Monday, December 25, 2006

A sad Christmas

A personal note today.

Today is Christmas. As a Christian, it should be a day that brings me joy. But I heard this morning that a friend lost her battle to cancer on Friday. She was only 33. I don't know the answer to the questions these situations pose, but I am profoundly glad to have had the privilege of knowing her!

How tough for her family that everyone around them is celebrating and partying while they grieve - it must make them feel even more alone in their grief. No doubt every Christmas season from now on will have that little seed of pain. Twenty years ago, my Gran died in the early hours of 19 December (my birthday is 18 December). Her funeral was held on my mother's birthday (21 December). I am familiar with grief of this sort. At least, however, my Gran was a grandmother. Sarah never even got to be a wife and mother. Not that I'm suggesting that this is the only path the fulfillment for a woman, but (a) it is an indication of how short her life was that she never had the chance and (b) it was a path she wanted to walk - she often spoke of her wish to meet someone special.

To everyone out there for whom the Christmas season contains a note of sadness, may you know peace this year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I'm legal

Just thought I'd share. After 6 months of waiting and phoning and fighting and nagging and being stonewalled, I finally got my permanent residence permit (more correctly known as Indefinite Leave to Remain) on Saturday. It was well-timed as an early birthday present (that was on Monday). It's a huge relief, but the process is ridiculously out of keeping with the requirements of a modern family.

My application was based on the fact that my husband is an EU (European Union) citizen. As a consequence, I had to submit his passport in suport of my application, together with my passport, our original marriage certificate, a letter from my employer, a letter from his employer, four recent payslips of his and four of mine.

The problems started when my husband needed to travel. As the head of IT for a multinational company, he often needs to travel at the drop of a hat. New York, Paris, Carpi... Of course, this means that he needs his passport. Quickly. The process of "urgent" return of documents at the Home Office takes a mere 10 working days. They got very sick of us insisting that we needed it NOW, and my husband had to make many trips to their offices to collect the thing in person.

I can (just about) accept that, as the applicant, I would have to put up with some disruption to my life, and fortunately my job doesn't entail any international travel at present. But why my husband should have endure this nightmare is a mystery to me. Surely we couldn't have been setting a precedent? Surely there must be others in this day and age who travel extensively and who cannot be without their passports for 6 months? Surely!

Since his passport didn't actually need to be stamped, I couldn't understand why they needed to retain it at all. Why didn't they just record the fact that it had been seen and return it to him? In the end, in frustration, we paid £80 to the Swedish embassy for a provisional passport for him and submitted that with my application, while he used the original document.

But what if I had been the one with the jetsetting job? What then? I mean, they can have the payslips and stuff for 6 months if it makes them happy, but the passport thing needs to be reworked to fit in with the realities of life in this age. Surely we have the technology to achieve this?

I was planning to apply for citizenship next year, in order not to have to separate from my family in airports in the future, and not to be the only who has to apply for visas every time we want to go anywhere. But if it means being without my passport for another 6 months, perhaps I'll pass...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The king is dead?

Thought provoking post from Scott Karp on the subject of content. Don't miss the discussion going on in the comments. As is so often the case, that's where the debate really unfolds.

In my sector, there are still those who proclaim that "content is king". I'm still coming to terms with my right to disagree with boffins, even though I'm just li'l ol' me. I have a kneejerk tendency to assume that I am mistaken when someone I respect makes a categorical statement about the industry. Last time someone used that phrase I felt very uncomfortable - they seemed so sure of themselves, but I didn't agree. I let it go on that occasion, but am relieved to see the argument seeing daylight here.

Of course, the content of learning resources has to be reliable, valid, etc. But as I see it, there are loads of people who can produce content. Good content. Naturally, I believe that my team and I are among them. Maybe it's because I'm a learning designer that I believe what makes a client go with us rather than a competitor has more to do with design than content. Is it pitched at the right level(s)? Does it cater to the range of users? Is the layout easy on the eye? How intuitive is the navigation? Is the user in control of his journey through the content? How easily will he find what he is looking for? What external/internal/human resources are placed at his disposal? Are there multiple ways in to the content? Is it engaging? Are there opportunities for interactivity? All that stuff...

There are many, many organisations out there producing learning resources. It's a tough market. I agree with Scott that, if we want to grow - in fact, if we want to survive - we will have to do far more than produce good content. Otherwise, our users are likely to stick to Google and wikipedia...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Harold Jarche has tagged me with the five things meme. This is a first for me, and I'm not sure how to feel about it. I have read some memes with more interest than others - this is one that gives a bit of trivia-style glimpse into the people behind the blogs. The idea is to give 5 little-known facts about oneself. Since I've met only one fellow blogger before (and I won't tag him because he wouldn't thank me for that!), I could take refuge behind things like my height and eye colour, but I won't...

  1. I have a thoroughly normal 21st century family: a sister, a step-brother, a step-father, a step-mother of roughly my own age and a half-sister who is only 12 and is younger than my own children. She and I have only met once - at our father's funeral. By contrast, my children are unusual among their peers, growing up in what used to be a normal family: both parents still on their first marriage and in no danger of quitting.
  2. I am a deeply committed Christian.
  3. My paternal grandfather won the battle in north Africa single-handedly. I know this from the stories he never stopped telling, and in which he was always the hero - it seems he achieved more in those scant years than most people would do in 5 lifetimes... Monty was most fortunate that my grandfather wasn't on Rommel's team !-)
  4. I am married to a Swede, and can speak the language a little. I am better at reading it than I am at conversing, but when conversing, I cope much better with the clipped accents of the east coast than the glottal sounds of the west. Sod's law - my husband's family is mainly from the west coast. I also speak fluent Afrikaans, a smattering of Zulu and Xhosa and can read Dutch.
  5. I presented an Afrikaans music TV programme in South Africa in 1988. I was very bad at it.
So there you are. I hope that provides enough variety. So who shall I tag? I am probably a bit late to the game, so the chances are that the bloggers I read have already been tagged. If so, apologies. Here goes (in alphabetical order, no less!):

Doug Belshaw
Vicki Davis
Albert Ip
Jeff Utecht
Wendy Wickham

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Big Question for December

Over at the Learning Circuits blog, the big question for December is... correction, the big questions for December are:

What will you remember most about 2006?
What are the biggest challenges for you/us as head into 2007?
What are your predictions for 2007?

Since the most notable events of my year had little to do with my professional life, I'm tempted to handle this from a purely personal perspective, but fear not, I shall resist. To put things into context, I am a learning solutions designer. So...

