Monday, June 29, 2009

Apportioning blame

Currently, the British Lions are on a rugby tour of South Africa. On Saturday, they lost rather controversially in the dying moments of the match. Of course, I am pleased with my team's win. I would have thought that was a given. I completely understand that Lions fans are not happy about the loss. To my surprise, however, some of that anger has been directed at me. Now I quite obviously had nothing to do with any aspect of the game. I didn't even get to watch the live broadcast, but had to rely on a recording dropped off by a friend. Nevertheless, it seems I am called upon to shoulder some of the responsibility for what is seen as an injustice, simply by virtue of my nationality.

This got me to thinking about the things for which we are called upon to carry the blame and the extent to which this is reasonable.

For example, for close on a decade, it has been possible to send the parents of a truant UK school child to prison.

I have always found it inconsistent that this is the case in a country which makes provision for a girl to undergo an abortion without her parents' knowledge.

How is it that we are called upon to know whether or not our children are at school, but be ignorant of whether or not they are sexually active, pregant and taking this enormous step? I would imagine that an abortion is traumatic enough, without having to go through it without (at least) your Mom's moral support.

Now it seems we can be fined or even be sent to prison if our children become unruly at school. Not only must we see to it that they go to school. We must see to it that they behave when they get there.

Note: On a personal level, my husband and I have worked and continue to work very hard at teaching our sons to be productive, considerate members of society. We have even (thus far, anyway) had some measure of success. But it's the principle that bothers me.

In the light of the extent to which an increasing number of parents feel that they are 'not allowed to' do this or that in respect of their children, this seems to me to be another imbalance.

I can't help feeling that there needs to be a bit more joined up thinking, here. Either parents are to be expected to shoulder responsibility in respect of their children - in which case, they should be empowered to do so - or, if the state wishes to dictate to parents how to discipline, feed and even set their children down to sleep, then it can't hold them responsible when the wheels come off.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Telling a story

Thanks to Cheryl Cooper for posting this on Facebook and drawing it to my attention. This was taken from the Ukraine's version of the 'Got Talent' TV show. UK entrants are never given that long, but this story is quite rivetingly told. Watch the beautiful young woman who tells the story, too - she's dancing. Performing. Her face and body show the passion of the story she tells with hands in the sand. Quite extraordinary!

Later edit:
Wes Fryer shares the interpretation of this story by a friend who is fluent in Russian.

The video is from the Ukrainian TV Show – Ukraine has Talent. It is called a Requiem in the Sand by Ksenia Simonova. The girl starts by drawing a village and two people on a bench. Then the announcer uses the actual radio announcement of the German attack on the USSR on 22 Jun 41. It is followed by a Russian song about a quiet night during the war. It is followed by an instrumental score and then another Soviet song about soldiers that died for the Motherland. The final instrumental score shows a girl looking through the window and seeing a shadow of her sailor husband. The child puts his hand on the window and she writes "you are always close by."
So much sadder than I had realised. I thought the husband had unexpectedly returned home at the end of the war. Now I realise the wife sees the husband in the child's face every day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Welcome to the blogosphere

I recently wrote an article on blogging for Training Zone magazine. In it, I promised readers who were started blogging that I would give their blogs a mention here. So I am making good on that promise.

Isobel Tynan blogs over at Lifetravelling, where she looks at "creativity, innovation and learning and development". Please swing by and encourage her with a response to one of her posts or a link to a blog covering a similar issue.

pic of the day - the icing on the cake

Tonight our ladies' group was shown how to some clever things with icing. This is my effort. I was rather pleased with it, actually. I had expected to be about as good at it as I was at arranging flowers! It's quite fun doing these really girlie things from time to time.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

pic of the day - GO!!!

Until very recently, our younger son showed no interest in athletics. Our older son has always been a keen competitor, and has done pretty well for himself. Recently, during some school trials, our younger son turned in a surprisingly good performance in the sprints (no-one was more surprised than he was, in fact!) and was entered into the 100m for the school sports day. Since he has never donned a pair of spikes in his life, he thought it best to have a practice session beforehand. So he came along to the track tonight and trained with his brother. As you can see, only one of them is wearing spikes. This is because they have to share a pair for now. I'm not in a position to lash out on a pair of spike for what might prove to be a passing phase. Once he has stuck at it for a while, we can talk spikes. He enjoyed himself thoroughly, and his big brother was very gracious with him.

As a bonus, this sign rests above the basin in the ladies' loo. I guess if you use a cup, it's okay!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Overstepping the mark

I have always been aware that the balance of power between employer and employee in the US is far more weighted in favour of the employer than is the case in the UK, but this just takes the cake!

According to Toni Bowers, it seems that, in Bozeman, Montana, all job applicants are urged to divulge their usernames and passwords for all social media spaces, so that a complete background check can be carried out.

1) How dare they?
2) How ever will they find the time?

pic of the day - capsicum

There's nothing quite like locally grown produce, is there? Look at the wonderful colours of these capsicum (bell peppers). Bottom right are some nice sized cucumbers and towards the top left are some almost snow white closed cup mushrooms.

A new humility

I have been rereading some papers on connectivism today, since this forms the theoretical framework for my dissertation.

In George Siemens's 2004 paper, there is a reference to an article in ScienceWeek during the same year, which quotes Nigel Calder as defining chaos as “a cryptic form of order”. Siemens says "chaos states that the meaning exists – the learner's challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden."

There a few other references sprinkled here and there that imply the same thing. That perhaps chaos is not chaotic. Perhaps it contains an order that we do not yet have the capacity to detect.

One of my frustrations is our collective tendency to assume that we've got things figured. Let's get real here. The universe, as far as we know, is infinite. Perhaps it isn't really, perhaps nothing is really infinite, perhaps some things are just so big or vast that our minds can't conceive of their size, so we just opt for infinite. The milky way is just a small part of the universe. Our solar system is just one teeny tiny part of the milky way. Our planet is just one of (we think) eight revolving around an average (we think) sized star. As a race, we have managed to make a minuscule hop off the planet as far as the moon and back again. How on earth can any one of us, or even all of us collectively, possibly have things sussed on any significant scale?

Perhaps, if they think at all, ants consider our lives to be chaotic. Perhaps it's all just a matter of scale. Perhaps it's time we recognised that some things, many things (most things?), may just be beyond our means to understand. Perhaps there are patterns in the chaos, and we just can't see them, because we are too restricted.

Perhaps it is because I'm a deist that I have no problem recognising my own limitations beside a mind which does have the capacity to understand all the things we consider infinite.

But it does look as if there may be others out there prepared to say, this is probably not chaotic, it is quite possibly a pattern we do not (yet) have the capacity to understand.

After all, just look at fractals. Was there ever anything less chaotic looking, once you move to the right perspective?


Image by Cuddlepigs34 on PhotoBucket

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

These four stage models

Yesterday I was holed up in one of the university libraries reading dissertations and theses and such. One of the most useful ones I found includes a beautiful, three-layered model of development which owes much to the Kolb four stage learning diagram thingy. I can't reproduce it here without the author's permission, but...

