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