Thursday, January 31, 2008

Learning Technologies 2008 - initial reaction

I've just returned home after spending two days at the Learning Technologies 2008 conference. I will be giving some more measured feedback over the next few days, but I thought I'd get my initial reactions off my chest right away, which means I am unlikely to be able to give all the links that should - please google any of the names I mention that may be currently unfamiliar to you - you won't regret it!

I was acting as the rapporteur on one of the training tracks - as it happens, I got to report on the track I would have chosen to attend, had I gone to the conference as a paying delegate, namely Learning Technology. As well as the keynote addresses by Jay Cross, Itiel Dror and Nigel Paine, my track consisted of presentations by: Donald Clark, Josie Fraser, Stephen Downes, Joel Greenberg, Sara Bingham & Kirstie Donnelly, Marco Tippmer, Gordon Bull, Andrew Butt, Jane Hart and Claire Line.

I also (and now I'm just showing off) got to go out for dinner with Don Taylor, Jay Cross, Clive Shepherd and Jane Hart. What a pleasure it was to spend an evening in the company of such enthusiastic, passionate, well-past-the-koolaid-point optimists! Wonderful not to be the only one who becomes animated and wild-eyed on the subject of learning and learners.

I came away from the conference with a weird feeling of someone who had taken uppers and downers at the same time: enthused and frustrated, buoyed and depressed. How exciting to discover that my thinking is in tune with that of some of the leaders of our field. How gratifying to discover that I'm not the voice in the wilderness after all. How frustrating that I don't get to put very much of it into practice. I can't remember whether it was George Siemens or me who said this during an exchange of emails, but my feelings are a bit: "okay, so we know what we should be doing, we know when we should be doing it (now), so why aren't we doing it?"

Monday, January 28, 2008

McDonalds, FlyBe and Network Rail to offer A-levels

The news reports in the UK are all a-twitter this morning with the news that the first tranch of employers has been empowered to award A-level equivalent diplomas to their staff, along the lines of the new, more vocational diplomas on offer at many schools.

For those not based in the UK, it might help to know that compulsory education in the UK ends at 16 with the GCSE (general certificate of secondary education). This certificate on its own is insufficient to gain access to a university, so those who plan to go this route will usually stay on for an optional two (or even three) years gaining three or more A-levels. While almost all high schools offer A-levels, since they are post-compulsory, they constitute further education (or FE). These A-levels are acceptable entrance criteria to a university (which constitutes higher education or HE).

Many students may go straight to work after GCSEs, while others may opt to go to college (as distinct from university) to study towards a diploma.

Of course, the public's attention has been captured by the notion of an "A-level in burger flipping". The other two organisations have hardly rated a mention. I'm fairly sure that McDonalds will look into issues other than burger flipping, but the cynicism levels are running high, right now.

Several universities have indicated that they consider the new diplomas to be lacking in academic rigour and will not accept them as valid entry criteria to the university.

I find myself torn on this subject. I can see why the universities might think that the vocational diplomas give insufficient indication of an individual's capacity/appetite for academic study. On the other hand, I gained access to my current Master's degree programme by piecing together odds and ends of formal education and producing evidence of 18 years worth of experience and informal, self-directed learning, and I have certainly not been left behind by those in my class with a more traditionally academic background. In fact, I am generally regarded as the best-read member of the class.

Then again, university is not the only way forward. And perhaps it's time society did away with academic snobbery.

In my days as a student, I dated two civil engineering students (not simultaneously!). One was studying towards a degree at the university, on a full bursary from the most prestigious corporation in the country. The other was studying towards a diploma at the Technikon (read polytechnic), with his fees being paid by an employer. The university student spent four years in the classroom. The technikon student spent four years doing rotations of six months in the classroom and six months on site. It was obvious that society viewed the first as being the superior individual, and he was certainly cleverer than the technikon student in an academic sense. But would this make him a better civil engineer? Would the bridges built under his supervision be better able to stand up to the rigours of constant traffic use?