In the centre are four stages: information, analysis, preparation and implementation. In the next concentric ring we have 'describe focus' attached to information; 'explain', 'evaluate' and 'explore' attached to analysis; all the 'w' questions attached to preparation; and 'execute' attached to implementation. The third consecutive circle is slightly more difficult to describe, so I will omit it here. In any case, it has no real bearing on what it is I want to draw out of this.

I have often said that I have a tendency to leap about those Kolb diagrams. I don't enter neatly and obediently in one quadrant and then follow the stages compliantly. When we discussed the Kolb diagram during a lecture a couple of years back, I raised a few eyebrows with this claim. It wasn't the first time I had encountered the model or felt this disconnect, so I had had a few years to think about why there was a disconnect. To be fair, it wasn't the first time any of the others had encountered the model, either. It would have formed part of what they learnt at university the first time around.

The thing is, most of the people present were school teachers who had gone to university straight from school and then started teaching. They would have learned the theories before going out to practise as teachers. I practised as a teacher (of adults in the workplace) before I learned the theory. I wondered to what extent this impacted the way we viewed things.

Perhaps the rest of the class could see how practice included all the elements of the theoretical model and this confirmed to them that it was valid. While I came in with a head full of recollections drawn from practice, and could just see all the ways in which the model didn't fit. Or perhaps I am just more perverse.

Yesterday, as I was working through the material, especially the neat little flow diagram of development which followed, it dawned on me why it is that I don't think this model works.

Collaborative learning. Network learning. Social learning.

In this space, I pick up an analysis from one person on a piece of information I didn't previously have. I look briefly at the information to gain an overview. I read up on how someone else has done the preparation bit, and the implementation bit. Person A describes their focus. I read it and think, "Yup. That works for me." (or not, as the case may be). Someone explains, evaluates and explores their view of things. Someone else chimes in and tells them it's bunkum and this is why. I read all of this. I think "Hmmm. I wonder how...?" I share that question somewhere. Person B points me at Person C's shared perspective. Person C and I have a conflab. Several other people chime in. Person D explains how his implementation failed because of such and such a point. We all take that on board. I go back to the information and have another look at it.

So why am I not an obedient little follower of the Kolb learning cycle? Well, because of you, really. Because I like to discuss things with people. Because learning is and always has been a conversation for me. Before social media blipped on my radar, the conversations were face to face.

I regularly visit a nursery school classroom which has a poster listing the rules and habits of a good listener. It seems you need to sit quietly in your desk, look at the speaker and keep your mouth shut. I hate that poster. I also hated school! I was always in trouble for not abiding by those good listener rules. I wanted to look at a diagram or an article in front of me, and listen to what the teacher was saying, but then I might notice something amiss. I wanted to say "But, but, but...." Or maybe a penny dropped and I wanted to say, "Hang on a sec, so..."

In this space, I can do all those things! I can look at your diagram, read your blog post, follow your tweets, and say "But, but, but...." or "So what you're saying is..." I can say "No wait, that doesn't make sense..." And - hopefully - someone will answer me.

Isn't it cool?

Monday, June 22, 2009

pic of the day - train up a child

This statue stands outside one of the libraries on campus. This is the campus which houses the school of education. The plaque references Proverbs 22:6

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."
Around this time of the year (just after Fathers' day) my thoughts turn to parenting and the duty of care towards children. Perhaps it's inevitable that I would contrast my own father with the one my children have. (Almost) any male creature on the planet can become a father. That bit's easy. It's hard work to be a Dad... if you do it right.

lpod - what we don't know about childbirth

I know it's been a while since I did one of these, but this was my learning point for today.

Because I'm a sad person (or so my family tells me), I listen to talk radio when I have the car to myself. Today was one such day and I listened to a programme about premature babies (the link will be available for 7 days - apologies if the BBC link doesn't work outside the UK). Comparatively little research is done in this field and there are still huge areas of blankness.

Unless a woman has already miscarried or given birth to one premature baby, there is still no way of knowing whether she is at risk of doing so. So a couple will have to have dealt with all the associated difficulties at least once before they are referred to a unit which will monitor subsequent pregnancies. The interviewer asked the expert what starts a woman off in early labour and (and this is where the learning point comes in) it transpires that we still don't know what starts labour at any point, early or otherwise. No-one knows yet what the catalyst(s) is/are that start the process.

The immediate instinct when a woman goes into early labour is to try to stop it. Very few effective means exist to achieve this. Quite often, it transpires that the uterus has become a hostile and/or toxic environment for the child and the risks of early birth may be less than the risks of a prolonged stay in that environment. So it's a trade-off and we don't know enough to be able to make that decision quickly and reliably.

Rather tellingly, it has only been in the last few years that UK birth records have begun to record gestation instead of just birth weight, so there is precious little recorded data to go on prior to that. As a result, it isn't possible to compare the statistics around premature births with other countries.

Interesting, huh?

Okay, so it's just me. Sorry.

The programme kicked off and ended with an interview with a woman called Sarah and her daughter Isobel who had been born at gestation 27 weeks (so 3 months early) in 2001. I was stunned when Sarah shared how people immediately assume that the early birth of her daughter was somehow her fault: as if she hadn't looked after herself properly, or had engaged in substance abuse of some sort. I have known many people with preemie babies and have never heard anyone respond to them with such an assumption.

What was utterly heartwarming, though, was Sarah's evident pride in her daughter's ability to walk, something she was expected never to do. Issy has a catalogue of disabilities, but Sarah takes pride in the things she is able to do, instead of bewailing the things she cannot. As the programme ended with the joyous laughter of mother and daughter as Issy bounced on a trampette, I chastised myself for my disappointment when my boys don't live up to my expectations.

We also heard from a couple whose (as yet unnamed) son was born two-and-a-half weeks ago at gestation 25 weeks. Their whole world has reduced down to the size of the neonatal intensive care unit. They hover over his incubator and celebrate things like a 20g weight gain. As the mother tried to explain how she treasured things like being able to change his tiny nappies, and gave up as her voice failed her, I realised again how very, very fortunate I was to have given birth to three live, healthy, term babies.

Go give your kids a quick squeeze. I did as soon as I got home.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

pic of the day - acer

I have a weakness for acers. The shape of their leaves, the shape of the trees themselves.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

pic of the day - pampering

Today the ladies of our church had a pamper day. I was in charge of mini facials. This was my stall.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

pic of the day - a prince?

This fellow swung by for a visit today. He looked hopeful, but I can't go around kissing enchanted princes - I'm a married woman!

Welcome to Holland

In response to my reflections (on Facebook) about the surprises and unmet expectations of emi/immigration, Irmeli Aro drew parallels with experience of being the parent of a child with special needs. To illustrate her point she sent me a link to a video. It wasn't this video, but the two have huge overlap. There are certainly parallels, but I think the perspective of a parent in this situation bears expressing for its own sake.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

pic of the day - friendship

As I have already mentioned, today is the tenth anniversary of our wide-eyed, naive arrival in the UK. For those of you who are my Facebook friends, I have written a more personal account as a FB note.

One of the most difficult things to deal with was the loss of our close friends and extended family. Being such a cultural misfit made it extremely tough to form real friendships of the sort that we were accustomed to.

However, things on that front have begun to change. And when a friend remembers unprompted that today is The Day and arrives with a homemade carrot cake with cream cheese icing (my favourite) still warm from the oven, you know things are are looking up!