What will you remember most about 2006?
  • The opportunity to create resources that didn't involve linear navigation (wahey!)
  • The publication of George's book Knowing Knowledge
  • The terrifying (first hand) discovery that many UK primary school teachers are really pants at maths
What are the biggest challenges for you/us as head into 2007?
  • Trying to persuade more paying clients to allow us to create learner-driven resources
  • Creating learner-driven resources that add more value than Google and wikipedia
  • Finding ways to accommodate and even capitalise on the first instinct of learners in the workplace to ask the bloke at the next desk
What are your predictions for 2007?
You know, I don't really feel bold enough to make predictions. I don't know enough!
  • I hope that we see more use of ICT in general and social media in particular in schools, and in learning as a whole
  • I hope that education authorities the world over start to revise their ideas based on input from universities and employers... especially employers
  • I hope that workplace-based learners will become increasingly pro-active in respect of their learning
Writing skills

Friday, November 24, 2006

50 Million Bloggers

I was forwarded a newsletter from ITinfo that included the following article by Dave Murphy:

"Technorati, the recognised blog tracking service, reported that there
are fifty-one million blogs were in publication as of today. This is one
hundred times more blogs than were in existence when the tracking
service started, three years ago.

It is estimated, based on Technorati's numbers, that the blogosphere,
the global blog space, is doubling in size about every six months.

One hundred and seventy-five thousand blogs are created every day--two
every second. These aren't blog entires, but new blogs, each with dozens
to thousands of articles. an estimated 1.6 million entries are posted to
blogs each day--eighteen per second. These numbers do not account for
the comments, trackback pings, and e-mail distributions that follow many
of the articles.

While most bloggers post in English--about thirty-nine
percent--thirty-one percent ware written in Japanese. Together, these
languages comprise seventy percent of the blogosphere."
It looks as if blogs are becoming a bit like mobile phones and email accounts.
Writing skills

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A stupid question from someone who should know better

Can anyone provide an explanation as to why all my posts these days have the words "writing skills" appended just above the tags? I've look in the template and don't see anything there that explains the mystery...

It's oh so quiet...

It's an odd feeling, this. I have been posting less than usual, due to the fact that I am up to my ears in assignments, a new project and various other commitments. And such posting as I have done has gone utterly unremarked. Even other people's posts on which I have commented have received no other traffic, so my CoComment site has gone equally quiet. I have never been one of the hot bloggers, so my blog posts don't often attract much attention, but this is weird. I feel like the "action" has moved somewhere else, while I've got myself caught in a backwater. I've never been one to post for ratings (although it is gratifying when something I say strikes a chord with someone else), but I didn't realise how much I would miss the inteplay if I ever lost it.

Gary Larson
- he of the Far Side cartoon strip (whose request not to have his "children" splurged all over the Internet I shall respect by not trying to reproduce or link to it here) - did a cartoon titled Last of the Mohicans, which shows a lone Native American in a settlement of tipis calling "Little Bear? Running Deer? Where are you guys?" I feel a bit like that.

Did I miss something?

Writing skills

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wisdom of crowds get challenged...

Clive Shepherd has posted about David Freedman's oppositional stance on the subject of the wisdom of crowds. I expect that David Freeman is going to come in for a bit of shtick on this one - it isn't PC to say that a bunch of people together can/will act unwisely, in this age when collaboration is the In Thing and can do no wrong. It is interesting to hear the voice of dissent.

I attended a workshop about James Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds some time age, and posted on it at the time. I have to admit that, the whole way through the workshop I was picturing those thousands upon thousands of people listening to Hitler speak and hanging upon his every word, and football crowds running amok, and Lord of the Flies (okay that last one is a work of fiction, and the group might be a little small to be called a crowd, but I pictured it anyway). I couldn't make those images fit with what I was hearing.

I can understand that under certain circumstances, crowds can be said to behave wisely. The 1994 elections in South Africa were a prime example: 90% of the country's population was getting to vote for the very first time. The world expected violence and bloodshed, but what happened was a peaceful, incident-free election.

This was a one-off situation when people consciously decided to strive for what was best for everyone. I fear, though, that the belief that crowds always display more wisdom than individuals is built upon the insubstantiated notion that people - individually and collectively - are always (whether intrinsically or extrinsically) motivated to do right and be the best they can be, and that this driver increases exponentially when people gather together. I have yet to see evidence of this. Many, perhaps even most, people strive to do the best they can for themselves under the circumstances, but doing well and doing good don't always go together... unfortunately.

In a post some time ago, I wailed half in jest: why can't we all just get along, to which Harold Jarche supplied a one-word explanation: greed. For as long as this is the case, I wonder how wise we really will be - collectively or individually.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The open hand

When we play cards, the idea is to keep secret from our fellow-players the hand we hold. Not long ago, the same was true of the knowledge we "owned". While card playing hasn't changed much, we have moved to a more generous age in relation to our learning.

Recently, I travelled through to the university campus where I am studying in order to facilitate a mini-clinic in online discussions.

To put this into context:
I don't think I do them a disservice to say that most of my classmates are in their 40s and 50s. There are one or two who may be older, a fair few in their 30s and a mere handful in their 20s. So the class is not exactly overflowing with digital natives! Some of them are still on the fringes of using ICT and one (a classical ballet teacher) had never sent even sent an email message before. One of the requirements of the current module is a certain degree of participation in online discussions. For a few members of the class, this was unknown and scary territory - a place on the map left blank and white and labelled "Heere be dragons ". Understandably, the teaching provided presupposes a certain level of competence. Unfortunately, some of my classmates do not possess this level of competence. Nor do they know how to go about acquiring it. To me, the answer is obvious - I have the knowledge they need and the skills to pass them on. I see no reason for them to continue to struggle for want of something I am in position to provide.

We who inhabit the blogosphere are accustomed to holding our knowledge with an open hand, and having easy access to the knowledge of others, as if playing a game with our cards on the table for all to see and use. Because they do not inhabit the blogosphere, however, my classmates (while grateful) were taken by surprise at my suggestion, and I realised that, a short while ago I might have reacted in much the same way.

It filled me with a renewed gratitude for this community to which I now belong. I have learned so much (and continue to learn, even though I have kept a rather low profile lately, due to time constraints). After even this short time (just over a year), I can't conceive of life without access to the online community - it would be like sensory deprivation.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Writing skills

Brag moment: my 13 year old nephew won an award for this poem. It's called "With these hands" and the young poet's name is Michael Ihlenfeldt.

With these hands - I could touch the sky
I could leap off the ground
Flap my hands and fly

With these hands I could slow down time
I could alter the weather
By simply clapping them together

With these hands I could hold back the rain
I could light up the sun
I could let rivers run

With these hands I could soothe the pain of the nation
I could dry up their tears
Remove all their fears

With these hands - I can do wonderful things
If, deep in my soul
My faith keeps me whole...

I was impressed at his depth and perceptiveness. Bearing in mind that he lives in South Africa - "the pain of the nation" is something he has grown up with - one would almost expect that he would consider this life as usual. It seems either his history teachers have been earning their keep, or my sister has ensured that her children are well up on the tragic history of their country!

