Marica's meanderings

Friday, November 25, 2005

Art or Olympic sport

I am energised by my fellow bloggers out there in the blogosphere.

Yesterday I had to go into work. I know it sounds so decadent - in reality having to go into work is actually a necessity and not a luxury for me. If only it was the other way around. For those of you that are not aware I am currently on leave while I write up my Masters research. I am officially away (the reality is I am tucked up in my study writing) but I seem to be going in to work a fair bit.

Anyhow, I had a fantasitc day yesterday even though I was distracted from my research writing. I am involved in a project at work looking at the strategic direction for Learning and Teaching at the polytechnic where I work. I love this. The reading, the discussion, the sharing of experiences and understanding. So much of what I learnt during my FLLinNZ year has come to the surface. Seeing the future possibilities is so exciting. Getting from here to there - well, that is another story - only time will tell.

My day was topped off by my family following a tradition we have established over the last few years - attending the latest Harry Potter movie on the day it is released here in Wellington. Everyone in my family has read all the books except me. I am waiting for that space in my life when I can read for pure pleasure! The movie was incredible and I walked out dazed. I am impressed at how the writer is developing Harry Potter. Last night I saw a young boy who demonstrated character, strength, determination, and a commitment to friendship. What a fantastic role model for kids. The underlying messages in the story are very powerful.

Yesterday I also printed out a copy of my research so I could see in hard copy what I had written so far. I felt guilty because didn't do any research writing yesterday. As I sat in bed and read through what I had done I was surprised. Well at least in my eyes, it wasn't bad.

This morning I read this post on Torill Mortensen's blog (one of the international speakers appearing at Blog Hui) from Tuesday 22 November. Her post was entitled Self flagellation (doesn't that grab your attention immediately):
Self-flagellation may seem like an academic olympic sport, but after a certain point it doesn't really make your research or your writing better. Hurting yourself constantly over academic writing can lead the other way: that you remove what made your writing special, different and more interesting. Unless you really like the pain, indulge in your favourite sustenance, lean back and breathe, while you find something to focus on that makes you smile and notice good things. It may let you notice the good things in your own work too.

A new Olympic sport - self flagellation I had to smile. Is this what I have been doing? Self-flagellating! Participating in an academic Olympic sport does sound a lot better. In New Zealand we would say: "beating yourself up". Oh, I am such a master at this. I definitely deserve a gold medal!

Subconsciously I followed Torill's advice without even knowing about it at the time. I took time out and then when I looked at my work it wasn't as bad as I was building it up to be in my mind. Now I have to get back into it.

One more thing before I go though. I was also reading Jay Cross's blog this morning. He is currently writing a book on informal learning which I can't wait to read. He is over in Abu Dhabi where he was involved in the Emerging eLearning 2005 Conference. He wrote on Wednesday 23 November:

Michaelangelo claims David was in the stone. He only helped him to come out.
Work is moving right along here in my writer's cottage hidden away in the Abu Dhabi Hilton. My book now tops four hundred pages and that's before adding the graphics.

Michelangelo said the statue was inside the stone. All he needed to do was chip away the superfluous marble to let the statue emerge. I've stuck together a sufficiently massive stone so as of today I'm taking out the chisel, praying that the statue that emerges won't be too avant guard.

The images from Jay's trip are incredible and so are his postings. As for the little cottage where he is writing- wow! The images remind me of a scene in the Harry Potter movie when he walks into what looks like an ordinary camping tent on the outside and when he enters it the interior is decorated like an Arabian Palace. Harry comments on how much he loves magic when he sees the scene in front of him!

I hope my David emerges from my writing (or chiseling). I suppose if I keep avoiding it by writing other things I will never know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Oysters and learning

It is amazing what can grow from one piece of sandYou might well ask what do oysters and learning have in common? At 3am I was asking myself this question.

I was working on my research. I was writing up a section on the pros and cons of formal and informal mentoring. Formal mentoring is when an organisation or community group sets up support structures to control the mentoring process and ensure it meets the necessary expected outcomes. Informal mentoring is basically the opposite scenario. The mentoring pair establishes the relationship without any kind of assistance or guidance.

