Friday, October 29, 2010

Free animation and 'tooning tools

While I am not a school teacher, I know that many of my readers are. It is with these readers in mind that I share this.

I came across this post by Anya Wood today, and I immediately had visions of kids making cartoons and videos about stuff they were learning in school.

Of course, there's nothing to stop the teacher using these tools to seed lessons, either, but the idea of the kids being able to create and share media appeals to me. It just extends the learning beyond strict subject boundaries, and it embodies the whole notion of the individual as a creator of web content, not just a consumer thereof.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I came across this slam poetry video via the Facebook page of Ruth Demitroff. My sap rises every time I watch it... and I have watched it many times.

Be aware that it contains a single profanity, entirely warranted in my view.

Every little girl (and big girl, for that matter) should hear something along these lines.

The blame game is counter-cultural to learning

Beth Kanter wrote a post that set me thinking about blame culture and the making of mistakes. One thing we loudmouths learn early on is that the blame culture is alive and well...and the loudest mouth makes for the easiest scapegoat.

At school I was (as the expression seems to have become) all mouth and no trousers. I talked a good line in rebellion, but I obeyed the rules as if I were on rails. It made no difference. I got into as much trouble as if I were a complete hellcat. Teachers approaching our classroom from down the corridor would hear some kind of kerfuffle and enter the room declaring what my punishment was to be. The fact that I was more often that not frantically trying to finish the homework that had been sidelined by my innumerable co-curricular and extra-curricular activities made not the slightest bit of difference.

This followed me to college, where the matron once grounded me for three weeks for breaking curfew, when I had been stuck in a lift all night at a friend's hostel. No amount of offers of evidence of my innocence would suffice. On another occasion, I was awoken late at night and ordered to her office to be told, "I can hear you from here! I can't get a wink of sleep with all the noise you're making!" I didn't endear myself to her by apologising for snoring and blaming it on catarrh. As I said: all mouth.

My first 'proper' job was a very junior role in the customer service department of a blanket factory, run by a petty tyrant who screamed (no other word will suffice) at people on a daily basis. He was a real piece of work and no-one wanted to be on the humiliating receiving end of one of his tirades. As a consequence, finger-pointing (and outright lying) was a regular feature of the business culture. On one occasion, there was a huge to do, because the distribution list from one of our biggest customers detailed despatch to their various stores in multiples of 14, but the goods - thousands upon thousands of blankets - had been packed in multiples of 12. Mr Tyrant went ballistic and starting tearing strips off people left and right. And of course, the finger-pointing began. The dervish entered my office, already well on his way to bursting a blood vessel and yelling at full volume before he even crossed the threshold.

I wigged out.

I was already known as 'Bof' (bundle of fire) because I had stood up to him (and other members of the senior staff) in the past, so it was not entirely without precedent that I yelled, "That. Is. Enough! Shut up and let me talk!"

I asked him what kind of operation he ran that would put a 21 year old office junior in charge of making senior management decisions about logistics. I pointed out (loudly - and probably colourfully), that there were people a lot higher than me on the food chain, earning more in a week than I did in a month, whose job it was to make these decisions. But because he was such a bully and a tyrant, none of them was prepared to acknowledge having made this mistake, so they just kept pointing fingers until it came to the bottom of the pile and I had no-one to point at. I told him that, if he had spent half the energy on finding a solution as he had on trying to find someone to blame, the blankets could by now have been repackaged and on their way to the client. By this time, there was dead silence in all the neighbouring offices.

To give him his due, he burst out laughing and told me that I had more chutzpah than a shiksa had any right to.

But that spectre follows me even to this day. A couple of years ago, I made a decision that put me in the firing line and, instead of coming to my defence, my manager served my head up on a platter to soothe ruffled feathers higher up the food chain. The mouth is silenced when the head is plattered.

But this is something I have known since before I had wrinkles and greys. It doesn't take wisdom, just common sense:

A blame culture saps energy. It distracts from solution finding. While everyone runs around trying to find out who was to blame, in order to mete out punishment, things cannot move forward.