I don't know what courses McDonalds, FlyBe and Network Rail are planning to offer, but it isn't helped by the sort of snideness the announcement is attracting (see the comments on the linked article).

Since McDonalds seems to have become the purveyor of the staple diet in the UK, and since air and rail travel are frequent topics of heated conversation, perhaps it is just as well that some work-based training is being set in place for these organisations!

After all, one of the questions we often ask in this space is: what is education for? Perhaps this is finally the beginning of educational programmes with an answer to that question.

Having said that, I don't relish the idea of a future in which all learning has to have an employment-related point. How narrow our lives would become if we only ever learned skills and information that would help us at work.

We see here the opporunity for employers to have a real impact on the future of learning. Perhaps we will see further dismantling of my bugbear: the wall between corporate and academic learning! It will be interesting to see whether it proves successful.

Friday, January 25, 2008

You want to know how to teach our kids? Ask us!

In his latest newsletter, George Siemens kicks off with this paragraph:

The current issue of Forbes is focused on educating our children. Numerous experts have put forward their theories in short articles. Missing, however, are the views and opinions of teachers, parents, and students. While the commentaries of prominent people will obviously gain more attention, I think more wisdom is likely to be found in educators in the trenches. Better yet, host a "submit your view of education" session on YouTube. Then allow the network to filter the best ideas. Or host the discussion in a wiki. Don't tell us how to fix education. Involve us in fixing education.
I couldn't agree more!

Year after year, when the school exam results are published and the boys have fallen even further behind the girls... yet again, they trot out experts to tell us why this is the case and to talk about what is going to be done to address this imbalance.

Year after year, I yell at the TV - don't tell me what you think is wrong... ask me what I think is wrong! I'm the mother of sons, I know a bit about learning. Give me (and others like me) 5 minutes! Track down a sample of their better teachers - preferably the male ones - and ask them.

So, just in case you care what I think (acknowledgement - this is a generalisation):

I think it has a lot a lot to do with what I have come to call oestrogen poisoning.

The proportion of male:female teachers in early years and primary school being what it is, by the time a boy reaches high school, chances are he has not yet been taught by even one male teacher. That represents a stream of teachers who, the research seems to suggest, think in an innately different way from him. With the best will in the world, a female teacher leads by example in feminine thought and learning strategies. I suspect that this means that the assessment/examination process reflects a feminine thought process, too. Of course girls will do better at this than boys!

Is it any wonder that, by the time he gets to high school, many a boy has decided that he isn't going to crack this learning thing? It might take him years to overcome the early conditioning and find a way of working that fits.

Also, it seems to be fairly cut and dried that boys develop/mature more slowly than girls. So why are we forcing formal education of them so early? Why must a child be in a particular year group based purely on his chronological age? Why can he not tackle the school year for which he is developmentally ready?

As a woman, I am delighted to see girls coming into their own. As a human being, and the mother of sons, I am appalled to see boys becoming marginalised. Unless we are trying to head towards a Wicker Man society (heaven forfend!) please, please will someone listen to what the parents and the teachers have to say, instead of these pontificating people who haven't been associated with a school going boy in years (if ever)!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Just like riding a bicycle!

Some learning seems to stay with you - even when you haven't used it in ages. Other learning seems to vanish like the mist after even a short period of non-use.

This weekend, I played two games of squash after a 20 year absence from the court. To my surprise, I hadn't altogether lost it. I usually knew where I needed to be, even when the ravages of time meant I couldn't get there. I also always knew what I needed to do when I got there, even when I couldn't quite pull it off. One thing I had forgotten - to my astonishment - was the cardinal rule of taking ownership of the "T" straight after a service!

My first game was against (and I use the word loosely, since we were really just knocking about) my husband, who kept me running around that court like the proverbial headless chicken! My second game was against my 16-year old son, who is fit, fast and sporty. I was delighted that this time it was I who had him running himself ragged all over the court.

