Friday, December 28, 2007
My father died just before Christmas 17 years ago. I know it sounds a long time but when you miss someone it isn't long at all. Five years ago my nephew died just a couple of days before Christmas. In fact, that year my daughter and I lost three who were very close to us, just before Christmas. And Christmas still isn't what I think it's supposed to be. The pain of grief revisits each time and the sparkle has gone.
This year I decided I wanted to get away from the family completely, just to see if I could enjoy that time of year at all. There was one restriction: I didn't want to spend the time away from my daughter. That lead to another restriction: she didn't want to spend the time away from the extended family! You guessed it. We all went away - at least the ones who could make it.
I didn't get my wish to get away from the family but at least we got away from familiar surroundings. We went to a resort and walked on the beach, kayaked and sailed on the lake, 'played' tennis (what we do with a tennis racquet and ball isn't recognisable as any game) and generally ate far too much. We did the Christmas gift thing, watched Christmas DVDs and played board games. We didn't spend the whole three days in each others' pockets; there was space and time to do our own thing. Having said that, I think we spent more time together in those three days than we have in recent years combined.
It was good. Going away allowed me to connect with my family again for a significant period of time. It allowed me to leave the sad memories behind for a while and enjoy the moment for what it was. I'd like to do it again and will start negotiations early in the new year. At this point I have no expectations. It might not come off the way it did this year, but I'll float the idea and see what everyone else thinks.
A cruise sounds fun.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Everything here is FAST. Decisions have to be made quickly, arrangements have to be made early, lots of things have to be done in a short amount of time. I always feel busy, and those times I'm not busy I look for something to do that keeps me busy until the next series of processes are put in place. I'm afraid I'm losing my ability to relax. And I'm afraid that loss will mean a loss of something inside me. I won't be the same person anymore.
Not all of this is a bad thing. I love the way my mind is stretched when I'm working on three or four projects at once. I love juggling things when it's busy like that.
But I also love just sitting and watching the world go by. I can sit at a window and watch the trees on the mountain sway with the breezes for hours and never feel bored. I can close my eyes and listen to the magpies welcome the morning and the kookaburras warn others from their territory and breathe the peace of the world into my soul. Unfortunately those moments are getting shorter and a longer time passes between them.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I've spent the last week avoiding any work I need to do and contacting people I haven't seen since I began studying at the beginning of the year - trying to see everyone before Christmas. It'll be a busy and social couple of weeks. But it's not enough. I need to do something with my mind as well.
I've been thinking about 'focus' lately. What is it that allows people to focus on one thing exclusively and what is it that prevents some people focusing on anything at all. I've slipped into the latter in the last couple of weeks - pretty much since I submitted my last assignment for the year. I've written 1000 words for a chapter of the book I'm currently writing and haven't been able to think past that. I need to finish the chapter before tomorrow evening. I also have a journal article I need to write but my brain feels like it's fog-bound. All slushy and slow-wading.
And yet - I went for a job interview last week. I walked in feeling foggy and was given a scenario and 20 mins to respond to it. For that 20 minutes and the 1-1/2 hours of the interview, my brain worked at what felt like lightning speed. My solution was topical, relevant and organised. It dealt with the situation both linearly and laterally, viewing the situation from three different points of view. I could even put a time estimate on implementation. I walked out of the interview on a mental high. My brain had been exercised and I felt more awake than I had for most of the week.
But within an hour it was gone. I was back to the marshy fog, unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes and that only partially. I've checked my diet - it has a huge influence on my moods. I've been eating lots of green leafy veges, lots of red and blue fruit and veges (good for concentration) and staying away from sugar (always makes me depressed). So that's not it.
Maybe I just have to force myself through it. Perhaps I should just treat it like a spider's web encountered on an evening walk and push through, wiping the sticky threads away as I go. I'll do that today, but first .... did I mention I'm a master procrastinator? .... I think I'll have a half-hour nap. I could always tell myself it's thinking time - an opportunity to get the next scene set in my mind so I can write it before lunch!
Monday, September 24, 2007
All but four students in the class submitted work that I subsequently found in toto on websites. They had simply copied and pasted, then presented the work as their own.
They didn't get it. Throughout the four weeks each and every student asked me why they can't just copy the material. It's on the web, available for everyone, so they can use it as they wish. Right? It's the same story with referencing.
It's demoralising. I feel like I've just wasted an entire month. Sure I might have got the message through to four students, but what about the other 26?
How can people honestly believe it's ok to say you did something when you didn't? Isn't it obvious that it's lying?
