Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blocking and unblocking

A few things have happened that have got me thinking about access control. First off, Jeff Utecht reports how he is going to have to unlearn the habit of skipping sites that are blocked in China, now that he is no longer based there.

Then, yesterday, as I was travelling by train, I got into a conversation with two total strangers. One of them had a daughter who had been studying Islam in religious education at primary school this term past. The kids were making a collage of images to represent the faith, so they all hit Google Images (no warnings about the unauthorised use of copyright material, evidently). On the very first page was the image of a woman being beheaded and a child having his arm driven over by a truck. The kids were traumatised. The teacher was mortified. The parents were incensed.

Apparently, it transpired that the controls are set county wide by the local authorities and someone had reduced the security levels on the netminding software. This sounds very fishy to me, and I wonder if the truth is (a) that no-one at the school knew how to operate the netminder software, and had assumed it was handled elsewhere or (b) that one of the older kids in the school had figured out how to reset things in order to gain access to stuff that was off-limits.

The reaction was that the school immediately shut down all access to the internet. Sledgehammer. Nut.

The third incident also happened yesterday. For the period of the school holidays, we have subscribed to a television service that provides sport coverage and movies for our boys to watch while if they fancy doing so while we're at work. If they try to watch a movie with a certificate of 12 or above, the system asks for a pin number. We're actually quite happy for our kids to watch movies with a 15 certificate, so we looked for a way to increase this age limit.

There isn't one.

So we phoned the service provider and asked how it can be done. Apparently, the only option available to us is to give them the pin number, which automatically also empowers them to buy stuff off the selly telly channels and to watch movies of any sort at all, including hard porn, should it happen to be included in the provision of the service. Obviously the underlying assumption is that there will always be an adult present to enter the pin code. When kids are in their teens, this is increasingly unlikely. When my husband pointed this out to the woman who was assisting him, she said "Ooh. I hadn't thought of that." It transpired that she had given her own son her pin number so that he could watch movies while she was at work, and it hadn't occurred to her that he might be watching all sorts of unsuitable material.

I am not in favour of abdicating our responsibility as adults in respect of the children in our house may or may not see. But I need more control myself over the settings available to me. I don't want to have to go the route of the blanket ban, but it seems there are few alternatives in some cases.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Either it matters or it doesn't

Wendy and I often express similar frustrations in respect of the development of learning resources. One of our shared frustrations is the lack of engagement of stakeholders and SMEs. There is often the perception on the part of the client that they should be able to say "We want an elearning about health and safety in the workplace" and we will go away for a few days, only to return with an all-singing, all-dancing piece of elearning that covers exactly what they wanted to cover and includes all sorts of sexy graphics and clever interactions.

I was thinking about that (again) today as I was describing to my boss what drew me to this job in the first place.

In my previous job, we had engaged an international organisation to develop a new core system for us. With hindsight, I realise that great care was taken to ensure that the system would facilitate the business processes, which I don't think I appreciated at the time as the right order for cart and horse. Based on a thorough business analysis, a series of use cases was drawn up. The development company then allocated to us three analysts, who each took a team of us to a wonderfully creative space full of beanbags, movable whiteboards, toys, stressballs, etc. to flesh out the requirements behind each use case. As I sat there, having the time of my life, I watched the analyst at work, capturing the creative output of my group on the whiteboard. She would then turn it over to the techies who would write the code and make it happen. And I said to myself, "That's the job I want. I want to do what she's doing, only in respect of learning solutions rather than IT solutions."

In a way, I have that job. A large part of my job is spent in analysis and consultation. Capturing people's creativity and turning it into something workable. But at the same time, I still long for that job. I long for that creative space, where mobile phones are switched off, the 'do not disturb' sign is hung out and everyone is working together towards a common goal that is going make a huge difference to the business.

When we were busy with the analysis phase of the software development project, the business allowed us anyone we wanted. They were spending a LOT of money on this, and they wanted it done right. So the groups who sat in those creative spaces included directors, senior fee-earners, junior fee-earners, admin staff, back-office staff. All levels, all salary bands.

The same applied when it came to the UAT stage, which I led. I could ask for help from whomever I wanted. I could have on my UAT team whoever I chose from within the business. I had one person solely dedicated to writing test cases. We developed a sophisticated capture document and escalation process for faults. I had 3 weeks and practically unlimited personnel. During the course of that period, even the person Wendy would call the Main Muck dropped in to see how things were going. To stick with Wendy's terminology, several of the Associate Mucks were on my test team. As it turned out, the UAT did its job, because it identified a fundamental fault in the system which resulted in the whole thing being shelved... but that's not the point.