By the end of the second game, I had successfully rediscovered the skill of digging a ball out of the back corner (albeit clumsily) and playing off the back wall (ditto). I was still forgetting to return to the "T", though!

A while ago, we took the family to Bletchley Park, home of the famous decryptors of the Enigma machine. In one room was a range of computers, representing the history of personal computing. One of them ran WordPerfect 5.0 on a DOS operating system (I forget which version). In the days that WordPerfect enjoyed 75% of the global market share, I ran more training sessions on both of those than I care to remember! Nevertheless, when I sat down in front of that PC, I couldn't for the life of me remember the key combinations associated with even the simplest of commands.

Some years ago, we visited the small island off the west coast of Sweden from which my husband's maternal family hails. The island doesn't allow motorised traffic other than the most delightful mopeds (see photo), and most people make their way about on bicycles. My mother-in-law (who grew up on the island) after many, many years out of the saddle, mounted her bicycle and cycled about competently within moments. It is fair to say that she later had an accident - not her fault - and was banned from cycling by her daughter for fear of broken bones, since, like many others of her "type", she suffers from mild osteoporosis.

However, the irony is that it took her far longer to regain the same level of confidence in her native tongue. She had been speaking English (with a strong Swedish accent) for so many years that, even at the end of the time we spent there, she had a tendency to lapse back into English ( guessed it... a strong Swedish accent) when she became animated.

For me, the common factor is that both the easily remembered skills were psychomotor, while those less easily recalled were more cognitive.

I wonder if anyone else has similar experiences or observations in this connection.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Copyright infringement: two options

I recently posted about my latest addiction, namely the Facebook application Scrabulous - by far the feature of Facebook I use most heavily. As the name implies, the game is pretty much an exact replica of Scrabble that can be played online.

Hasbro is not impressed.

Like over 25,000 other people (at the time of writing) I recently joined a Facebook group called "Save Scrabulous", from which comes the following:

On January 11, 2008, the world learned that Hasbro, creators of the popular game Scrabble, has sent a cease and desist letter to Facebook and others over the popular Facebook application Scraboulous. The copyright infringement is obvious and, in retrospect, the developers of Scraboulous should have done more to create their own spin on it (rather than using the same color systems and numerical systems and having the rules to Scraboulous game link to the Scrabble Wikipedia page).

We in this group realize this, but we urge Hasbro to make the right decision. Rather than kill this application, they should work out a peaceful compromise with the developers to keep this success going. Many of the daily 500,000+ users of Scraboulous never played Scrabble before, but they were introduced to it using this friendly and convenient format. This application earns roughly $25,000 monthly in revenues from advertisements, which part of which could theoretically go to Hasbro if the parties come to a peaceful compromise.

We urge Hasbro to make the right decision. Don’t tick off the millions of Facebook Scraboulous fans that use this application.

I would like to contrast this approach with another story about copyright infringement.

People outside of the UK may not have heard of England's less famous fictional bear: Paddington. Many years ago, a lady called Shirley Clarkson (mother of the more famous Jeremy) made her son and daughter, who loved the stories of this marmalade eating bear from Peru, a Paddington bear for Christmas. Shirley was skilled at making toys and the bear was a hit. People suggested there was a market for the product. Shirley blithely went ahead and made and sold a few of the bears to some local shops - blissfully ignorant of the breach of copyright. Not two weeks later, the author of the Paddington bear books, Michael Bond, walked by a store and recognised his bear in the window... except for one small difference. This bear was wearing wellington boots. In the books, Paddington had bare (bear?) feet. This was because, when she made him, the only way Shirley could get him to stand was to give him a little pair of wellies.

It could have turned very nasty. Instead, Michael Bond sought out the Clarksons and came to an agreement. They are friends to this day. He also went off and wrote a story in which Paddington came to be the proud owner of a pair of wellington boots.

