Marica's meanderings

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Some thoughts from Perth

I am now in Perth on the next leg of my FLLinNZ journey. There has been an added personal bonus to this trip in that I am staying with family I have never met before. My mother’s brother was on his way from Croatia to see her in NZ many years ago. He stopped in Perth and never got any further. I have been surrounded by an incredibly loving family – my uncle, aunt, their three children and their respective partners and children. The added bonus is that my mother has joined me on this trip. I might add it took some persuading from various family members to get her here. Mama and her brother have now been reunited for only the second time in 50 years. Have a look at the result of this flexible learning output!

Mama and her brother. Only the second time they have been together in 50 years.

As I have been watching my mother and her brother talk endlessly about the past and the present (while I am working on my laptop!) I keep thinking of how technology cannot replace this intense human experience – or can it? They have spoken on the phone but it is not the same as being face to face for them. I can see why people shy away from communicating using technology. How do we get the same feeling that is generated by a hug, by touch, by a look or a quiet moment when two people just stare and you know there is a connection? Can we achieve this same intense level of communication using technology? Do we even want to?

As a distance educator I keep thinking about the connections I form with my learners whom I will never generally have the opportunity to meet in person. I ask myself whether or not I have managed to make any real kind of connection with them. After watching my mother and her brother I can’t help asking could they have achieved this same level of intimate communication if both of them were confident communication technology users. Is it merely their lack of technological skills that holds them back or is there some other human need that isn’t being served by using some form of mediated communication? Why is it that most people still want to meet face to face? Is it that we receive messages in these situations that are still not easily transferable using technology or is it that we haven’t fine-tuned our personal skills enough to learn how to receive the necessary cues which are being transmitted through different formats? Just some food for thought!

I have spent the last two days writing my first FLLinNZ progress report and keeping on top of emails. As I was writing my report I realized what an intensely busy three months I have had and it is no wonder I am feeling pretty exhausted. There are simply not enough hours in the day and one of the things I am struggling with is finding the time to reflect and collect my thoughts. I have written so many blog entries on scraps of paper as I am racing between things and somehow it never makes its way to here. I will have to refine my techniques. I am also accumulating hardware which is supposed to make everything easier yet I have not yet found that one piece of technology that will do everything I want it to. I will keep practicing and investigating – there are so many possibilities out there.

It seems that being a FLLinNZ takes on a life of its own and you find new skills you were not aware of. You need to be prepared to not have a life but the exciting part is you are being stimulated through everything you see, hear and read. This is an intensive learning journey and I am absolutely loving it.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Gathering hardware

I can't remember all the details of everything I am being told or being exposed to. I wish I had a USB port in my head so I could just plug in a memory stick to download some of this information. I am finding the interviews a bit challenging because it seems rude to take notes and yet I know I won't remember everything. I am also trying to pack so much into my trips that reflection time is minimal. I need time to process and get things down on paper! Another plan is needed.

I have been experimenting with various techniques. First of all I wondered if I could record interviews directly onto my laptop. I have installed a sound recording programme (thanks to my Masters supervisor, Peter Murphy) and with a small microphone plugged in I was told this would work. Well, it did work, but, it became apparent very quickly that the microphone needed to be of a better quality. Solution number two was to use a dictaphone recorder and then transfer the sound files to my laptop. More cables were purchased and it still didn't work very well. I do however now have the necessary cables to record telephone interviews straight to my laptop and this seems to work well. The next idea was to get a better microphone. Today in Melbourne I purchased an omni-directional microphone which can sit on the table when you are interviewing and pick up everyone's voices. I am going to test it out a bit later and I'll let you know how it goes. Oh yes and while I was buying this, it seemed like a good idea to buy a video capture box to convert videos into digital files should I want to use them in presentations etc. I feel a hardware junkie developing. Do I really need all of this stuff??????

The next thing I found out about was the mini disk recorder - I want one! It is so neat and compact and apparently very effective. The new model Sony recorders allow up to 45 hours audio recording on one mini disk and the transfer mechanism has changed in this latest model so that when you transfer via a USB port into your computer you do not lose the quality of the recording through the conversion from analogue to digital.. These recorders also allow for about 30 hours of playback from one AA battery. I will need to explore this option and look at costs. I then asked if I purchased one of these recorders do I still need my omni-directional microphone. "Yes", was the answer to that question - the quality of the recording is determined by the microphone so the better the microphone the better the quality of your final recording. Sounds so obvious doesn't it!