If, instead, energy is spent on finding a solution, lessons can be learnt, deliveries made, damage controlled, etc. etc. And, in such a culture, it is far more likely that people will acknowledge having screwed up, thus uncovering mistakes before the knock-on effect gets out of hand.

Can we instead work towards a culture of "Oh hell. I screwed up. Can we fix it?"


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On being a black sheep

My Twitter stream this morning included a link to a blog post by Abhijit Kadle of Upside Learning. That, in turn took me to this article in the McKinsey Quarterly (registration required) covering an interview with Brad Bird, talking about the importance of innovation.

The stand out thing that served to hook me in was Brad Bird's name (non sequitur: Brad Bird is listed on IMDB as 'aka Bradley Bloody Bird'. I love that. It makes me feel better about my own sometime nickname, to wit: 'that emasculating bitch').

May I just confess that I love animated movies? Not all of them, of course. But so many of them are cleverly wrought. And Brad Bird's work is right up there, in my opinion.

When my children were little, I used them as an excuse to see all the animated movies, and to buy them on video (yup, it was a while ago). When they reached a certain age, I had a decision to make: I either owned up to the fact that I was going to the movies because I wanted to see the films, or I gave up on the big screen experience of animated feature films.

I took a big girl pill and opted for the former.

Fortunately, I was not alone. There are many of us out there, happily consuming animated movies.

And my kids have never outgrown their love of animated movies, either. They are completely unfazed at the idea of going to a cinema to see Up (highly recommended - take tissues), or The Incredibles, or whatever. I suspect that this is partly to do with the fact that games console games are animated and decidedly un-childish; and partly due to the influence of The Simpsons (which is also a Brad Bird thing, by the way), followed by all manner of animated definitely-not-for-children TV shows, such as South Park, American Dad et al.

But I digress.

Brad Bird's work pushes boundaries. And I love that. Producers of animated series often confess that they experience frustration during brainstorming sessions, as every 'new idea' they come up with has already been done in The Simpsons. Bird went there first.

In the McKinsey article, one section jumped out at me:

Bird discussed the importance, in his work, of pushing teams beyond their comfort zones, encouraging dissent, and building morale. He also explained the value of “black sheep”—restless contributors with unconventional ideas. Although stimulating the creativity of animators might seem very different from developing new product ideas or technology breakthroughs, Bird’s anecdotes should stir the imagination of innovation-minded executives in any industry.
Yes. Yes. And yes.

It isn't easy to be the designated sandpaper in any equation. To be the person who challenges the status quo. Who pushes back on the preconceptions and assumptions. Those of us who find ourselves in this position (and I am relatively fine-grained sandpaper, compared to some of you brave souls), are often told that we should stop being so difficult. The assumption is made that we do so just for the sake of it.

But we cannot just lower our heads and traipse along the well-worn paths, and still look ourselves in the mirror. We're just not made that way.

And occasionally, just occasionally, we stumble across evidence that there is a good reason to be the way we are. That we serve some purpose, other than driving people nuts. This interview with Bird is one such.

But let's look for a moment at the role of the executive (Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter), here. They were the ones who were brave enough to unleash Bird on their empire. Off the back of huge blockbusters that we animated movie fans have all watched countless times, they took a chance on Bird whose latest project (The Iron Giant) had been less than stellar (although I, of course, loved it):
“The only thing we’re afraid of is complacency—feeling like we have it all figured out. We want you to come shake things up. We will give you a good argument if we think what you’re doing doesn’t make sense, but if you can convince us, we’ll do things a different way.” For a company that has had nothing but success to invite a guy who had just come off a failure and say, “Go ahead, mess with our heads, shake it up”—when do you run into that?
Don't you wish you'd get a mandate like that? And don't you wish you'd get more of that 'good argument'? When you're thinking out loud and making suggestions and exploring possibilities, don't you wish that people would argue with you if they disagree, instead of sitting there looking mutinous?