Friday, September 21, 2007
I have plans and goals and ideals but they aren't what my life is about. They're just a part of it. If that was all my life was about there wouldn't be much of a life, would there. I want to be able to get to the end of my life (hopefully with enough time to look back) and be able to look back and say:
1. I was a good human being - the best I could be at the time and in the circumstances
2. I enjoyed, if not every moment, then as many moments as I could find something enjoyable in (you'd be surprised how many of those there are)
3. I touched the lives of people who love me and, in turn, was touched by those I love.
I want to be able to leave a mark on my small part of the world. I don't have to be rich or famous to do that. All I have to do is live in the memories of those I've known, however fleetingly (the knowing and the memories). Perhaps some of those people will tell their children about some small thing I did or said that made their lives better and my impact will carry through a generation or two. Perhaps they will begin to live their lives a little more peacefully because of it. That is my dream.
Of course being rich and famous would have its benefits ... :)
So when my friend asked me about my philosophy I jotted down a few 'rules to live by'. Here they are here, with a few more added - just for luck. There's no order for priority - if there's a need, there's a rule. I make them up as I go. Being calm and happy with what I have is my goal.
Rule 1: Don't let yourself dwell too much on things that irritate you. If you do that, you'll start to slip into a depression and that's a horrid feeling.
Rule 2: Pick your arguments. I apply this to any situation. It could also be interpreted as 'don't sweat the little stuff'. Some things simply aren't worth getting angry or worried over. How important is it going to be in 5 years time? If it's not even going to be a memory, forget about arguing for it, let it go.
Rule 3: Focus on the little things in life - they're the ones that bring the most joy. They're also the things that keep life in perspective. An hour with my daughter, sitting quietly, is worth huge amounts of success at work. Going out to my garden every day and checking how big my tomatoes are - watching things grow regardless of the chaos society is in around them. What we do in life is often artificial and unimportant in the whole scheme of things. It's life, it's what we do, but it's not worth high blood pressure or heart disease.
Rule 4: Look at nature and see how it responds to things - a river particularly. A river will always get where it wants to go but it always takes the line of least resistance, winding around obstacles. Its focus doesn't change but it enjoys the views along the way. Since I realised this, I've stopped giving up on things. I don't care if it takes me a long time to achieve something I really want. If I want it badly enough, I'll do it - I'll find a way around the obstacles.
Rule 5: Help others wherever, whenever and in whatever way you can. That doesn't mean you have to be a hero. I'm a certified coward! I don't have what it takes to rescue people from a burning building or pull someone from a car accident. (I'm the one who always checks to make sure emergency services have been called and that 'someone' is looking after the people who need it.) But if someone asks for directions or if they just look like they need a smile, I offer it.
Rule 6: Appreciate others. I'm almost obsessive about making sure I thank anyone who does something nice for me. I smile, I gush, I tell their boss. It doesn't take long, it's not much effort, but it makes me - and them - feel so much better about the day. (I also tell people when I think they need to improve something, but that's for another blog, I think.)
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
The fence is still a pile of rubble although I have organised for a quote to be done tomorrow. My garden hasn't been watered in four days and is looking really sad. I have a scene for my book floating in my head and can't seem to make myself sit down and write it. I've done absolutely nothing for work. I still have reports to finish and filing to do and then preparation for all my subjects.
My deadline is 8am Tuesday, I'm going away for the weekend and I'm expecting visitors all day tomorrow. So, knowing I basically have one day to clean the house and one day to prepare for the next ten weeks, here I am, sitting here playing with a blog. How's that for procrastination.
In my defense, my busy times are so busy I don't have time for anything, so when I have 'down time' it's seriously DOWN.
I'd love to put everything off for another few days but by then I'll be back at work and the pressure will be on again. I'll better get something done today and work out what I'm baking to serve the visitors tomorrow.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I've finished all my assignments and have all but one of them back and I'm wandering around the house wondering what to do with my time. It's not as if I don't have anything to do.
- I have a stack of books I've been wanting to read for a long time.
- I have a garden I've just dug up and started planting.
- I have a fence that suddenly became a pile of rubble and needs to be replaced.
- I have knitting half done,
- a tapestry waiting to be finished,
- painting that needs to be done and
- a book to write (and one to edit).
And those are just the things I WANT to do.
But none of it grips me. None of it fires my imagination for longer than an hour or so. Even the garden doesn't hold me for longer than it takes to water it - that takes some planning and time in the middle of a drought, believe me.
It's like I'm stuck in limbo and have to float around in here for a while - until my mind changes gears and settles into the next phase of activity.