The point is the investment of human resources into the project. The senior personnel were not simply paying lip service to the importance of this undertaking to the business going forward. They were putting their money where their mouths were by committing fee-earning staff to a function that took them away from their fee-earning activities for as long as they were needed. They meant it when they said that the implementation of a sub-standard system would result in the failure of the business, and they were prepared to go to great lengths to ensure that this didn't happen.

So when they say the same things of the management development programme they have asked me to develop, but getting access to SMEs and stakeholders is like pulling teeth, well then I have a hard time believing them. When words and actions are mismatched, the true message is in the actions.

Wouldn't you say?

Keeping the dream alive

Today, thanks to this pointer from Stephen Downes I found myself watching Randy Pausch's 'last lecture' on YouTube. I found it enormously motivating as he talked about realising childhood dreams.

Which makes today's contribution from my Calvin & Hobbes feed all the more apt.

Quite apart from the relevance of the story line in this cartoon, I love the fact that Hobbes just happens to be a tiger... and a stuffed one at that. I strongly recommend that you watch the lecture, but, just in case you don't have time, let me explain:

  • Randy makes an oft quoted assertion: "You just have to decide if you're a Tigger or an Eeyore. I think I'm clear where I stand on the great Tigger-Eeyore debate. Never lose the childlike wonder. It's just too important. It's what drives us." Now Hobbes and Tigger are very different in character - Hobbes is far more cynical after 6 years as Calvin's constant companion. In fact it is Calvin who is the more Tigger-like of the two. Nevertheless.
  • Also, Randy had a love for winning stuffed animals at fairs - he built up quite a collection over the years.
Unlike Randy, I didn't have a very happy childhood, and I can't remember ever having had any ambitions. I'm not sure if those two facts are related. My life seemed to be a permanent state of 'now' - I couldn't picture myself as an adult. During a conversation with a friend when I was around 8 or 9 years old, I calculated how old I would be when the magical year 2000 came around and expressed disappointment that I would be so old as not to be able to realise how significant it was!

But before you take out your violin... I found the now fascinating. I still do. There is just so much in every single moment. I still don't do much long term dreaming or planning and seem to sorta kinda fall into a lot of things that seem like a good idea at the time. In this, I completely relate to Tigger.

However, it remains my determined ambition to encourage my sons to dream. To see a future with themselves in it. And my greatest longing is to live a life that makes a difference - to find a way to use such skills as I have in service of those who need them.

Does that sound twee? Tough! It is what it is.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Entitlement and the impostor syndrome

Responses to my post yesterday have got me thinking about what Artichoke tells me is called Impostor Syndrome (BTW Artichoke's is one of the few pseudonymous blogs still in my reading list).

So let's look at this for a moment.

Until recently, my drive to work every morning took me past a private high school. In spite of the head teacher's protestations to the contrary ("our student body represents wide socio-economic diversity"), the student body is drawn largely from the haves and have yachts. I am fairly confident of this, because I made enquiries there when looking for schools for my own sons, and I know what it costs. There is a pedestrian crossing (with traffic lights) across one section of the road, and an elevated pedestrian bridge across another, so that the boys can cross in safety. Nevertheless, many of the boys choose to ignore both these provisions and cross the road in between the heavy traffic. Many is the time I have had to slam on anchors to avoid a tragedy. The boys themselves make no effort to look before crossing - they simply step out. They make no acknowledgement of those who have had to stop for them. They seldom bother even to look in the direction of the motorist. On one occasion, when it had been a little too close for comfort, I hit my hooter. The child in question laughed at me. There is no aggression, no middle finger, no "Yeah, what of it?" defiance. Simply what appears to be an assumption of entitlement.

I wonder if that doesn't come with the territory of being privileged. Almost all these kids are male (they only have girls in the post-16 section of the school). Most of them are white. With the exception of those on scholarships, they are from wealthy homes.

The comments on yesterday's post seem to indicate that the being male bit is no defence against impostor syndrome (although a handful of comments hardly constitutes a valid sample), although there seems to have been a fair amount of research that indicates that it is more prevalent among women.