Argh! Engage, people. Engage! Disagree. Make your case. Fight your corner.

If I'm wrong, talk me out of it. But don't just cling to the wreckage of the default position because 'that's how we do things around here'. Why do you do things that way? If you have a reason, tell me. If it turns out that your reason has passed its sell-by date, perhaps we can find a more effective way of doing things. Together. But we can't do that if you don't add your ideas to the mix, now can we?

And, just to finish off with - does the man's talent know no bounds? Having failed to find anyone to voice the delightful Edna in The Incredibles to his satisfaction, Bird was talked into doing it himself. I had assumed, when I saw the movie, that they had somehow talked Yoko Ono into doing the voice, and was somewhat incredulous when the credits rolled.

I later saw an interview with one of the team members, who shared how it had come about that Bird voiced this character himself. Apparently, he was advising Lily Tomlin on how to voice the character, and she suggested that he had nailed it so perfectly that he should do it himself. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Edna Mode:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things my father taught me

Today would have been my father's 70th birthday. Except that he didn't even live to see 60. He committed suicide when he was 57.

I have no illusions about the kind of man my Dad was and I am not superstitious enough to 'not speak ill of the dead'. I am honest with myself and others about my father's failings.

He was no manner of Dad, really. He longed for, but never received his own father's approval. He was still too desperately waiting for his Dad to say "You done good, kid" (or some South African equivalent thereof) ever to be able to look beyond himself and build us up as children. After our parents' divorce when I was 6 and my sister just 2, we saw him increasingly rarely. He chose not to be involved in our lives and then cast himself in the role of victim when he wasn't involved in our lives (if that makes sense).

But he did teach me a few things of value.

He taught me that you decide whether or not you like a food by tasting it. No other criterion counted. "If you want something that looks nice, go eat the Mona Lisa."

He taught me that nature should be valued and respected. "People go around shouting "Africa for the Africans." Well, reckon it should be "Africa for the animals." It's the people who *&^%$ things up. They should force all the people out of the continent and leave the animals to get on with it." I pointed out that that would mean we have to leave, too, but he wasn't interested in minor details.

He introduced me to Victor Borge. We didn't have television in South Africa in my childhood, but we had vinyls of several of his shows. We used to sit in my grandparents' lounge and laugh uproariously. The link is to one of my favourite clips.

But most of all, he taught me about love. Sadly, not in any positive way. He taught me that love can be measured in inconvenience. Hear me out.

You can tell your kids "I love you" with every breath you take. But they will never believe you if:

  • you don't pick up the phone when you receive the copy of their report
  • you don't contact them when they get selected for the first team, or cast in a lead role
  • you don't keep your promises
  • you don't know what things matter to them
  • you don't occasionally make a long journey to surprise them by pitching up at prizegiving (or some such event)
  • you criticise them for the lack of closeness in your relationship
  • you refuse to attend a landmark solo performance in your own city because it takes place in a church... and you're an atheist
I still believe that if you love someone, you put yourself out for them from time to time. You do something inconvenient to yourself to support them or to make them happy.

This is why women like to get flowers from their partners. It's not the flowers. It's the out-of-the-comfort-zone effort.

Strange as it may seem, I am grateful for this lesson. So, in memory of my Dad, I am putting aside a pressing job to take my younger son out to his favourite restaurant for lunch (fortunately, this is the reasonably priced Nando's!), and I am going to get up at 8am tomorrow morning to skype my older son in Australia (I don't normally surface until 11 on a Saturday).

Can I challenge you, on this Friday afternoon, to do something inconvenient to show someone else you care?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In praise of the malcontent

Last night, in a context completely unrelated to the business of learning, my husband made the following observation, "If you don't know what you can have, you'll settle for what you've got."

That remark has stayed with me, and its relevance to just about everything keeps reaffirming itself.

Think about it. If you buy a new pair of boots the very first time you spot them in store A, you might never discover that you could have had them for half the price from store B.

If you don't make enquiries, you may never find out that your student card entitles you to use a certain gym free of charge.

