Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The fun theory

I love this! I found it via a post by Ewan McIntosh about analogue creativity.

Geeks like me have been saying this for years: make it fun and people will do it. Treat them like sheeple and they will behave like sheeple.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Proposed ban on smoking in cars

There is currently a move in the UK to have it made illegal to smoke in cars and parks because of the risks posed to children by the secondhand smoke.

I don't smoke (any more - I quit 22 years ago). I don't approve of smoking. I don't approve of people subjecting their children to their secondhand smoke. I didn't let anyone smoke near my children when they were little. But:

  • There are many other things I don't approve of in respect of the way people choose to raise their children. Tough. Unless I think violence is being done, it's none of my business.
  • Children are exposed to secondhand smoke in homes where parents and family members smoke - I can't see the government banning that!
  • Who will police this thing? Will cops on the beat now have to add this offence to the many others they're supposed to prevent? The use of mobile phones while driving has been banned, but goes entirely unpoliced... and that, at least, is a traffic violation. Who will police a health and safety violation on the roads?
I can think of many things which place children at greater risk than people smoking in cars, some of which it would be very politically incorrect to even mention. Are we going to start placing a ban on those next?

I believe we can educate and warn people, but we cannot take away their right to make stupid decisions.

My 2p worth.

Earth hour 2010

I have often been asked how much of a difference I think I can make with regard to the whole 'green' thing, because, they tell me, I am only one person.

This is true. I am only one person. I am very glad of that. It would be quite tricky to keep track of myself if I were several people! The thing is you're only one person, too. Everyone is only one person! But together we are two people, and three people, and 10 people and more than 6.6 billion people.

And we are each accountable for our own actions.

Tomorrow I will mark Earth Hour. I am only one person, and this is something I can do. I will probably light a lantern and read a book by its light.

How about you?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

User empowerment... from my new watch!

Last night my husband arrived home with a gift for me, to congratulate me on finally completing my Masters' degree.

The gift was a beautiful Fossil watch in a case that was almost as gorgeous as the watch! Because I have ludicrously puny wrists, I took one look at the watch strap and said, "I'm going to have to take it in to have it made smaller."

My husband grinned triumphantly. "No you don't. You can do it yourself. It's designed like that."

And blow me down, it is. There are three fixed links on either side, then after that, each link connects with a clasp. I kid you not: a clasp! No fiddly pins for which you need magnifying glass and watchmakers screwdrivers. Such an elegantly simple solution.

So not only could I remove enough links to make the watch fit me now, I can remove more if I lose more weight, or add them back in if I (heaven forefend) gain it, or have a bout of water retention.

How cool is that? JIT watch adjustment. I feel so empowered!

Goodbye butts in chairs...

How did I ever miss this? Thanks to Harold Jarche for the pointer (on Facebook).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Please pardon my crowing....

... but I just heard that I passed my final paper. I have a Masters' degree. It has taken far longer than anticipated, because I had a bit of a breakdown in the middle, but I did. I actually did it!

Next up, sign language course.

What? Why are you looking at me like that? It's called lifelong learning, and I've wanted to learn sign since my niece's deafness was diagnosed in 1988!

Can I say it again? Loud enough to be heard by the lost little girl who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. You did it, kiddo!

Ada Lovelace day

Today is Ada Lovelace day when we celebrate women in technology. I'm not usually much of a one for girls-only recognition, but perhaps we are still a long way from the point where technological jobs are seen as being as open to women as they are to men.

I have to say that I think the exception is the field of ICT and related matters. Because of the relative newness of the field and the speed at which it has developed, there was no time for sexism. So, instead of writing about a particular woman in information/comms technology, and instead of extolling the many virtues of the women in my network, I am going to take a slightly different approach.

I would like to give a shout out to all the anonymous female motor mechanics, electricians, engineers of all kinds, fighter pilots, microsurgeons and so on. All the girls who hold their own in fields still largely seen as the male province.