I have a view that socio-economic conditioning might also play a role. If you have been raised to 'know your place'. If your parents, grandparents, etc. were manual labourers, you might grow up with the intrinsic and extrinsic expectation that you, too, will work with your hands, rather than your head. I wonder, for example, if those on scholarships at the school I waffled on about earlier don't often experience this sense of impostor-ship. Even your own parents might be somewhat put out if you get 'ideas above your station'. My first brother-in-law (ex-brother-in-law? brother-out-law?) was the sixth of eight children... and the first to want to finish high school. His mother wouldn't hear of it. All his siblings had left at 16 and gone to the railways to get a trade. He was not to think he was any better than they were. He should go and serve his apprenticeship and get a railway house like the rest of them! My sister was never approved of by the other wives, because she had 'airs and graces'. Actually, my sister is a pretty down to earth person without a single air or grace, but I suspect her comparitively high level of erudition made them uncomfortable. They were very 'I told you so' when the marriage failed, and rather relieved to see the back of her.

I wonder whether there might not even be an ethnic/cultural factor in societies where prejudices exist (I guess that might well be everywhere!). I was marginally involved in the establishment of an affirmative action programme within a company in Cape Town in the early 90's. It was an exciting time in South Africa, and it was a wonderful challenge to seek out the diamonds in the rough among the previously disadvantaged communities and offer them development opportunities previously witheld from them. Watching a person blossom as they see their horizons expand... well, can there be anything more rewarding? Of course, where people from these groups were promoted to supervisory and management positions, there were all sorts of hurdles to overcome. Not only were the employees unaccustomed to reporting to, say, a black woman, but the new supervisor/manager had to be sympathetically supported to overcome what I now recognise as impostor syndrome. Sadly, this find-and-develop approach was seen as being too slow. There were not enough quick wins. So a window-dressing approach was adopted, and people were appointed left and right on the basis of gender and skin colour... which was a tactic that had been applied before, only this time it was a different gender and a different skin colour than before. The transformation was fast and largely unsupported, which meant that Impostor Syndrome became like the elephant in the corner that everybody carefully avoids mentioning.

If you hear something said often enough from early enough, you begin to believe that it's true. Similarly, if you never hear something said at all, you are likely to assume that it does not apply to you. It's why so many parenting books advocate that we do not tell our children "you are naughty"/"you stupid boy" but rather, "that was a naughty/stupid thing to do".

So I reckon that Impostor Syndrome might be the outworking of all our stereotyping, and shaking off the conditioning of a lifetime that tells you you are unworthy... well, I guess that might take another lifetime. Or perhaps an epiphany like Janet seems to have had (see her comment on my post yesterday).

As to why it should be so prevalent among 'gifted' people... well, that's a mystery to me! Perhaps I'll understand it better when I've read the books jammasterjay recommended.

Faking it

Edit: Apologies to Clarita, who should have been acknowledged for the photo used in this post.

During an exchange of emails with my MA programme course leader today, I had a proper, fullblown panic attack.

As you will know if you've been reading this blog for a while, I failed an assignment earlier this year. All my other assignments had been assessed as being of merit or distinction standard. This was the one I felt most confident about going in and I was utterly certain it would net me another distinction grade. The impact of that fail extended far beyond just the course and I have yet to get back on track.

My course leader was making enquiries about my progress and the exchange of emails forced me to look into the abyss.

I had to acknowledge that I felt humiliated. Unmasked as a fraud. Exposed as an imposter masquerading as a member of the intelligentsia.

To my surprise, I was informed that this is very common among female academics, this sense of being a fake, and this terror of being unmasked as such. Apparently this has been researched, although she did not reference her assertion (tut, tut).

Of course, I'm not really an academic - I'm the token corporate anomaly in the cohort, but the principle probably still applies. It's not a constant, though. I am not afraid to challenge a client's perceptions and I relish informed debate with other learning professionals (as long as it doesn't get ugly... then you won't see me for dust). In those situations, I ooze confidence.

So I'm curious. Do the other women out there secretly feel that they're faking it and fear discovery, or is that idea past it's sell-by date? And, come to that, do men actually feel the same deep down and just adopt a more pragmatic approach to that feeling?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Well, they just must" is not a strategy

This post had previously been deleted at the insistence of my manager who then promptly subjected me to a constructive dismissal anyway. Thanks to Stephen Downes, I have recovered the original content, which follows. Unfortunately, I am not able to reinstate the comments, which I was also forced to delete.

How often have I heard "Well they just must" as the strategy for how take up of a learning initiative is going to be handled?