As a consequence of this agreement, Shirley Clarkson's business grew from a one-woman cottage industry to become an international business. It is fair to say that the business later collapsed, but then Shirley happily admits that the she hasn't an ounce of business sense, and it seems she was duped by an unscrupulous business manager.

I think the story between Hasbro and the developers of Scrabulous could have been a much happier one. After all, I think it likely that Scrabulous has made Scrabble players out of people who might never otherwise have considered engaging in the game, in much the same way as JK Rowling made readers out of kids with the attention span of a gnat and zero interest in books.

Postscript: If you'd like to know more about Shirley's story, her book Bearly Believable My Part in the Paddington Bear Story is due for release in June. Please note that I have no connection with the book and stand to gain nothing from this - it just seemed the polite thing to do.

Stats, metrics and html. Oh fooey!

I've never really been driven by the numbers on my blog - just as well really, because they are rather paltry!

However, I did think I might use them to provide some quantitative material for my dissertation, which is why I installed a couple of metrics tools. From the outset, they gave me widely different readings, which Tony Karrer might have explained in the conversation in the comments on his recent post.

Then, in his comments on one of my recent posts, Doug Belshaw indicated that he had had trouble seeing my blog - that it bombed out while loading. Patrick Dunn and Mark Berthelemy have previously told me the same thing, so I decided the time had come to something about it, in the interests of what amounts to customer service, I guess.

I went into my template (always a dangerous undertaking considering my prodigious ignorance) and pruned the Java script, including one of the metrics tools, opting to lose the one that Mark indicated had a tendency to slow things down.

Cobbling together advice from different people (and probably adding apples to oranges in the process), I also moved the script for the remaing metrics tool into the "head" section of the template. Since then, my metrics have flatlined. Just 5 minutes ago, I tried moving the script into the "body" section and there's already been one hit on the site. Hopefully this means that I have now resolved the problem.

I tell you what, when it comes to html-ish, I am dangerous! The next thing I want to try and do is to create my own custom template using images and graphics that I have generated. But that is for another day! If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them... provided of course, that I understand them!

In the meantime, I hope you approve of the slightly amended, somewhat more streamlined appearance of my blog.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Animals or litter?

This link to a Youtube video of Theo Jansen's presentation to TED talks from the latest IDG connect newsletter. There is no denying that these are very clever beasties - well designed and even pleasing to the eye, and there are sure to be many ways in which they can prove useful.

Their creator envisages herds of them living on the beaches. Am I the only one who thinks that this will constitute a very sophisticated form of litter, with all that plastic? And will the elements not see to it that they become a great deal less pleasing to the eye over time?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A bit of fun: CD covers

Although this is supposed to be a meme and I haven't been tagged, I thought it was a bit of fun, so I had a go. Nod to Grandad over at Head Rambles.

If you're a teacher, I thought it might be quite fun to set as an extension exercise in the classroom for those kids who finish their work early.

So this is the deal:
Go here. The first article title on the page is the name of your band.
Go here. The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.
Go here. The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

And this is my result:

Patonga is a place in New South Wales, it seems. The tail-end of the quote came from Oprah Winfrey, and the magnificent photo is one of an equally wonderful series taken by nevertorun, who might not be terribly impressed at having his/her photo thus purloined.

Watch what you say... and how you say it!

This is not really a contradiction of my earlier post about words.

In my job, we design a lot of bespoke elearning materials on behalf of clients, both internal and external. My team is content neutral, which means we are not subject matter experts on the content of the resources - that is usually the role of the client-side SME. Of course, as we work with the material, it becomes familiar to us, which makes QA a bit tricky. We have to try to ensure that the material makes sense to someone who is new to it. For this reason, we don't expose our QA person to the content until we are about ready to release the alpha version to the client. However, this has its downside, too, in that the QA person does not approach the material from the perspective of someone working in the field being addressed, so it isn't always easy to assess the appropriateness of assumptions made about basic levels of knowledge and competency.

This got me to thinking about a lot of things.