If you're a classroom-based, chalk-and-talk trainer who has never heard of e-learning, or learner-driven learning, or user generated content, or... okay, you get the idea... you'll just keep standing in front of the class, delivering your material to them in as engaging a way as you can, knowing full well that they'll have forgotten most of it by the time they find themselves in a situation in which they need to apply it.

Or maybe you won't.

Maybe you're one of those people who wonders if maybe, perhaps, possibly there isn't another way to do things. Maybe you're one of those people who experiments, who explores, who asks questions. Maybe you'll come to find out that there are other ways to skin this cat.

It seems to me that the essential ingredient is curiosity. And curiosity is not really the province of the contented. The serenely contented person has no interest in what lies behind the doors labelled 'what else?' and 'what if?' It is only the thirsty horse that will drink when led to water. In fact, the thirsty horse will set off to find water.

In my last job, my life was made miserable by a colleague who was utterly unable to conceal his antipathy for me. I'm sure there were many reasons he'd rather have had a slug dropped down his neck than spend time in my company, but the one on which he was the most outspoken was my curiosity. It drove him completely nuts. I thought I was showing interest in things (and people). He thought I was nosy.

The problem is, my nosiness has served me well. It has caused me always to wonder if there isn't another way to do things. It has led me to information that has caused me to re-examine existing practice.

I used to stand up in front of a group of delegates and work my way through the set material (even when I was the one who had set it). Then I wondered if there wasn't a way to make the material more relevant to the delegates, so I started using examples drawn from their daily lives to make my point.

I found that no matter how much the penny dropped in the classroom, it was often MIA when the delegates came to apply the principles. So I wondered if there wasn't anywhere to put examples so that delegates could refer back to them after the fact.

My boss refused to buy me an elearning authoring tool, so I wondered if I could cobble something together using clever tricks with PowerPoint and a cheap screen capture tool. I colluded with the helpdesk to make sure I covered the hottest FAQs.

We didn't have an LMS, so I wondered if I could put the thus-cobbled-together resources somewhere where people could find them, and I found the public folders of Outlook extremely useful!

I didn't enjoy having to plough through materials in a set order using back/next buttons like some kind of mindless sheep. So I wondered if there wasn't a way to make it possible for a user to plot his own route through a resource.

I was unfamiliar with the machinations of a certain application, but needed to include screen capture videos in a learning resource I was designing. I wondered how I might overcome this problem. Would I have to become expert in the application, or was there a more effective way?

These are just a few examples drawn from my own life. Situations in which dissatisfaction and curiosity have combined to send me down a new path.

I don't know what else I can have, but I certainly hope that my reluctance to accept the status quo will drive me to find out.

So to all the malcontents, who are subjected to a hail of criticism for being the squeaky wheel: hail fellow, well met!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jane Hart's top 100 tools for learning

Jane has finalised this year's top 100 tools for learning, as identified by, well... you.

The composition of this list makes it clear that there is no real boundary around tools-for-learning as opposed to tools-for-anything-else. Just about anything can be used for learning, really.

The Internet is not America

Okay, the temptation became too strong. I tried not to write this post, but it would be written. And it is a bit of a rant. Sorry.

I got an email this morning, asking me to blog about a certain matter. Nothing unusual in this. I often get such emails. People want their cause/event/publication promoted and approach bloggers who address related issues, asking them to give the cause/event/publication a plug. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't.

On this occasion, not only will I not, I have taken offence. On this occasion, the writer didn't even bother to check whether I was a suitable candidate, or whether this blog was a suitable vehicle for his cause.

The email mentioned someone that I (and you - yes, you were mentioned too, albeit not by name) had probably not heard of but should have heard of (apparently), because he's done something rather marvellous... in America.

All manner of issues relating to US politics were cited and (apparently) I should consider these things terribly important. So important, that I should do you the service of bringing them to your attention. I was even offered the opportunity to interview this person for your benefit and edification.

So let us pause for a moment and consider how desperately a South African girl living in England wants to delve into the machinations of American politics.