Of course the poem is what it is, with a readership or 1 million or none at all, but I wonder if it would have made a difference if he had posted the poem on a blog. When he was advised that he had won the award, he couldn't remember what poem they were referring to (perhaps he writes many such pieces!). I have read so many wonderful blog posts about how kids have been affirmed by having people comment on their work when they have posted it online.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The future of learning design models

Over at LCB, the Big Question for November is about the future of learning design models (such as Addie, ISD and HPT).


My background has chiefly been in corporate learning and my interest is largely learning in the workplace. In this realm, these models have been very popular and, in some situations, such as technical skills, very useful.

A while back, there was a conversation about whether ADDIE had in fact become DI, and I have worked in organisations where that has been the case: talk about grindingly frustrating! At all costs, we need to avoid that, since the learner's needs are completely ignored. Whether or not we use models, my view is that the learner's needs and the learner experience should be at the heart of what we do.

As I said in a conversation some time back, I suspect we are going to become more and more like the designers of cars: we will provide all the features - it will be the learner who takes the driver's seat and decides where to go, when to go there, how often, how fast and by what route. However, some method still needs to be applied to decide what features to provide and the look and feel of the vehicle -if we are completely without strategy, we are likely to wind up with a resource like Homer's car that includes every feature imaginable, but is hideous to look at, impossible to use and completely outside of everyone's price range.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy birthday, Robyn!

Today is my sister's 40th birthday, so I am going to indulge myself with a personal post today. Like many of us, she is trying to convince herself that there has been a gross miscalculation and that she is, in fact, only 39 today. What she doesn't realise is that her milestone birthdays are even worse news for me than they are for her: she is my younger sister, after all!

The idea had been for her to come and spend two weeks with me in the UK at the end of October. This was to have been my gift to her, since (like most of our compatriots) she has never travelled outside of South Africa. She has also never seen autumn - South African trees are mostly evergreens and there isn't really an autumnal period there. But she was unable to come. So I decided to try to send autumn to her. England is very pretty in October - at its prettiest for my money. Photographs are a poor substitute for the real thing, and (unlike Stephen Downes) I'm no great shakes with the camera. However, for what it's worth, I don't think she'll mind sharing this part of her birthday gift with you.

Happy birthday, Robs. I miss you.

Tim Berners-Lee sets the record straight

There are times in life when it galls me to be proved wrong. Then there are those times when I am delighted to have one of my negative perceptions debunked. This is one of those times when I am happy to have been wrong.

A while back, I posted about an article on Tim Berners-Lee and his view of Web 2.0. His reported reaction disappointed me deeply. However, it seems he was taken out of context, and he has used his own blog to set the record straight. Hat tip to Vicki Davis for the link.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Juggernauts and handbrake turns

Interesting post today from Kathy Sierra (one of my all-time favourite bloggers). She's exploring the relevance of the sort of skills imparted in science courses - comparing what is taught to what skills are actually exercised in these fields. This subject has traction and has been explored from various angles by numerous people across a wide range of disciplines. I have to agree with some of the comments that the problem is not unique to the USA. I have been directly exposed to the education systems of two countries (UK and South Africa), and via the blogosphere have vicariously encountered concerns surrounding the Canadian, US and Australian systems.

Recently, during a Learning and Teaching lecture, we were exploring the concept of PLEs in schools. I posted recently on this point, but the lecturer advised me that the matter was receiving attention from on high.

While these are two separate issues, I think they suffer from the same limitations: the bureaucracy and red tape associated with state education systems. We have recognised the changes that need to be made. We know what direction should be going in, but the turnaround time is frustratingly slow. After all, government departments are akin to juggernauts and don't do handbrake turns very well. Perhaps we need to be looking at ways to restructure the education system to improve response times. For all I know - perhaps "we" already are, but that's yet another juggernaut turn. Maybe what we need is a streamlined, nippy little system like the Minis in "The Italian Job".

I wish.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Assessment in the collaborative learning environment

I just had to store this somewhere. I am reading an extract from Building Learning Power by Guy Claxton (2002) and this quote jumped up and smacked me in the face. It made me want to rush out and shove it under the nose of all the decision makers associated with secondary school assessment in the formal education sector (the bold formatting is mine):

If the good learner is the essentially the person plus their resources (and their ability to draw on them), our methods of testing should encourage teachers and students to value and practise capitalising. In today's world, it makes as much sense to sit 15-year-olds down at solitary desks and ask them to display their knowledge and skill as it would to take away David Beckham's football and tell him to perform.
I would go one step further than Claxton's closing words of this paragraph. I would reword it to say "... David Beckham's teammates and tell him to perform." Even the most brilliant player of a team sport cannot defeat the opposition on his/her own. We make new discoveries, conquer new horizons, meet new challenges together. This is reality.

Oh, and by the way...for those outside the UK, David Beckham is an English football (soccer) player - about the best known player in the world in 2002, in fact some would have said the best player in the world, period. In 2006, in his early 30's he is something of a fading star, but he still knows a thing or two about kicking a ball about the place. His appeal may also have a little something to do with the fact that he is... erm... easy on the eye.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Why young children are not ready to be in control of their own learning

I know it's just a cartoon, but today's strip illustrates why I don't believe that young children are in a position to direct their own learning journey. There are things they need to learn that they simply are not in a position to know that that they need to know (sorry - clumsy sentence!). They simply do not have the perspective or experience to be able to identify vital knowledge. The adults charged with the care of a child must assume responsibility for making those choices until they are ready to do so themselves. Ideally on a gradually diminishing basis. Adults have passed on knowledge to the next generation for thousands of years. In some cultures even to this day, survival depends on attentive absorption of this learning.

Of course, we will make some misidentifications, of course we will adopt some dire methods. As a race, we seldom get things absolutely right. But I don't think these errors are enough reason for us to abdicate this responsibility - it's part of the nurturing process.

Or that's what I think, anyway.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Minnows and whales

A comment from Graham Wegner on this post from Kim Cofino got me thinking. As I commented on Kim's post (with a few edits):

We each seem to see ourselves as minnows among whales. My perspective is that I’m just li’l ol’ me conversing with the great and the good of the blogosphere. Graham obviously feels the same. He and I covered this ground once before when he referred to his home as being ordinary Adelaide and I mentioned that to some of us, Adelaide was exotic. One man's ho-hum is most decidedly another man's "wow!"