When you're delivering material in a classroom, you can assess how your learners are responding to what you say, and rephrase/rework if necessary. In distance learning - both on and off-line, you don't have that option, so you need to express yourself clearly first time around.

This affects your choice of words. In a recent post, I used the word "reactionary" which has two, apparently contradictory meanings. When I used it, I knew what I meant, so it didn't occur to me that it might be confusing to my readers. It was, so I updated the post.

I recently wanted to cite one of Stephen Downes's papers in an assignment for my post grad course, but in included a word that was unfamiliar to me. Knowing that Stephen's vocabulary is far broader than my own, I looked it up. No joy. I thought perhaps it was a Canadianism and searched for it that way. Nope. Eventually, sure that I was going to make a fool of myself, I emailed him and asked apologetically what "irredibly" meant. His reply was an enormous relief to me: it was a typo. He had meant to say "irreducibly". Of course, because he knew what he meant, every time he proofread the piece, he saw the word he knew was supposed to be there. Been there, done that!

It also affects the idiom we use. In my last company, we had a new system developed for us by an organisation which outsourced its development function to India. Part of the deal was that the user manual would also be written by the supplier. As the person who would take the lead on the rollout of the training, it fell to me to approve this publication. As soon as the first tranch of materials arrived, I knew that it wasn't going to work. Quite apart from the fact that the manual was being written using PowerPoint of all things, the idiom would just not work for an English audience. When speaking English, Indians often default to the present continuous tense - something which is widely lampooned in caricatures. The entire manual was written in this manner (where I would say "to access the invoice...", they would have "for accessing the invoice..."). I wrote the manual myself.

The flip side is that we increasingly find that resources are intended for distributed, multinational audiences. This precludes the use of idiom and collquiallisms unfamiliar to the non-native speaker, or even to a native speaker with a different dialect.

We need to be careful of labels, too. As an extreme example, let me pick on a topical issue: the American presidential elections. There are two primary parties involved: the Republicans and the Democrats. If you live in the US, you may know more about the policies of these parties than I do, but a person new to American politics, would be forgiven for assuming that the Republican party was in favour of a republic, while (only?) the Democratic party was in favour of democracy (one might draw similar conclusions from the names of the main parties in British politics, by the way). Years and years of rebranding have seen to it that the label often no longer necessarily fits what is in the tin, and we need to be careful of assuming that the user knows this.

There is also the issue of voice. I have always favoured the idea of supplying a personality to an organisation's online learning resources - one which matches the organisation's ethos. The personality of the trainer in the face to face situation can be a huge asset. I don't see why the elearning can't have a personality, too. Just as one addresses issues such as look and feel, and carefully selects appropriate images and graphics, tone can be created by the phrasing of the material. In cases where user-generated content is encouraged, there can be a wonderful mix of styles and voices, echoing the reality of the people in the organisation. But where the resource is unidirectional, why should it be necessary to adopt a formal writing style? Why preclude the use of exclamation marks? To do so, to me, would be to dictate that the elearning materials remain dry, dusty and impersonal.

Which brings me, finally, to content. Why is it that, when it comes to divvying up the material into different delivery media, all the dry, dusty stuff is deigned suitable for online delivery, while all the interesting, fun, engaging things are kept for the classroom? Is it any wonder that so many organisations out there equate elearning with boring? How many of us have wearied of text screen after text screen, back and next buttons, and fatuous multiple choice or drag-and-drop quizzes? With all the resources available to us, surely we can let loose with a few really exciting online projects, using discovery based learning, user-created content, social media, simulations, multimedia...?

Not that I'm proposing we do away with the face to face sessions altogether - far from it! But I think we could put them to even better use if we made optimum use of the online aspects of our toolkit.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Phone? What phone? Oh, you mean

You would think that, with the proliferation of gadgets around, it would be ever easier to buy gifts for teenagers. But, reaching December with little inspiration as to what to give my sons for Christmas, I had - over the space of several days - the following conversation with them.