The answer - of course - is not at all.

I know that I have American readers, and if you're one of them, I hope that you're not offended that I have chosen not to try to inform you about the future of your own country. If you are not American, but are fascinated by their politics, I trust that you have far more reliable sources of information than this blog.

If (like me) you are not American and have only a passing interest in US politics, then perhaps (like me) you are irked by the occasional assumption that cyberspace is US territory.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Downes on change

This article by Stephen Downes in the Huffington Post is getting a lot of exposure. He explores personal learning environments, networks and knowledge (PLENK).

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know exactly who Stephen is. The problem is, while there are pockets of people who are familiar with his work and actively engage in the debate sparked by his posts, there are great swathes of people who should be thinking along the lines that Stephen addresses, but don't... and have no idea who he is, either. As a result, they continue to churn out the same old same old.

The expression goes, if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. These days, with change and progress being as fast as it is, I think if you do what you've always done, the best you can possibly hope for is what you've always got, but even that will be a stretch.

Hopefully, articles like this will take the ideas into the mainstream.

Friday, October 15, 2010

More about QR codes

Thanks again to Paul Simbeck-Hampson for the link to this video about a creative use of QR codes.

Forget about the content of the book in the example. Think laterally. Consider the possibilities! Here we have the potential for a book that self-updates. Just as you do with web pages, when something changes, you update the source material, and the user accesses the most up to date information.

Just in time information.

As a teaching and learning resource, this is dynamite!!!!

Later edit: At Paul's suggestion (see comments below), I am including this video which shows some of the potential usage of the technology:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Playing with QR codes

I have just been speaking to Paul Simbeck-Hampson (he gets around, doesn't he?) about QR codes and both of us have been waxing enthusiastic. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he posts about them too!

In case you're not familiar with them, a QR code is a kind of variation on a bar code, only instead of bars, it has tiny squares of black and white, in which information can be embedded. The information can be text, or a URL, or even audio.

With the means to scan these codes, all manner information can be shared. Paul and I have both loaded an app onto our smartphones that reads and generates these codes. He has an Android, while I have an iPhone. If our conversation is anything to go by, the Android version seems to be better.

Also, Google translate has a QR feature (and an app for Androids). Using the smartphone, you can scan and decode the code for the word you have looked up.

We were discussing possible learning applications for these codes and I shared about a speaker at the eLearning Africa conference in May (it pains me that I can't remember his name, even though he and I spoke at the same session), in whose organisation QR codes are being used to overcome language barriers. The code may be placed upon an item of furniture, for example. When scanned, this reveals the name of the item of furniture in the desired language, together with an audio of the correct pronunciation. I guess you could link to a list of the words for that item in any number of languages.

Similarly, the codes are being attached to informational posters in the office, containing a translation of the content in the user's language.

Just think about the potential applications:

  • shipping consignments
  • museum exhibits
  • tourist attractions
  • bird identification rings
  • ...
I reckon the list is only restricted by the imagination! Talk about ubiquitous learning!

What a fabulous learning experience!

The learning journey embarked on by both father and son here is worth so much more than the outcome of the exercise can begin to reflect. This pushes all my geek-parent buttons!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The loneliness of the long-distance worker

(With apologies to Richardson, Redgrave et al)

Tomorrow, Learning Anorak Ltd begins its third year of existence, so I thought I'd share some reflections on the journey to date.

I have found the flexibility of being able to work my own hours enormously liberating. At one stage, I had a project that had overrun (not my fault, honest!) and two more that had just begun. One of them was a small piece of work, while the other two were pretty hefty. By dint of putting in stupid hours, I was able to meet the (revised) deadlines on all of them. Because of the way invoicing works, there is mileage in doing this. However, when you work for 'the man', you get paid what you get paid, regardless of the hours you put in. Also, once you start putting in hours like that, the expectation will be that you continue to do so, which is not good for your health or your family life. I knew that my contracts would come to an end and that there might be a quiet period to follow.