I wonder of any of those that I think of as being the great and the good think of themselves as li’l ol’ me. It seems this medium has engendered a strong sense of mutual respect, while still being a great leveller. I humbly appreciate the opportunities to engage with the likes of Tony Karrer, David Warlick, Mark Oehlert, Harold Jarche, Vicki Davis and, now that I’ve thought about it, I can just picture them reading this post and going: “Who, me? But I’m just…”

On the blogosphere no-one seems to be “just” anything. So here's to us, minnows and whales all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Managing Organisational Change

As the designers and developers of blended learning solutions, my team often gets involved in supporting clients through periods of organisational change. We find them to be at varying stages of preparedness and with a varying grasp of the implications and requirements of the change process. Understandably, there's a lot of "we don't know what we don't know" going on. As a consequence, they are often not sure what mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure successful transition.

This week I am participating in an online VLE conference and I came across this graphic on a slide in a presentation by Philip Butler (Senior e-Learning Adviser for JISC's London RSC) - apparently it originates in the States with someone called Andrew Williams (new name to me). So hat tips in all the right directions.

At first I thought it was just a bit of glib rah-rah stuff, but as Philip unpacked it in his presentation I realised how much good, solid sense it made. It had obviously been well thought out. This is the sort of thing that needs to be converted into a poster for some people's office walls, and taped to a few mirrors.

If your organisation is going through change at the moment: adopting a new LMS; going Web 2.0; getting to grips with teaching-with-technology, and struggling a bit, I recommend that you have a look at the diagram and identify the missing piece(s).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ardent student

I realise I haven't been posting much here in the past week, but I haven't been idle. My thoughts have predictably been focused on issues around my learning materials for my Master's degree course. Rather than bore you silly with stuff related to my course, and also with a view to encouraging my classmates to get bloggin' I've created a new blog for these reflections. I opted for edublogs, since most of my classmates are teachers and edublogs seem to offer a lot that would be helpful to people in the teaching profession. The blog's name (Ardent Student) is due the fact that I acknowledge that I am an utter learning geek - what the British call an "anorak". Already, Tuesday evenings have become something I look forward to, in spite of the fact that it adds pressure to my already full schedule, and I really get tense about the fact that I have so much interesting reading to do and so little time to do it in. I find myself reading recommended texts after midnight when a more sensible person would be pushing Zs.

By contrast, I was supervising my 13 year old son's homework a few days ago. The material that he was working on was fascinating. I found it very easy to get caught up in it. But what about my son? Was he ardent? Was he enthused? Not so's you'd notice. I commented to my husband later that teachers really seemed to make an effort these days to make homework interesting, unlike in our day. Then it hit me. My mother would probably have found my homework interesting. The work is interesting to adults because it has been devised by adults.

I don't want to get tangled up in the debate about homework: Good Thing or Bad Thing. I think the principle holds for schoolwork done in or out of school hours. I'm still not prepared to accept that children are ready to determine what they need to learn, but maybe they can help us identify how they could learn it... in ways that will appeal to the child in the equation, rather than the adult. As a student, I have a voice on the course committee. Computer game designers have testers who are children. Systems developers have a user acceptance testing process. Maybe those who devise the curriculum or the scheme of work should adopt the same approach. The child's perspective must surely add value to the process.

Hmm. This one needs further thought.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Interactive whiteboard with a difference

Now this is cool! From MIT, a whiteboard that "gets it", that collaborates with you. I want one. Thanks, Derek for the pointer.

A WHOLE new breed of school

As if by way of reply to my almost-postscript yesterday's post, this link via Stephen Downes, today. A web 2.0 school going up in Sydney, Australia - doing away with classrooms and revamping the timetable. I covered this on my Ardent Student blog, if you're interested in my views, so I won't go into any further depth here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The flat world? Hardly!

I have just posted this on my family blog about a school trip planned for my elder son:

Björn and I have just been to a meeting at school for those who want to take part in a Tanzanian exchange in August 2008. They will climb Mt Kilimanjaro, spend two weeks in a Tanzanian boarding school, go on safari and finish off with two days on the beach on Zanzibar. It sounds like the growth experience of a lifetime. He is dead keen, so he didn't hear the words like: altitude sickness, malaria, diarrhoea, long-drop toilets, lecture style lessons, no textbooks.

In the two years leading up to that time, they will have to raise £100K to pay for their trip out and the Tanzanians' trip here (there is no way they can pay for themselves). This will involve both group and individual fundraising efforts. They will attend basic Swahili lessons, although their lessons will be in English, and undergo training in hill/mountain walking. While they are there, they will carry out community work in an orphanage.

The teachers who will lead the party went over in the summer and found the conditions in the orphanage quite hard to handle - especially in respect of the way those with special needs - especially mental disabilities - are treated. They also had to watch the slaughter of a goat, which they found tough, since they expected the goat to die quickly, which it didn't.

I think the girls who go will find it even more difficult, since the girls' school is inferior to the boys' and their conditions harsher. Before they go home for the holidays, the Tanzanian girls' heads are shaven so that their parents aren't tempted to take the opportunity to marry them off instead of educating them.

Many of the "boys" at the boys' school are in their 20's, which John and I would have taken for granted, being familiar with African education, but it shocked the English, since the school system here is based on age, rather than progress. Neither of the schools has any ICT kit whatsoever, and the few textbooks they have date back to the 60's or earlier. Not all the children even have their own pens.

I'm sure it will be the experience of a lifetime, if he is able to produce the level of commitment necessary to raise the funds and acquire the skills required. It's bound to broaden him and open his eyes to his own privileged state. We will support his efforts in every way we can, but he needs to take ownership of this himself - this is is his trip, his project.

When I have questioned the notion of the flat world, it is these sorts of conditions that inform my position. I grew up in the third world, although I enjoyed a priveleged lifestyle, and there are vast swathes of communities that aspire to the level of "sophistication" described above. I have seen some of them with my own eyes.

Since I know someone is likely to bring it up, let me beat you to the punch... isn't it sad that, although our schools look like something from a different planet, the education system has adapted so little as to be recognisably the same process as takes place in the archaic environs of Tanzania?

Friday, October 06, 2006

How has Web 2.0 changed your teaching/learning experience?

This is an appeal for testimonials. My next module for my Master's degree is ICT in Teaching and Learning. Please would you consider popping over to the edublog I have created for reflection on my studies to contribute your story? Since my regular readership is too small to build up a portfolio of any great size, I would also greatly appreciate any of your own readers pointed in my direction to share their stories. Of course, many of you (particularly Vicki) already address this subject regularly on your blogs, and I will cull much material from legacy posts, but I would also like to hear the stories of people at different stages of the process of exploring new means to deliver or acquire learning.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How the heck did I get spammed?

I've only ever heard bad things about Walmart in respect of the way they treat their people, but today they infringed on my space: they spammed my blog with an advert for Hallowe'en stuff.

Now this annoys me on several levels: first of all, I do not observe Hallowe'en - in my view it is a dreadful festival (no offence to all you Americans out there). Secondly, I live in the UK and would not order my celebratory accoutrement from a supplier that would have to use international postage to get them to me. Thirdly, and most crucially, I have word verification enabled on my blog. So how did they get past that?