BTW it was whole when it arrived!

Elearning in Africa

"If you look at the one laptop per child programme, if I remember correctly, the Nigerian government cancelled their order because they couldn’t afford desks to put them on.”

John Traxler, LearningLab director at the University of Wolverhampton

This article in TrainingZone magazine (you will need to register to read it, but it is free) highlights some of the challenges facing those who look to deploy technology-supported or technology-based learning solutions in Africa. Presumably many of the challenges mirror those faced in other parts of the developing world.

Among these are
  • lack of hardware - many students do not have a computer at home and have to attend a teaching institution
  • lack of infrastructure - while there may (or may not) be computers at the aforementioned teaching institution, there is not always a teacher
  • poor internet speed - Africa has the lowest average internet connection speeds in the world at an average of 1.1Mbps as compared with over 6Mbps in Europe
  • and even lack of access to mains electricity (the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa estimates that only 20% of the total African population have access to electricity)
  • poisonous drinking water
  • high infant mortality rate
  • HIV/AIDS which is killing people off faster than they can be trained
So, to use a South Africanism, you can throw them dead with elearning, but until some of these basic problems are resolved, it isn't going to make a heck of a lot of difference. There are some far more fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

However, on the plus side, according to John Gordon AIS President,
[In Europe] mobile learning is either an extension of elearning or a reaction to it. It’s seen as tethered or limited, indoor. So mobile learning to a large extent here in Europe is a reaction to that; we’d like to take learning al fresco, into real life.

In southern Africa, there isn’t that history – they don’t have any elearning to react against – so if anything, mobile learning grows out of the distance learning model, often as a response to infrastructure issues.


It is 10 years today since I arrived in the UK. It has been a bumpy ride. I arrived thinking I would just find my niche and fit in. It took me a long time to realise that I was always going to be slightly out of step. It was fully nine years before we felt we had developed relationships which qualified for the epithet friendship.

However, I have made my peace with most of it and realise that this is it. This is my life. This is where it is playing out, and this is how it's going to be.

To all you other displaced persons, expats, foreigners, outsiders and misfits: I salute you!

Image credit: Wibofoto on iStock

We're not allowed to!

I have several friends who have recently had babies. Some are their first, others have been down this road before. Even for the practised Moms, every child presents new challenges. Sleeping. Feeding. Weight gain (or lack thereof). These are the topics that come up time and again.

In the UK (perhaps because new mothers get ousted from hospital within hours of giving birth), there are health visitors. These are people (usually women - I have yet to meet a male health visitor) who visit people like new mothers in their homes to offer support.

I have been somewhat perplexed, lately, by the increasing authority being imputed to these people. One of the new babies has a reflux problem. This is very common in boys and tends to clear up once they learn to sit on their own. But, until then, there's an awful lot of urking that goes on. My elder son had this problem and I chose to set him down to sleep on his side as a baby, using a rolled up nappy (diaper) behind him to prevent him from rolling onto his back. I didn't want him to choke in his sleep. When I mentioned this to the mother in question, she told me "We're not allowed to do that. We're supposed to put them on their backs, because of cot death." In an effort to reduce the reflux problem during sleep, the baby's cot has been slightly elevated at one end. I was somewhat puzzled by this. When you consider how small a baby is, the angle would have to be significant in order to make any appreciable difference. I asked whether she had considered letting the baby sleep in his bouncer 'chair'. Apparently, because of the risk to the baby's back, she's been told she's not allowed to do this, either.

I've heard this "We're not allowed to..." quite often lately and it bothers me. I'm not bothered that my friend doesn't want to set her baby down to sleep the way I did. I'm bothered that my friend is effectively being dictated to by the State regarding her baby's sleeping position.

When I was a baby, the recommendation was to set babies down on their bellies, and this was how I slept. Then someone identified the risk of babies drowning in any vomitus produced in their sleep, and parents were advised to lay babies down on their sides as I have described. By the time my own kids came along, someone had identified that the best chance of avoiding cot death was to lay a baby down on its back.

The thing is, as adults we don't like to all sleep in the same position, so why should the same be true of babies? Surely a new parent should be free to experiment with sleeping positions until they find one that works for their baby? If you look hard enough, there are probably risks associated with every position.

This relates obliquely to my assertion in yesterday's post about who is accountable to whom in the state/parent equation when dealing with children.

I can't help feeling that the business of parenting is being increasingly micro-managed by the state, to nobody's benefit. And, when parents have been inculcated with the habit of bowing to authority on how and where their babies sleep, when and what they eat and so on, it seems to me they are far more likely to adopt a stance of unquestioning compliance on the matter of their children's education.

I'm not suggesting there's a conspiracy, here, just that passive parenting is being fostered. We already see the fruits of the abdication of parental duty in our society. Sadly, that same society seems to be trying to increase legislative controls and state intervention to combat this.

My view? It won't work.

Parents need to step up the oche and resume the mantle of parental responsibility. We are society. It's our problem. We need to fix it. The government doesn't rule us, it serves us, the people in government are drawn from among us. They are, in fact, part of us!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Home educators fight back

There's been a review of home education in the UK lately. I'm not a home educator, for reasons I've gone into before, but I know of a few people who choose this route for their children. Some of them are not happy about the review. One friend of mine has written a letter to Mr Ed Balls. She has kindly agreed to allow me to reproduce it verbatim here. The friend in question has recently been expressing her frustration that so few people appreciate the extent of the powers which the state has awarded itself. Some of the grounds for her alarm are to be found in her letter.

I would like to say that I wholeheartedly support the notion that the state is accountable to the parents in respect of education provision, not vice versa. I have put several teachers noses severely out of joint through the years by making it clear that I hold them accountable to me. In South Africa, this was more accepted, since parental involvement in state education was the norm. In the UK, where far more parents consider their contribution to extend no further than the delivery and collection of their children, this has gone down less well!

Dear Mr. Balls

I write with regard to the Review of Elective Home Education.

In the first instance, I wish to register the fact that I reject the legitimacy of the Review on various grounds:

1. Mr. Graham Badman is far from independent:
(a) He does not have personal experience of home educating, and is biased in favour of the school system
(b) As a form Education Welfare Officer, he was known for being openly hostile to home education, i.e. biased against home education
(c) His various affiliations and activities (i.e. Becta, IEE and others) represent a conflict of interests

2. Views of home educators, including those of home educated children themselves with regard to the need for registration and monitoring and to the suitability of their education and safeguarding appear to have been completely rejected out of hand, despite,

3. No evidence has been presented to indicate that there is any need whatsoever to monitor, register or regulate home educators. (The suggestion of a loophole is completely bogus, since all children (unless they have already committed a crime) are registered at birth, not to mention the Government's various databases.)

4. Evidence including academic research proving the efficacy of home education, and in particular autonomous methods, have been rejected on extremely flimsy and illegitimate grounds.

5. The Review panel was completely and unreasonably unbalanced and did not include any experts on home education whatsoever

6. The Questionnaire to LAs asked for evidence from ultra vires practices, showing a fundamental disrespect for the Law

7.The Consultation which opened the review did not conform to the standards of public consultations, and when this was challenged, it was claimed not to be a Consultation

8. The Consultation questions were phrased in such a manner that a number of them were ambiguous, which suggests they were deliberately designed to confuse and thus the responses may have been unreliable.