A client requisitioned a learning solution for a specific change initiative. They planned to roll it out to the most senior members of staff first and then cascade it downwards, so that the senior managers could provide support to their reports and so on down the line. I pointed out one slight problem: the most notorious group for poor take up of learning interventions (solutions/resources/call them what you will) is senior management. I gave the following example:

I recently delivered a learning resource to a client. The MD was the sponsor. He spent a fair amount of his organisation's money on the resource and spoke authoritatively about it at stakeholder meetings - expounding on how the material was to be made mandatory for all staff. What if people didn't want to use the resource? "Well, they just must." What he didn't seem to appreciate was that, as the 'editing teacher' on the LCMS during the various iterations, I had a bird's eye view of who had done what. He had not even enrolled. In fact, he had not even registered on the LMS! So he had not laid eyes on the product he was buying and making mandatory.
In spite of this anecdote, what was the response to my observation about senior management's tendency to excuse themselves from training interventions? "We'll make it mandatory." And how will we deal with it when the most senior managers simply opt not to comply with the mandate? You guessed it: "Well, they just must."

Ri-ight. Good luck with that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Can't read, can't write

The first episode of the TV series Can't Read, Can't Write was aired on the BBC tonight. It should be compulsory viewing for every teacher.

My brain is fizzing.

The utter inadequacy of the adult literacy programme is astonishing... and scandalous! Just the way that prospective learners have to enrol on the programme is in itself a barrier (which I learned from a radio interview with Phil Beadle earlier this week, rather than from the TV series).

I think what struck me most and left me gasping with disbelief was the reaction of a woman who heads up one of these programmes when Phil Beadle (what an apt name) found fault with the system and the materials. She didn't like his maverick resistance to and criticism of the curriculum. She said repeatedly that her teachers followed the government curriculum which bore results. Her idea of results? The students passed the exam at the end, "because that's what it's all about, isn't it?"

No, it flipping isn't. Who puts people like this in charge of learning programmes?

It's all about releasing these people from the prison of adult illiteracy in a world which does not cater to them. It's about empowering them.

How do you catch a bus if you can't read a timetable? How do you open a bank account if you can't fill in a form? How do you prepare even a heat-and-eat meal if you can't read the instructions? How do you learn to drive if you can't read the roadsigns and master the highway code?

Phil was dismayed and discouraged every time he looked at the curriculum and spoke to its proponents. But, when he spoke to the learners, he was ignited and the light went on in his eyes. My kind of teacher. A true wild-eyed zealot.

Some of the people had become ingenious at hiding their disability (because disability it is). One woman in particular seemed incapable of attaching sounds to written letters. She was a bright, cultured woman who wanted to read Hemingway.

She tried to run her fingers over the letters and could only make sense of them if she could feel their shapes. Not much help with current printing technologies. You could tell her that this was the letter T, and she would repeat that. She could tell you all sorts of words that contained that sound. She could recite Shakespeare sonnets. But show her the T again and she had no idea what it was. There just seemed to be a wire in her brain that wasn't connected the same way as everyone else's was. I found myself shouting at the TV, "Teach her braille!" It didn't matter that she wasn't blind - she might as well have been for all the sense she could make of the squiggles on the page.

Phil didn't teach her braille, and he did have her reading her first words (albeit slowly) within 3 weeks. I still think braille would have been a good starting point for her, but the rest of the series will reveal whether or not I am right.

If there is any way you can get your hands on this series, please, please watch it. It will stir you, infuriate you, inspire you. It will remind you how 'unflat' this world really is - even in our educated societies.

Informal singing-as-learning

Dave Warlick is delivering a keynote at the Pennsylvania Music Educators' Association annual conference. His tweets on the subject got me thinking. Apparently the music teachers were all singing at one point, and Dave (who implies that he is not very musical - I have no idea how true that is) was somewhat daunted at the thought of having to follow that!

I have been a member of various choirs and bands all my life, and there have been numerous situations when I have been one of many people who have 'jammed' in one way or another. On the train with the school choir on the way to a television audition. In someone's lounge at a barbecue. In someone else's lounge at a church worship team meeting. In a coach on the way back from a performance of Fiddler on the Roof in another town.

Hearing a whole bunch of people singing in unison is stirring enough. But when it's a bunch of musicians, each with a trained ear... well, it fair makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

What happens is that the musicians don't all sing the same tune. Nor do they follow some canned path set by a piece of sheet music. They listen to one another and seek out a harmony. What my neighbour is doing influences and informs what I do, but does not dictate to me.