I have now enabled comment moderation as well, something I could have lived without, but would really appreciate any views as to whether this represents the start of a new wave of spambots that can crack word verification.

Postscript: and the "comment" didn't show up on my CoComments, either - go figure!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Gamekeeper turned poacher

This article from CNET appeared in my news aggregator this morning. It's a worrying thing that people who are actively involved in investigating crimes against children sometimes seem to get drawn in themselves. I wish I could remember where it was that I recently read of someone found to have an incredible number of child porn images on his computer (I mean thousands upon thousands) - having been himself responsible for tracking down and bringing such voyeurs to justice. The morbid fascination aspect appears to overcome the inherent revulsion over time, perhaps they become desensitised by constant exposure.

I know that I caught myself watching a news story about some horrific event recently while eating my dinner... and I can't even remember what the event was. Just a few years ago, coverage of the genocide in Rwanda put me off my food altogether and had me simultaneously sobbing and retching on and off for days. Seeing the plight of those newly widowed women with starving, dying children made me take positive action within the community I was in a position to reach. I was passionate, dedicated, committed. And I made a difference - albeit a small one. But now? I write out the occasional cheque as a salve to my seared conscience and get on with my incredibly busy life.

I know the two situations are very different, but is the principle of desensitisation not a constant? I am less affected by the plight of the people I see on television, because I have seen so many of them over the years. I am not about to take up weapons and participate in the violent slaughter of innocents, but what is the Edward Burke saying? ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.

In case it sounds as if I'm coming out in favour of initiatives like DOPA, let me hasten to say that this is not the case. What I am saying is that we need to teach our children to be safe, because it seems that the difference between protector and predator is in some cases, simply a matter of time. When the gamekeeper turns poacher, the prey had better be equipped to protect itself. And just in case people think that online is the only context in which this sort of thing happens, let's just remember that we constantly hear about yet another person who was abused by his/her priest or teacher in childhood.

Online safety is one of Vicki Davis's hot topics, and she has posted some brilliant suggestions to help parents and teachers here, she also pointed to some excellent clips on this subject recently. We need more of this, and it needs to be posted everywhere where the kids are! I know I have invoked parental authority and forced my kids to view every one of the clips, in spite of their protestations that, "we already know all this stuff, Mom!" (ah yes, my boys: I remember being invulnerable and immortal - it wasn't as long ago as you might think). I don't want to scare them with horror stories, but these clips get the pitch just about right, I reckon.

Blogs in learning: what they are and what they aren't

Today, Vicki Davis has linked back one of her previous posts about the use of blogs in teaching and learning. I found it useful then, but am looking at it from a different persepctive today. She links to a post by Nicole Ellison on the empirical testing of blogs in the classroom.

I have been thinking about this from the learner perspective - trying to find ways that I might use this blog as a tool in my studies. This blog, my blogroll and my CoComments are so central to my thinking, that it is impossible to think of undertaking a complete postgraduate course without incorporating them.

Today is the deadline for my first paper, and I had considered handing it in on my blog, but, for many of the reasons Vicki gives, I decided that papers work best on paper. By and large a paper is a finished piece of work, which can be assessed. A line can be drawn under it and the teacher can comment on the content, the layout, the development of arguments, etc. A blogpost is more of a conversation. I can set out my thoughts on a subject and the whole blogosphere can tear the post to shreds, or agree, or add their own contributions. It is a work in progress, organic, and not restricted to contributions from the blog owner.

I think I might be able to use my blog as a research tool, but I can't see it becoming my delivery medium. However, this being a blog and all, I would be happy to consider suggestions as to how I might be able to incorporate this tool into my studies. All you teachers out there - what advice to give your learners? Would it work for me?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Reflective professional development

I have just submitted my first assignment for the MA course. I suspect there is unlikely to be another assignment as easy as this one, since no research was required! The idea was to write a 1000 opening summary for a reflective professional development assignment that looked at my journey to the MA course in terms of:

  • previous study
  • in-service training in school/college
  • professional role
  • other experience/interests
  • present focus
The summary was to show evidence of planning, analysis and reflection, as well as an explanation as to how the MA course fits in with career plans, etc.

Since my route to the course has been somewhat haphazard, it was tricky to cover the journey within the 1000 word limit (that's my story, anyway!). Later we will provide updates. I presume the idea will be to indicate how the MA is measuring up to initial expectations and if/how what we learn is impacting our lives, both professional and personal. Since my interest in the course was mainly due to a module called the Nature of Knowledge that has since been discontinued, this is a bit of a sore point at the moment! What also niggled me somewhat was the fact that, in spite of assurances that the course was not purely aimed at people in the formal education sector, the wording of the point about in-service training (see my second bullet point above) would indicate otherwise. However, it isn't all doom and gloom, I will take from the course what I can get, hoping to put some structure around what I already know as well as to fill in the gaps and learn more along the way. In my class of about 23 people, most of us middle aged, the wealth of experience represented has got to be worth sticking around for!

By way of coincidence, David Warlick's potted history of his teaching career made me smile today. It's an upbeat anecdote and gives me context for someone I respect. Perhaps he's been given a similar assignment! I'll spare you the full text of mine: 1000 words makes for a lot of text, but I couldn't help contrasting his post with a section from my assigment that read:
A student counsellor conducted a battery of tests and advised me that I showed an inordinately high aptitude for teaching, but almost no aptitude for working with children. Sadly, it seems it was not as evident to him then as it is to me now that, ergo, I should teach adults. I was not even aware that adults undertook any learning. With more knowledgeable guidance, my career path might have been more direct than it has proved.
As it happened, I taught drama part-time at a private school of performing arts during my final year at college in order to meet overheads, and turned out to be far from inept at it. At the time of the tests, though, I was adamant that I didn't want to have anything to do with children. With hindsight I realise that having a modicum of intelligence enabled me to manipulate the results to reflect exactly that. Just goes to show...

In spite of the student counsellor's lack of insight/foresight, I wound up in the world of adult learning at the age of 24 anyway. So I had taken 8 year detour, and picked up a lot interesting skills and experiences along the way. And without the necessary piece of paper in the form of a B degree to back me up, I was forced to do things hard way once I got started: building relationships with people, networking, word-of-mouth, busting a gut to ensure that the quality of my materials were beyond question... and my presentations memorable, providing follow-up evaluations at no extra cost. That too, served me well, I reckon. So no harm, no foul.

When all's said and done I think it turned out okay. Except when people ask me (or my husband, or my kids) what I do for a living. The short answer gives rise to looks of puzzlement, and the longer explanation causes eyes to glaze over! Ah well.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Homework and e-tutoring

Today, this Reuters article about outsourced private tutoring and homework popped in to my news aggregator. It put me in mind of recent posts by Harold Jarche among others.

