off the back of any of these groups.

My church
The group for my church was (perhaps predictably) created by some of the younger members. In a very short space of time there were about 30 members. Most of those were under 25, but there were a handful of greyer/balder heads, including the parents of some of those under 25s. In quick succession, two contradictory things happened: one young member urged for discussions that focused on matters that would encourage participation from and increased membership among “the over 20s”, while another of them asked her parents to leave the group because they shouldn’t be trying to “muscle in” on something that was intended for younger people. They did. So much for FB being a great leveller!

The great FB race
The Great Facebook Race – Africans, which I joined out of a sense of loyalty, thinking that the largely unconnected continent could do with a boost from her expats, has been a real eye-opener. The interracial vitriole on the discussion boards has driven away no fewer than 30 members in the last week. My own membership is unlikely to last much longer. Like many other white members of the group, I have been advised in no uncertain terms that I am not African – that Africans are black, and that white members should leave and join the European group where they belong. Oh dear – I guess that leaves only the descendants of Native American tribes for the American team ;-)

Age groups
Just for fun, I also recently joined a group that glories in the name Unlike 99.99% of the Facebook population, I was born in the 60s. Unlike other members of this group, it had not been my perception that FB (unlike MySpace) was a place for youngsters - perhaps because most of my first FB friends were people I had encountered in the edublogosphere. Nevertheless it has been fun to take the odd amble down memory lane.

The impression of FB as a space for younger people is certainly given in the membership of my high school’s past pupils’ group, however, where I am old enough to be the mother of most of the other members! So far, I have managed to persuade the two of my erstwhile classmates with whom I am in regular contact to join, but the rest are difficult to track down, due largely to the fact that I don’t know their married surnames (I was at a single sex school). However, our school is the sister school to one of those boys’ schools with strong traditions. Men from around the world still send their sons back to Dale College, regardless of where they are based, and their daughters, by extension, wind up at KHS (no website). It has been interesting, if slightly surreal, to confirm with many bearers of familiar surnames that I was indeed at school with their fathers.

I guess it’s fair (and rather obvious) to say that the group dynamics within FB are as varied as those in other situation. However, people can often be braver remotely than they might be in person, saying things – both harsh and kind – to each other through messages that they wouldn’t dream of saying f2f. I’m still trying to decide whether this is a plus or a minus. I guess my view fluctuates on whether I have been at the receiving end of something unexpectedly kind or undeservedly cruel.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

This Facebook thing part 1

As I have mentioned previously, I am using Facebook as a melting pot. A place with no boundaries. My list of friends includes:

  • Family members: my husband and two sons; my sister and a cousin
  • Old school friends
  • Friends of my sons
  • Members of my current and past churches
  • As many people from my aggregator list as I have been able to track down
  • Ditto the people I follow on Twitter
  • A growing number of people encountered through Facebook SIGs
This has caused some aspects of my life to bump up against each other with interesting results. Over the next few days, I will explore my observations to date.

Professional persona v private persona
Of course, the nature of my interactions with these people differs from group to group. But the very fact of their exposure to one another generates some interesting situations. For example, I have a pretty relaxed relationship with my sons’ friends. One of them once sent me a friendship request, recording in the “how do you know Karyn” dialog box that we used to date, that we had broken up, but that we still got along really well and it was all a bit complicated. This is common practice among teens. As part of the method by which they protect their anonymity, they have a habit of fudging personal information of this sort – often at our suggestion, I might add. According to my younger son’s friendship list, it seems I have acquired several grandchildren. As far as they’re concerned, the people who know them personally know what the real deal is and the nature of their relationships with one another is no-one else’s business. If I had restricted my list of friends to people with whom I have personal relationships, perhaps it might not have been an issue. But when Toby’s friend request came through, my first thought was how it would look to my professional contacts – particularly since Toby’s profile picture (like my son’s I regret to confess) is a self-portrait taken in the mirror, with just a towel around his waist in order to show off to best effect what he delights to call his six-pack. Aw, bless!

Somehow this was different from allowing my younger son to infect me with vampireness or ninjaness or something along those lines. I was torn. I didn’t want to come over all heavy and make Toby feel awkward, but I also didn’t want to display inaccurate - and potentially damaging - information where others might stumble across it. So I welched and got my son to phone him and explain the situation.

Could I have handled this better?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Blog day!

I was a bit busy, so I kind of missed blogday - a day to put the zoom lens on this growing phenomenon. To be honest, I haven't really encountered 5 new blogs lately, particularly not outside of my sphere of interest, so I guess I'm just breaking the rules all around. Then again, I recently posted comprehensively on the blogs I read, so I think I have that base fairly well covered.

Those of my colleagues and friends who don't blog tend to think of blogging as the pursuit of an egotist. My experience has been very different. My experience has been that bloggers... or edubloggers, at any rate... are the most extraordinarily generous people. Generous with their knowledge, their experience, their feedback. These people have identified that it makes good knowledge economy sense (and therefore good fiscal sense) to keep the flow of knowledge open. A bit like the Biblical distinction between cisterns and fountains (Jeremiah 2:13, if you're interested).

The other view I encounter quite often is that we are a sad bunch of people with no real friends. I'm sure there are bloggers with no friends, real or... whatever the opposite of that is, just as I am sure that there are non-bloggers in the same boat. The contacts I have made online did not start out being people I looked on as friends. They were more like colleagues, peers or classmates. However, over time, in much the same way as office-based colleagues have a habit of doing, some of them have moved into the realms of what might be termed friendship. I have met very few of the people whose blogs I read, but even among those I have never met, I have encountered a genuine interest in the things that are going on in my life - commiseration when things go badly, congratulation when I achieve something, encouragement when I am hoping for or striving for something.

Among these are Harold Jarche, Vicki Davis, Wendy Wickham, Doug Belshaw and Janet Clarey. Although these aren't new, they do make up five, so I'll draw line under it there. Here's to another year of blogging and to absent friends - may they join us in this space soon!