In some parts of the world, this musicality is inculcated almost subliminally. Growing up in South Africa, I would hear the singing of groups of labourers working on the roads. Many of them would have been illiterate and unschooled. Yet they understood music. With no perception of the complexity of what they were achieving, they would sing in counterpoint and harmony, following musical patterns unique to that part of the world. I imagine that a child growing up in a Welsh mining town probably also grew up taking in music with their mother's milk (hence the superior quality of the singing from the Welsh supporters at any rugby match!).

In southern Africa, not only do they sing spontaneous tunes, they sing spontaneous words, too. Someone will sing a single phrase over and over. Others will pick up on it and start to weave around the first person, creating a tapestry of sound, unique to the moment. Not to be recorded or remembered - just something that seems to suit the here and now.

No-one taught them. No-one sat them down and said, "Today we are going to study fugues. Somebody give me an A." They just sang. They sang and they encouraged participation.

So going back to my bunch of musicians who've been singing harmonies of their own devising on the coach. When they get where they're going, they pile out of the bus and take to the stage. There, they will follow the music exactly as it is written. They will watch the conductor like a hawk and do exactly as directed. They will apply to this formal, structured, rigid situation the same passion as they did to the ad hoc, make-it-up-as-you-go-along singing they did on the way over. They know the sounds of one another's voices. They know the feel of the soundwave vibrations when they get it just right.

They all know what to do. They have practised formally and informally. They have poured their hearts into both the formal and informal situations and they have held nothing back.

Sigh. Why can't learning in the office be more like that for more people?

Friday, July 18, 2008


I've been exploring career opportunities lately, and re-examining my options and future plans. It isn't easy, since I don't seem to fit into any of the pigeonholes recruitment agencies are looking to fill... and, bless them, a lot of recruitment types don't really understand the world of L&D enough to be able to cope with anything other than an exact fit. In this weird world of ours, how many exact fits are there? Not a lot!

Anyhoo, I was walking in town today and passed a young beggar sitting on the pavement. At the same time, an unkempt man wearing a denim version of a monk's cossack was walking by. He turned on the young man and, from a distance of several metres, in front of a large number of people, shouted (and I mean shouted) at him "With all due respect. You are young. You look healthy. With all due respect. Go get yourself a job instead of sitting there begging. With all due respect."

The poor youngster went red to the roots of his hair, and opened his mouth to defend himself, but the 'friar' was striding away, having set the world to rights. The lad did mutter something like "I've tried..." just in case any of the passersby thought the less of him following the outburst.

I suspect that the self-styled friar was suffering from some form of mental illness, so it would be unfair to run through the list of what was wrong with his approach. However, at least he had that as an excuse! What is the excuse of those of our profession who march into a room full of strangers, make no attempt to find out what they already know, what they need to know, what they plan to achieve once they know it; subject them to a barrage of unidirectional information dump; get them to fill in a happy sheet and expect them to either (a) go back to their jobs and do them better or (b) GO GET A JOB

I have been feeling increasingly like an eclectically shaped peg in a traditionally shaped hole, and for reasons both personal and professional (is there a difference?) feel the need to move on to other pastures. However, even armed with 20 years of experience and a postgrad education (as well as bucketloads of informal learning which matters little to the recruiters, sadly), I am finding it tough and soul destroying. Which meant my heart went out to the poor lad on the pavement today. Go get a job, indeed.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Watterson hits the nail on the head... again!

Oh boy do I know how this feels!

Sharing what we know

How many people can lay claim to having taught Stephen Downes something new? I have often wondered where he goes to learn new stuff. Then as I commented on this photo of his on Flickr last night, it occurred to me that this was the second time I had been able to provide him with a piece of information. It looked similar to the sort of thing my stepdad grows, so a little bit of rooting around provided a likely answer.

Oddly, the previous time was also to provide the name of a plant. This plant: I say oddly, because I am the most botanically ignorant member of my family (my parents are complete botanical and ornithological 'anoraks', as are all my aunts and uncles and most of my cousins). This one was dead easy, though, since the plant is one I grew up with and which abounds in South Africa and other hot climates.

The hibiscus (bottom picture) came to my attention when Stephen mentioned on his OLDaily blog that he had uploaded the photos from his trip to Southern Africa. Of course, a girl from southern Africa could be depended on to make a beeline for them! The aeonium (top picture) I found because Stephen linked to it on his Facebook status last night, saying that he wondered what it was. Not thinking for a moment that I might know, I followed the link out of idle curiosity... et voila!

Somehow the thought that someone as knowledgeable and highly regarded as Stephen can learn something (two somethings, mind!) from li'l ol' me puts things in perspective.