Since I work outside of the field of formal education, I don't really feel qualified to pass judgement on whether this is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, but it would be interesting to watch the conversation develop. I feel a bit like Diane Stark Rentner of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, who says, in the article:

"The big test is whether the kids are actually learning. Until you answer that, I don't know if you can pass judgment on whether this is a good or bad way to go,"
A Blogger search for "homework" revealed several blogs that are covering this topic at the moment, including this response to the original Reuters article from Michael Shedlock.

Obviously, there is some resistance to off-shore e-tutoring from teachers' unions in the US, who feel that the quality of tutoring that the kids receive online will not measure up the standards of an onshore provider. If it is true, as Michael quotes Time CNN as saying, that "80% of the kids entitled to after-school tutoring--at taxpayers' expense--aren't getting it", then surely it's better than the status quo. Do I get the impression that these folks would rather that the kids continued to underperform until such time as they can find a solution that they control?

From where I sit it all seems a bit hinky, but then I'm an outsider.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Watch out for those assumptions

As regular readers will know, I have a weakness for Calvin & Hobbes, and a penchant for seeing learning and teaching parallels in them. Today is another of those:
I love the fact that Calvin has completely misinterpreted the purpose of a fire drill. I suspect most of us would have loved a drill that allowed us to practise burning down our schools. The thing is though, that it's called a fire drill. If you know that drill means practice, and you're 6 years old with a tendency to lateral thought, what the heck else are you going to think?

This cartoon opened the door to a forgotten tupperware cupboard in my mind and, as is the way of tupperware cupboards, the contents all came tumbling out. Memories of incidents where assumptions were made about the way things were being interpreted. In case you fancy a chuckle, I'll list some of them at the end of the post.

As learning professionals, we need to be particularly aware of this pitfall. If you're a teacher in the classroom, and you're able to identify that something got lost in the translation, at least you can put it right. But what if you're designing an elearning resource, to be used by some distant person in some remote location? There is no opportunity then to fix it - no way of even knowing that the wrong conclusion has been reached. This is why user testing is so important. You might know what you mean, but how do you know everyone else does?

And so to the tumbled tupperware:

  • When I was three and my mother was expecting my younger sister, my father explained that he had lovingly planted a seed in my mother's tummy that was growing into a baby. Later that day, I had to be given a purge to rid my young stomach of the enormous number of canna lily seeds I had been swallowing for all I was worth so that I could grow a baby of my own
  • Debbie was buying shampoo in the local supermarket. Her little brother was at the stage where he felt the need to read all the labels, just to prove he could. "For greasy hair," he read, "Why do you want greasy hair, Debbie?"
  • Years ago I was describing my first ever experience as a wedding guest to my 11 year old sister, and shared the gossip that one of my peers had got drunk during the toasting because she downed a whole glass of bubbly each time instead of taking just a sip. Robyn asked how you could possibly drink champagne while dancing, "Doesn't it spill?" I was nonplussed. "Isn't the toe sting like a tap dance?" she asked.
  • Bridget's class of 7 year olds was completing a worksheet. The grain of the wooden desks was causing havoc with their penmanship, so she suggested they lean on a book. Most of the children dutifully popped a book under the worksheet to good effect. One little lad sat bolt upright in his chair and continued to struggle. "Matthew, why don't you lean on a book, as I suggested?" she asked. "I am Mrs Bridget," he replied, proving his point by pulling out the book he had clamped between his rigid back and the chair.
  • I was walking and laughing with my son recently and jokingly responded to one of his remarks, "Ooh, you're playing with your sick leave, there". "What's a sick leaf?" he asked. Through my laughter I explained the concept of time off for ill health as opposed to holiday. He gave me a "puzzled" look and insisted "Yeah, whatever, but what's a sick leaf?"
I could keep going, but I'm sure you have even funnier/more telling examples of your own. Feel free to share!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Early reflections of a post-grad student

Last night I attended the first session of my Master's degree in educational studies at Oxford Brookes University. There were 22 of us present and, predictably, most of my fears going in were unfounded (I garnered a whole new set to fill the vacuum that they left, though!).

I was not the oldest person there, not by a long shot. In fact, I was pretty much the average I would estimate. I was not the biggest mouth there, either. That role went to someone else... no contest. I was very relieved, since it is often my designated role to be the speaker-upper. I was not the person with the greatest sense of inadequacy. I was not the only foreigner (I don't think - in a cosmopolitan place like the UK, it's not always obvious). I was not the one with the longest gap since my last bout of formal learning. The course leader did not opt for a lecture style and made it clear that she would not be doing so at any point. The rest of the group seemed really pleasant and mutually supportive. The campus was not forbidding and intimidating.

The course leader had arranged for a past student to come in and talk to us. His dissertation is due for submission in a few weeks, so he is at the opposite end of the process. He came to talk to us about things he wished he had known at the outset and to answer our questions. He talked about allocating time and space to the learning programme, about making use of peer support and about knuckling down to writing instead of faffing about and telling yourself you've done a lot. This was very useful. However, while it came at a point when all the above fears had been allayed, it gave rise to that whole new batch I mentioned:

  • This chap works in a school. After 3pm, his time is how own, and he can mould his marking and prep around other commitments.
  • He gets the school holidays.
  • His (private) school gave him a day off each week to work on his course assignments.
  • He has no children.
  • He found it tough to get the work done.
Urk. My working day ends at 5pm. I have 20 days leave per year. I get no time off work to complete assignments. I have two children. AM I NUTS????

Commenters on my earlier post may be interested to hear that there was no debate about the Hargreaves lecture. The assignment that came out of this was related to critical reading. I shall have to revisit the conversation about "the crit". Also, to my utter relief, the course leader was not about to adopt a psychophantic attitude towards the lecture, and referred to Hargreaves as a "so-called expert". When the designated speaker-upper pointed out that the phrase "so-called" implied a measure of criticism, her response was a level, "Absolutely". One more fear allayed.

And so to work, and work, and work.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Learning through technology-enhanced collaboration

Interesting feature with this title in IST Results today. I find resonance with this assertion from Chris Kew, TENCompetence’s dissemination officer at the University of Bolton in the UK:

Most current e-learning platforms, he says, fail to “actively engage the learner in anything beyond electronic page-turning and the passive consumption of knowledge."
Too right! And those of us poor schmoes (sp?) trying to do something about it are having a hard time selling the idea to (s)he-who-signs-the-cheque.

Life is not a computer game: discuss

If this title sounds like an exam question, it with good reason. It's the nature of the question posed by Vicki Davis for her students in the wake of the events at Dawson College. Vicki has been tackling this and related issues in her usual call-it-like-it-is-and-suggest-solutions manner lately.

Nor is this an isolated incident. In the 18 September issue of Time magazine, this story appears. A kid with promise, a kid with a future, a kid with his whole life ahead of him, now likely to spend the next several years of it behind bars for armed robbery and attempted rape - the line between the real world and his online life having blurred.