9. The remit of the Review was to consider the efficacy of the current provision for safeguarding home educated children from possible abuse. This has been conflated with the efficacy of educational provision, which was never previously in question.

Additionally, I wish to register the fact that I reject the vast majority of recommendations made by the Review, on the following grounds:

I. The recommendations severely challenge and threaten the presumption of innocence which has been a Common Law right for many centuries, hard fought for!

II. The recommendations challenge the Human Rights Act protocol 1 Article 2 which ensures that the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

III. The recommendations disregard the rights of privacy and a family life (HRA Article 8) where no evidence to suspect a crime is taking place or about to take place, and infer on LAs a power which is not even given to the police.

IV. The recommendations trample the right of a child to protection by its natural safeguarders - the parents by inferring on LAs the right to interview the child without the parents and against the parent's wishes where no evidence for child abuse exists. This is known to be harmful; indeed in itself consitutes child abuse, and is widely considered to be bad practice.

V. The recommendations ignore and challenge the relationship of citizen to State, and of parent and child to State. Where parents delegate responsibility for the education of their children to the State, the State becomes responsible to the parents for ensuring that education is acceptable to the parent. Where a parent fulfills that responsibility itself, he is responsible to himself, not to the State. To quote EU case law from the oppressive educational regime of Germany (which banned home education during the nazi era) to suggest the State becomes arbiter of the suitability of education is offensive in the extreme.

VI. From the outset, the Review was based on slanderous allegations which have never been justified because they cannot be, and instead the Review report is littered with opinion and prejudice, a patently obvious (if not even apparently willful) misunderstanding of home education, and in no way justifies the draconian measures recommended.

I reject the recommendation for Registration.

I reject the recommendation that the DCSF review the current statutory definition of what constitutes a "suitable" and "efficient" education, for the reasons stated above, i.e.that it is the parent who constitutionally determines what constitutes a suitable and efficient education, and the State has no busines intruding upon that right.

I reject the recommendation for monitoring, since the current powers for safeguarding children are more than sufficient, if properly applied, and the Law understood.

I reject the recommendation that that the parent should ‘provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child, since this implies that the parent is responsible to the State, and makes autonomous education (which is proven to be the most effective approach) almost impossible.

I welcome recommendation numbers 10 and 11 as a positive outcome, and number 9 with the caveat that I reject the recommendation implied therein for monitoring. I also reject all other recommendations not specifically mentioned.

Yours sincerely,

Ms. S. Tootill

30th anniversary of the spreadsheet

My IT support person/husband has pointed out to me that it is the pearl anniversary of the spreadsheet. This IT PRO article reminds us of the history of this application.

The spreadsheet was the killer app of its day. With good reason, as far as I'm concerned!

As IT PRO puts it, the big deal about VisiCalc, co-created by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston in 1979, was that it

was the first useful programme for ‘grown-ups’. And absolutely crucially, it didn’t require the user to know anything about computers or programming. This was a very, very big deal at the time – as computers were largely the domain of essentially hardcore geeks who created their own programs and had in depth knowledge of computer languages enabling them to do that.
(Image is linked with one on Dan Bricklin's website)

It was this fact that kicked off the migration of the computer that I covered (if you can call it that) in this bit of silliness. Suddenly, the computer became a thing 'normal' people could use.

For 17 years, my job was largely that of a classroom-based IT trainer. VisiCalc was a little before my time, having been launched while I was still in high school, hell-bent on a life on the stage. But I was certainly around during the heyday of its major successor, Lotus 1-2-3, and I was on hand to watch that get deposed by Excel. Now Google docs offers a spreadsheet, too.

I have to say that, for anyone who wants to make serious use of a spreadsheet, my money is still on Excel. Google docs spreadsheets have limited functionality. On the other hand, Excel isn't great for collaboration, so it's a bit of a trade-off. For now. No doubt one or other side will close the gap. But even the latest version of Excel and Google docs are still recognisably based on the original VisiCalc idea.

If you'd like to have a look at VisiCalc for yourself, or (and I recommend this) if you're a teacher/parent who wants to show a bit of history to your kids, you can download it from Bricklin's website... as long as you have a PC which runs Windows or DOS. You can remind yourself of the commands by means of this (5 panel) reference card.

Have fun!

Monday, June 15, 2009

pic of the day - finding the beauty

The town I live in is suffering at the moment. It isn't a pretty town. Not really. It isn't a happy town. It's a hurting town, defaced with graffiti and litter and broken glass. The average level of education is pretty low. The average earnings, likewise. Unemployment has skyrocketed - and it wasn't great to begin with. A store opening where the institution that was Woolworths used to be has 25 posts. There were 1200 applicants. A position in the local hospital received 4000 applicants. The town is hurting. The evidence of this is everywhere. But from the window of my loft conversion, looking out across the valley, the town looks idyllic. Quintessentially English.

My camera isn't good enough to have captured the light. I wish there was a way to describe it. My Mom it calls it 'Karyn's light', because I have loved this particular light since I was a child and never fail to notice when conditions work together to produce it.

I think it happens when the infra red light is absent or diminished, because the colours really stand out. The green of the grass seems greener, the colours of the flowers really pop out. I think this is effect of increased ultra violet. It happens at dusk and when black clouds form overhead on what has been a sunny day... right before the rain starts. I could be wrong. It doesn't matter. I know it when I see it. It's unmistakable.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

pic of the day - tattoo

Our neighbours' five year old son shows off his tattoo... oh, alright, it's a transfer, but he's very proud of it!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ending on an up

I've just taken a body blow in the form of an email purporting to contain 'constructive criticism'. The thing is, it wasn't criticism of my work. It was criticism of me, suggesting that I become less like myself in the future. But then Garry Platt's comment on my Musical Mash-up post came through, with a link to a video clip I had wanted include in that post, but had been unable to find.

To my delight, I found that PS22 (does that stand for Public School 22?) has put out several such videos. Since you have already had Viva la Vida this week, how about a taste of something else? Something with a title I need to own right now!

But head over to YouTube and search on PS22. There are several others to choose from. Just watch how every child sings as if it is a solo performance. Heart and soul. Learn more about them and their wonderfully enabling teacher here.

On exams... again!

I recently posted a little rant about exams. In recent weeks, I have discussed the concept with several people in different spaces. You see, for us in the UK (and probably the USA and Canada), this is exam time, as the academic year draws to a close. When you're the parent of a kid going through it, you might as well be going through it yourself, such is the impact on your life... and stress levels.

One of the analogies I have used is this: you have a glass-bottomed boat. You sail around a certain body of water for a year. Then for 45 minutes you go down and look through the glass bottom. On the basis of this short window (excuse the pun), you make a pronouncement about the state of the ecosystem in that body of water. It's ludicrous.