An important part of the mentoring process is selecting the right person as the mentor. I read that if people are "left to their own devices" they often choose the wrong person. Typically they select someone they already know and that they get on with really well. This in turns means they may have high rapport but "typically very little opportunity for learning" occurs. It then went on to say:

Growing pearls of learning requires at least some measure of grit in the oyster.
Source: "How formal should your mentoring scheme be?Clutterbuck Associates, 2003.

I had a flashback as I read these words. I was about four years old. I was standing in this cold work preparation area. My early years were spent living in the back of a "Fish and Chip" Shop my parents owned. I remember looking up at this big concrete bench. My father was there too. He was opening the oysters. In those days oysters arrived from Bluff in sacks and my father had to painfully open each oyster shell to extract the delicacy within. I remember him feeding me the oysters directly into my mouth. He just popped it there and I swallowed.

I was relaying this memory to my father a few hours ago and he added a bit to this story. Smiling, he told me how I complained if the oysters that he fed me were too big. I apparently told him to save the big ones for the customers. I wanted the little oysters because they were easier to swallow and I liked them better.

This memory is special. As I write this I can feel that cold and wet environment where my parents worked for hours peeling potatoes, and preparing all the food they sold to their customers. My parents had the reputation in the area of making the best fish and chips. They worked very hard. I can also feel the love of my father and the pleasure it gave him to feed me these special treats. Funnily enough I wouldn't go out of my way to eat an oyster now. However, when I do I always prefer them straight from the shell rather than cooked in any way.

I don't have many memories from my childhood. I am not sure why. My sisters have so many more. Sometimes I wonder if I grew up with them or somwhere else. Trickles happen. Maybe I just haven't connected them all up yet.

As for the pearl connection... well, isn't this all about life. From a small grit of sand to a pearl, and who would know because on the outside nothing has changed. I wonder if my father thinks of me as a pearl. Do any of us see the pearl within or do we choose to ignore it? I see it in others but I still struggle to see it in myself. Is there any pearl in my research? I worry that it is not could enough. The perfectionist in me is speaking here. By the way, I inherited this trait from my father! You can run from your genes but you can't hide.

The Oyster
There once was an oyster
Whose story I tell
Who found that some sand
Had got into his shell.
It was only a grain
but it gave him great pain.
For oysters have feelings
Although they're so plain.
Now, did he berate
the harsh workings of fate
that had brought him
To such a deplorable state?
Did he curse at the government
Cry for election
And claim that the sea should
Have given him protection?
'No,' he said to himself
As he lay on a shell
Since I cannot remove it
I shall try to improve it.
Now the years have rolled around
As the years always do
And he came to his ultimate
Destiny - stew.
And the small grain of sand
That had bothered him so
Was a beautiful pearl
All richly aglow.
Now the tale has a moral
for isn't it grand
What an oyster can do
With a morsel of sand?
What couldn't we do
If we'd only begin
With some of the things
That get under our skin.
David Cohen

I used a story similar to this with a group of at risk youth I taught. I had a look on my bookshelves to try and find it but it is eluding me at present. It had quite an impact on these young people and a number of them carried it around with them and kept referring to it. We all need these reminders to keep going. It is sometimes very difficult to see beyond the ugliness of the shell, even if it is protecting what lies within.

I had better get back to what I am meant to be doing instead of being diverted. I'll finish with this: Pearls teach valuable lessons in character in Sidney schools

Using a butter knife and a couple of grains of salt, students ... learned firsthand ... from mollusks ... about inner beauty.

Just before I do go, here is an update on where I am at with my writing. It is flowing along even though I am way behind where I needed to be by today. It almost seems my writing is tidal - it has its own ebb and flow. Oh yes, and this is also true of my weight loss.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Blog Hui 2006, Wellington, NZ

Blog Hui 2006, Wellington, New Zealand My husband Lynsey has been busy working behind the scenes while I have been losing the plot. He has managed to organise, by himself, something we were hoping to get underway together for next year - a blog conference here in our hometown.

Planning is now well under way. The conference is being held on March 17-18, 2006 at Wellington, New Zealand. We are now inviting people to come and share in this exciting event. Please spread the word amongst your various networks. It would be great to have a lot of people there to share and discuss blogging in its many forms.