I have been able to attend a morning Pilates class once a week, and ferry my sons to and from the station for school. When my Mom came over for my graduation, I was able to take time out to spend with her, and we travelled hither and yon, taking in the sights.

My own learning journey has been more flexible, since I don't have to apply for time out or budget every time I want to sign up for something. On the flip side, however, without a behemoth L&D department with learning resources (and yes, even courses) on offer, I have had to track down my own, and this isn't always easy or quick.

I have found the isolation difficult to deal with. Those who know me personally will know that I am a gregarious soul, not designed to spend huge chunks of time alone. When I am rushed off my feet, this isn't too much of a problem, but when I have down time, it can be quite dire.

I am also frustrated by my own limitations. If something falls outside of my skill set, it falls outside of Learning Anorak's skill set. Of course there are ways around this situation:

I could join forces with someone who already has those skills or I could sub-contract that work to someone/an organisation who specialises in that area. There is a subtle difference between those two things, and I belong to a massive international, informal network (of which you are part, by the way) with all manner of possibilities. But sometimes, there isn't the time to find someone or to negotiate a contract with an organisation before an answer is needed.

I suck monumentally at the accounts side of the business. So I engaged a firm of accountants. We got off to a very shaky start and have only just hit our stride after a very frank meeting yesterday afternoon. It has taken a while, but I now have confidence that I am in the hands of someone who understands and will cater to my level of ineptitude.

One of the most significant experiences was earlier this year, when I was right royally played by a wilier organisation who used me to gain a foothold in Europe. That was the beginning of a very lean period, during which my accountant even tentatively used the L-word. I have been advised by many people who know about these things, that I had a case to take legal action. However, I knew (as did the other party, no doubt) that being 'just me' meant that spending time on building my case would mean taking time away from the pursuit of much needed work to take up the slack that now faced me. We also both knew that I didn't have the readies to appoint a lawyer, whereas they probably have several on retainer. The fact that we are based on two different continents added another obstacle. I decided to let it go.

I also find that being 'just me' means that, when I hit a personal rough patch, my business hits a rough patch. I am able to zone things out if I am working on a specific project, but if I'm just fiddling about with admin-type things, it's easy to lose motivation.

On a personal level, being home-based also means there is a danger of not leaving the office. It takes real discipline, when I'm 'in the zone' (for want of a less cliched term), to down tools and go and prepare dinner for my family. I'm a pretty good cook and I enjoy preparing food, but, when I'm caught up in something, it's a real wrench to set it aside. I consciously remind myself that my family is the reason that I work, not an intrusion upon it.

At this moment, I have just begun a new project which will keep the meter running for a few months. But the process of drumming up new business is also something I find daunting. Once contact has been made, I'm fine. It's the identification of leads I struggle with. In this, I have truly come to value my network. Most leads are referrals from people I know.

So there you have it, two years and counting. A no holds barred account. If you're also a solo act, much of this will be known to you (please share). If you're thinking of going it alone, you may have thought about these things already (please share), but if you haven't, I hope that I have given you some food for thought.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Revelling in bookwormish geekiness

Some time ago, I came across The Literary Gift Company, and was instantly hooked. I have since passed my addiction on to several of my friends and family-members who are similarly afflicted with the bookworm disease.

This year, we have to get some of our Christmas shopping done early, because gifts have to be sent abroad.

These guys are going to be making a lot of money out of me, I fear!

I share this here, because I know that many of you are hopelessly addicted to books, and thought you might enjoy a browse.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

On planning

The town I live in is currently being subjected to the most extensive disruptions imaginable. The centre of town is being revitalised or some such thing, so we have all manner of roadworks and diversions in place. At the very same time, BT or British Gas or someone is doing an upgrade of something or other, so there are holes all along the road past our part of town, each with a flimsy barrier around it.

We suffered with these holes all down one side of the road recently. Instead of digging one hole, or one section of holes at a time, all the holes had been dug at once. And you never saw anyone working in or near any of them.

Then we saw a bunch of people beginning to fill the holes in, and take away the barriers. "Wahey!" quoth we, "Have you finished, then?"