Today, Harold Jarche pointed me at this post by Daniel Lamire, which in turn pointed me to this post by Jon Dron. Dron's dripping sarcasm is clear in this summary of what the exam process taught him:

  • that slow, steady, careful work is not worth the hassle - a bit of cramming (typically one-three days seemed to work for me) in a mad rush just before the event works much more effectively and saves a lot of time
  • the corollary - adrenalin is necessary to achieve anything worth achieving
  • that the most important things in life generally take around three hours to complete
  • that extrinsic motivation, the threat of punishment and the lure of reward, is more important than making what we do fun, enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding
  • that we are judged not on what we achieve or how we grow but on how well we can display our skills in an intense, improbably weird and disconcerting setting
He touches on a key issue when he says "I learnt to do exams early in life better than I learnt most of the subjects I was examined on and have typically done far better than I deserve in such circumstances."

And that's it in a nutshell. This is where my elder son falls down. His biology teacher told me earlier this year, "When you speak to him, you think he's really intelligent. But when you see his written work, you realise he isn't really." I think my jaw hit the desk. The PE theory teacher, however, summed it up more astutely: "This is one very clever kid. He just doesn't play the exam game."

pic of the day - jessie does a churchill impression

Yesterday was Jessie's birthday. She is a year old. I bought her a Jumbone to mark the occasion and she promptly did a Churchill impression. There are times when she noms one end of a thin stick contemplatively and looks like she's trying to do an Audrey Hepburn impression (she does a better job than Paris Hilton, in my view), but I've never captured her, since she always drops the stick when I appear with my camera.

Friday humour... or not!

A Facebook friend posted a list of questions which had been submitted to a South African tourist website. They exemplify the sort of misconceptions about the country which causes untold frustration and/or much hilarity to its natives. On the other hand, some of these questions seem to me to be perfectly reasonable - and finding them laughable demonstrates a lack of insight into the perspective of the person posing the question. The answers, posted by the website owner, would probably cause most of my readers offence, so I will leave them out. If you desperately want them, email me and I'll send them to you. But, as a matter of curiosity, do you get why at least some of these questions are daft?

  • Does it ever get windy in South Africa ? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? (UK)
  • Will I be able to see elephants in the street? (USA)
  • I want to walk from Durban to Cape Town - can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
  • Is it safe to run around in the bushes in South Africa ? (Sweden)
  • Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in South Africa ? Can you send me a list of them in JHB, Cape Town , Knysna and Jeffrey's Bay? (UK)
  • Can you give me some information about Koala Bear racing in South Africa? (USA)
  • Which direction is north in South Africa ? (USA)
  • Can I bring cutlery into South Africa ? (UK)
  • Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)
  • Do you have perfume in South Africa ? (France)
  • I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in South Africa ? (USA)
  • Can you tell me the regions in South Africa where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
  • Do you celebrate Christmas in South Africa ? (France)
  • Are there killer bees in South Africa ? (Germany)
  • Are there supermarkets in Cape Town and is milk available all year round?
  • Please send a list of all doctors in South Africa who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
  • I was in South Africa in 1969, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Hillbrow. Can you help? (USA)
  • Will I be able to speek (sic) English most places I go? (USA)
Let's look at that list again, with a little editorial input from yours truly:
  • Does it ever get windy in South Africa ? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? (UK)
The first question here, I consider quite reasonable. The second could surely be answered by googling the rainfall figures for the country. Most publicity shots show sunny climes - even for sites here in the UK, known to its detractors as Mud Island.
  • Will I be able to see elephants in the street? (USA)
This question reveals an all too common level of ignorance. However, the flip side is that many South Africans tend to think of Americans as being an entire nation of such people, little realising the irony of that assumption.
  • I want to walk from Durban to Cape Town - can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
This is a distance of some 1600km (100miles) by road - and probably significantly further by rail. I'm trying to decide whether the Swede has realised this. Maybe s/he has and is looking to do this as a sponsored event, and this is an early enquiry.
  • Is it safe to run around in the bushes in South Africa ? (Sweden)
I'm trying to decide whether this Swede (perhaps the same one as before) is under the impression that South Africa is one endless, untamed wilderness (perhaps crosscut by a railroad track)
  • Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in South Africa? Can you send me a list of them in JHB, Cape Town, Knysna and Jeffrey's Bay? (UK)
Once again, the first question, while demonstrating a surprising level of ignorance for someone who is presumably about to travel to South Africa (btw - both Knysna and Jeffrey's Bay are absolutely gorgeous places to visit in the summer), the second is just daft. A list of ATM machines? C'mon!
  • Can you give me some information about Koala Bear racing in South Africa? (USA)
Okay. Just no. Surely a little research should have been done, here? Koalas are not bears. They do not live in South Africa... or anywhere else in Africa, for that matter, and - as far as I know - they don't race.
  • Which direction is north in South Africa ? (USA)
  • Can I bring cutlery into South Africa ? (UK)
The website owner took huge offence to this one, believing that it implied that the person didn't expect to find cutlery in the country. But what if they were attending a family wedding and wanted to bring cutlery as a gift? Maybe they just wanted to be sure that they weren't going to break any rules by doing this.
  • Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)
Erm... Vienna is in Austria. Mind you, perhaps they were due to tour South Africa. Who knows?
  • Do you have perfume in South Africa ? (France)
You're kidding, right?
  • I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in South Africa ? (USA)
I'm not aware of any tourist websites that will do your market research for you.
  • Can you tell me the regions in South Africa where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
The mind boggles!
  • Do you celebrate Christmas in South Africa ? (France)
This is a fair question, but I would have thought that the answer could be found very quickly via google.
  • Are there killer bees in South Africa ? (Germany)
I don't know why this question offended the site owner. Because the answer is yes, although encounters with swarms of them are pretty rare.
  • Are there supermarkets in Cape Town and is milk available all year round?
I find this one puzzling. Where in the world is milk a seasonal commodity?
  • Please send a list of all doctors in South Africa who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
There are probably tens of thousands of doctors in South Africa. But why any of them would dispense rattlesnake serum is beyond me... unless the American in question is planning to bring some with him/her? I would suggest that this might be superfluous. There are snakes in South Africa that make the rattlesnake look pretty mild. If you should ever encounter an angry black mamba, for example, say your prayers. Unlike most snakes, it is aggressive, can move faster than a man can run, and can and does launch itself through the air. It's a doozy!
  • I was in South Africa in 1969, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Hillbrow. Can you help? (USA)
To quote John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious!"
  • Will I be able to speek English most places I go? (USA)
Okay apart from the unfortunately ironic spelling error, this is an entirely fair question. South Africa has eleven official languages and English is not the most widely spoken mother-tongue by a long shot. The language that holds top spot is Zulu, the mother tongue of the new President, Jacob Zuma, at around 24% of the population. Next comes Xhosa at 17.6%. Afrikaans holds third spot at 13.3%, then Sepedi at 9.4%, and English and Setswana are joint fifth with 8.2%. However, many South Africans speak English as an additional language.

I'm sure the every country has its fair share of 'stupid' tourist questions to field. One of the commenters on the Facebook post mentioned that she is often asked about the six months of daylight and six months of darkness where she lives. She didn't mention where that was, though. Can't have been Canada, because everybody knows that's how it is for you guys. ;o)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another use for Twitter

So there was this guy called Anthony Gardiner in New Zealand. In the time honoured fashion, he met a girl and fell in love. Then he bought a nice diamond ring for around £2000 and popped the question.

She said no.

What would you do with the ring?

