Friday, August 31, 2007

A story about social media

Partly in the interests of research for my dissertation and partly because I'm having a whale of a time, I belong to several different online communities. I'm exploring how this membership is impacting my professional practice. Most people tend to groan and roll their eyes at the suggestion that this might be the case at all. But the following vignette had me punching the air and triumphantly shouting "Yes!" To me, it exemplifies the whole concept of online community. I am just one cog in the wheel, and it would probably make a better story if it were told by the ultimate beneficiary, but here goes...

I subscribe to an online magazine called TrainingZone, which includes a members area called Any Answers, where members of the community can post questions which the rest of the community is invited to answer. I often stop by this page and share my 2p worth.

Earlier this week a member posted this question:

I'm looking for an inspiring role model / speaker for an international company which wants to foster a culture of collaborative learning globally: breaking down silos, sharing best practice across all business areas and not reinventing local wheels.
Just the name of any organisations which have done this well would be helpful.
Note: she and I have already had the discussion about collaborative learning being a community driven phenomenon, rather than a top-down initiative - this post isn't about that.

Now, while I could list umpteen individuals who could talk about collaborative learning (myself included) from a personal perspective, I couldn't think of any organisations which exemplify a collaborative learning culture. I promised to put some feelers out within my online stamping grounds, saying they "might be prepared to share info with you openhandedly - they're rather like that."

I was not disappointed.

I Twittered the question and put it out on my Facebook wall (following it up with a prod message to several likely suspects among my FB friends asking them to check out the question). Several people came back to me within minutes, including Harold Jarche. I was able to send Harold's email address to the person who had posed the original question (at his suggestion - I don't go dishing out this information willy nilly).

A few others have promised to explore their realms of influence and see whether they might have anything to contribute. I have no idea whether she will decide that Harold (or any others who might come forward) is the solution to her challenge, but I have no doubt that he will have a wealth of helpful information for her.

What has also happened is that several other people have asked to be told about any case studies that come to light in this way. So I have been able to facilitate connections between people from different online communities. Who knows what may come of it for them? Ain't it cool?

Oh, and if you happen to know of any organisations with a succesful culture of collaborative learning... ;-)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cathy Moore on multiple choice quizzes

One of the things I love about this online community is how previously undiscovered gems are regularly brought to light by familiar gems. Janet Clarey's recent addition to her serious on women in the edublogosphere introduced me to Cathy Moore. I had not encountered her before, but my first taste was this post on multiple choice quizzes.

Cleverly written, Cathy's post takes a minimalist approach to make a well struck point about the use and misuse of this assessment favourite. Prepare to recognise most of the multiple choice questions you have answered in your life... and several you have set!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My boys!

I made this today using Animoto and had to share!

Early years education "not improving"

On my way to work this morning, I heard a BBC radio news bulletin which announced that, over the past 6 years, early years education in England has not improved at all, in spite of an investment of over £21billion. That maths and language skills among the under-fives were no better now than they were 6 years ago.

This got all sorts of thoughts churning around in my head, and I had to check the BBC website the moment I got in. Firstly to make sure that the amount spent was in fact £21billion and not £21million. Secondly to get a more definitive view on the language and maths skills situation. Oddly, the website seems to hint at exactly the opposite situation. While it doesn't specifically mention maths and languages (or numeracy and literacy as they're otherwise known), and we are reminded that the scheme is in its infancy (no pun intended) indications are of improved outcomes.

So now I find myself wondering: are they improving or aren't they?

I should perhaps point out that I shouted out loud at the radio in my car "What the heck are under-fives doing in school in the first place?" Followed shortly thereafter by "Why is a four year old be learning language and maths anyway?" This is a subject on which I feel strongly, as long-standing readers of this blog have probably noticed. I have strong objections to four-year-olds being subjected to formal education for seven-plus hours per day. Many of their parents don't put in that number of hours a day at work!