Social learning. Connectivism. The network. We all have something to give and something to gain. Some will give a lot and gain a lot, some will give a lot and gain less, others will give little and gain little, still others will give little and gain much.

But no-one is keeping score.

Cool, huh?

Photos by Stephen Downes can be seen, with many others on his Flickr photostream.

Just because I can...

I've decided to give this girl a plug here today. Her name is Laura James. She is 17 years old and she writes and performs her own music. Check out more of her stuff on YouTube and MySpace.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How can it be so beautiful?

Over at Neurophilosophy, there is an image of the protein that causes Alzheimer's. How dare something so devastating be so beautiful?

How clear cut is cause and effect?

One worrying consequence of the results-driven society in which we live is the perception that there must be a clear cut explanation for everything.

I was listening to a radio DJ a few days ago who was guffawing at the thought of some or other A-list celeb suffering from depression. He listed all the things the celeb should be grateful for (megamillions, looks, beautiful house, thousands of adoring fans, etc.) and asked, "What has she got to be depressed about?"

This indicates a complete lack of understanding about depression. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you here and now that one doesn't get depressed 'about' something. You can be in the midst of the most positive circumstances imaginable get deeply depressed. On the other hand, you can be in the middle of a complete crisis, and cope just fine, even if you're prone to depression.

We live in a society that wants an explanation for everything: Why are you depressed? How can you be lonely? Why can't you understand this? Why aren't you getting As at school? How on earth did you manage to lose your way?

I was listening to Eric Weiner talking about his new book The Geography of Bliss today, and he described how the Thai culture doesn't feel the need for this. They also consider excessive thinking to be bad for you, and have an expression which translates as "Don't think so much" and another which translates as "Let it go". These are both traits I could stand to learn! I agonise over everything and I want that big pink bow: resolution/closure.

I am all in favour of teaching our kids that their decisions have consequences, and a proponent of letting them learn how to deal with the consequences of their choices (within reason) in a safe environment. However, perhaps we should consider whether we haven't taken this one a little too far.

The famous prayer comes to mind:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

FINALLY - the connected academic comes to Karyn'r erratic learning journey

I read Grainne Conole's post with a smile a while back and (just for fun) decided to have a go at the quiz myself. Of course, it was blocked at the office... along with everything else that smacks of social 'not working'. But today, I am working from home, and decided to have a go. Since I'm not really an academic (although some people in my office would dispute that!) the questions aren't a perfect fit, but I took liberties and here you are (sadly the graphic isn't showing up as well as it does on Grainne's blog):

The connected academic
Your Result: Connected academic

You are the future! You've taken openness, connectedness and 2.0ness to heart. You are an asset to your organisation. I would be happy to be your Facebook friend.

Mildly connected academic

Unconnected academic

The connected academic

How 'bout you?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Keeping the children safe... but from what?

On Saturday, I saw the movie Hancock. It was an enjoyably stupid movie, offering a totally different take on the superhero.

What worried me, though, was the fact that it was classified as a 12A. For those outside of the UK, this means that anyone over the age of 12 can see the movie. Anyone under that age can see it too, as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

Some of the themes in the movie are rather unsuitable for a younger audience, and the language is pretty severe: there is a lot of name-calling which is mildly profane and a fair amount of swearing, including blasphemy and several instances of the infamous F-word. Just a few years ago, even one use of that word would have seen the movie slapped with a 15 certificate.

As we were leaving the movie, I commented on this. My 16-year old son said, "With all the health and safety regulations all over the place, isn't it weird that it's okay to expose your kids to that kind of swearing?" He had a very good point, which has been rolling around in my head ever since.

Teachers and parents alike are being increasingly disempowered in respect of the children in their care. In some instances they have become paralysed by fear of public opinion and official reprisal, and opt to let matters run their course rather than run the risk of stepping over that line. By the same token, teachers and parents are held increasingly accountable for the actions of those same children.

Many schools have replaced the traditional sports day with a non-competitive circuit event, so as not to have some of the children being made to feel like losers. But these same schools employ a system of issuing credits for good work, effort or behaviour and award prizes to those who garner the highest number of these in a year. Just as on the sports field, some of the kids feel they have tried really hard and not earned anywhere near as many credits as another child who appears not to have had to put in any special effort. Later, these same children will have to compete for places at universities. Then they will have to compete in an open job market with a pool of applicants from an increasingly wide geographical area.