When my husband's first proposal met with a negative response (note: this was before I came along - having a better eye for quality, I didn't turn him down!) , he gave the ring to his Mom. Other guys might have taken it back to the store for a refund. Others might sell it on eBay. Some might throw it away.

Gardiner has hit upon another plan. He is staging a treasure hunt. He is going to hide the ring somewhere and give out clues on Twitter, with the hope that someone else will find it and propose to his true love. Someone else who perhaps couldn't afford such a fancy ring.

Anyone up for a treasure hunt? Unless you're already in New Zealand, I suspect getting there will cost you more than the ring is worth, so let's leave this one to the Kiwis, okay?

Nice use of Twitter. I just hope that the ring really is found by a romantic soul, rather than a materialist.

On your marks...

A musical mash-up

You may or may not be familiar with Taylor Swift's song Love Story. It's a modern take on Romeo Juliet and the lyrics are quite clever, in my opinion. I rather like it.

You are more likely to be familiar with Coldplay's Viva la Vida, which includes the line "when I ruled the world". I recently saw a video of a young man with a guitar leading a group of ordinary kids in a school hall singing this song and it moved me profoundly. I wanted to share it on here, but it wasn't a YouTube video and I couldn't find the source to do so. You'll have to 'settle' for the original artists ;o)

Can you hear it? The rhythmic similarity? Jon Schmidt picked up on it, and created this mashup for his seven year old daughter who loves the Taylor Swift song. This is the result.

This fills my mind with half-formed analogies for learning that I can't quite verbalise. Things relating to the lyrics and the titles of the songs, to the seamlessness of the integration, to the way the piano and the cello work together: so different, so complementary, to the overlap between these two songs that it took a fine ear to pick up in the first place. My mind is roiling.

Watch the videos and, if nothing else, be inspired and uplifted by the music.

But how do we control it?

Rant warning.

A whole bunch of L&D people get together and talk about the emergence of social learning. Lovely, lovely. Inevitably, several of them will ask, "But how do we control what they're learning?"


We complain that the IT department, as a consequence of the years in which they alone understood the alchemy that made these machines work, has gained far too strong a position. That they have become the gatekeepers of yes and no. That instead of being the service department that makes things happen, they have become the bouncer department that says that things are not allowed to happen.

We complain that the accountants, as a consequence of holding the purse strings, veto us at every turn. That they are so obsessed with the bottom line, that they operate on a law of diminishing returns, trying to spend less and less money. That the first thing to go is always the L&D budget. That instead of being the service department who looks after the company's investments, they have become the Scrooge department that says that things are too expensive to happen.

Then we stand up and say that we want to control what people learn and don't learn? How is that any different?

L&D is a service department, too. L&D should be about finding ways to make it possible, nay, easy for people to learn. When did we become the censorship department?

Now I'm not saying that we should introduce ways of enabling people to learn (to borrow Kathy Morris's phrase from yesterday) underwater knitting. Nor am I saying that accuracy in the workplace doesn't matter. But are we not becoming so obsessed about controlling every aspect of what people learn, that we're in danger of losing the plot?

During one session, yesterday, yet another person asked how you control what people are learning in a social learning environment. How do you know that what they're sharing with each other is accurate? The answer, which came without pause from another delegate, almost had me on my feet, applauding.

How do you know that the stuff they tell each other over coffee is right? Or the stuff they tell the guy at the next desk?
You don't. You live with it. You deal with it. You always have.

Let's consider a scenario. You have developed a rich and varied social learning environment in your workplace. The IT people said yes, the accountants signed the cheque. The miracles have happened and it's all hunky dory.

Then - oh the horror - someone posts something on one of the discussion boards that is wildly inaccurate. What are we to do?

First off, there is a good chance that someone else will notice that this is the case, and respond to it. Presumably, you have identified a few champions in the business who pay regular visits to the board and offer their 2 worth. Or they could alert a known expert in the organisation and ask them to have a look into it.

People are not at greater risk of being misinformed at all. I'd say you have a better chance of correcting misinformation here than you did before.

Learning and Skills Group conference

On Tuesday (ignore the date on the photo - my camera is having a bad hair week), I attended the Learning & Skills Group conference. This is the follow up event to the Learning Technologies conference that takes place in January each year. This was only the second year the follow up event was held and, to my mind, it works even better than the main conference. Why?

  • The rooms are laid out differently. Instead of a lecture theatre/classroom style arrangement, there are tables and chairs, so attendees are facing each other, rather than the 'front'.
  • There is no stage... although the two main rooms have projections on the 'front' wall. One of these rooms was in near darkness, though, which I didn't like at all!
  • There is a much wider range of sessions, and far more of them running concurrently. Two larger rooms, with about 10 or so tables of 10 people; several small rooms, each seating 10 or so people around a single table; cafe sessions in the coffee area and one room for hands-on workshops. There are sessions addressing different sectors, different interest groups, different stages of the adoption curve.
  • The sessions are less about presentation and more about facilitation. A lot of round-table discussion goes on among delegates.
  • Networking works better. Because people get talking during the sessions, they seem more open to chatting to new faces during the breaks. Also, the pre-existing conversations on the ning site means that some people have already 'met' before they meet, so there issome putting names to faces going on. I met a few people I have only previously known online.
As always at these events, some people left me gasping for breath. I was astonished by the frequency with which the 'but how do we control it?' question came up when discussing the socialisation, informalisation, individualisation of learning. I think I will address this subject in a separate post.

I think first prize in the taking my breath away competition has to go to those who preside over traditional traning departments and simply cannot see how 'this stuff' is any different from what it is that they provide.

Financial considersations almost caused me to save the train fare and give this year's event a miss. I'm glad I didn't. The surreal (and probably inevitable) 'walking with dinosaurs' moments aside, it was exciting and fresh and the conversation (and it was a conversation) lively and challenging.

Of course, the conversation isn't over, either. The discussion boards show ongoing activity.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

pic of the day - catching up

I've been without a connection for a couple of days, so here's a bit of a catch up. Note that the dates on my camera have gone out of synch.

So, on the day I went to the Learning & Skills Group get together, what do I choose as my pic of the day? Not a photo of Don Taylor doing his chairman bit. Not a photo of the day's schedule. Not a photo of the folks networking.


A bowl of oranges which was among the provender on offer (nice to have a few healthy options!). I just love the way the orange looks against the black of the bowl and then the white of the table cloth. Sorry Don.

I didn't have the heart to ask the lady to move her hand, since she was deep in conversation with someone, which is as it should be, so please forgive that intrusion.

Then I stayed at this hotel in Portsmouth. It was more B&B than hotel, to be honest, but they proudly told me they had free wifi. Woohoo! Would my laptop connect to it? Not on your life! Hmph.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

How the social network operates

Christy Tucker and I have been social media friends for a while now. Our association started in the blogosphere - reading and commenting on the same posts, reading and commenting on one another's blogs... that kind of thing. Now we are connected in several spaces. Thanks to Facebook, our relationship has become somewhat more personal. There is a genuine element of mutual caring, although we have never actually met. There are a few people who fall into this category and, were I to start naming them, I would inevitably leave someone out, so I won't go there. You know who you are!

Anyhoo, let me relate an incident that sums up how the whole social media thing works.

