Friday, October 19, 2007

Cry yet again the beloved country!

If you're a reggae music fan, you will already know the name of Lucky Dube (pronounced DOO-beh). If you're not, let me explain that this is a South African reggae musician whose name has often been mentioned in the same breath as Bob Marley. See here for a sample of his music.

Last night he was murdered in Johannesburg.

Was he murdered by someone with a score to settle? Was he targetted by someone with an axe to grind? Was it a political thing? Was it motivated by the same sort of factors as Lennon's murder?

No, this icon was shot dead by three would be hijackers as he was dropping off his children in one of the southern suburbs of the city. He was younger than I am, and his children - who witnessed the incident - were roughly the same ages as mine. Somehow the fact that the attack was impersonal makes it even worse, although I would be hard pressed to explain why.

When I heard the news report on the radio, I groaned in wordless anguish from deep in my gut. And my grief was for more than just the loss of a great musician, an icon and a human being. I wish I could put into words the emotions that are swirling in my innards right now.

I so desperately want to be proved wrong about South Africa. I so long for the reasons we left to be be proved groundless.

But things like this keep happening.

And the beloved country keeps crying.

So much so, that Anne Paton the widow of Alan Paton (author of Cry, the Beloved Country) has chosen to leave, holding out no hope for the future of a country so desperately in need of hope.

Tomorrow the South African rugby team faces England in the final of the world cup tournament taking place in France. It will be more than just my love of the game and my abiding loyalty to the 'boks that will see me longing with every fibre of my being for a South African victory.

I apologise if I'm being a bit obscure and somewhat inarticulate. Forgive me if I resort to cheesiness for a moment and thank you for being there for me to unload my incoherent jumble of thoughts on today. I promise to be in better form soon!

Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika;
Malupakam'upondo lwayo;
Yiva imitandazo yetu

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Facebook - couldn't resist!

How DOES she do it?

I get a lot of questions about how I do what I do during the course of a day. The most recent of these is inferred in this post from Doug Belshaw, which also includes a challenge to me to do a "life in the day" (no - that's not a typo) type video of the same sort as he has done. I'll get around to that eventually, although I would like to warn readers that I'm nowhere near as technically skilled as Doug is.

I won't steal my own thunder by laying out my daily timetable here, but I thought I would reveal some of the timesaving devices I have in place.

Email alerts and aggregators
I seldom go looking for the material I read. It comes to me. A combination of my aggregator and email alerts keeps me in the loop whenever there has been an addition to any of the myriad conversations I follow.

Internet shopping
I buy the groceries (and a whole lot else besides) online. It takes me less than half an hour to do the week's grocery shopping and then a wonderful person comes and delivers it to my door within a two hour slot of my choosing. Thanks to my nagging, the delivery is (almost) carrier bag free, btu such carrier bags as they are get whisked away the following week by said wonderful person. The online service I use keeps track of everything I buy in their store or online, and stores it in a list of "my favourites", making it even more convenient. I am also notified if there is a special offer on any of the products I usually buy. There is a small cost for the delivery service, but I calculate that it is far less than the cumulative costs of my time, my fuel and the extras I would buy while strolling the aisles.

Cleaning service
At enormous expense, I have a weekly cleaning service for the house. When I worked freelance, I made sure I always kept the workload light enough to allow time for my children and the housework. When the kids were well established at school and I went back to work full time, the load of housework got spread across the family - all four of us pitching in. Gradually, as they got older and I took on extra activities, my sons were taking on more and more of the load around the house (and not with any great skill or enthusiasm, it has to be said). Then their own lives became too full: guitar lessons, sport, paper rounds, and we found ourselves spending our precious weekends doing the housework. We decided to splurge on a cleaning service. I'm too embarrassed to tell you what a dent it makes in the family coffers, but it frees up th
eir weekends to spend socialising and ours to do run other errands. Occasionally we might even get to do something together as a family ;-)


I keep Twitter open in the background all the time I am working and take mental breaks from my work to catch up every hour or so. I might do the same with a blog post I'm working on (such as this one) - adding to it every now and again when I need to come up from under on a task. I never just watch TV. I do so while doing the ironing or working online.