If the bank accidentally sends your 11 year old son a cheque book. You are not allowed to phone and discuss this with them. They will only discuss the account with the account holder. I have first hand experience of this. But, let that child go off and write out a cheque for £2,500, and suddenly the bank will be very interested in talking to you about the little matter of recovering their money. Fortunately, I do not have first hand experience of this!

Nursery schools are being required to report instances of racist behaviour on the part of their little charges. This apparently includes a dislike for food which is unfamiliar to their young palates. One journalist offers an interesting take on the story. Prospective adoptive and foster parents are required not to attempt to inflict their cultural and spiritual values on any children they adopt/foster. And yet it's okay to take them to see movies with adultery/polyandry and profanity.

Family planning clinics can provide birth control to kids without notifying the parents. Girls can also have an abortion without their parents being informed of the situation (and yet parental consent is needed for a tonsillectomy). On the flip side, if a child regularly skips school, the parents are expected to know about it and to take action to remedy the situation or it will be them, rather than the child who is held accountable and punished.

Please note that I am not necessarily saying that any of the above are right or wrong, I am simply trying to illustrate the inconsistencies in the system.

Increasingly, adults are being disempowered in respect of the children in their care in whatever capacity. Children are protected from teachers, from parents, from dangerous equipment, from overzealous police officers, from potential hazards to their health. Almost, it seems, they are being protected from receiving any guidance or correction whatsoever, and being excused from accountability for their actions.

And, having survived all these mixed messages, when they grow up, how are these poor kids going to cope with suddenly being held accountable for not only their own actions, but for those of their children as well?

Just wondering...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What do you want them to DO?

I've just been having lunch with a colleague and the conversation, which was about the point of learning events (courses, elearning resources, etc.) was threatening to turn into a blogpost. However, before putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, I quickly read the remaining few posts in my aggregator and came across this from Tom Kuhlman. He has completely stolen my thunder! It makes me think of Cathy Moore's offering on action-based learning.... again.

I get so tired of being handed voluminous PowerPoint presentations (which should never have seen the light of day in the first instance) and being expected to miraculously repurpose them into engaging elearning resources. My other 'favourite' is when you are handed a 60 page training manual and you're asked to perform the same conjuring trick.

I like to start scoping out an elearning project for a work-based user audience with "What do you want the learner/user to be able to do?" Work-based learning is about improved performance. Changed behaviour. Increased efficiency. When the response is an indication of what the person needs to learn, I immediately want to know why. Why do they need to know this?

That's where we start.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Learning from failure

As you know, if you've been with me for a while, I'm a Calvin & Hobbes fan. Today's cartoon was one I had (surprisingly) not seen before.It reminds me of my first (and only) attempt to make a buttermilk lollipop. I bunged a knob of butter into half a glass of milk and left it in the fridge. My experiment was as successful as Calvin's.

Of course, Calvin being Calvin, I doubt that he will have the attention span or the inclination to find out why his experiment has failed, and to explore other means of achieving his goal. I certainly didn't at the time of the Butterscotch Lollipop Incident.

I have certainly had my fair share of failed culinary attempts since then - most of which have been eaten and enjoyed in spite of their 'failure' status. Almost all of them have been improved upon with the next attempt. I have learnt from those 'failures' and some of my dishes are now in great demand. (others have been relegated to the 'never to be repeated' pile).

There needs to be room for failure in our learning journey. Sadly, our results oriented society seems to have little tolerance for 'having a go'. Edison reputedly claimed to have found 1000 ways not to make a light bulb, although I have yet to find a reputable reference for this quote. Whether or not he said it, surely there must be space for a process of elimination? Considering all the 'uction' words associated with reasoning (adduction/abduction; reduction; induction; deduction) - are we really prepared to start putting lines through them until we are left with only one and everything else is considered 'unreasonable'... and which one would that be?

I have been partnered with a variety of people for group work during workshops of various sorts. My all time favourite has to be an other-worldly ballet teacher who couldn't give a fig for perceived wisdom. She started with a blank slate and tried all sorts of possible solutions on for size. I was all for saying, "No, forget that, we know x and y, so we can start our reasoning from here." She would look at me in a puzzled way and ask, "How do we know x and y?" which would cause me to wonder "How indeed!" We wound up with all sorts of interesting answers to the questions set - most of which I knew to be way off base but far more fun than anything I would have come up with. She flitted gaily and completely (to my narrow view) illogically from idea to idea like a cheerful butterfly, little caring whether she happened upon the correct answer - she was having fun. I quickly learned not to stomp the butterfly and instead took off after her like a child - just to see where she would go next.

