Thursday, August 31, 2006

Attitude and Health: Bloom and Maslow

Things really got on top of me recently. Too many commitments, too little time, one or two conflict situations and no support mechanism. (This, by the way, has proved easily the toughest aspect of emigration: the loss of the extended family and network of friends.) I was aware that I was taking strain, but thought it would pass as it has before. Then, on Tuesday, I was on the phone to a colleague discussing a difficult situation facing us, when I suddenly started to shake fairly violently and was unable to stop for some time. I took myself off to the doctor who (no surprise) diagnosed stress, tension, anxiety. He offered chemicals, which I declined, preferring to find an alternative route.

So why am I sharing this obviously deeply personal information on this blog?

Well, I have found that this has all impacted my learning journey. I have continued to read the same blogs I read everyday, but I know I'm just skimming and I feel less inclined to follow the links and get the whole story. I have commented far less than usual on the posts I have read and I am aware that my comments lack depth and relevance. Posts to my own blogs have been very thin on the ground. My off-line reading has become restricted to page-turning fiction and only my unswerving passion for cryptic crossword puzzles and sudokus have seen to it that my brain gets any exercise at all.

In many respects, I recognise that I am not particularly representative, but in this, I think I am. I find myself slap bang in Bloom's affective domain, here. Without mental strength and rude good health I am not motivated and my learning is impaired. So I find myself thinking about the many, many people back home (South Africa) who live in squatter camps (informal housing settlements), or in crime-ridden suburbs. About bullied or abused people; people with unhappy homelives; people with poor diet (whether or not this is by choice); people who don't get enough sleep; people with long-term illness/pain. All these factors will impact their motivation to learn, and without motivation, all the cognitive and psychomotor aptitude in the world is wasted.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs addresses these issues as well: the fundamental needs of physiology and safety come first. Without these, a person is unlikely to feel motivated to learn.

How many teachers face the uphill struggle of trying to impart the requirements on the curriculum to children (or adults for that matter) who, for any of the reasons above are not able or not willing to learn? And even worse: what if this demotivated individual is expected to engage in learner-driven study?

There is so much more that could be said on this subject, and I recognise that I am probably limited in my ability to address them, but it's got me thinking, nevertheless.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Skype frustrations

Listening to wonderful Skypecasts like Miguel Guhlin et al's "on the front porch" discussion of the use of blogging in teaching, I feel as if Skype is one of the most empowering, enabling tools ever.

On the flip side, the endless stream of (mostly Turkish, for some reason) men who contact me out of the blue - many of them with an opening gambit worse than any cliched pick-up line - is becoming a right pain! I have removed most of my details from my profile, so all they know is that I'm female and based in the UK. But that appears to be enough. It's gotten to the point where I practically ignore Skype now, which kind of defeats the purpose of having it, since I have managed to miss attempts by colleagues to open collaborative conversations with me. One of those colleagues tells me he is often "hit on" by Asian females.

I can only think it must be the prospect of a passport - or is that too cynical a view? Have I developed the arrogance that I so despise in others about living in the "first world" (ridiculous phrase)?

Whatever the reason, I have developed the kneejerk reaction of blocking callers - I only hope I haven't automatically blocked someone I actually would have liked to speak to!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Creativity that knows no boundaries

This post is not suitable for those with delicate sensibilities. I just love today's Calvin & Hobbes cartoon! Just in case you have trouble reading/opening it, Calvin is collecting his ear wax to make a candle and, when his mother expresses disgust, he suggests crayons as an alternative. While I fully understand Calvin's mother's reaction, to me this cartoon typifies the gradual way in which adults impose limits on creativity.

We all know that "kids say the darndest things", but how do we handle it when they do? At least Calvin's mother didn't have to share this moment with the general public! I remember as clear as if it were yesterday, one of my sons (please tell me he doesn't read this blog) standing on a chair in Macdonalds (other heart attack factories are available ;-)) and announcing very loudly "I made a fart!". It was one of those parenting moments that happens to us all - we know it's going to happen and yet we're still completely floored when it does. Sadly, our attempts at gentle, mature, wise handling of situation were completely ruined by the fact that we were weeping with laughter and utterly unable to get the words out. Yeah. That was going to discourage him from doing that again. That was going to instill an understanding of propriety. Sure. Right.

When I was studying teaching methodology at college, we looked at this very subject and one of our text books (I would love to reference it properly, but can't for the life of me remember anything about it - it was over 20 years ago, after all!) contained an anecdote related by a school inspector:

He was visiting a class of 5 year old children who were engaged in a project of drawing their homes. Most of the kids drew the usual box with a red roof, smoking chimney and cottage windows. One child had drawn a series of connected boxes that seemed to make no sense at all until she explained that it was an aerial view of the house with the roof removed (a budding architect?). "There's my room, there's the baby's room, there's Mommy and Daddy's room, and there's the bathroom with Mommy on the toilet." The teacher blushed. "I don't think so," she laughed nervously and tried to persuade the child that the picture represented something else altogether. After a while the child, showing remarkable insight, realised that the teacher was uncomfortable and sought to put her at her ease, "Oh it's alright," she said, "the door's closed!" The inspector experienced regret that the teacher had focused on propriety and her own sensibilities, rather than the child's display of cognitive ability, creativity, imagination, perspective and the rest of a long list of skills.