The response almost took our breath away.

It turns out that these chaps had been subcontracted to dig the holes in order for the work to be carried out. So they dug them all at once, because they are the hole-diggers, and that's what they do. BT/BG/whoever then never actually got as far as doing the work for whatever reason. But the time had come, according to the contractual agreement, for the hole-diggers to come and fill in the holes and take away their barriers.

They then proceeded to dig the holes on the other side of the road, where they now stand, surrounded by their flimsy little barriers, devoid of any workers. Perhaps, in a week or so, the hole-diggers will come and fill them in again and take away their barriers.

In a few weeks' time BT/BG/whoever, will finally be ready to do the work, and they will have to either dig the holes themselves, or hire someone else to do so.

The waste is utterly ridiculous.

And sadly, not unique.

I once knew a man who worked on what is now known as the O2 building, but used to be called the Millennium Dome. His job had to do with flooring. At some point in the project plan, the wiring and plumbing and such like was to have been done, after which, the concrete floors could be poured. When the time came in the project plan to pour the concrete for the floors, the wiring and/or plumbing had not yet been done, because this aspect of the project was running behind schedule. In full knowledge of this, the contractor poured the floor anyway, because that was what they had been contracted to do and this was when they were contracted to do it. When the teams were ready for the wiring/plumbing, all the flooring had to be broken up.

I don't even know how to frame my thoughts on this. I find myself goldfishing madly, going, "Surely....But... You mean..." and getting no further.

I can't understand (a) how the overall project manager can allow this happen, (b) how the contractors involved can be so shoulder-shruggingly unconcerned about the bigger picture (c) how the impact on time and cost (not to mention quality... ooh, my ex-boss would be proud - he always wanted to turn me into a project manager) can be tolerated by the commissioning client.

Stephen Downes often uses jumbo jets as an illustration of distributed knowledge in action: no one person knows how to design, build and fly a jumbo jet. Yet they are designed, built and flown... each aspect of the operation falling to an expert or team of experts. And this is a Good Thing. But when the knowledge has become so distributed that people are able to shrug their shoulders and deny ownership of the bigger picture, something surely needs to be done and butts need to be kicked somewhere along the line.

Only, who gets to do the butt kicking, if nobody is in overall control anymore?


Jane Bozarth: Social Media for Trainers

This new book by Dr Jane Bozarth is currently enjoying a 'blog tour'. Today is the turn of this blog.

I'm not going to make any attempt to do a full book review. However, I would like to suggest that this is an important and timely publication.

In my line of work, I come into contact with many classroom based trainers who see social media as something 'other' having nothing to do with them. One of the primary reasons the book needed to be written and now needs to be read, can be found pretty much within the very first paragraph of the books itself:

Those in need of information need it—and need to know how to find it—in the moment, not when the training department happens to offer it. And they have learned to find that information from one another, rather than depend on traditional, slow, inefficient, and often inaccurate top-down means. It is critical, if workplace trainers intend to remain viable and credible, that they understand how to participate in the networks and use the social media tools to extend their reach and enhance the development of the employees they are charged with developing.
The book starts with the basics of what social media are, how they can be used in training and which ones to select.

It then moves on to looking at a few social media in greater depth: Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and Wikis, as well as a few 'other tools'.

The book can be found in print and as an ebook at the following places:

Amazon UK (it also available at Amazon US and Amazon Canada)
Barnes & Noble

There is also a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Twitter hashtag (#SoMe4Trainers).

The challenge (as always) is to get this book in front of the unconvinced. Fortunately, Christmas is coming! ;o)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Children will learn to do what children want to learn to do

Thanks to Paul Simbeck-Hampson, I came across this recording of a TED talk by Sugata Mitra. I don't think I need to add much more to it, really. You're an intelligent person. You will draw your own conclusions.

You've probably been making observations of this nature yourself for years. Perhaps this evidence will serve to strengthen your resolve.