I have all the depth of a pondskater, and am usually moving on to the next thing before I've finished this one. I am incapable of tranquility unless I am halfway up a mountain far from civilisation with nothing but nature filling up my every sense. I tend to skim read the posts in my aggregator. If they delve too deeply or get too technical, I either abandon them or mark them for later consumption when I am able to focus my scant attention on them.

What's that? In Doug's video, we see him rising at 6am and back in bed by 10pm. I wish. I get very little sleep. I'm seldom in bed before midnight. I make up for it by getting up at 11am on Saturdays.

I used to exercise 4 times a week, including training with the local masters' swimming club. Since starting my Masters' degree, masters' swimming has gone by the board and my thrice weekly workout sessions are no more than a pipe dream. I promise myself that I will return to it the moment I have submitted my dissertation.

Convenience food
I hate ready meals and I am very suspicious of what they contain. Usually I cook proper meals from scratch. However, on Tuesday nights I have lectures and no-one else has the time to cook, so that's what's on offer. On Friday nights we might grab a takeaway. The kids call it chip night, since it's the only night of the week they ever get to eat genuine junk food. Once my Masters' is behind me, Tuesday nights will once more see the my family eating home cooked food, but I don't think I will be able to wean my family off chip night!

Once or twice a week, I work from home, which saves me a total of over 3 hours of travel time per week.

Social life
I don't have one. Apart from my husband and sons, all my friendships are now conducted online. We have not formed any meaningful social relationships since moving to the UK eight years ago. There is no way I would ever have had the time to do what I do online if we were still living in South Africa where our lives were filled to overflowing with "people with skin on". Thankfully, the wonderful world of web 2.0 has enabled us to stay in touch with friends and family in the far flung places in the world or we would have withered away long since.

There are a few other minor things, but I will leave those for the video project.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

LOLCAT moment

Mark Oehlert has recently discovered lolcats and his delight has reawakened mine. So, with absolutely no pretence at relevance to learning, here's my favourite lolcat for today...
lolcat - traffik light cat iz on theƂ job.
more funny pictures

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What kind of fool, sorry BLOGGER am I?

Rats, now I've got Shirley Bassey going in my head! The link will take you to a page with a sampler of the song so you can have it stuck in your head, too ;-)

Thanks to Harold for the link to this widget:

What Kind of Blogger Are You?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Queensberry rules?

In the two-and-a-bit years that I've been blogging, I have had occasion to visit purely soapbox type blogs, where people have set forth their strongly held views on some or other topic, only to come in for a fair amount of vitriol from readers. It seems there is this whole sector of the blogosphere just spoiling for a fight, and it can get really ugly, petulant and personal.

I have always returned from these forays grateful for the civilised nature of the bloggers in my neck of the cyberwoods. We don't always agree, but it always seemed that we had our eye on the ball and our end goal was the quest for knowledge, for improved learning provision.

I have posted comments disagreeing with the views expressed by various bloggers and they have responded with their views. Similarly, there have been disagreeing comments posted on some of my posts, with the same result. We have continued to disagree, but it has all been polite and mutually respectful. Some of them have gone on to become Facebook friends, Twitter friends, LinkedIn connections and people I would like to meet in person, should the opportunity ever arise. I have found the whole experience enriching, empowering and informative.

But that seems to be changing. Either that, or my veil of illusion is being stripped away.

A while ago, Donald Taylor made an appeal for evenhandedness in our responses to a controversial issue. I thought it was a little odd at the time, since I hadn't seen much evidence of anything else. Since then, I have spotted an occasional foray into character assassination that has sat very uncomfortably. This weekend one post in particular seemed to generate a debate that involved personal insults from rather surprising quarters.

I feel led back to the point I was making in this post about "the gatekeepers of truth".

I would just like to point out, be it ever so humbly, that even the wisest and most learned among us are looking at the world through the skewed perspective of what (we think) we know. There is just so much information out there that we don't have or that we haven't taken into account because we didn't realise it was relevant. No one person has the complete picture - omniscience has thus far eluded mankind (as far as I know!). So how can any one person categorically state one thing and resort to namecalling against those who dare to disagree?