The education system that was the norm for me had children starting pre-school the year they turned 6, "big school" the year they turned 7 (if they were ready), lasted for 12 years (or 13 if you include the pre-school year) and had a school day that ranged from under 5 hours for the littlies to 6 hours for the high-schoolers, with even the longest day finishing in time for a late lunch so that the afternoon could be given over to extramural activities. The school system to which I brought my children has kids starting school at the age of 4, goes on for 14 years (if you choose to do A-levels, 12 if you don't) and has a school day that, from the off, lasts for over 7 hours, with a narrower provision of extramural activities. And it is not my observation that the product of the English education system, is better informed, with a wider general knowledge, increased adeptness at processing new information or exercising critical thinking. If anything, I would have to say that the opposite is true.

So... what is the point of starting kids in school at the age of 4? And if they must be in school at that tender age, surely there are other things more important to their development than literacy and numeracy? Surely they would benefit more from learning skills like co-ordination, balance, co-operation, interdependence, independence, planning, self-expression... the list goes on. Important life skills. All of which can be learned through play, music, art - climbing, running, getting wet, getting dirty, sharing toys, dressing up, settling disputes, singing action songs... and do not require a four-year-old to sit still for hours on end.

Why do we assess the efficiency of the education system by testing the maths and language skills of four-year-olds? For the sake of these children, I would like to say: there is more to life!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Virtually funny

A couple of days ago, I was having a conversation with my line manager about the pedagogical potential of virtual worlds. He's something of a skeptic, which makes for interesting conversations. During the conversation he raised the issue of the potential for money laundering through the buying and selling of virtual assets.

Later that same day, we were in a meeting with a potential supplier/partner who raised the issue of potential use of virtual spaces in learning solutions.

My manager and I exchanged wry looks.

The very next day, I received an invitation to attend a virtual worlds conference later this year. Since the conference is scheduled for a time when such events are fairly thick on the ground and my schedule is likely to be pretty tight, I didn't expect him to agree to my attending, but - because of the timing of the invitation - I couldn't resist forwarding it to him.

His response raised a chuckle: he told me I was welcome to send my avatar and to pay the conference fee with "laundered" money.

Jokes aside, though - it would be good if I could send Eterna (my 2L alter ego)...

Once upon a time in Africa...

I would like to relate a true story. Bear with me, the relevance of the story to current conversations will be explained.

When school segregation was abolished in South Africa, there was an inevitable influx into the previously white-only schools with their many resources. There was no answering flow in the opposite direction. This meant that the rural schools built for the disenfranchised sectors of society were servicing an ever poorer, ever more disadvantaged communities.

In the area where we lived, the head teachers’ association introduced a scheme whereby schools with an affluent intake each adopted one or more struggling schools in the region.

The school where my son had just started adopted one such school in the wine-farming area nearby. As a member of the Mothers’ Prayer Circle, kept abreast of the pastoral needs of the extended community, I was involved in this programme almost from the outset. The week after its introduction, we went to visit the school for a day. I assure you that every detail of what I am about to share is true.

We arrived at the school on a cold, clear winter’s morning. The school consisted of a row of three rooms which opened out onto a covered walkway. The children were just arriving at school. As they arrived, they formed a queue. Many were barefoot. Very few carried a school bag or books of any description. Two teachers stood beside the walkway, handing out a peanut butter sandwich to each child. Most of the children had not eaten since lunch the previous day (more about that later).

Once they had eaten, the children set about cleaning the school. There was a lot of sweeping to be done: the school grounds were eroded dirt, the classroom doors ill fitting and some of the windows were broken.

All this done, teaching could finally begin. We followed the head teacher to his class. We asked him where his office was. Where the staffroom was. Neither of these existed. Besides, he told us, there would never be time to use them – teachers were classroom facing at every moment, including lunch breaks. He kept student records in his wardrobe at home.

The classrooms were cold and draughty. There were 45-60 children per class. Many were sitting two-to-a-desk. The teaching followed strictly behaviourist principles, with lots of call-and-response. With no text books and precious few learning materials, it was hard to think of alternative approaches.