While I was on the hunt in Melbourne for all this information I came across a fantastic shop JB Hi-Fi which sells all this sound equipment plus all the CDs, DVDs etc. you can imagine. I was blown away by this store. Nothing glamorous but jam packed with music, equipment, movies - actually all the DVDs are in a separate shop two doors up! The best part about it is they are having a pre-Xmas sale and their DVDs are so cheap - actually cheaper than the cost of going to the movies back in New Zealand. I think I will have to go back tomorrow and buy some Christmas presents.

By the way, I have realised that I haven't mentioned the ultimate hardware purchase I have made - a $2 ball of polypropylene cord which has been converted into a clothesline on the balcony of my hotel room.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The downside of technology

I am felling particularly technologically challenged while here in Australia. All I want is a fast internet access so I can do what I have to and then get onto the next thing.

So much has happened in the past four days so I decided to slow the pace down a bit by not attending the Net*Working live event I had planned to go to this morning. Instead I thought I would take advantage of technology to participate in the conference from my hotel room. I anticipated it would all be very straightforward and boy was I wrong.

I have just spent the last three hours trying to answer emails and connect to the conference site - it has been painful to put it mildly. My connection speed is…wait for it – 28 Kbps! I haven’t experienced a connection speed this slow since I first began using the internet. Ironically the presentation I wanted to listen to was Zane Berge’s presentation on Barriers to elearning.

Here are some details of the presentation:

Zane L. Berge, Ph.D
Survey can be found here.
This presentation reports on a large-scale (n = 1056), exploratory factor analysis study that determined the underlying constructs that comprise student barriers to online learning. The eight factors found were (1) administrative issues, (2) social interaction, (3) academic skills, (4) technical skills, (5) learner motivation, (6) time and support for studies, (7) cost and access to the Internet, and (8) technical problems. Independent variables that significantly affected student ratings of these barrier factors included: gender, age, ethnicity, type of learning nstitution, self-rating of online learning skills, effectiveness of learning online, online learning enjoyment, the number of online courses completed, the likelihood of taking a future online course, and persons who reported experiencing prejudicial treatment.

I have yet to be able to view or listen to the presentation. My computer is still trying to download the necessary programme so I can do this. Meanwhile I have been having a synchronous chat with my mentor Chris from Noosa via MSN Messenger. She is also online participating in this conference and she is feeding me information while I am waiting for something to happen at my end.

I note that two barriers listed above are of particular relevance to me at the moment – access to the internet and technical problems. As I am getting more and more frustrated I look out the window and see the sun shining and I keep thinking what am I doing here???? I wonder what one of my students would do? I don’t think I would be wrong in guessing that most would have well and truly given up by now.

Ironically I have still managed to participate in this session in a minimal way through Chris. I have been able to read through the handout materials and the PowerPoint presentation and then forward questions to Chris and ask her to raise them for me.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Flight to Melbourne

Another early start to the day – I had to be at the airport by 5am! I am certainly getting used to operating on minimal sleep. I am now on my way to Melbourne and I feel I have well and truly joined the flexible learning world as I am sitting here on the plane writing this entry on my laptop while at the same time I have ear phones on also listening to the movie currently being shown. There are a number of people working on laptops – it almost feels like I am at work except I am about 30,000 feet above sea level. The plane is not very full and I am lucky enough to be able to spread out and make the most of this.

I have had to spend a lot of time over the weekend preparing for this trip, finalising visit details and putting together an itinerary so I can see exactly what I have in store over the next ten days.This is a rough outline of what I will be up to:

8 November
Arrive Melbourne. Visit Victoria University of Technology.
9-11 November
RIDE (Research in Distance Education) Conference. Deakin University, Geelong.
12 November
Net*Working 2004 Live event Meeting the needs of VET clients. Chisholm Institute of TAFE, Cranbourne.
15 November
Net*Working 2004 Live event e-Learning in Industry: Strategies and tools. Melbourne Museum. Hosted by e-Works.
16 November
Visit TAFE Frontiers. Visit Holmesglen Institute of TAFE.
17 November
Visit Victoria University of Technology. Fly back to Wellington.

Throughout my ten days in Melbourne I will also be participating in the Australian Flexible Learning Framework’s online conference Net*Working 2004. As well as having the conference online live events are also being held in all the Australian states. As you can see in my programme above I will be attending two such events while I am in Melbourne. I also hope I will get to meet other Flexible Learning Leaders at these events and to be able to network amongst the general VET community.

The movie currently screening on the plane is I,Robot. This movie is loosely based on the classic short story collection by the famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov. This movie is a thriller in which a detective investigates a crime that might have been perpetrated by a robot. There are three laws by which the robots must abide and as the robots become more sophisticated they see it as their role to protect their creators (human beings) but the outcomes are not what everyone expects.