When I was coming to the end of high school, I really wanted to be a mechanical engineer. I wanted to design machines. I like the way machines work and they make sense to me. Since we had no money to speak of, I was going to need a bank loan, so we set about applying for one. Every bank manager we saw told me the same story: they were not going to lend money to a girl who wanted to study mechanical engineering, because the attrition rate was too high, the risks too great and the return on the investment doubtful. I was encouraged to consider chemical or light current electrical engineering instead. Since I was hopeless with both those areas of the science curriculum at school, I had no interest in going that route.

I admire those women who haven't taken no for an answer. Who have activated their 'I'll show you' button and who earn their keep doing jobs that their grandmothers never heard of and that their mothers thought only suitable for boys.

One such anonymous woman was my husband's late aunt Gunnel Bjureblad, who was an engineer. She died four years back, aged 70-something, and I imagine the opposition she faced in her day was even tougher than my own, especially since her Dad thought that education beyond the age of 14 was wasted on a girl.

Call it a cop out if you like, but I salute the Gunnel Bjureblads of the world today. All of them.

An unexpected hero

If you live outside of the UK, you may not have heard of Eddie Izzard. Okay, you might have done - he appeared in My Super Ex-girlfriend as the misunderstood baddie who was in love with the super ex of the title.

In the UK, he is better known as a comedian (severe language warning on linked video) and a transvestite who frequently appears at gigs in towering heels and a full face of make-up.

He's intelligent and articulate, but he is not an athlete... or so you would think.

But with relatively little fanfare, last year he ran 43 marathons in 51 days in aid of the charity, Sport Relief... and raised £1.6 million!

He prepared for only 5 weeks and at the start, was carrying a fair old spare tyre. But he argued, this is what we were designed to do. And I guess he's right. Before the wheel came along, we had to walk or run everywhere, and the stone age didn't boast a Tesco or a Walmart, so it was run - a lot - or go hungry.

He ran mostly alone and largely unremarked, as this article in The Guardian explains. Catching snippets of the BBC series about his efforts, I have to say that my heart swelled and I developed a new found respect for this rather unusual man.

Well done, Eddie. I salute you. You put us all to shame.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Harold Jarche on PKM

Harold has written a nice post about personal knowledge management today. Check it out.

Those wretched hoops!

Our younger son is closing in on his final GCSE (general certificate of secondary education) exams, and recently brought home his 'long report' which provides parents with the following information for each subject:

  • How your child is performing in terms of his/her attitude/behaviour in class, effort and homework completion - these are subjective scores allocated by the teacher on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being poor and 5 being stellar
  • Your child's target grade and how he/she is currently performing against that
  • A paragraph of reflection by the teacher: areas for improvement and so on
The last few weeks have been frantic, as the unfinished parts of the syllabus in several subjects are crammed in. The entire form recently had to stay on for an extra two hours every day for a week, in order to complete the work in subject X. Some of them are still doing this. My son has had no lunch breaks for weeks on end as he tries to complete the units of the syllabus in subject Y that the rest of the form did the year before he joined the school.

I don't understand why this all has to be done now. Surely it was known from day one when he joined the school two years ago that he was going to need to make up the extra year in subject Y? Surely that work could have been spread across two years rather than being crammed into these last few weeks? Surely it was evident months ago that the entire form was falling behind on subject X? Why does it all have to be done now? Especially since they are also frantically trying to raise several thousand Pounds for a school trip to Ecuador (anyone got a small fortune going spare?) in the summer.

My son's tutor remarked that he appeared to be showing signs of the strain of the additional workload and needed to find ways to break it down into manageable chunks. I commend her for her insight into his character, but I'm not sure what the poor kid can do.

In the context of all of this, one particular piece of feedback had me reaching for my poison pen. In subject X, my son's predicted grade is a B. His scores for attitude, homework completion and effort are all 5s. His recently submitted coursework received an A grade. The short paragraph from the teacher started "Your coursework was disappointing..." Excuse me? This is a model student who is outperforming his predicted grade and you are disappointed?