At lunch time, a large plastic drum (like a garbage bin) full of a curious liquid was produced and the children were each given a cup full of this, with a slice of bread. The explanation for this stretched my credulity almost to breaking point. The government had identified that few of the children in the poorer schools could afford lunch and had introduced a feeding scheme. Schools were provided with soup and a budget for bread and peanut butter. The soup was provided in powder form by the farm-feed-sized sackful. What the government in its wisdom had neglected to consider was that the schools did not have kitchens. The only running water they had was a tap outside the little outhouses that served as toilet facilities. Heating up water for soup for 200 children took a long time, a large vessel, and a source of heat. The school had none of these things, nor did it have the staff to oversee the heating process, even it had. So the children were given a concoction of soup powder and cold water. Because the soup powder tended to float on the top of the water, the children in the front of the queue got better nutrition than those at the back. There was a strict rota for queue positions. Sadly, most children would get no evening meal at home.

The intention behind our involvement was for us to source stationery supplies for the school, since pens and paper were in short supply. We secured suppliers for these items, but, as you can imagine, we had identified a whole host of other things that were needed. We moved heaven and earth to provide as many of them as we could. This post is already far too long, so I won’t detail them.

What I will say, however, is that, while we are debating whether or not to continue using printed text books in our comfortable first world, there are teachers in schools where there is no alternative to text books – and I think they may well be in the majority. Many of them have never seen a computer and there is no electricity to run one, even if they had. The text books they do have are in short supply, outdated and in poor repair. We took some of our surplus text books to that school and the teachers wept, while the children sang, danced and clapped their thanks to us. “Die tannies het boeke gebring, julle!” (the aunties have brought books, you lot!). That moment changed me.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will have noticed that I regularly try to speak up for the third world teachers. They have no voice in this space, and I am a poor excuse of an ambassador for their cause. But before we declare a moratorium on books, let’s just think about what the consequent increase in production costs will do to schools already struggling for a resource we have come to regard as passé.

If you've stuck with me up to this point, thanks for your patience - I apologise for the long post and for what may seem to be a bleeding heart moment, but it is an issue that is dear to me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vicki Davis - I'm proud of you!

Don't you just feel like a dog with two tails when something good happens to someone you admire? Vicki Davis is cited in this article in the Wall Street Journal.

I have been reading Vicki Davis's blog pretty much since she started down this road, and have watched her rocket up the popularity ratings. She's like a regular dynamo, relentlessly positive, tirelessly encouraging. It couldn't happen to a nicer person.

The Great Text Book debate

There has been a fair amount of debate among bloggers recently on the subject of text books in schools. Some folks are in favour of buying them and others are against. Among the contributors to the debate are Vicki Davis (for) and Stephen Downes (against). The origin of the debate (this time around, anyway) is apparently this post from Wes Fryer. Just for the record, I follow all three of these people on Twitter and Wes and Stephen are both Facebook friends of mine.

I acknowledge that, as someone who has never been a school teacher, my view probably doesn't count for much, but here it is anyway...

I am trying very hard to remain objective here, but there is one major impediment: I love books.

I am always reading at least one book - most of the time, I have more than one on the go. I am working from home today, and have a clear view into my lounge which boasts three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, some shelves of which carry the beginnings of a second layer of books on the outside of the first. Ours is the sort of house with piles of books beside the beds and in the loos (Americans: read bathrooms). When I read and enjoy a book, or section thereof, I go out and buy it. I love to own books. I love the smell of new books and I love that sense of anticipation when I hold a new book in my hands: what surprises does it hold? So you can guess which side of the debate comes more naturally to me ;-)

I have tried hard to remain neutral on this subject but when I list the pros and cons regarding text books, I find it far easier to come up with rebuttals for the cons. For example:

  • Books cost money - well, so do computers
  • Books date - so do online publications, computer hardware and software, besides - students can learn critical thinking from the challenge of discovering where a text has been superceded by more recent discovery
  • Books require the sacrifice of trees - and technology requires no sacrifices?
  • Books involve all sorts of un-green production processes - so does hardware
But then:
  • You can scribble in the margins and underline passages in a book
  • You can study a book in places where there is no internet connection
  • The tactile experience of a book carries value in itself
  • You can happily and safely fall asleep reading a book in bed (don't scoff - I do it all the time!)
When I was in high school, one of the punishments was to be sent to work in the stationery room. To me, that room was a treasure trove and I would often engineer to get myself sent there when a new consignment had arrived.