I find it ironic that this movie is being shown because when I was visiting Oriel Kelly at Manukau Institute of Technology on Friday she referred me to another Isaac Asimov short story The Fun They Had which focuses on the mechanical teacher. This particular story was written in 1951 and is absolutely worth reading. As I was asking Oriel about the changing role of the vocational teacher she told me about this short story. She believes blended learning is the way of the future and there is no doubt the role of the teacher must change and has, in fact, already changed. Some aspects of teaching will be very different while others will remain remarkably as they are today. Whether Asimov’s vision will eventuate only time will tell.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Coaching and mentoring

Tell me and I will forget;
Show me and I may remember;
Involve me and I will understand.
Confucius 450BC

Over the last two days I attended a course on Coaching and Mentoring at the University of Auckland Business School. The course is part of the University’s short course programme, and was facilitated by Anouk Graav. I included this course in my programme as part of my leadership development and also because of my growing interest in the role of mentoring in professional development.

From the moment you walked into the room you knew this workshop was not going to be a traditional "chalk and talk" workshop – there were no desks in sight! Some of the participants were surprised by this informality and initially felt uncomfortable. They soon got over it and settled into the environment without too much worry.

The workshop was an experiential learning process. A vital component of this was reflection both on an individual and also at a group level. The workshop basically took the format of an introduction to the theory by Anouk, a practical exercise involving role play and simulation, personal reflection, feedback and discussion in the group we were working with and then we came back together as a large group and shared our experiences and discussed these. Anouk was a guide throughout this process demonstrating both coaching and mentoring skills to us by role modeling good practice.

We were introduced to a number of different models and theories which included:

  1. The six gateways to coaching and mentoring - guiding, meaning, challenging, feeling, enabling and supporting.
  2. Exploring the continuum between mentor direction and self-direction.
  3. Observing, sensing and working with overt and covert (non) verbal cues.
  4. Session management and keeping overall focus.
  5. Building trust, coach and mentor presence and integrity.
  6. Examining the uniqueness and the boundaries of the coaching and mentoring process.

Anouk presented us all with a simple visual reminder of all of these models in the form of a cardboard cube which we can keep on our desks. At the beginning of the first day these made no sense at all. By the end of the second day it was all very familiar to us.

Coaching and mentoring is about ongoing personal and professional development and maintenance. The key is its ongoing nature and it is definitely not about crisis management. I particularly liked the way Anouk presented coaching and mentoring as being connected and not as two separate processes. Both aspects are needed to ensure long term learning and change. Coaching is a more action oriented approach which focuses at the practical and conceptual level. Mentoring on the other hand is more reflective and focuses on the bigger picture.

The most exciting thing to come out of this workshop for me was the clear defined structure Anouk provided us with to enable us to be effective coaches and mentors. It was fantastic practicing our new skills with people from such diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

I’d highly recommend the course to anyone. My challenge now is to try and work out how coaching and mentoring in this face-to-face structure translates into an e-environment. This has become a particular area of interest for me since I have been participating in an online mentoring process as part of my FLLinNZ development. My mentor is a former Australian Flexible Learning Leader, Chris Sutton, who is based in Noosa. I have not yet met Chris and our mentoring relationship has developed completely at distance. As I have participated in this experience I keep being surprised as to how powerful and effective it is.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The miracles of modern communication

I am currently participating in an online course on distance education facilitated by Joe Levine from Michigan State University. Have a look at this link for more details. It has been an interesting experience for me as the people in this course are from different parts of the world.

There has been a lot of discussion on how many of the participants do not like synchronous chat as a part of their learning programme so Joe decided we should all give it a go and see what happens. To set up a suitable time for us to do this was interesting. Joe sent us all an email giving us the instructions on how this was going to work and the time and date he had chosen for the chat session. Then he had to work out all the different times for the participants - we are talking about people participating from different parts of the USA, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. Everyone else was going to be online on Monday 1 November but in my case it was to be Tuesday 2 November! You can work out different times around the world from this site.

The time of the session for me was from 7am to 10 am this morning. As I had a very late night last night and had a lot of things to do before work 7am was not a viable option. When I arrived at work I thought I would log in quickly and see what was happening. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a discussion with someone from USA, Switzerland and Brazil.

My colleagues at work were busy wondering what I was doing as I was furiously typing messages as we discussed issues on copyright and intellectual property relating to online materials, research in distance education, the pros and cons of this type of virtual chat session and so on.

It was truly an incredible experience. I still marvel constantly at the miracles of modern communication!