My son is talking about taking the work back and tweaking it so that he can get a better A or an A*. My advice to him is to let it be. He has enough else on his plate right now, and that A is in the bank. But the school is encouraging him to try to up that grade.

I know of another school where several kids are being pressured to resit a maths exam in attempt to up their grades from A to A*.

I'm casting about for a word to describe this and I'm tempted to go with iniquitous. What are we doing to these kids?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Taking YouTube videos offline

I was certain I had posted about this before, but I can't seem to find the post. Apologies if I'm repeating myself!

A lot of people in this space are frustrated by the fact that access to YouTube is blocked within their organisations. I think we've satisfactorily established that, while there is an inevitable amount of dross on YouTube, there is also a wealth of material that is useful. When reputable organisations like WWF, MIT, and the OU have their own channels on YouTube, surely it is time for a paradigm shift?

But if you are still bumping your head against the firewall, there is a chink of light. If you have identified some YouTube videos relevant to the learning needs within your organisation, you can take them offline. Appropriately enough, there is a YouTube video to tell you how to do this:

Of course, this is a long way from having all of YouTube at your disposal, but it's a start. If nothing else, it will demonstrate to your learners the value of YouTube as a learning tool.

The message seems finally to have gotten through in my own home. My younger son has recently decided to take up rugby. In a rugby mad family, he was always the one person who has been uninterested in the sport. But recently, he has been playing at school and has discovered an innate talent a passion for the game. Of course, he now has a lot of catching up to do, since most of the other kids have been playing for years.

To my delight, and entirely of his own volition, he went the YouTube route. Having discussed with us the role of each positional player within the team, he decided that he was most likely to play on the flank (numbers 6 and 7, sometimes known by the older name 'wing forward'). Over the past couple of weeks, he has completely immersed himself in videos about the rules of the game in general and the role of the flank in particular. He has also taken every opportunity to watch live rugby with us, questioning us endlessly about the reasons for stoppages. Then he has had a go at explaining to us what the deal is, to see whether he is getting the right end of the stick.

The learning anorak has spawned a self-driven learner, ladies and gents. My cup runneth over.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Peter Casebow and Jay Cross in conversation

Peter Casebow has recorded a skype conversation between himself and Jay Cross about learning and performance.

Don't expect slick production and such like - expect a conversation. That's what it is.

Increasingly, I would say we need to learn to regard resources like this as valid constituents of our learning experience. There isn't always time or money to repurpose material and make it shiny.

So you think social media are for socialising, huh?

Jane Hart, who can be relied upon to have her finger on the pulse, is building up a series of case studies of the use of social media "INTERNALLY for social and collaborative learning and/or performance and productivity improvement".

The examples (at the time of writing) include British Telecom; Pearson; BUPA; WWF; Nationwide and NASA. And the list os growing. If you'd like to add to it, please get in touch with Jane via the link on her site.

Bear with me...

This blog is undergoing some redesign, and may be a bit unpredictable over the next few days.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Magical augmented reality

How's this for a magical use of technology for kids?

The publishers say:
"This is a sneak preview of the animation that is in our new book 'What Lola Wants...Lola Gets' that uses 'Augmented Reality' which will be published on the 1st of April 2010 by Scribblers, a division of Book House. "

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On that wretched academic/corporate divide

I find the divide between academic learning and corporate learning unhelpful, and I'm sure I'm not alone. In his comment on my recent post, Garry Platt touched on a point that has been niggling away at me for lo, these three and a half years past.

He said:

I think one possible reason why academic reviews of mainstream ‘management’ models are not more accessed and taken account of by trainers and developers is in part to do with the style of writing used. In many cases, the majority in my experience, reviews, positive or otherwise of models or concepts are in written in a style and English which is incredibly hard to understand. This in my view merely reflects a ridiculous style that academia deems as necessary. I can absolutely see the need for precision but the unnecessary use of big words when little ones will do and sentence structures of an arid and ridiculous length just make things worse.
Now, I'm not sure I would always go along with the big words/little words argument. I recently read a headline that said 'lots of people hurt in smash' and ground my teeth. I don't see the problem with 'several people injured in collision', but perhaps that's just me... and as for the over-use of the word 'big'! Well, don't even get me started.