The conference blog is now available for viewing at http://www.bloghui.org/.

Three international speakers have confirmed they will be coming. These are Mark Bernstein, who we were fortunate to meet last year in Sydney at the Blogtalk Downunder Conference, Trevor Romain and Torill Mortensen.

The conference theme is Activate! and the details of the call for papers and posters is available on the conference blog.

We hope you can join us. Keep reading the conference blog for more information as we will keep updating it. It would be great if you considered not only attending but also submitting a paper or poster for consideration.

Blog Hui 2006, Wellington, New Zealand

The floodgates are open

I hate computers - well, at this moment I do! I have just spent the last hour writing and a few minutes ago I watched all my thoughts disappear in front of me. I sat here incredulously wondering what was happening. I had decided to write a blog entry before I did anything else today because lots of things are whirling around in my mind and I need to clear some space.

I got up from my computer. I went and had a shower. Here I am back again - a beggar for punishment. It won't be the same but I will try and capture the essence of my message.

It is annoying to think here I am back where I began a few hours ago, with a white screen in front of me and I am wondering why I am bothering. Is it enough that I have written my thoughts down once so I have done something with them? The answer is NO because I also wanted to share them. If I had written them down on paper I wouldn't be in the same situation - well, at least the content would be there!

I have been reading a lot about reflective practice and it has become very clear to me that reflecting on your own isn't enough. The power behind ascribing meaning to your experiences comes when you articulate those reflections to others and then hopefully get feedback which will help clarify your own thinking even further. Such metacognitive strategies are challenging but it is amazing the learning associated with this kind of reflection. When you dig deep interesting things surface.

My lesson from this morning's experience is to regularly save my writing as a draft if I want to ensure that I have something to publish later on. I think and research while I am writing so it is never a quick two minute job. Sometimes I think my mind is hyperlinked and at present my thoughts are jumping all over the place. As I have been writing up my research and thinking about how I learn I realise things aren't as methodical for me as I once imagined they were. I need to make connections, see the big picture and then hone in on the detail. It is a process which takes time, well, for me at least.

I had to smile when I read Trevor Romain's blog entry for 16 November:
Miss Muse, Miss Muse...where are you?

I only wish while I was looking for inspiration I could draw like Trevor. Isn't it interesting how we all look for inspiration in different places? I seem to find so many things come to me while I am having a shower. I have been trying to work out how I can capture these thoughts while I am still standing under the water because by the time I get to a pen and paper I have lost bits. My husband has suggested we buy a chinagraph pencil so I can write on the shower wall as these ideas come to me. I could then come back and write these down in a more traditional format. Even though it sounds like a bizarre idea it is a brilliant solution because I have tried taking in paper and a pencil before and believe me it doesn't work.

I remember the first time I heard of chinagraph pencils. These are pencils which you can write on any surface with and they are impervious to water. To erase the writing you simply wipe it with a dry cloth. I was taking a two day workshop for advanced assessors on designing and moderating assessments within the sports, fitness and recreation industry. I was particularly taken by the assessing skills of the white water rafting assessors who informed me they took notes as they were going down rapids and along rivers by having all the paperwork plastic film laminated and then writing their evidence using a chinagraph pencil. My husband is truly clever- if it works white water raft instructors I'm sure it will work for me in the shower!

The energy of flow can be very powerfulAs you can see the great news is I am writing. I know this isn't my research but I am writing that as well. The trickle down theory works and dramatic things have happened in the last 48 hours. The flood gates have well and truly opened. This rush is energising. I do find myself losing track of time and even though I am tired I keep going because there is something else I want write before I stop. I am behind on the deadlines I have set myself but I am not letting this affect me.

I look at this picture and it reminds me that there is always a balance to everything. Even though the floodgate is open there is the calm and peace behind the walls of the dam. There may be huge pressure as the water tries to squeeze through the allotted space but a huge amount of the water will not get through - not this time at least. Maybe this is what flow is really like. Are we ever in flow 100% of the time?