I can't get beyond the view of books as a treasure, and this remains the barrier - the reason my voice can't join the other side of the debate.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

World clock

Thanks to Jason Hando for this (via Twitter). Have a look at this world clock, which is tracking the number of births, deaths, abortions, global temp, etc. Sadly - and predictably - rather US-centric (this "world" clock includes the US divorce rate and the US illegal immigrant count, but the equivalent figures from elsewhere in the world are absent). Probably due to the over-representation of US-based data sources.

Nevertheless, it is rather sobering to see the rate at which the population is growing, as well as the rate at which people are dying of preventable diseases.

Interesting to note that the number of internet connections is increasing faster than the population explosion!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Putting things into perspective

Thanks to Jason Hando for this.

At the risk of sounding like those parents who used to blackmail their kids into eating their veg with "There are children in Africa...", next time your teens are whinging about their raw deal, show them this YouTube video about "teenage affluenza". In fact, watch it yourself and do like that old Sunday school song says: count your blessings.

A professional presence on the web?

I recently joined the Convergence of social and business networking group on Facebook. As I wrote on my Facebook wall recently: "I have never been very good at drawing lines between work, play and learning, but for the most part, I have kept my social media somewhat separate. I had one blog for work, one for my studies, one for my spiritual journey and one for the family. I use LinkedIn for professional purposes only - which is the point behind it, after all. I use Twitter to engage with professional contacts - although the exchanges can be anything but work-related sometimes, it still fosters the sense of community among us. I had started facebook as a means of keeping in touch with personal friends, but an increasing number of my professional contacts began to send friendship requests, so I have decided to see how it goes to have a place that observes no boundaries at all between the various aspects of my life. As a consequence, my list of friends includes people from all areas."

My fumbling with these boundaries is very evident in this post, and, if anything, it becomes more difficult as time goes by. This is not helped by the fact that several of my projects at work seem to converge on the same theme.

This YouTube video illustrates the potential impact of this, and I wonder what a potential employer would make of a Google search on my name. Yet I consider online subterfuge to be the domain of the charlatan and/or cyberbully and strongly support transparency - hence my use of my own name and a photograph (or occasional caricature) rather than a kooky, anonymous picture. I would consider it contrary to my integrity to pretend to be something I'm not. Brief aside on this point: I have been exasperated by some of my fellow members of the ning community Stop Cyberbullying who purport to be adults when everything about their contributions screams that they are in their teens - even down to the fact they obviously have no insight at all into the job they claim to do. And - sure enough - it has been on this network and at the hands of these people that I had my first personal experience of cyberbulling (admittedly very mild - nothing more than a little name-calling and mild character assassination).

Hey ho - I'll just have to hope that when I apply for my dream job, the recruiter is looking for someone real.

Friday, August 10, 2007

YFMCIGYAL and other systems of fair exchange

Mark Berthelemy sent me the link to this post by Andy Jones on the Internet Time Community on Ning. Quite apart from the fact that it makes me want to move to wherever it is that Andy is now living, it expresses so much more neatly what I was trying to get to with this post.

Don't miss the discussion at the end.

Apologies if non-members are not able to view the post, but it's time you joined anyway ;-)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A different angle on blended learning

I'm busy putting together a presentation on blended learning that two of my colleagues and I will be co-presenting to a group of instructors in a couple of weeks.