But I digress.

My greatest obstacle on my (now almost complete, and about time, too!) Masters' degree has been that of writing style. The following is part of a conversation that took place on my Facebook page on Sunday:I'm not sure what I can add to that, except to point out that the value and applicability of research appears to be severely hampered by the requirement for a certain type of language. Surely this defeats the purpose of research?

I think I would rather enjoy an exchange of views among corporate learning professionals in which more than the usual token handful have read the research. As it is, as soon as the subject of research is raised, you can almost hear the shutters come down with a clang. I suspect some are hard pressed not to jam their fingers in their ears and yell "LALALALALAAAAAA!!!"

Monday, March 08, 2010

On not needing to know

I have often bewailed the fact that I am neither fish nor fowl when it comes to the world of learning. I don't work in the field of formal education and my academic writing skills are the about on a par with my squash: I have a go at it, but I'm not terribly successful, and I haven't ever figured out what it is I need to do differently. Ergo, I am not an academic.

I work mainly with corporates in the field of workplace learning. But here, I encounter learning and development professionals without the slightest interest in the stuff that ignites the spark in my eyes and gets my hands waving.

Apparently, we workplace learning bods don't need to trouble ourselves with all that geeky theory stuff. Or so they keep telling me.

And yet they talk about six sigma and red hats and black hats. They talk about Honey and Mumford and MBTI and VAK. They talk about Kirkpatrick. They talk about management styles. They talk about the trends in presentation techniques.

What they don't seem to realise is that is the realm of theory. Theory they have often acquired umpteenth hand somewhere along the way, liked the sound of and adopted into their lexicon or practice without a second thought.

I find this irresponsible. Surely, before you impart something, and/or allow something to influence the way you teach/train/facilitate, you should explore it to make sure that it is sound? Otherwise, how is it any better than perpetuating rumour?

I was chatting to a young teacher friend last night and she was talking about the ways in which her school is attempting to engage parents in the education of their children. To get them to see that they are in fact their children's primary educators (music to my ears!) and their responsibility to their kids extends beyond dropping them off at the school gates washed and dressed each morning.

Some years ago, I had to receive therapy after a cycling accident. As we discussed my symptoms and my proposed treatment, my therapist asked if I were medically trained. When he saw my puzzled face, he estimated that at least half his patients (in an affluent town with an educated populace) would have trouble distinguishing between their liver and their kidney and saying with certainty how many they had of each.

I could cite a few more examples, but had best stop before I get into full spate. It seems to me that, in this age when almost any information you want or need is available to you at the click of a button, there are still far too many people seeing it as someone else's job to know stuff.

Well, whose job is it then? Whose job is it to know whether the content of your learning materials is sound? Whose job is it to know whether the management style model you're applying is reliable? Whose job is it to know what your children are being taught at school... and how well they're coping with it? Whose job is it to monitor the health of the only body (and mind) you're ever going to be issued?

I guess it's a symptom of my irredeemable geekhood that I simply can't understand how people can not want to know. How they can not be consumed with curiosity about the stuff that impacts their lives and the lives of people they care about.

Of course, none of us can know everything. And we certainly can't understand everything. There are times when even rampant curiosity is not going to be enough. When we want to know something, but simply don't understand it. Then you have to decide whether it's worth it to you to invest the sort of time and resources necessary to acquire that understanding. Often it isn't, so you cut your losses and move on.

But then don't present that material as fact to hordes of people and claim that it isn't your business to know the theory.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Looking back over the furrow

This morning, for some reason best known to itself (possibly due to the partnering with Ingboo) my Technorati search on my name returned 200 hits. I'm sure there are some people for whom this is a daily occurrence. I am not one of them. My name crops up only occasionally, so I had a moment of panic when I wondered what I might have done to cause such a flurry of interest.