A recent episode of CSI Miami explored this as its story line (note: recent in the UK - possibly long past in the USA) - a bunch of universtiy students decided to take an online game one step further and move it into the real world. I know that CSI is just a story, but at least it will have brought this issue onto the radar of John and Jane Citizen.

I know the argument rages back and forth about whether violence on screen impacts people's behaviour and there are many who insist that this is not the case. However, if what we are exposed to doesn't impact how we behave, why are advertising budgets so large?

Simulation games employ an alternative morality - it's important that our children understand that that morality does not transfer into the real world, even if (as in Second Life) the virtual money does. As parents, I think we need to make an increased effort to teach our children healthy online habits, while also engaging them off-line, and teaching them how to engage with people "with skin on".

Monday, September 18, 2006

Education research: not off to a good start!

Tomorrow I will attend my first lecture on my MA course. Subject: Reflective Professional Development and Educational Research. By way of preparation I have been sent a 12 page printout of a lecture which I must read before attending the session. The title of the lecture is "Teaching as a Research-Based Profession: Possibilities and Prospects". It was delivered to the Teacher Training Agency in 1996 (that's 10 years ago!) by David H Hargreaves, who was then Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge (perhaps he still is - it has proved unexpectedly difficult to establish whether this is the case). Googling the title of the lecture, I gather it had enormous impact, although I had not before read it in its entirety.

Prof Hargreaves compares education to medicine as a research profession. He says:

The medical profession has gained in public prestige concurrently with the growth of its research. The teaching profession has not.
He contends that, unlike research into the natural sciences, educational research is non-cumulative. He refers to the lack of a knowledge base for teachers, and highlights the difference in the way the two professions approach applied research, particularly in the light of the fact that so little of the research is undertaken by teachers themselves. Doctors have access to journals to keep them abreast with developments and advancements in medical research. Teachers do not, nor do they bemoan the lack of them, according to Hargreaves. He talks about the way in which research has driven medicine forward and regrets the fact that the same cannot be said of education.

I'm still assimilating the material, but thus far (and in no particular order) I have had the following thoughts on his comparison between the fields of medicine and education:
  1. I would like to suggest that education is to learning what paediatrics is to medicine. It is that part of the field that is practised involving children. Paediatricians try to ensure that sound medical practice is followed as they tend their patients. Teachers try to ensure that effective learning takes place as they tend to their students. While, as Hargreaves says, there may not be a huge body of research on advances in education, but there are huge quantities of information on the subject of learning. It is the persistence in the view that education is somehow separate from learning (or that learning is a subset of education) that means that the results of learning and behavioural research do not make the transfer. Education is something that is done to people, while learning is something that people do. The goal is for learning to take place during the process of education, but this is sadly not always the case, as we often hear.
  2. Medical research is very often carried out on other creatures in laboratory conditions first. Since mammalian anatomies have so much in common, it is possible to extrapolate from the findings of such research. However, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which specifically educational research can be carried out on animals! On the other hand results of learning and/or behavioural experiments carried out on animals are well known (think Pavlov, Skinner et al). Mind you it could be argued that the transfer of these findings to humans is questionable, since behaviour patterns show less commonality across species. It is true that some educational research is carried out on "human subjects" although it is probably not politically correct to refer to these changes in policy as "experiments". (My own sister's ability to spell is probably entirely due to genetics and my mother's intervention, since she was one of the live subjects of a short-lived and failed experiment in literacy teaching called i/t/a - initial teaching alphabet. What an unmitigated disaster that was! And the cause of a whole batch of permanently poor spellers)
  3. Many medical advances have been made under the most adverse of conditions. For example, plastic surgery advanced in leaps and bounds during world war 1. Education is thankfully not often presented with such "conducive" conditions.
  4. Doctors do not have a curriculum to follow. And to me, this is a key point. They see their patients one at a time, and treat each one according to their needs. This frees them up to apply new thinking (their own or the outcome of recent research). The face of medicine has changed enormously as a consequence. Teachers do not have that measure of freedom. They see their learners in batches, and must follow the curriculum in order to prepare their charges for the final exam. As a consequence, the face of teaching has changed far less over the centuries.
  5. People visit the doctor because they recognise they have need of medical attention. People go to school because the law says they must, or because their parents have told them of the value of a good education.
  6. Medical researchers tend to explore existing conditions. Education faces the challenge of preparing people to do jobs that do not yet exist on equipment that has yet to be invented, solving problems that have yet to be identified.
Having said all of that, out there in the blogosphere, which didn't exist when Hargreaves delivered this lecture, teachers are faithfully recording the results of their efforts: successes, failures, lessons learnt - homing in on the education arm of learning. The Vicki Davises, the Jeff Utechts, the Graham Wegners, the Bob Sprankles of the world. And, at the post-compulsory end, the likes of George Siemens and Barbara Ganley. Blogs, podcasts and wikis abound. And, while they may not constitute formal research, they do constitute a body of knowledge which can be accessed by any with the interest and the means.

Now it just remains to be seen whether I am able to hold my tongue and be civil when we come to discuss this subject tomorrow evening, or whether I leap aboard my soapbox, throw caution to the wind and stick my foot very firmly in my mouth. I am hoping for the former, but that soapbox is pretty close to being my natural habitat!

Friday, September 15, 2006

More on the changing face of literacy

Now that I've started to put some structure in place around my thinking on how what constitutes literacy has changed over time, I find that my mind is worrying at it like a sore tooth. I mentioned yesterday, that the written word had gone from being something that was elitist to something that was widely accessible. And of course, somewhere in the middle of the night, my subconscious mind found dusty recollections on some of Mark Weiser's work that I mulled over some time back.

He also referred to the process of the written word becoming ubiquitous. There was once a time when the written word could only be accessed by a select few and then the individual had to go to where the written word could be found. Over time, the written word became ubiquitous - a part of our world, accessible from where we happened to be, even to the point where it appears as grafitti. We are so rich in words, that we can afford to treat them as waste.

His own goal was to see us reach the same state in respect of computing - hence the term ubiquitous computing. Rather than the user having to go to where the computer was to make use of its functions and features, he looked to a world where the computer entered our world. We're getting there. I remember the days when computers were kept in rooms so cold all the computer (not called IT, yet) staff wore jumpers to work, even in the middle of summer. Now we see a far more portable technology and always-on connectivity, thanks to wifi.