Part of my contribution is to explain how blended learning isn't new. Of course, I'll be pointing out that, although the term "blended learning" may only have been around for a short time, this is no indication of how long the concept has existed. Long before elearning existed, teachers and trainers were blending their methodologies. Before I moved into this job, I used to get really narked at the blended learning community with their WASP country club type mentality, denying me entry because my blend didn't include elearning courses. Who made up the no-e-no-blend rule anyway? So I'm hoping to show these folks that they already offer blended learning, and adding some electronic affordances to their portfolio will only serve to enrich and broaden that blend.

But increasingly lately, my feeling is that the term blended learning, as describing this:- a whole bunch of things zhoozhed up together - is past its sell by date. Especially if we consider that almost all learning is blended at the end of the day.

Perhaps it's time we started thinking of blended learning as meaning this instead:
- something that merges seamlessly with its environment, something that seems to form an integral part of the backdrop.

Blended as "blended in" rather than "blended together". Just a thought...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Memes - why do we do them?

I was recently tagged with the 8 random facts meme, as were a host of other people. Having only recently been hit with the goal meme and before that with the 5 little known facts meme, I was wondering why we do these things. Especially since I have never "done" chain letters or chain emails. So how are these memes different?

In a way, I think they do something to foster the community. When I first started blogging, there was a meme going around about what books you might have on your coffee table (of course, I can't find any trace of it now to link to!) and some of the blogs I read included a post along those lines. I remember feeling kind of left out - unnoticed, perhaps. The first time I was tagged, I had mixed feelings. I was really pleased that I had made enough of a blip on someone's radar, but by the same token I felt awkward about having to tag people in my turn.

I always read with interest the meme posts of the people I have come to know through their blogs. I am fascinated to learn things about them in the same way I am interested in learning more about the people I meet in real life. I'm interested to know that Janet Clarey is a slip of a girl at just 5' tall, that Cammy Bean was a "navy brat", that Michele Martin has a mixed race marriage (although my husband and I are both white - he is European and I am African, so we see ours as being a mixed marriage, too), that Mark Oehlert would like to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket, that Stephanie Sandifer is a Cajun.

I confess that some people have me a little cowed, though - for example, I would never dream of tagging Stephen Downes or Dave Snowden with a meme (although I regularly tag them as references on other posts) and I felt very brave tagging Scott Adams with the 8 random facts meme (note: he didn't bite). I've never seen anyone else tagging them either, so perhaps I'm not alone in that. I wonder if these people are relieved to be left in peace or whether they're secretly hurt that no-one's apparently interested in knowing more about them on a personal level. Having said that, Stephen posts many pictures of his cats and his holidays, so he's obviously not skittish about revealing his humanity online.... and if you haven't yet seen his ANTics, fie upon you - go and do that right now.

Tagging someone with a meme is also a way of drawing attention to their blog and potentially increasing their traffic. This was my thinking recently when I tagged my friend and colleague Mark Berthelemy. Mark has never really struck me as the sort of person who would take kindly to being tagged, so I have previously not done so. However, he is currently busy with some research for his dissertation and is using his blog as a medium to link to it. I thought that perhaps some readers who found their way to this blog by following the meme might also find their way over their and contribute their 2p worth to Mark's research in the process.

So, in a way, it seems as if memes are the blog equivalent of small talk. Do you come here often?

Still with a lot left to give

I have mentioned before that my husband gave me a desk calendar with a poem for each day of the year. Today's is taken from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and I'd like to quote part of it for all of us with greying temples who feel sometimes that our best is well behind us:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield."
I don't know about you, but it makes my heart swell with renewed vim and determination for the ongoing battle against entrenched Luddism...

Monday, August 06, 2007

People I would like to meet in RL

I've just been skimming through Chris Sessums's blogroll, and I spotted Kathy Sierra's name there. Like me, he is obviously hoping that the day will come when Kathy feels able to rejoin the blogosphere (Kathy - if you're still checking tags, and come across this post - we miss you, girl!)