I believe we fight what is natural and we don't listen to our internal wisdom. Maybe having a "block", whatever kind of block it may be, is normal and an important part of creativity. It is our bodies, especially our minds, saying "Stop, I need time out". Do we listen? No, we struggle our way through it fighting and screaming the whole way like a toddler. That is unless you have reached a point in your life where you realise this is all part of the bigger picture, the natural flow. Why do we ignore these messages? I believe it is because of deadlines (both self imposed and those set by others), our expectations and those of others, our many life pressures and trying to be all things to all people, and most of all because we don't trust our own intuition. We don't listen to what we instinctively know is right for us.

I now know I needed this time. I feel the old drive and energy is coming back. Last night as I was working into the wee hours of the morning I suddenly stood up and started dancing to a song I had playing on the CD. I am more aware of what is going on around me. Even though the floodgates have opened there is this untapped resource waiting behind the walls of the gates that has yet to be energised or even in parts awoken. The trickle is always there waiting to become something more.

I have learnt a lot about myself and how I learn over these past months when the words just wouldn't come. I realise I need to think about things. Reflection is really important to me. I need to see the bigger picture so I can then see how everything fits together. I can then focus on the details which I love. The danger for me is spending too much time on the details and not being able to zoom back out. I need a button like we have on our digital camera to zoom in and out all the time. I need gentle reminders like a message to pop up now on my screen to say "Save this as a Draft" so you don't lose it again.

So why did I start writing this blog entry in the first place? I read an article that really excited me while I was searching for information on the EDUCAUSE website. The heading read MIT Researchers Unveil a $100 Laptop They Hope Will Benefit Children Worldwide.

Saying they hope to bring every child in the world a computer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are set to unveil a laptop that will cost around $100, run on batteries that can be recharged by turning a crank, and connect to the Internet wirelessly by piggybacking on the connection of a nearby user.

The machine will make its debut today at the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society, which is taking place this week in Tunis, Tunisia. Nicholas Negroponte, director of MIT's Media Lab, is expected to show off a working prototype during a speech at the summit.

MIT has helped set up a nonprofit organization, called One Laptop per Child, that is coordinating the development of the laptop and working with government leaders. The nonprofit group has received $1.5-million each from five companies -- Advanced Micro
Devices, BrightStar, Google, News Corporation, and Red Hat. Each company gave an additional $500,000 to the MIT Media Lab to support the laptop's development.

Though some might argue that poor children in developing nations have greater needs than shiny new computers, leaders of MIT's effort say that the educational benefits of Internet access far outstrip the project's cost. "There is no other way that has been suggested of giving people a radical change in their access to knowledge except through digital media," said Seymour A. Papert, a professor emeritus of learning research at MIT's Media Lab who is involved in the laptop project.

The $100 MIT laptopAccessing books has never been easier
Anders Nielsen wrote:

Have you ever wanted a laptop computer, but couldn’t/wouldn’t afford the price it costed? Then imagine how life is in Africa, Asia and other poor countries around the world, who can’t afford all the normal things we consider everyday-things - in that light, a laptop computer is not even considered.

For more pictures also look at this site news.com.

This is incredible. Imagine working on a project like this and thinking about the floodgates this might open for people who would never have imagined anything like it in their lives. The potential for learning opportunities in these developed countries becomes a completely different scenario. Following my experiences last year when I visited the Fiji Institute of Technology I gained a whole new appreciation for the realities of distance learning in the Pacific, education within a developing country, and what it is like to only have passion and no resources to make things happen. I wanted to stay there and work. This is not to be at this time but I am not discounting anything for the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The trickle down theory

One, two, three... how many drops does it take for a trickle to form?Flow isn't coming easily. I have come to realise I need to focus on the trickles - one after the other, slowly but surely - and this is okay. I am so impatient though. It is not about one thing. It is about everything. Just like learning, it doesn't happen in isolation or in any particular way. What I am going through at the moment is a learning experience. Why does it have to be so hard? My learners must ask this question too.

So often all we think about is the big picture. It seems so huge. How will we ever do this or get there? It can seem so daunting.We allow fear to take over and then nothing happens. Everything takes on mammoth proportions and we can't reason our way through it all.

What about the small bits that make up the big picture? When we set goals how often do we set small achievable goals and then celebrate as we complete each of these. One after the other they eventually build into that bigger picture and somehow it seems so much easier. The trickles do matter only we don't see it at the time.