For those who are hoping to find links to the "offending" posts or individuals - sorry, I don't work like that. But I would like to raise my ineffectual little voice in feeble protest... as either Dean Shareski or Darren Kuropatwa recently pleaded on Twitter: why can't we all just get along?

Please, please, my highly respected, valued community... can we be gentlemanly about this?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dissertation blues

Edited version: see comments below.

I don't set out to be a rebel, honest! Yet all my life I've been branded as one, which leaves me in a semi-permanent state of bemusement. I see rebellion as a deliberate rejection of authority. That's not me - I don't spend enough time thinking about power structures and such like to be a rebel.

Instead, I tend to make choices based on circumstance, only to find out fairly often that my chosen course of action is unacceptable. It's at this point that I push back. Why isn't it acceptable? And don't tell me: "because I say so" or "because this is the way it's always been done". Not good enough. Oddly for someone with traditional values, I don't observe tradition for tradition's sake. As a trite example, I don't do either turkey or Christmas pudding at Christmas - look, if I'm going to spend that long in the kitchen, we're flipping well going to have something that we really like at the end of it! If you can't give me a good reason for doing a thing a certain way, then excuse me while I do it the way that makes sense to me.

I've been accused of intransigence, but I reckon that's the refuge of people who can't come up with a plausible explanation for what they want me to do.

So last night I once again found myself on the wrong side of the fence. It was our first dissertation workshop and (of course) I was flying in the face of convention.

I am planning to do an action research project based on the difference that the use of social media has made to my professional practice as a learner and a learning provider - terribly subjective, I know! I didn't embark on the social media road with a view to writing a dissertation about it, but it has proved such an interesting and topical journey. I thought I could also add some narratives from the members of my various communities (that means you, by the way, so be prepared to be called upon to contribute). I'm struggling to come up with some ideas for the inclusion of at least one quantitative data model that won't completely hijack the dissertation (suggestions welcome).

Anyhoo, I had thought that the dissertation itself should be an example of what it sets out to relate. So I would like to publish it primarily as a wiki, keeping it transparent from the get go and opening it to members of my various online communities to comment on and contribute to. I would like to use links where possible (begrudgingly in addition to Harvard referencing, since this is a stated requirement for all submissions). I would also like to embed some Youtube videos such as this one:

If I had my way, it would be only a wiki, but I have to submit a printed version, too - so then the challenge is whether I completely rewrite the thing so that it works better as a flat document, or submit a printed version of the wiki. I also have to think about the issue of authorship - for a book, it's one thing to have co-authors, but for a dissertation?

Since writing that last sentence, I have had a conversation with my colleague Mark Berthelemy who gently (he doesn't have another mode) reminded me that, if I want this institution to award me a Master's degree, I'm going to have to make sure I submit something that they have the skills to assess, which limits my options severely.

I'm simultaneously grateful and petulant that I have friends like that!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Trends and innovations in corporate learning: online conference

George Siemens is about to do it again... host an online conference, that is. This time he has assembled a line up of speakers familiar with the constraints of corporate learning such as:

It will run from 15-20 November, but I suggest you get in early to make sure of a place. The conference is free, but you will need to register. Once you have done so, you gain access to the wiki which will become an integral part of the conference, as well as providing a form of back chanel.

If previous conferences have been anything to go by, it will be well attending, even for those whose timezone makes it inconvenient.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Okay, this is just TOO cool

Thanks to Dave Snowden for the pointer to this post. It's one of those things that just makes chemistry jump up and smack you between the eyes with how exciting it is!

I watched the embedded video clips while while also watching the South Africa v Fiji rugby quarter final, and totally annoyed my family by shrieking delightedly and clapping my hands while nothing of note was happening on the rugby field.

Why can't learning always be like this: a joyful romp of discovery?

And notice how much fun the "teacher" is having, too. It reminds me how within days of moving to Cape Town in 1987, I met my husband who took it upon himself to show me the sights. He knew them very well, but they came alive for him all over again as he saw them through my eyes. Every new batch of learners should do that for us, should reawaken the delight that made us decide to become learning providers of whatever description.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Managing expectations

The recent catalogue of mismanaged expectations around my husband's eye surgery have reminded me how important it is that people know what they're in for before they embark on something.