Kathy is one of those people I would like to meet in person. I started writing a post about that subject, trying to come up with a list of 5 (living) people, not on the list of people I read (that would be too obvious) that I would like to meet face to face. I got as far as (well duh!) Nelson Mandela and then stumbled.

There are many people whose achievements I admire without feeling the need to meet them as people - few people live up to their public personae anyway. In fact, I could probably come up with a pretty impressive list of people I would NOT want to meet and get myself nicely sued for libel for my trouble. I tried to change tack and explain why this is so, but got horribly entangled.

I realise that the people I really want to meet can't be linked to, because they don't appear on a Google search. People like my sister's fiance, my niece's not-yet-born-baby, a couple called Rob and Joan Sharpe, that no-one's ever heard of... Suffice it to say, that I realised that I would far rather meet you rather than any pop, movie or sports star, and I find that realisation quite liberating.

Don't forget to sing...

As someone who loves to sing (and to dance, although I'm less skilled at that), this video really hits home with me. Thanks to Chris Sessums for the link.

It makes me think of that Joe Raposo song made famous by The Carpenters:

Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad.

Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don't worry that it's not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.
All together, now... you know how it goes... "lalalalala..." Let's spread a little joie de vivre...
Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.

Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don't worry that it's not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.

Five people who have inspired me

Along the way in my life, I have been inspired by many people. Sometimes the inspiration has been just for that time. At other times, there have been people whose example has been so shining that they remain a lifelong inspiration to me. These are five of them in the order in which they arrived on my radar:

Joyce Norton. My grandmother.
A history and English teacher, and hopeless at Whist. A woman about whose life I understand more and more as I grow older, and she has grown less idealised with the passage of time. Her marriage could not possibly have been happy, because my grandfather was a tyrant. Yet she was ever gracious and gentle, an accomplished golfer forced to give up her hobby because my grandfather was unable to equal her skill and begrudged her her participation. Yet she never complained – such was the lot of the women of her time.

Sheila Freercks. My choir teacher in high school. A woman with perfect pitch and a heart of gold. Able to see good in everyone, including a child everyone else saw as underachieving and rebellious. She gained the unswerving trust and loyalty of every girl in her choir and drew from us a standard of performance that won national awards. For Sheila Freercks, I would have walked over coals, but all she ever asked was that I sing, and so I did - with every fibre of my being and every ounce of talent I had.

Nelson Mandela. Prisoner to president. In truth not really a politician, but a great man and exactly the right person to take the symbolic role of head of state during the significant post-apartheid era in South Africa. With every reason to be angry and vengeful, he has been nothing but gracious and noble.

John Romeis. My husband. A man who is everything that I am not. Comfortable in his own skin and totally at peace with himself. Tenacious, analytical and assertive without aggression (unless his family his threatened), his only impulsive act has been to propose to a woman he had only known for 10 days (that was over 19 years ago, and we’re still happily married). Able to tackle daunting tasks without despairing because he breaks things down into manageable chunks. Not even slightly embarrassed by his wife’s flamboyance – the stage manager to my prima donna.

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. A former British athlete who has competed over almost every distance from 100m to marathon. The fact that she was born with spina bifida and is in a wheelchair has never stood in her way. Perhaps a stranger seeing her for the first time might see an unfortunate person trapped in a chair. I suspect when she looks in the mirror she sees a woman, a wife, a mother and an athlete. And why not? She is all of these things.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Okay - I get the message

Have you ever noticed how sometimes life seems to adopt a theme for a while and everything seems to harp on the same thing? Well, this has happened to me lately, and I feel like it's time to say I GET IT ALREADY!

Eight years ago, we moved to the UK with high hopes and naieve expectations. My husband had only spent a few days in London during his gap year just after Noah left the Ark. I had never been to the UK before. In fact, I had never been abroad before. Nevertheless, everything seemed to be pointing us in this direction and eventually, even my doubting Thomas brother-in-law gave us his blessing and declared that this move was God's will for us. We were supremely confident. My entire maternal family descended from this isle and I was sure that I would have no problem with the culture. After all, as a churchgoing family, we would find a church similar to the one we had attended in Cape Town, and we would slot right in - as if we had been born to it.