I can't believe how many times I have explained this concept to my learners as they struggle to face the many challenges that confront them. Yet I so easily forget all this when it comes to me.

I remember vividly my experiences of giving birth. In particular I remember that first twinge and hint that labour was about to begin. The experience seemed overwhelming and I simply wanted it to be over. Then I realised that every contraction was taking me that step closer towards meeting my child. I would never have that particular contraction again. The next one would be different. I remember the sense of relief as a contraction ended and I could get myself together for the next one. Each contraction moved me closer to the birth of my baby as they gained momentum and their effectiveness increased. Things went wrong but I got through. Each birth experience was different and the three children I gave birth to were all different too. Creation is work.

Writing is creation as well. These are my words, my thoughts, my connections. They are personal to me even if the original idea or concept that got me started was someone else's. This is how our collective knowledge and understanindg of our world, and the experiences we have within it, are formulated and shared. It is a process. It doesn't just happen without some work of some kind. No wonder it is so consuming.

I have to face the reality that there is more to me and my life than my job. However, I do believe being an educator is an all consuming role which doesn't stop and start between the hours of 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. I have a tendency to forget about ME. I need to respect and nurture all of me before any kind of flow can happen. I have been putting obstacles in the path of my trickles and this in turn interrupts the flow.

I have created so much pressure for myself as I try to improve myself professionally. I keep wondering why I am doing my Masters and why does it matter? Will it mean I will get a better paying job? Is that what I want? Will it mean I will be more respected professionally? Do I need to put myself through all of this? What is this all about?

I know why I am doing it. It is because this is what I want. I want it because it is a step I must complete to fulfill a dream of mine - to achieve a PhD. I need to remember this amongst the many things things that attack me on a daily basis. Why is it that I am even prepared to consider giving up something that is this important to me as a way of dealing with all the things that relate to eveyone else and their needs? I do not give up on things. It is not a part of who I am. Yet, I have been very tempted this time.

I am in the driver's seat here. If this is what I want then why am I allowing anything to get in the way? Why am I allowing my attention to be diverted? I can do something about this. I may have to take a few detours but that is a normal process. Creation takes time, energy and a vision. Sometimes these things get clouded out and we need help to let them surface again.

There are so many questions. As for the answers, well...

Something has happened. Things are different. I have cleared some obstacles and progress is being made. I have said "No" to some things. I have asked to be released from some commitments so I can focus on my writing. I have delegated work. I have decided what is really important and what will matter to me, now and in the future. After all, I am responsible for my own future. The world will continue if I take some time out.

I am now writing up my research. It is not coming easily but it is happening. Every day I feel it more and more. I have taken time off work and I love it. I am immersed in what I am doing while at the same time I have started to look after myself by eating properly, going for a walk, spending time with my son, being present. I have more energy and the excitement for what I am doing and the passion is slowly trickling back into my being.

So what is my ‘trickle down theory’ you might well ask:

New beginningsIt all starts with one drop. A trickle is there before you know it.
One drop is all it takes
Nothing ever happens in isolation
The second drop is there
The trickle has begun.

It doesn’t take much
For something to happen
In no time at all
Things are moving.

Flow is starting
Slowly
Hesitantly
Trying to find its way
Weaving, winding, transforming itself
Unsure where to go
Trying different things
Moving
Always moving.

The pace is increasing
Actually this is not so bad
Where am I?
What time is it?
Look how far I have come
This is fun!

Oh no, what is that
What do I do now?
I'm not going to stop
I'm going to get around this
Be creative
It doesn’t matter.Rainbows are a special reminder of the power of dropslets of water.
Different is great
It might be better
Keep going
You can do it

Some things I can do nothing about
Don’t fight it
Move on
Don’t let this stand in your way
There is always another trickle.

Flow is up to me
Not anyone else.

Trickle, after trickle
My tree is being nourished
Growth is happening
Celebrate!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Different shapes and sizes

Distance education is everywhere these days and I must admit even I am a bit amazed at my latest foray into this form of learning.

A courier parcel arrived for me today and inside it were my course materials for a programme I had enrolled in only the day before. This made me stop and think about how long my learners have to wait to receive their course materials. They fill in their enrolment forms, gather together all the necessary associated documentation, and then they wait for what is sometimes a very long time before they receive anything. In the meantime that excitement at getting started is slowly abating. I was fortunate, this wasn't going to happen for me.