"Would you like a watch?"
"What for? I have my phone!"
"Would you like a new alarm clock?"
"What for? I have my phone!"
"Would you like a digital camera?"
"What for? I have my phone!"
"Would you like an mp3 player?"
"What for? I have my phone!"
"Would you like a video camera?"
"What for? I have my phone!"
The list goes on...

And this is without an iPhone (look, much as I fancy the thing, I can't bring myself to spend what will amount to £900 for it!)

I have just one question:

Why are we still calling it a phone?

Reflecting on BETT and Teachmeet08

On Friday afternoon, I headed over to BETT, mainly because I was going to attend Teachmeet08 and thought I might have a quick nose around BETT first. Mistake!

I had heard that BETT is huge, but that is the understatement of the century.

On the advice of my colleague, Mark Berthelemy, I tried to plan my route ahead of time. I used the online planner and promptly found myself looking at a list of unbelievable length.

Take 2. I took out everything except "adult and community learning" and CPD. The list was still longer than my arm. Mark's advice was to go to Future Schools. What a good idea, I thought, since I have been known to occupy my soapbox on the subject from time to time!

He and I had a networking meeting scheduled for 4pm, so we went our separate ways on arrival, agreeing to meet up later - venue to be established via the joys of text messaging. I should have stuck with the man! After a short while of frenzied attempts to get my bearings and find the stand I wanted, I decided to head for the wifi hotspot and chill with a coffee. Wouldn't you know it? My stupid laptop decided that the wifi was all just a rumour! I could see other people all around me, busily interacting with their online resources while I just got an error page. So I just chilled instead.

Anything you want to know about BETT, you'd best ask someone, anyone else - my visit was a washout.


TeachMeet08 turned out to be a different matter entirely. Various people had put themselves forward to do 7 minute micro or 2 minute nano presentations. The order was set at random by a digital one-armed-bandit-type application. Oiled by copious quantities of free booze, both audience and presenters became increasingly rambunctious as the evening progressed.

The deal was that no-one was supposed to get up and sell their product. It was all supposed to be a testimonial: practitioners sharing their experiences with each other. Some people bent the rules, it has to be said, but it was wonderful to see the passion and enthusiasm among the people collected there - most of whom appeared to be secondary school teachers. It would have been nice to hear from a few in the primary school sector, too.

Highlights for me: Drew Buddie's wikifly effect about a collaborative writing exercise and Dave Stacey's 10 commandments for evangelising edtech.

The best thing about the evening, though, was getting to meet members of my online community in the flesh (people with whom I interact via Twitter, Facebook and blogs) - adding a third dimension to the profile photos I carry around in my head: Doug Belshaw, Dave Stacey, Andy Roberts (whom I've met before), Paul Harrington (who's much taller online), Drew Buddie (whom I've seen before, but only from the audience) and Ewan McIntosh (who gave the lie to the "online friends are not real friends" thing by hugging me the moment he identified me), Terry Freedman... Apologies if I've forgotten anyone. I can't even blame it on the free booze, since the strongest thing I drank all night was diet Coke!

I also met a few new faces, including Jose Picardo, who I mistook for David Delgado!

I will add pictures to this post once I've found my data cable so that I can upload them.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thanks for nothing (rant warning)

I've been mulling over the reaction of some of my teacher acquaintances to the idea of using tech tools - particularly social media - as an integral part of their practice. Of course, if you're a teacher reading this, you probably already doing that. The people who react in the way I'm speaking of aren't reading this. In fact, many of them are still unsure what a blog is.

That's fine.

I'm not criticising ignorance. A person cannot control what they don't know if they don't know that they don't know it (if you follow me!). What bothers me more is stubbornness. The "Don't bother me with all that stuff" approach that says "this method of teaching was good enough when I was at school, and it's been good enough for hundreds of years." It's like sticking your fingers in your ears and going "lalalala".