At 22:35 BST on Friday, Christy sent me a message on FB, with a photo attached. The message read:

OK, I know this is a random question, but you've had a knack for identifying plants for Stephen Downes. It's a long shot, but do you know what this flower is? One of my friends just bought her first house and this flower is growing there. She doesn't know what it is, and I'm useless at identifying plants. If you can't, no worries--I already stumped my mom, so you'll be completely excused for not being able to ID a random American flower. :)
It is true, I have twice managed to identify plants for the Downes from pictures he has published, but on this occasion, I was stumped... for a moment.

I published the picture to my FB profile page at 22:37 with this message:
Can anyone ID this plant for an American friend?
At 22:44, a response came from an English friend who happens now to be living in the US, asking what country the plant was growing in (if I remember correctly, she has a background in horticulture). Silly me, I had identified the friend as American, but neglected to indicate that she was still living there... as was the plant. With that point cleared up (also at 22:44), the answer didn't take long to come back:
OK, me again. It's a lamium (member of the nettle family). If you google 'lamium purple flower varigated' it comes up with a variety looking exactly like it called Purple Dragon. The thing about lamiums is that they spread all over the place by underground roots, just like nettles do. Mints are also in this family and, unless you want a whole ... Read moregarden full, you plant them in the pot in which they come to stop them spreading!! Lamiums are sold by garden centres as they grow well in the shade and the varigated ones brighten up a dark corner but they often don't come with a warning about the need to contain them! Hope that's helpful.
At 22:53, I sent a message to Christy saying
Okay Christy, there's an answer for you on my profile page. Check it out.
And that, dear friends, is a social network in action.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

pic of the day - gasp, wheeze

Most of the year, I have the lungs of a draught horse. I have, after all, had classical singing coaching. But come June, my bronchi and bronchiolae go on strike, and my every breath wheezes and rasps. Fortunately, I managed to find the asthma pumps I thought I had lost. Unfortunately, I can't remember which one I'm supposed to use daily and which ones I'm supposed to use in the event of an 'episode'.

Friday, June 05, 2009

pic of the day - adultress

On the journey from our home to our sons' school, we have to pass through the village of Isham, in which stands St Peter's Church. I have tried to find a date for it, but the closest I have come is that sections of it date back to the 12th century.

However, this gargoyle, so local legend tells us, is a model of the stonemason's wife who, he discovered while working on the church, was cuckolding him.

I guess he had the last laugh. She's been up there, holding that undignified position for a long old time!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The big question for June

LCB's big question for June is

How do you spend your time?
I've been puzzling over how to answer this, whether to answer this at all... I am happy to say that Clive Shepherd has done the answering for me. Read his answer and ditto me in on most of it.

The big exception for me is that I do work long hours. Ridiculous hours. Unlike Clive, I don't yet have a steady flow of work coming in, so I spend a lot of my time searching for opps and then writing bids for them. As I improve at this, perhaps I will even begin to win some of the work, rather than having to rely on my network all the time!

Also, I am still busy with a Master's degree, and I spend a lot of time reading for that. I really should stop reading and start writing, but I can't seem to overcome that hump.

Having said that, I take time off to do whatever I want, whenever I want. Tomorrow, my husband has taken the day off, so I've given myself the day off, too.

O Caritas by Cat Stevens

I'm not sure how it is that I have never heard this song before, but for some reason, having just voted in the European elections, I feel as if this song is appropriate.

pic of the day - polling station

Today is election day. Not a general election - Gordon Brown has yet to call one of those. But there were three ballots: borough council; county council; European Parliament. I don't mind telling you that all three of mine went to different parties.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Doing unto others

The church we used to attend in Cape Town has a ministry called Won Life in the area. Part of this ministry is the delivery of food parcels to needy families, while also providing them with a creche for the their children, a free clinic and skills training.

The people of the church this week have taken on a huge challenge. Those who volunteered had to survive on one of the food parcels given to the needy families instead of their normal fare. This meant a steady diet of samp and (kidney) beans pretty much all week long! My sister in law, one of the volunteers, says she has now officially 'bean there, done that'.

It has proved an interesting insight into what sort of 'doing' they've been doing unto the others.

I wonder if we were to subject ourselves to a steady diet of the fare we dish out to our learners, whether we would feel quite so confident about the quality of our provision!

Sharing a story about a garden

Thanks to Dave Snowden for this link. I am excited about the aggregation of subjective anecdotes (using SenseMaker™) that form the heart of this piece of research. The researchers have asked contributors to share a story about their garden... or any garden. It can be a positive or a negative experience.

Why not add your perspective?

Twitter grader... yup!

I got a message from a new follower on Twitter today, telling me he had found me on Twitter Grader. I followed the link, entered my username (karynromeis) as directed and was presented with this:
It seems I am currently ranked 42,441 out of 2,289,735. Now I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but I suspect that, at the very least, you should probably be tugging your forelock about now! Apparently, I am a member of the Twitter elite in my county (how's that forelock?).

Most importantly of all, my grade is 98.3 out of 100.

D'you think this is like golf, or sprinting where a low number is better, or like a bank balance where a high number is better? I decided to try and find out by clicking on the handy 'How it Works' button just below my grade. That took me here.

Of course, they're not about to reveal their algorithm to us, so I still don't know how I came to have that score. What I do know is that the number of followers plays a role, something which the people behind the tool defend. I can't imagine that my meagre 600-odd followers counts for much when there are people with tens of thousands (perhaps even millions?) of followers. But this is just one factor. Other factors are:

  • power of followers - so the grade of my followers affects my grade. Not sure how they determine the grade of the followers in the first place, though - a bit chicken and egg, that.
  • frequency of updates
  • recency of updates
  • follower/following ratio - so if many people follow me, but I only follow a few, this counts in my favour. I can hear @josepicardo expressing indignation from here!
  • engagement - this refers to being retweeted, being @named and obviously, it matters what grade of twit retweets or @names you - to me, this may be the most valid measure.
It turns out the grade thing is like a bank balance, i.e. the higher the number, the better.

None of this helped me find out how @jobrich used the tool to find me. He seems to have found a lot of people that way. So I went back to the Twitter grade report page. On the top right hand side, are some links. One takes you to elite users in various locations. Perhaps @jobrich just searched for all the Twitter elite in the UK.

One very useful feature of the tool is that you can search for terms that are of interest to you. Once you have found out who tweets regularly about stuff that interests you, you can opt to follow them and widen your network.

Training & Development Links

Off the back of a Training Zone magazine article (requires free registration) I wrote, I learned today about a new(ish) blogger on the block. I hope that there will be many more such discoveries over the next while.

Training & Development Links seeks to point to useful resources about the training industry. The blogger, who operates under the pseudonym of Flipchart, has been experimenting with writing voices as he tries to hit upon one that will work for him.

Why not swing by and add your 2p worth as a way of helping him adjust to the blogosphere?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bringing the outsider in...

If you're a teacher, lecturer or a corporate trainer who ever has a foreign learner in your class, the following are some tips for you, straight from the horse's mouth.