When I was a student, I taught drama part-time to pay the bills. My youngest group was 5-6 themselves. Some of the anecdotes these little ones related and the improvs they did were very revealing of details I'm sure their parents would far rather have kept private. I was only 19, so I'm sure I blew it repeatedly, but today's cartoon reminds me that children's imaginations are not restricted by what is "proper", and both teachers and parents need to handle the situation gently to ensure that, as they come to terms with acceptability, they do not experience a sense of condemnation of their efforts and, by extension, themselves.

And are we so very different, we adults, with our maturity and perspective? We pour our hearts and souls into some or other effort which the client then proceeds to rip to shreds. Do we not feel those criticisms as if they were of ourselves? No? Just me then!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wikipedia - an inherent risk

Via George Siemens, here is a wonderfully ironic tale about Wikipedia. To summarise: Dave Snowden amended the entry on Knowledge Management, including references to some of his own work, only to have his amendments "corrected" by someone (he has dubbed Clint) who asserts that he (Snowden) has never read Snowden's work.

Whoops. The words egg and face come to mind. I can't help hoping that this little tale finds it way back to "Clint" (although, being an opinionated old bat, I have been in his shoes more than once), not because of schadenfreude, but so that he can adjust his own understanding and allow Snowden's amendments to stand.

This tale highlights an inherent risk of resources like Wikipedia (and any social media) - as Snowden says "Clint has more energy for this than I do". People with the time, energy and inclination will get their take on things out there more often and more "loudly" than those who might have a more accurate understanding but who, for whatever reason, don't avail themselves of the forum as assiduously.

In this week's summary email, George says: "Wikipedia is essentially encouraging "critical thinking"". Without this critical thinking, we might be inclined to accept Clint's take on knowledge management and subscribe blindly to his view that Snowden has never read Snowden's work. Increasingly, the onus is on us to double check our sources and find corroborating evidence of claims made. We can't afford to hide behind "I read it in Wikipedia, so it must be true".

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Did you know?

Via David Warlick, this post from Karl Fisch, containing an interesting PowerPoint presentation of "did you know" type facts. It makes for interesting viewing, even just from a fact-collecting perspective, but it's the sort of information that should be having an impact on the way we address learning in general, and education in particular. The sequence of slides that I found most telling was:

  • The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn't exist in 2004
  • We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist...
  • Using technologies that haven't been invented...
  • In order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Learning by doing

I came across this review on Educause recently of a book that glories in the pithy title of: Learning by Doing: A Comprehensive Guide to Simulations, Computer Games and Pedagogy in e-Learning and Other Educational Experiences. The author is Clark Aldrich, and the publisher John Wiley and Sons (2005). The review (by Deborah Keyek-Franssen - a new name to me) is well written to the point that I would like to get my hands on a copy of this book, but find the price tag a little prohibitive.

I have to say that I am already convinced of the pedagogical value of games and simulations. What I am currently looking into is their andragogical value (although I get the impression that the word is falling into disuse and that pedagogy is becoming the generic term covering both bases). I have been toying with the notion of inlcuding games/simulations in a blended learning solution for adults, but many of the simulations I have seen are somewhat trite (mind you, the same can be said for many of the quizzes on e-learning materials). I realise that any game/simulation will have to be both engaging and effective. At a recent conference, one of the speakers expressed the view that games and simulations should afford the opportunity to put the learning into practice or to assess learning, and should not attempt to teach. I thought this was an interesting viewpoint and one that may well have some validity for an adult audience. However, I'm still just at the exploring stage. Much remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I shall have to see if my library has seen fit to acquire a copy of Aldrich's book.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Book meme

I haven't traced it all the way back to the start, but Barbara Ganley and Chris Sessums are involved in a book meme, which is quite revealing. It puts me in mind of Kathy Sierra's excellent and thought provoking post some time back (12 Feb, to be exact) about what was on her virtual coffee table. Kathy writes as I imagine she speaks, so I had felt as if I knew her pretty well for some time, but that list of books was the clincher. When you know what a person reads (and why), you know an awful lot about a person. While Kathy came up with a list of her favourite books in no particular order, the meme that Barbara and Chris are contributing to is structured, and I can't decide whether that makes it easier or tougher.