What I'm thinking about is the extent to which the way we are taught at school informs our views on learning for the rest of our lives. It's one thing if you leave school and become a learning geek like yours truly, whose entire life revolves around lifelong, lifewide learning. For someone who becomes a nurse/chef/engineer/whatever, to whom CPD learning is going to form an important part of the job, but one that they have to find the time to squeeze in, while getting on with their real job, their ideas on learning are probably held on some unconscious level, and will, on dissection, very likely look rather like their schooldays.

So, to all those teachers who are refusing to engage with ICT in teaching and learning, who maintain that the read/write web has nothing to do with them, who are not actually reading this blog... gee thanks!

Thanks for the guy who controls the budget and requisitions the learning solutions but wants the learning to look "like this" or "just so", with lots of back and next buttons and endless content dumps. Thanks for all those workers who suffer from total inertia when it comes to taking the wheel on their own learning journey. Thanks for all those people who feel that their professional development is someone else's responsibility.

I know I'm overstating the case - it's deliberate. I'm not having a pop at teachers per se. I know that they often get a pretty raw deal, and are often expected to shoulder responsibilities that should be handled at home. But I do feel that too many of us who have responsibility towards children and teenagers are in danger of abdicating our roles and neglecting our duty of care.

When we were expecting our first child, someone told us, "Parenting is hard work... if you do it properly, and the better you do it, the harder it is." Sometimes it's easier just to do a thing yourself than to keep on at your kids to do it, or to deal with the mess that results from their doing it. But what good is that to the child? So sometimes we have to put ourselves out. Sometimes we have to move out of our comfort zones. Sometimes we have to deal with mess. There's no margin for "can't be bothered" when it comes to equipping our kids for the future.

Okay - I'll get off my soapbox now!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Big screen thinking

Donald Clark's post about big screen TVs jumped out at me this morning, because I've been thinking and talking about big screens lately. Not in relation to my work, but for home.

We're in the process of buying a new house - much bigger (but ironically, not much more expensive), with a family room. This is something we have long wanted to have.

When we have guests over, especially when the guests have kids, the adults always wind up sitting at the dining table and chatting, while the kids watch a DVD or play games on the TV in the lounge. This has been the status quo for many years.

In our current house, this is a problem, because the whole downstairs area is one big, split-level, open plan living space: kitchen, lounge and dining area. It looks very elegant, but it's not very practical.

The kids turn the volume up on the TV so that they can hear it over our conversation. We speak louder. The kids turn the TV up. We ask them to turn it down. They ask us to "turn it down".

In the new house (if we actually get it - buying property in the UK is fraught with obstacles), the TV will go into the large loft room, which will serve as the family room. In due course, we will buy another TV for the lounge.

But I have always been bothered by the blankness of an inactive TV screen. This is probably due to my grandmother, who compared a TV to a dead fish's eye. Since TV only arrived in South Africa in the mid 70's, and they resisted getting one for some time after that, my grandparents were fairly advanced in years by the time a rather large TV set took up residence in their lounge. And it was hardly ever switched on, since they preferred the genteel art of conversation after dinner. Finding the "dead" look of the inactive screen too disturbing, my gran used to cover the set with a cloth when it was not in use.

As TVs have taken an ever more dominant place in the home, with furniture usually being arranged around the focal point of the TV set, I began to feel that the TV should "earn its keep" when not in use.

When the TV screen became flat and wall-mountable, I began to wish that it could double as a picture, especially as the screens became larger. Our current TV is only a 32", but I have long wished that, when no-one was watching TV (or playing Xbox 360 games), we could have a rolling slideshow of family portraits or beautiful scenic photographs. I know that I could achieve this by connected the TV up to my laptop. But the trouble is, I am usually using my laptop - especially at the times when the TV is off, and it strikes me as overkill.