Thinking in terms of modern literacy, imagine how lost you would be if you were trying to navigate your way around a foreign country where all the street signs were only in the native language, which you didn't speak. When we travel to Sweden, I am always glad of the fact that we make use of a combination of public transport and the good grace of family members. Driving on the right hand side of the road would be tough enough to cope with, but even as a passenger with none of the responsibilities associated with safe driving, I am still unable to read the signs before we've passed them. I'd be fine if I could stop in front of each sign for a minute and figure it out, but this is not exactly practical. In Sweden, I am not sufficiently literate to be independent and this makes me entirely reliant on my husband and his extended family (and on the fact that almost all Swedes speak beautiful English). This is how it must be for people who can't read their own language. Just thinking about the doors that are only open if you can read, I find I can't imagine how disabling it must be not to be able to do so.

And now we face the fact that the inability to make use of ICT technology is closing door after door as well. In my lifetime, will this form of illiteracy become as disabling as the inability to read? It looks increasingly like it.

On the back of Mark Weiser's work, much attention is being paid to the notion of ubiquitous learning (sadly no entry in Wikipedia yet, but you can Google it) - learning that goes to where the people are, rather than learning that must be accessed in a special environment (do we see a pattern emerging?). It is a subject on its own, and I have touched on it briefly before (here and here), but I think it has pertinence to this topic in that it is likely that it will presuppose functional and IT literacy to an increasing degree.

And, as a sad postscript, I was just reading this week about the number of kids coming through the education system with no more than the most basic reading and writing skills. We've let them down, folks. Imagine trying to earn a living when faced with all those closed doors - it doesn't leave a whole lot of legal options!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The changing face of literacy

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and I reckon I might like to do a paper on this for my course.

There's been a lot of conversation in the blogosphere about how the new literacy is no longer just about being able to read and write, but about being able to make use of ICT technology to learn, to share, to participate. There is concern that the focus of literacy teaching in schools is still based on a literacy that was suitable for our parents and our grandparents, but is no longer enough for us and will certainly not be enough for our children. Our children desperately need to learn keyboarding skills, but few schools provide teaching in this vital skills and even fewer make it compulsory.

This got me thinking that this is not the first time that there has been a change in what it means to be affluent in the literacy currency of the age. If we consider that literacy is a means to communicate information, to express oneself and to keep culture and or traditions alive, the following are forms of literacy that have held sway at various times in history:

  • Expressive movement and dance
  • Rituals
  • Cave painting
  • Singing and/or chanting
  • Dramatic re-enactments
  • Story telling
In the comparitively short time that people have been able to write, even that has undergone dramatic changes. At one time, people used a stylus and a wax tablet. Not that long ago, schoolchildren wrote with chalk on small slates (in fact, in the rural areas of South Africa, this was the case even in my lifetime, and might still be the case in some parts of the world) - they did not have scores of notebooks at home to refer back to. The provision of a text book to every child is a relatively new thing and is still not practised everywhere in the world. Hence the need to commit so much to memory.

Now the notebook could safely be phased out in favour of electronic alternatives and the text book looks like being phased out because of its short shelf-life. We have moved on to communal knowledge: wikis, blogs and "I keep my knowledge in my friends".

It seems to me that when other forms of literacy were the order of the day, anyone could have a go. Obviously some people would have a greater knack for it than others, as with anything, but I don't know that anyone was restricted from practising (of course I may be wrong - social anthropology not being my thing).

But then came writing and elitism. Time was once when only a select few people knew how to read and write and such skills were considered unnecessary for the unwashed masses. These people no doubt continued to rely on older forms of literacy in their relationships and the preservation of their culture, but the lack of access to the written word placed a ceiling on their prospects and expectations. The same is surely true today. Those who lack access to the skills required for current literacy are similarly disadvantaged and in danger of marginalisation.

Hmm. There's a lot to this, and I would be glad of any contributions from out there. If I do go with this for my course, I will be sure to give credit where it is due.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Staying in the loop!

I came across this post by Paul Graham, looking at a technology called Loopt . Of course, I'm not sure exactly how this technology will work and I presume it will only be possible to locate phones that are actually switched on. If, however, it works for a phone that is switched off, that would be even better.

I could have used technology like this recently, when my elder son disappeared off the radar one afternoon. He was due to have met a friend to go to the cinema, but there was a crossing of wires and he and the friend waited in two different places, one with no credit on his phone, the other with his phone switched off due to a flat battery (yeah, I know, but they're teenagers - what can you do?). Unable to reach each other (but actually no more than 20 metres apart as the crow flies), each gave up waiting and went his own way. Several hours later, I learned that my son had set off from home to meet a friend, but had never arrived. No-one had seen or heard from him since. He had been off the radar for more than 7 hours. How I would love to have been able to make use of some locator technology instead of having to make increasingly worried calls to umpteen parents, his guitar teacher and very nearly the police. I had decided to give it another 10 minutes before calling them when the prodigal finally called, all wide-eyed innocence and totally unaware that he had been missing - after all he knew where he was!

I can see this technology being very useful for anxious parents of switched off (and I'm not referring to the phone) teenagers.

Now to think of a way to use it to build a learning experience...

Monday, September 11, 2006

A short tale to warm the heart

Yesterday we took my mother-in-law to Heathrow. She had been with us for the weekend on her way back from an extended visit to one of her daughters in Oregon, USA to her granny flat at her other daughter's home in Cape Town, South Africa.

She's quite the globetrotter, this white-haired lady of 80. With each of her three offspring living on a different continent, she has to be. Plus of course the fact that she is a Swedish ex-pat, requiring occasional trips back to visit relatives and touch base with her heritage. Watching her head off with her two eNORmous suitcases into Heathrow airport, supremely confident and totally at home with the business of international travel, I had to admire her.

A few times over the weekend, she had surprised me with her attitudes. She had asked my younger son (he of the long, curly locks) what he used to keep his hair in such fabulous condition. She compared stories with him about having their ears pierced. She had finally had her lobes done at the age of 70+. He recently had his ear cartilege pierced. She wondered if planned to wear a stud or a cuff. She discussed career choices with both the boys and encouraged the elder one in his consideration of forensic science, calling it a fascinating field. She chatted to him about his lovelife and his part-time job. She was unfazed by the online games that they play. Where she was not totally in touch with what goes on in the life of a teenager today, she asked.

As if that isn't enough, she told me as she left that she was going to miss reading my blog. Not this one, of course, but this one. She's quite a redoubtable lady and has long since taken to communicating via email using her children's computers. She really enjoyed the added dimension of blogging. Her daughter in America has subscribed to the RSS feed via Feedblitz and the two of them kept themselves up to date with the happenings in our lives. By contrast, her other daughter has a fear of the dangers of the web, lacking any kind of virus protection on her system. She has a dial-up connection, which she uses to dive in, send and receive new emails and scurry out again. She has opted not to sign up for the RSS feed.

So there you are. At 80, while she doesn't have a blog of her own, she has been an avid reader of mine, and would no doubt read others too, if family and friends chose to keep them. So much so, that she's going to miss it when she gets home. Score one for social media.

Go Granny!