Never has a lesson been more fun. But it was hard work to overcome my desire to be right and my impatience to get to the right answer in the shortest possible time!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Two perspectives of the flat world

This has been buzzing around in my head over the past few days threatening to blow a gasket in my brain. It relates to my oft voiced protests against claims of a flat world. I only wish I could draw! If there are any cartoonists out there who want to make a better job of it than I have done, please do (but please remember to link back here so I can admire the results).

The flat world, perspective 1:

The flat world, perspective 2:

'Nuff said?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Going off half-cocked

Tony Karrer has taken it into his head to replace this month's Big Question with a Big Stir. I sense an increasing frustration with our profession in the ranks of those who are 2.0 savvy, and it goes further and deeper than the issues Tony has raised.

By way of my contribution, I think I could do no better than to share some link love with Don Taylor for his recent article in Training Zone magazine, and with Mark Berthelemy for his response.

I touched on this same nerve recently, when I agreed to have one of my papers (which debunks learning styles) published on the learning pages of our company's intranet. Why is that so many learning professionals are quick to embrace a theory that generates neat graphics without first checking the underlying theory, and then to defend it to the hilt?

My husband has an excellent expression that he saves for such situations: "My mind's made up - don't confuse me with facts!"

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Gender equality - who holds the cards?

To be honest, I'm beginning to think that no-one does. I wonder if they aren't on the floor under the table.

There is a great deal of evidence that women still don't earn the same as men in the UK. I reckon this is a fairly accurate view. For example, I am almost certain that I earn significantly less than the two men on my team who do the same job. There is an official course of action I could follow, but I presume that a very defensible explanation would be given that would not relate to gender at all. Sadly, I also know that the only other female member of the team (who has now left) earned roughly the same as I did at the time, so I am left mildly miffed by the issue, but not sufficiently convinced of the strength of my case to want to get embroiled in the whole grievance process.

Harriet Harman is trying to do something about this in the UK, but I don't think she has many people convinced - certainly not Janice Turner, at any rate!

Sadly, in the process of fighting for equality and an end to discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace and all those related issues (and I maintain that they are related), I reckon some women do the 'cause' more harm than good.

When women demand special dispensation on the grounds of gender, does this constitute equality? I'm not sure that there are valid grounds for claiming that L&D for women should differ from that for men, but the claim is being made nonetheless (it may be necessary to subscribe to the publication for the link to work).

On a different tack, let's look at an extreme (but real) case.

Recently, a woman arrived at work wearing a very short skirt and no knickers. When one of the men in the office subtly indicated that it would be preferable if she wore underwear, she complained. Too afraid of venturing into the sexual harassment minefield, the company upheld her complaint. A few days later, she arrived at work wearing (ahem) 'cheeky' hot pants. No-one dared say a word. Surely this is similar to bullying in that it is abusing circumstances that give one an advantage?

Many men I know are left bewildered and disempowered by situations like this. They mutter that they can't simply take a day off work citing a vague malady known as "men's problems". They aren't allowed to comment on the appearance of their female colleagues, although no such embargo exists on women commenting on one another's appearance... or on that of the men. Sexist jokes are a no-no if women are being pilloried, but not if men are on the receiving end.

If they stand aside for a female colleague, they're sexist, if they don't, they're rude. Where is the dividing line between good manners and sexism? And how broad is the good manners band that fits so perilously between sexism and rudeness?

Let's imagine this scenario: Ms No-Knickers (who really exists, although not in my organisation) discovers she earns less than a male colleague. She goes to her line manager (who is male) to insist on an increase. If he says no, she takes action on the grounds of gender discrimination. If he says yes, her male colleagues will regale one another of the reasons that (coincidentally male) colleague was on a higher pay grade. They will become even more convinced that women hold all the cards these days and that all a woman has to do to succeed is flash the boss. So, while the short term gain for the equality cause is undermined by long term damage in the form of an increasingly mutinous male workforce.

My own view is that I have no desire to see men disadvantaged in any way. I would feel throughly patronised if I were to be offered a job over a male applicant just because of my gender. If I can't hack it on a level playing field, I can't hack it at all.

But when I do get the job, do me this courtey: pay me on the basis of the work I do, not on the basis of the body parts I bring with me to the office.

In some ways, I hope Harriet Harman succeeds, in others I wonder if legislative intervention is the way forward. Enforced compliance does not win hearts and minds. If anything, I suspect the converse to be true!

Sigh. We have a long road ahead through the minefield.