It seems I might soon get my wish, as I see the market generating a few technologies that seem to be leading in that direction:

  • Animated advertisements - there have always been a series of A4-ish sized advertisments beside the escalators serving the London Underground. Recently, these have been replaced with LCD (I think) screens showing animated advertisments, sequenced to keep pace with movement of the escalator, so that the "story" flips from screen to screen as you travel up or down. They have also recently introduced enormous curved screens that take up wall space within the tube tunnel itself, visible to passengers waiting on the platform.
  • Digital photo frames. There is now a selection of these frames available from many stores. You just bung in your memory card and you're away. As with mp3 players, the capacity varies enormously, and as with digital cameras, there is a range of resolutions available. Both of these factors influence price. Being the sort of person who keeps family photos on my desk (and has a rolling slideshow of family photos as the screensaver on my laptop), I quite fancied one of these, but they are rather small. I think the biggest I've seen was 8".
So now I'm just waiting for someone to develop whatever it is that drives the photo frame in a little matchbox sized thing that you connect to your TV... once you've programmed it from your computer, of course! Perhaps, by the time I come to buy my 46" screen to mount on the lounge wall, this technology will automatically be included.

Mind you - it wouldn't be very green, would it?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Do you remember Tetris?

This link thanks to the latest IDG Connect newsletter. I used to play Tetris for hours on end, but haven't seen it for years. This video clip, with its vocalised sound effects, using people as pixels brought back memories. I have to say that I was a slightly better player than the one whose "game" we're watching!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Copping out of LCB's big question for January

This month's big question, fittingly enough, is

What are your predictions for learning in 2008?
I'm kind of skittish about making predictions in a field where I am not really one of the leaders. Especially after seeing Stephen Downes's grades for eLearn Magazine's predictions from last year. Like I'm going to set myself up for that!

I thought I might stick my tongue firmly in my cheek, get really specific and predict that Jay Cross and Stephen would disagree on something. That Stephen would make a categorical statement and Dave Snowden would make an equally categorical but totally contradictory statement. But those are no-brainers!

So instead, I'd like to own up to the fact that I have no idea. I have a few hopes, but whether they will come to pass or not remains to be seen. I would like to see the Great Divide between corporate and academic learning eroded. I would like to see more elements of technology and learner empowerment introduced into corporate learning programmes and the traditional bums-on-seats courses becoming more blended.

What I will say, though, is that I've bought my ticket, and I've taken my seat. Let's see where this ride goes.

All abo-oard!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

An autistic woman tells it like is...

This is a truly remarkable piece from an autistic woman called A M Baggs. I guess the fact that I consider it to be remarkable says more about me than it does about her, and I probably owe her an apology. To a greater or lesser extent, we are all expected to conform to societal constructs and corrected or even ostracised when we can't or won't. But few of us have had the capacity to communicate this as effectively as Ms Baggs manages to do.

Note: I would never have been able to share this video with my colleagues in my last job - they would have made ribald fun of this woman. I'm hoping none of them ever read this blog - such reactions would not be welcomed here.

Gratitude list...

Harold Jarche sets a good example by exhorting us all to draw up a new year's gratitude list. While I have made a few resolutions, which I prefer to think of as personal goals for the year, I would like to flatter Harold by imitation. Apologies (or not!) to all the eye rollers ;-)

I am grateful that I am twenty years in to a marriage to a wonderful man who still adores me and thinks me beautiful.

I am grateful for my two lovely teenage boys. I was very fortunate to be able to take time out when they were little so that I could raise them myself. I don't regret the financial or career sacrifice. I am grateful that we were in a position to make that choice. Very few people are that privileged nowadays.

I am grateful that we live in a safe enough society that my children are able to take for granted a level of freedom that their cousins can't even imagine.

I am grateful that I have a job which stretches me and affords me the opportunity to engage with this community.

I am grateful to this community for all that I have learned over tha past two and a half years.

That'll do for now.

Fototrix - too cool!

Via Tony Karrer. This is a neat tool you can use to personalise your photos, or to generate images you can use in a learning resource. Here's one I created using a picture taken at the Christmas dinner table.
Make your own clipart like this @

You are perfectly welcome to suggest a less cheesy caption!