Their challenge looks like this:

  1. A book that changed your life
  2. A book you've read more than once
  3. A book you'd take to a desert island
  4. A book that made you laugh
  5. A book that made you cry
  6. A book you wish had been written
  7. A book you wish had never been written
  8. A book you're currently reading
  9. A book you've been meaning to read
  10. Tag five people you want to hear from
It's a thought provoking list, rather like one of those ice-breakers where you are asked to list five people (living or dead) you would like to have around your table at a dinner party. I'll be interested to follow this and see where it goes and what it reveals about the people I read. Ooh - that sounds a bit voyeuristic, doesn't it? I feel a bit like a snoop, now!-)

Learning while under fire

There's an interesting post from Mark Oehlert today about soldiers on active duty learning and adapting in order to stay alive (and presumably try to win the conflict). He links to an article on the FCW website. This harks back to an earlier post of mine about learning under pressure, and to a conversation I had with Vicki Davis on one of her posts.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Back to the grindstone

I have been away from work for a week, having a little break. Our boys were away at a youth camp wth 5000 other teenagers, so my husband and I went to a B&B in Cambridge (a mere 1 hour drive away) for a long weekend's R&R. We left our laptops behind, so we could unplug and unwind. When the boys returned from the camp, we spent a few days together as a family, which was really great. With the recent disruption to the flights out of the UK, I am only too pleased that we didn't try to do anything more adventurous or exotic.

Today, I got back to the office and online. Of course my Bloglines hadn't been on holiday, and there were more new posts showing there than there were new emails in my Inbox. I haven't even bothered thinking about what that says about the balance of my life!

Of course, I couldn't read them all properly, but was grateful to rate a mention from Stephen Downes and a complimentary shoutout from Vicki Davis in my absence (actually, Vicki's post focuses on the value of comments on blog posts, and is well worth the read, especially for new bloggers). I skimmed through the list of posts, skipping several , scan-reading some and slowing down to read a few. I identified that Blackboard's patent is still causing waves. I have downloaded Stephen and George's discussion for a listen when I get my head above water (they will no doubt go way beyond my fighting weight, but it'll be a stretching exercise for me). I briefly toyed with the idea of taking up Will Thalheimer's challenge to "prove that taking learning styles into account in designing instruction can produce meaningful learning benefits", but decided I have neither the time nor the resources.

A final note: During my week off, I seem to have gained another subscriber albeit a private one, which gives rise to a question: what would be the sort of reasons that a person would choose to be a private subscriber? It's not meant peevishly - I'm genuinely curious. Maybe you have a few ideas. Maybe you're one of the private subscribers and would be willing to share your thoughts (anonymously of course, if you prefer). I think it would deepen my understanding of the levels of participation and consumption of the blogosphere.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Go Kathy!

Kathy Sierra has posted her protest against the gender label being attached to female bloggers. I am delighted that someone of her standing has taken this stand. I touched on this point myself a while back and brought down upon myself the well articulated ire of Josie Fraser (here and here). But I'm still with Kathy: the blogosphere is one place where I don't need any "special favours" as a woman, as she says:

The tagline I've used on and off over the past 15 years to indicate how lucky I feel about being in a profession (and in a country) where gender is not nearly as important today as it once was (and yes, I'm extremely grateful for all those who fought to make this happen):
The post has attracted a flurry of comments which make interesting reading.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Calvin and Hobbes: it was bound to happen

More than once, I have linked to a Calvin and Hobbes strip in this blog. This has long been one of my favourite cartoon strips. People tell me it's because it mirrors my own experience with my sons. In defence of my kids, I would dispute that... although my elder son at the same sort of age was prone to an alarmingly adult (in the clean sense) turn of phrase.

A while back, I posted this idle thought that the strip would make a good basis for a dissertation on teaching and learning. Sadly the link from the post no longer accesses the cartoon that sparked off the train of thought, but, somewhat belatedly, I got an anonymous comment pointing to this blog. Which just proves that I'm not as original or left-field a thinker as I'd like to believe!

Blackboard, oh dear!

I've been on leave for the past three days and, while the whole Blackboard patent thing had kicked off before I left, it certainly gathered momentum during my absence. So many people have blogged about it that I won't even try to list them all here. I certainly wasn't even able to read all the posts on the subject today. What worries me about this sort of thing is the dangerous ambiguity and the myriad loopholes.

Recently, a far smarter colleague than I went through the business of trying to nail down exactly where the parameters fell surrounding the whole Moodle copyright issue. I read through his correspondence and gave up trying to understand what was going on. It seemed to me to be full of contradictions and I just knew I would wind up contravening one clause as I tried in my blundering way to comply with another. I was somewhat vindicated when he said he was just as confused, but that didn't solve our problem. I recognise that Blackboard and the Moodle guys aren't going to be interested in prosecuting the little fish, but I work for a Big Fish and it's important that the solutions we offer our customers are all legal and above board. I can see myself avoiding anything that is even remotely in danger of bringing a lawsuit down on our (clients') necks, severely restricting the breadth and depth of the sort of solution that we might otherwise have offered.

How sad. Why can't we all just get along?