My courier package contained all the materials and resources I needed for the next twelve weeks. All of this was beautifully contained in a small silver box. Not only was there printed material but I also had a DVD to watch. The booklets were beautiful. They were filled with colour and I wanted to read them. It made me wonder, whether my learners feel as excited as I felt when they receive their box of materials for their courses.

I am not going to gain any kind of qualification from this programme but that doesn't matter. It doesn't make it any less meaningful for me. This is experiential learning at its best. I am able to put into practice what I am learning immediately. It means something to me. I enrolled because I had a need. This was all about making changes for the rest of my life. It made sense. The programme seemed sensible. I had no problems working out how to apply it and get started. Why was this?

I have become increasingly aware that you need certain skills to be able to learn at distance. Many people enrol in distance learning programmes without realising what they are committing themselves to. They generally are very well intentioned yet this does not necessarily lead to success with this type of learning. Distance learners need certain skills and attributes like being highly self motivated, great time management skills, knowing how to seek out help if needed and so on. It can be lonely at times. Many people aren't aware of their particular learning styles and needs until they are faced with the challenge of a mass of materials arriving on their doorstep or they suddenly realise their online course has begun and they haven't done nothing about it. Putting things off until later is easy especially when you are enrolled in an open learning programme where you don't have the same deadline pressures as a semesterised programme.

Apart from the materials in this little box what other support was I going to have available to me for my distance learning experience. I have the email and telephone support available to me, plus resources available on a website. Is this enough? I suppose only time will tell.

How do my learners feel when they phone to talk to me and I'm not there, or they email me and I don't reply immediately? There is this assumption that when you are learning by distance and using technology to communicate with your course facilitators that they should be available around the clock. Everyone wants an immediate response. This seems to be an expectation today. I use my voicemail and my out of office assistant to let them know where I am, how they can access help if they can't wait etc. I somehow feel this is not enough. Yet for some people it is. Some of my learners never contact me. They enrol, get their materials, do what they need to and send in their assessment. Others are really needy. I often wonder am I meeting the needs of my learners. I'm always questioning myself as to whether I put my learners first or do I get bogged down in all the administrative and other stuff that needs doing. When you work in an institution that has no learners on site it is easy to get sidetracked into other things that seem more important.

Do you have any idea what kind of learning programme I am talking about? I have been reluctant to write about this because it is so personal and yet I can't help myself. This is a great example of informal learning.

From humble beginnings in a New York apartment, to becoming the biggest weight-loss company in the world... Jean called some friends over to her house and confessed eating cookies had become an obsession. They understood, and shared their own eating habits and secrets. The women began to meet at Jean's house each week for motivation. Soon she had more than 40 people squeezing into her loft space each week.

Jean, like many of us, discovered the most effective tools for weight control were the opportunity to talk, to share feelings and to have a Leader who could remember what being fat was like ... 40 years later it is still guided by the same philosophy: some talking, some listening and a programme that works.

Weight Watchers Passport to Success, p.27

I find it fascinating how something that has worked so succesfully for 40 years based on peer support and guidance from someone who has been there and knows what it feels like, is being equally as effective at distance. I am surprised on a daily basis at the new learning possibilities when we get around the concept that learning can only happen when people are in the same place, at the same time, and their learning is being led by someone who is basically nothing more than an information pusher. People are starting to be innovative and creative in what they offer. Flexibility has become a key component of any learning option being provided.

Things are changing. This excites me. What excites me even more are the innovative ways in which informal learning opporunities are being offered to us. We now have choices and we can pick when and how this learning takes place. Lifelong learning has never been easier and it is only going to get better.

Network developments and the growth in social software are enabling people to not feel isolated. They can now share and communicate with people way beyond the confines of those in their immediate environment.

Working as a distance educator and being involved in flexible learning has a lot to answer for. There is a downside. I seem to be glued to this computer. I have become sedentary instead of being outside exercising. Once I would have walked with a friend. Now I do a virtual walk and talk. This is not good for my health. I am trying to do something about it. I'll let you know how I get on.

Taking a stand
Source: Flame Warriors web site