You've probably also realised that, while they have acquired a greater capacity for doing things they find distasteful, adults are not so very different.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Where the heck have I been?

You find in me in not such a very good place, right now.

A sequence of events - both good and bad - has taken place at such breakneck speed as to leave me little time to think or breathe. Life has been lived in a purely reactive mode, and only the noisiest wheel has been oiled at every moment.

I have hardly blogged. I have Facebooked only superficially and largely only socially. I have Twittered only sporadically. I have not worked at all. There has been neither the pressing need, nor the time. Instead, I have graduated. I have taken my mother on day trips hither and yon. I have prepared for a momentous event (more of that anon). I have taken a family holiday.

But now the dust has settled.

The problem is that is has left me space to reflect far too much on the most recent and most momentous of the events, namely my elder son's departure for his gap year in Australia.

Another of the events that took place was the loss of a major contract that was to have kept me busy for about 12 months, while supplying a source of income for the same period. The loss of that contract - under slightly fishy circumstances, to say the least - has left me with the double bogey of financial concerns and too much time to grieve.

Because it is grief.

Even though my son has only gone for a year, his departure has left such a great, gaping hole in my life that I found (find) myself bereft.

Even this provides the opportunity to learn. Geek that I am.

I have learnt about a parent's capacity for self sacrifice and for simultaneous multiple heartaches.

For much of their lives, we have encouraged our sons to take a year out after school to go and work abroad. To try out the parental value set for size and adjust it for a more personal fit. To discover what it means to have to earn and pay your way. To see a different culture going about the daily business of doing things that you have always done a certain way by default.

I always viewed it from the perspective of my sons and the benefits they would reap from such an experience.

However, as the departure date for the first of these experiences loomed nearer, it dawned on me what the experience was going to be like for me. I'd never thought about the impact on my life. I began to dread it. I changed my mind. I didn't want my boy going to the other side of the world, where I couldn't reach him in an emergency. Part of me realised that this was part of the point. Another part of me realised that I was going to be learning about letting go as much as my son was going to be learning about becoming independent. I could only think about how un-prepared he was.

But I learned through bitter experience many years ago, that "it is possible to do something important for someone precious, even while it rips your heart out". These were the very words I recently wrote to the 'someone precious' who was at the heart of that first bitter lesson. And I also learned that I have a parent's capacity to take on personal pain for the benefit of your kids. I was rather pleased at this discovery. Looking back over my life, there has been ample evidence of it before. It is only now that I have formally recognised it for what it is.

In the midst of all this, there is my younger son. He was inconsolable after his brother left, and I felt his grief in addition to my own. Every time I found him in tears, I would realise afresh the extent to which a parent can carry two griefs simultaneously.

I also realise that my younger son is being forced to witness in advance the impact of his own gap year departure on us. My husband is stoic and Scandinavian, and bears his pain much better than I do. So it is my grief that is the danger. I so desperately do not want my son to decide that he cannot bring himself to be responsible for such heartache... especially since his departure is likely to result in an empty nest, leaving his parents rattling around their rather large house.

I have watched my younger son try to step out of his more naturally self-contained mode to supply the hugs and cuddles that are his brother's habit to bestow upon me - not because it is in my elder son's nature to be tactile, but because, with the alarming insight that he has always had, he identified early on that I needed that physical contact.

I always knew that this was going to hurt like the dickens. I have learnt over the past week just how much a dickens hurts.

I have always known that parenting is difficult. I am discovering just how difficult it can be, and realising that it could be way worse.

I am grateful for Facebook and Skype and text messages. These things have turned the world into a much smaller place, and I am able to have real-time and almost-real-time contact with my son quite frequently. These technologies that I tried to look at so hard as professional learning and development tools (and they are, I haven't changed my stance on that), are also a way for keeping families intact across the miles.

Of course, I should have realised that, since I also swanned off to the other side of the world, leaving my own mother behind. But it tastes a different colour from the parental perspective.

What I now need to learn is how not to try to be awake during the waking hours of both my sons when they live 7 time zones apart.