  1. Don't let your first remark to the person be about their accent. To your own ears, you don't have an accent... but you do. They are no different. Reminding them that they do simply serves to put you on one side of an invisible border and them on the other. Americans are particularly prone to this, in my experience. They mean well, but "You have such a cute li'l accent!" is patronising to say the least!
  2. Don't let your first remark to them be to ask where they're from. They might live two doors down from you! As with the accent issue (and closely related), a conversation about where they grew up may follow naturally at some point. I once knew a guy grew up in a children's home in South Africa, where there were workers from a range of countries. Added to this, he had been an avid radio ham since boyhood. His accent was a glorious hotchpotch of begged, borrowed and stolen elements that defied definition, but he had never been outside of South Africa.
  3. Watch out for 'we' and 'you' distinctions, which is just 'us and them' made far more personal. "In Australia, we..." simply implies, "Whereas in your country, you...' My mother-in-law has a way of doing this whether she is in South Africa, Sweden or the US. She adopts a 'we do things like this and this' manner of speaking that immediately places the person being spoken to in a box labelled 'outsider'. It was annoying enough when she did it to me on my first visit to Sweden (her homeland) and then to the States (where she lives several months of the year with a daughter), but when she started doing it during our return visits 'home' to Cape Town (where she spends the rest of her time), it just became too much!
  4. If you are debating a point, don't try to trump them purely on the grounds that you're a native to the region/culture. I once comprehensively and deservedly lost an argument about English grammar to a German-speaking Austrian. I conversely won an argument about the tenets of Judaism with a Jewish friend (fortunately we remained friends). When something has 'just always been like that' for you, you may find that you know less about it than someone who has come to it from the outside with a fresh pair of eyes.
  5. Don't frame all your requests for input from that person in the context of their differing heritage, so it's not always a case of "How does this work in Sweden, Sofie?" Make sure to seek their perspective based on their job description, or the fact that they have teenaged kids, or that they are colour blind, or whatever.
Of course, this really only applies if there are just one or two 'outsiders' in the group. If the whole group comprises a wide range of nationalities and cultures, all this goes out of the window.

Bud on Why our current education system is failing

Thanks to Stephen Downes, I came across this post today. It is written by someone still in high school, and is one of the most articulate, cogent arguments I have read. The debate in the comments is very telling, too!

At this point, consider there to be a section break. The next part of this post goes into a spin-off.

There is one section of his post, in particular, however, that I would like to tease out:

Our top priority must be to instill a passion for reading. The progress of humanity depends on it.

A number of my friends routinely say ” I hate reading”

And I always reply, ” You just haven’t found the right book.”

That 'you just haven't found the right book' argument has been mine, too. Verbatim. I have tended to believe that for every child, somewhere out there is the book that will flip the switch. The book that will take the 'non-reader' label past its sell-by date. I have always told my kids: there isn't a door in the world that is closed to you if you love to read. (Side note: I am trying decide what to make of Bud's view that the 100 books he has read over the past four years constitute a lot of reading, when I read 200 books during my last two years of high school, and my mother before me read 400 over the same period.)


I am the mother of a 15 year old son who hates reading. I am also the mother of a 17 year old who enjoys it.

Every night of their early lives, both boys had a bedtime story. At several points during the course of pretty much every day of their lives, someone would read a book to them, or go through a picture book with them. Both boys observed their parents' love of reading. Both boys loved to be read to (said she, ungrammatically).

When, as a baby/toddler, my elder son was 'too quiet' in a way that every parent understands only too well, I would go to investigate, expecting carnage, and find him seated in front of the bookshelf, surrounded by books, 'reading'. I must have repacked those bookshelves 5 times a day when he was little. Quite often, I would find him 'reading' Asterix when the books were longer than his outstretched legs. He liked to be allowed to 'read' an Asterix book in bed... and this was often the result (taken from our family photo album).

And yet. And yet.

I have bust a valve trying to find that 'right book' for my 15 year old. All. His. Life.

Our house has always been full of books. We made regular trips to the library when they were little. We have grabbed reference books to resolve disagreements about trivia at the dinner table. I have come out of bookstores weighed down and broke.

The books on the shelves in our house currently include stuff by Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Tolkien and Shakespeare. We have Anthony Horowitz books of all descriptions. We have Captain Underpants. We have Holes. We have The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. We have Anne MacCaffrey and John Meaney. We have John Grisham. We have exemplars of the juvenile secret agent type that is currently so popular: the Cherub series and the young James Bond stuff (and Horowitz's Alex Rider). We have William Nicholson. We have Christopher Paolini. We have Michelle Paver. Brian Jacques. Trudi Canavan. Frank Peretti. Lloyd Alexander. Sharon Creech. Chris d'Lacey. Roald Dahl. Caroline Pitcher. Colin Foreman. Kevin Crossley-Holland. Justin Richards. Steve Dixon. Jonathan Stroud. Rodman Philbrick.

Nothing. Nada. Not a sausage. Not a glimmer of love for reading.

It is utterly beyond me how anyone can not love to read, but my younger son is one such. He hates to be taken out of the hurly burly of interaction with other people. He loves msn. He loves World of Warcraft. Both these things enable him to engage with other people.

Oddly - and this really gets me - he has the most vivid imagination, and his creative writing is of a high standard. His critical writing, too. His evaluation of the play Blood Brothers read in parts like something I might have written (and before you ask, no, I didn't - I do not, will not do my kids' school work for them). Now, I don't mean to imply that I am a superior writer, but I hope you agree that I'm not bad... and he is only fifteen! His essay about Macbeth was even better. I am at a loss to explain this skill in someone who consumes so little written material from which to draw examples. I am just pleased that he has it!

I have had to learn to just let this one go. Perhaps one day, he will find the 'right book'. Perhaps he never will. I have to let him know that he is not a disappointment to me because he doesn't share my passions.

Stupid days

I don't think men are susceptible to the phenomenon we women call 'fat days'. These are days when you just feel fat. In reality, you are no fatter than you were yesterday, but your self-image for the day is frumpy and bloated and ungainly. We also have thin days (although we tend not to mention these so much) when we feel lithe and attractive and, yes, even sexy.

Well I'd like to know...

Am I the only person on the planet who has stupid days?

I have days when I feel unintelligent. Days when I read an article and just can't understand it. Days when I consider the task before me and think, "I don't know how to do that!" when it is something I've done a hundred times before. Days when molehills become mountainous and I am without my crampons. Days when new information is flooding in and I am armed with a teacup. Days when I just want the pixies to come and make it all happen (or all go away).

With the volume of new information that comes across my screen every day, I can't afford to have stupid days. I really need to find a way to overcome them and, as with fat days, logic doesn't seem to come into it.

Do you have days like that?

When I was at school we had to take IQ tests. You probably did, too. I don't know if they still do them. I hope not. I hope they have been proved to be inaccurate, irrelevant and invalid. Nevertheless, they will serve to illustrate my story.

They tended to do them once towards the end of primary school and then again in early high school, just to validate the results of the first test. I wound up having mine retested several times, because of the disparity in the results. Apparently at the bottom end of the range of results I generated was someone who was unlikely to have made it thus far through high school, while the top end indicated a candidate for Mensa. All from the same person.

I can guarantee you that the former was generated on a stupid day. On that day, I probably said 'huh?' a lot. I probably didn't even understand the questions let alone feel competent to find the right answers. By contrast, perhaps a day or two earlier or later, it would all have been crystal clear and totally straightforward.

Is this a known thing? Or is it just me?