As it turns out, none of them are new. But I found myself reading back over old posts from a number of people with whom I have I have engaged in online discourse over the past few years or so.

I also found myself rereading some of my own posts and was really glad of the title of this blog. Because, boy oh boy, I don't exactly plough a very straight furrow! But I'm not a farmer and straight furrows are not among my goals. This is a learning journey. And I have learned. A lot. I have also, and this never fails to fill my insecure little heart with joy, been a part of other people's learning journeys (for good or ill).

As far as I can remember, today is not a red letter day. It is not my anniversary as a blogger, or my x thousandth post. It's just an ordinary day on which some small thing outside of my control made me pause and look back.

If you're reading this post, you have been a part of that crooked furrow. So I'd like to thank you. Just off the top of my head, a few names that deserve special mention are (in no particular order):
Harold Jarche
Janet Clarey
Stephen Downes
Wendy Wickham
Christy Tucker
Virginia Yonkers
Tony Karrer
Don Taylor
Mark Berthelemy

Virtual hugs to you all!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

On passion

I watched the recent men's Olympic ice hockey finals with bated breath. How Americans and Canadians managed to get through it without a coronary is beyond me.

But I was tickled by the iconic status of the Canadian netminder (read goalkeeper) Roberto Luongo. Of course, he was a local boy, playing as he does for the Vancouver Canucks, but I doubt that that was the only explanation for the basso profundo roar of "LUUUUUU!!!" that went up every time he touched the puck. The commentators were at great pains to explain that the crowd wasn't booing, because it did sound rather like it.

The South African rugby team has a similar figure in the form of Tendai Mtawarira aka The Beast. Every time he touches the ball, the entire stand thrums as every supporter chants a throaty "BEEEEEEEEAST!!!!" As we watch him play, at a remove of several thousand kilometres, and sometimes several hours (or even days) my family does it, too. Four throats joining in with the many thousand in the stands.

These characters have inspired an astonishing level of devotion among their supporters. In an odd way, Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong had a similar effect. Apparently the crowd was still chanting "Ghana! Ghana!" an hour after his run. So we can tell that it isn't necessarily about superior skills.

I suspect that it is about passion. All these men (and I'm sure there are women like this, too) share an indomitability. They simply don't know when to quit. They. Will. Not. Be. Stopped. In this civilised age, I find it heartening that we are so ready to be won over by this level of passion. There is nothing civilised about the responses to the endeavours of these sportsmen.

In fact, let me tell you a little tale. Some years ago, I attended my sons' school sports day. All the parents were doing the usual thing of yelling their heads off for their kids and their friends' kids. Then up stepped a lad I'll call David Michaels. David had a particularly virulent form of muscular dystrophy and it was evident that this was the last year he would attend sports day on his own two feet. As the children lined up for the race, David was given a huge head start. Believe you me, there wasn't a dry eye in the place and, regardless of who they had come there to support, every child, every teacher and every parent present roared for David. Even with the head start, he wasn't able to win, but he did finish second, and the roar that went up was greater than for the rest of the events combined. David would not quit. In fact, the next year, he was back. This time in his wheelchair, being pushed by a willing volunteer.

I understand this level of passion. I'm a passionate person myself. As such, I know full well that these people have encountered naysayers, detractors and Job's comforters at every step along their journey. In order to get to where they are (even young David, who may well not even be alive any more), they will have had to refuse to buy into the 'good advice' that people have given them.

There are times when our battle on the learning front gets tiresome. There are days when we are tempted just to pack it in and go back to designing mind-numbing tunnels of back and next buttons. On those days, I reckon we could do worse than watch a brutal, uncivilised clash of sporting Titans to stir up the blood again. To remind ourselves that we might be fully clothed, erudite grown-ups on the outside, but every now and again, the inner savage needs a bit of legroom.

How's your inner savage today?