We left behind a wonderfully supportive group of friends - my best friend had discovered that because my birthday falls right in the summer holidays, I had never had a birthday party, so she threw a surprise one for my 36th birthday, complete with kids' games like pass-the-parcel and musical bumps - friends like that do not grown on trees, ladies and gentlemen.

My husband gave up what was probably the best job he will ever have, with the best car we have ever owned and an office with the best view imaginable (straight out at Table Mountain).

We sold our little house - the house we had built when we were expecting our first child and the only home our two boys had ever known. We camped out here and there for a few months waiting for it all to come together. My husband moved over here with £400 in his pocket and no job prospects. Within three weeks, he had a job. The exact job his best friend had prophesied he would get.

Six weeks after his arrival in the UK, we moved over to join him. All high hopes and optimism.

We joined a church, where our cell group leaders repeatedly told us how they wished all these foreigners would go back home, so that England could go back to being English. We don't go there anymore (we don't even live in that town any more). We deliberately avoided ex-pat clubs, because we wanted to integrate into society here, not create a "when we" microcosm of what we had left behind. We tried desperately to make friends, but were shunned at every turn. One woman even told me I was intransigent. I had to look that up!

I felt dispossessed, set adrift, lost. Permanently on the outside. Having left Africa, I began to realise how African I was. It is in my blood. The music, the culture, the ethos, the weather, the cuisine, the laughter, the candour. In South Africa, most white people consider themselves European. Living in Europe, it becomes very evident that you are nothing of the sort!

For years I had been wondering why I was here. If it was so divinely ordained, why the heck did I feel so out of place? Then Ron Lubensky threw me a lifeline, and that was the beginning of the meme.

Ron is a Canadian by birth, but he lives in Australia. Has done for 20 years. He related how his accent and Canadian-ness remain an object of curiosity for people. He related this exchange:
"How long are you here for?"
"How often do you go home?"
"Every day"

Every day. Every day. Doh! I wrote that on a piece of paper and stuck it near my desk. I have got to learn to go home every day.

Since then, there have been sermons that relate to this topic (including one from my husband last night about being where you're supposed to be), bumper stickers that say corny things like "Bloom where you're planted", snippets of overheard conversations, throwaway lines from colleagues.

So I've decided. Right. This is where I'm supposed to be - for now, at least - and this is how it's going to be. I get the message. I'm here. African I may be, but I'm here. And I'm looking to the future. Hand to the plough and not looking back. Finally. After 8 long years of desert. Deep breath, loins girded, feet planted, jaw set.

What does the future hold? Here. In this place.

I can do this. I can.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

CoComment - Good grief!

I have been using CoComment for some time now - ever since I became too active a commenter to be able to remember all the places I had left comments. There have been a few hiccups along the way (some of which have been sorted out) and it isn't always reliable: sometimes it neglects to let me know that a conversation has continued since I last looked and sometimes it tells me there are new comments in my conversations when in fact there aren't. Nevertheless, it's been better than nothing.

Until today.

The front end has completely changed. The "my conversations" page has become really busy and I no longer have any idea how to tell which of the conversations listed have been updated recently and which have not. I've tried using the "Mark as read" option, only to have the conversation disappear off the list altogether, so I can't see how/if it differs from an unread conversation. It only lists 5 conversations instead of the previous, well, lots! The design of the "explore the community" section of the page really sucks (unless of course, it just looks that way in Firefox... wouldn't be the first time I'd had that problem).

Oh, and there's a spelling error right on the top of the page: "stop traking this conversation" And when I do stop "traking" the conversation I don't have a link to take me back to the list of conversations.

Bleagh! Can anyone suggest an alternative?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Meme: 8 random facts about me...