Even when a learning event is mandatory and people don't have the option to back out, we can't be cavalier with their time. They need to know how much time they're going to have to invest and what the impact is going to be on their lives.

We knew that this op was necessary. We also knew that it was delicate. What we didn't know was the level of post-operative care that was necessary.

We didn't know that knew he wouldn't be to go to work for two weeks.

We didn't know that he would be expected to hold certain positions for days on end (called posturing), or that there are aids that can be hired to assist with this.

We didn't know that I would have to be on hand four times a day for two weeks, to apply ointment and drops. (Even under normal circumstances, like many people, he is unable to keep his eye open to apply drops. These circumstances are not normal. For a start, the eye is swollen shut.) The fact that I have a full time job seems not to have been factored into the equation.

Of course I don't resent having to take care of him, I don't even resent having to do stuff that makes me feel really queasy. What I resent is that no-one saw fit to LET ME KNOW!

I feel unprepared and... I guess... used, taken for granted.

Learning isn't surgery. I know that. But people's time matters to them just the same. They have commitments, they have lives, they have families. They need to know exactly what is expected of them so that that they can plan and make informed decisions. It is not up to us as the providers of the learning to make assumptions on their behalf.

When I started my MA programme a year ago, our course leader asked a guy at the other end of the programme - just about to submit his dissertation - to come in and talk to us. To tell us what he wished he had known when he embarked on the course, and to share his experience and hard earned wisdom. This was the single most useful session of the first semester and it had the effect of making me feel respected and valued.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Concentration is a timid creature

Today is a normal working day for me... supposedly.

However, my husband is in hospital, having had surgery on his eye yesterday. After the coffee klatsch in the morning, I went to the office and was so useless to man or beast that my colleagues ordered me home.

This morning, I was due to fetch my husband from the hospital at 11am, but they had advised me to phone ahead at 10am to check. This I did, only to be told that the doctor wanted to re-evaluate him at noon. Of course, no-one saw fit to tell me why. They might have told my husband, but he is very squeamish, and is likely to have stuck his fingers in his ears and "lala-ed" loudly, so I'm none the wiser.

How much work do you think I'm doing as I wait for noon to roll around? You guessed it! Not a stitch. My attention is elsewhere, and I can't muster together enough brain cells to focus on anything much.

Having grown up in Africa, I'm familiar with the rules when gamespotting: if you go out there making a racket, you'll see nothing. Some of the bolder creatures might be spotted if the circumstances are less than ideal, but if you want to see the timid ones, you have to have the right set of circumstances. Preferably in the dry season, at sunrise or sunset, if you take your place in a hide at a water hole and keep dead quiet, you will see the timid creatures of the wild come down to drink.

Right now, inside my head, it's the wet season and there's a heck of a racket going on. The timid creatures of my mind are nowhere to be seen. The waterhole is deserted!

There are those who would call me lacking in self discipline. They might be right. But my husband is more important to me than my job, and so the motivation isn't there to override my jumbled emotions. I am very much a heart-led person.

How about your learners? How many of them are heart-led? How many of them are struggling to marshall their thoughts in the face of something that matters much more to them right now than the stuff they're supposed to be learning?

Picture: JW Blonk

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

School of everything

I went to a coffee klatsch this morning with the Creative Coffee Club where I met Andy Roberts in the flesh for the first time after being connected through facebook, twitter, blogs and Ning (at least, I think we're connected via Ning, too - it's kind of hard to keep track).

Anyhoo, among all the other interesting people I met - people whose names I have encountered before online - was Mary Harrington (what - no blog, Mary?) of the recently launched School of Everything. The name pretty much explains it, but head on over and have a look for yourself. You are encouraged to make use of the little link in the top right hand corner of their home page to make your views known.

I can think of several people I know from this space who ought to be adding themselves to the "teaching staff", but I shall forebear from naming names ;-)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting the front end right

Confession time: I started my career on the stage. To my cost, I discovered that being a talented performer and actually being tough enough to make a go of life as a professional performer were two very different things! I kind of drifted into training, which later transmogrified into learning... and I'm really glad I did, because here I am 20 years later in exactly the right field for me.

Anyhoo, the drama training influenced my career in so many ways. Quite apart from the ability to speak clearly and audibly, to connect with the "audience", and to get comedic timing right when using humour, there was the little matter of presentation:

Anybody arriving at one of my f2f end-user training sessions would find the venue spotless. Every monitor clean, high quality learning materials neatly lined up in exactly the same relative position at every workstation, together with pen, notepaper and a (blank) desk nameplate. Coffee and tea at the back of the room, with the cups (all the same size, and in the organisation's brand colours) neatly arranged. When the session started, all the machines were loaded with the files needed for the practical exercises. In the early days, a flip chart displayed my name and the course name - in my very best approximation of calligraphy. Later, this was replaced by a plasma screen which looped a presentation about these and other logistical details.

Before the delegates arrived, I ran around like a headless chicken, getting everything set up just so, testing the machines, loading the files, filling the urn, straightening everything up. It was like the preshow prep.

One thing that was hammered into us at drama school was that the audience never got to see into the wings - it broke the illusion to catch glimpses of the real world. The example was used of a swan: so beautiful and elegant, gliding along the surface of the lake... not so beautiful or elegant if you got to see the swan from underneath, where the legs were frantically churning. The audience should only ever see the swan from above, dahlings!

Don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that there are higher priorities (and I wasn't trying to con my learners) but it seemed like such a small thing to do to to create a positive and welcoming environment. I have tried to carry that over into the solutions I design - adding those little thoughtful touches that make a user feel welcome and inspire confidence in the resource.

I see it as a form of good customer service.

Of course, once you've done all that, you've then got to live up to the tacit promise you've made....

Vicki Davis: Burmese hunting down bloggers

Some years ago, I was trying to persuade a friend of mine to recycle, rather than just chucking everything (including glass bottles) into the bin. She was quite off-hand and asked, "What difference does it make? I'm only one person." My response was, "Name someone who isn't!"

When I read Vicki's heartfelt rallying cry on behalf of the persecuted bloggers of Burma - drawing attention to this post from Marshall Kirkpatrick - my first thought was "What difference can I make? I'm only one person." But then, so are you, and so is everyone else. I'm not sure if the addition of my voice will make any difference, but it is all I have.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Summative assessment - rugby style!

As those who follow me on Twitter will be painfully aware, our house is full of rugby at the moment, due to the fact that world cup is currently taking place in France. The quarter final round is about to begin and South Africa looks set (on paper, at least) to go all the way to the finals. Now before you North American types assume that this competition doesn't involve you, I would like to point out that both the USA and Canada have teams in the competition. Unfortunately both have been knocked out at the group stage, but still...

I have been a rugby fan for as long as I can remember. My father and grandfather both played the game well, and my maiden name was at one stage synonymous with the sport, since an assortment of second cousins x times removed featured prominently in the national team.

So where am I going with this?

During this competition, I have been struck again by the role of the referee in a rugby match. In no other sport that I can think of, does the ref behave in quite the same way. You see, rugby refs (in national and international matches) are miked up so that the television audience can hear what they're saying... and they say an awful lot.

Quite apart from explaining infractions when they have blown their whistle, they also call out things like "Hands off, blue!" "Watch your distance, green!" Constantly making input into the way the game is being played and ensuring that the teams observe the rules and the flow of the game is interrupted as little as possible. To be honest, it is almost as if he's coaching them... but this is a world cup match! And instead of just penalising the infractions, the ref is involved in minimising stoppages. Another way he does this is to "play advantage" - this means, if an infraction is made against a team, but that team maintains possession of the ball, the ref will let the game go on. If possession is quickly turned back over to the offending side, he will then impose the penalty for that infraction. He always indicates when he is playing advantage so both sides know the deal.

It got me to thinking about the extent to which we could apply this approach to situations in which we normally apply summative assessments in learning. An assessment that followed this approach is far more likely to be seen as formative, and yet, here is the rugby world cup being awarded only once every 4 years on the basis of a series of "formative" assessments.

Hmm. I wonder...