Ooh, you blighter, Janet!-) Janet Clarey has tagged me with another meme. This one is called "8 random facts about me". The rules are:

1) Post these rules before you give your facts
2) List 8 random facts about yourself
3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged

So, here goes (and forgive me if I've covered these in previous memes):

  1. I am a 5th generation South African with a half-and-half mixture of British and Dutch heritage
  2. I am married to a CIO, who is Swedish and (still) plays ice hockey every Sunday night
  3. I used to present an Afrikaans music magazine programme on South African television - very badly!
  4. I used to sing semi-professionally and am currently a worship leader in our church. If I'm breathing, I'm singing
  5. As well as English, I speak fluent Afrikaans, halting Swedish and a smattering of Xhosa and Zulu. I also know a whole bunch of random words in an assortment of languages - it's a kind of hobby. I used to be able to say "I don't know how to speak " in about 12 languages - sometimes fluently enough so that people didn't believe me.
  6. I have inordinately thick hair - enough for two people, I swear! Hairdressers wax enthusiastic, telling me all the styles I could try, but I am totally stupid with hair and can never do anything remotely attractive with it. Mind you, I think the hairdressers are full of it, because whatever fancy style I have when I leave the salon is long gone an hour later, and my hair is doing its own thing again!
  7. The first time I ever travelled abroad from South Africa was when I emigrated to the UK 8 years ago
  8. Like many South African women, I totally "get" rugby and am a dyed-in-the-wool fan. I know a knock on or a forward pass when I see one, and I know when a player's off-side.
Right - now for the tricky bit. Slapping 8 of you with the tag (sorry folks) - I think I'm going to include a few that are a bit left field here :

Mark Berthelemy
Stephanie Sandifer
Gordon Cotterill
Harold Jarche
Mark Oehlert
Wendy Wickham
Scott Adams
Dave Cormier

Trying to Articulate

I'm looking into using Articulate to develop some rapid elearning. I've downloaded the demos of two of the apps: Engage and Presenter.

The Presenter bit is fairly straightforward - I know PowerPoint inside and out, so this isn't too much of a stretch. I've also figured out how to create some of the interactions using Engage, and to publish these to my PowerPoint/Presenter file.

What I can't figure out is how to skin them so they look all of a piece. It's really jarring to be pootling along through a piece of learning and then to hit a snazzy interactive screen that looks as if it's been grafted in from a totally unrelated species. I have worked my way through the material on the site and can't find anything that helps. We're in the process of buying licences for the software, and must obvioously be satisfied that we can achieve this seamless appearance. I'm sure it must be possible - they're part of the same suite, after all.

Are there any users out there who can tell me where to find help with this? I know George Siemens uses Articulate, but I have an idea he only uses the Presenter bit.

Act your age!

Once, a few years ago, someone told me I should act my age - that my natural exuberance was unseemly in one no longer in their teens/twenties.

Today, via Jay Cross, I came across Penelope Trunks' questionnaire and discovered that I'm still not acting my age... chronologically speaking.

Do you have your own web page? (1 point)
Have you made a web page for someone else? (2 points)
Do you IM your friends? (1 point)
Do you text your friends? (2 points)
Do you watch videos on YouTube? (1 point)
Do you remix video files from the Internet? (2 points)
Have you paid for and downloaded music from the Internet? (1 point)
Do you know where to download free (illegal) music from the Internet? (2 points)
Do you blog for professional reasons? (1 point)
Do you blog as a way to keep an online diary? (2 points)
Have you visited MySpace at least five times? (1 point)
Do you communicate with friends on Facebook? (2 points)
Do you use email to communicate with your parents? (1 point)
Did you text to communicate with your parents? (2 points)
Do you take photos with your phone? (1 point)
Do you share your photos from your phone with your friends? (2 points)

0-1 point - Baby Boomer
2-6 points - Generation Jones
6- 12 points - Generation X
12 or over - Generation Y

According to this, I am solidly a gen y-er. Act my age? Fugeddit! I'm having far too much fun.