I hope it doesn't take too long. I have a very limited time before uni starts back again and I want to get some creative work done. I want to edit 18 chapters and write at least 3 more. (The editing is the hard bit. Anyone can write a book but it takes real skill to edit one so that it draws the reader into the story and keeps them there. That's the challenge - and what I want to master.)
I don't think it's unreasonable to want to do that in three weeks. It's achievable - if I can just focus on it. Perhaps I should just make myself do it and see how I go.
Now ... what was the story about?
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
For one blissful moment, when she replied to an email within 24 hours, I thought things might have improved. I thought maybe, just maybe, doing the pilot study had helped her understand what the research was about and how to analyse interview transcripts.
Then last night she asked me how the participants could have got it so wrong. They've all given different answers to the same question!
She did the research on phenomenography and wrote an essay on the fact that the aim of that method of research is to identify variance and she still didn't understand that we were actually LOOKING for different answers from participants.
Her part of the final report is supposed to be analysing the transcripts and writing the essay to that effect. So far I've analysed the transcripts and sent her my three drafts, each one more detailed and on target than the last. She's supposed to do the same, then we compare them and work out where the 'right' spot is with them. I haven't seen her analysis. I have seen a 1500 word essay based on my first draft which was incomplete and, quite frankly, way off track.
I've had enough. I'm not prepared to wear a bad mark just because she doesn't get it. I'm sure she's trying - she just doesn't know what it's all about. Equally I'm not prepared for her to get a mark she hasn't earned. I'm keeping track of everything I do and everything she does and I'm going to apply for disparate marking based on contribution.
I've been getting cranky with her too and that's not a good thing. She's trying. I could explain it better, more thoroughly, but I'm already giving her more detailed explanations than I give my year 12 business class and they're only 16-17. She's a masters student and should be thinking like one.
I've learned something of myself in all this. I always thought I was accepting of other people - their personalities, efforts and abilities. And I am - as long as it doesn't threaten to drag my results down. I have limits. I guess it's a good thing to know.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
I’m not sure how much knowledge about cyberlearning I’ve gained through this process. The reading I’ve done is very similar to reading I’ve done in recent years through my role as a teacher trying to maintain currency in education. The reading has reinforced for me the necessity to incorporate ICTs into my teaching, indeed, adapt my teaching style for the changing technologies and societal expectations.
Working in the team allowed me to experience asynchronous learning with no face to face contact. I think that has been a valuable experience as it has highlighted some of the things I take for granted in my teaching – particularly the opportunities to use body language to assist in communication and negotiation. Even with that, two team members phoned me during the process to discuss in ‘live time’ various difficulties they were having with the project. These ranged from the focus our section (the Big6) was taking, the possibility that it might be difficult to connect it to the ESL section and the lack of communication from a couple of team members. I found that, even though I don’t like phones, these conversations clarified a number of things and made me feel connected to the team members in a way I hadn’t felt prior. It removed the sense of isolation I felt throughout most of the process.
The computer screen acted like a bridge between me and other team members, and, like a bridge was a barrier to the development of any meaningful relationship. I think this inhibited the development of the team and the project. I firmly believe that if we could have all met face to face even twice, the project would have resulted in a stronger, more cohesive product. Whether this would be the case with other teams or was peculiar to the personalities in this one, I don’t know.
The creative process
I really enjoy creating new things – any new things, from stories to picture frames, from knitting baby clothes to creating anything on a computer. This project was no different. I was a little frustrated by the limitations of the vehicle we were using – particularly my inability to create a hyperlink connected to a picture on the website – but the creation of a website and working in a dynamic team minimised my frustration. I needed a few more and firmer early decisions to be made at the beginning and felt rather panicky when nothing had been decided by the middle of the second week. It was one of the reasons I created the initial plan of the website – to try to get other people to make a definite decision so we could begin work.
I also had health problems for a couple of weeks of the project which meant I couldn’t contribute fully. This was also frustrating as I don’t like doing things unless I do them well.
Friday, June 1, 2007
These issues highlighted the importance of communication during the project. Because none of us knew each other, regular communication was vital to maintain smooth operation of the team.
It became obvious from very early on that most of the team members were used to being in control of projects yet, as the project progressed, it became equally obvious that none were willing to nominate as team leader. I believe this was because the moderator changed each week and that process disrupted the normal leadership development that occurs in teams.
Everyone in the team (those who were in regular contact) strived to tap into the strengths of each person and also to identify any individual weaknesses so that these could be catered for elsewhere in the team. There was an almost fevered focus on ensuring the team worked as well as it could for the project and, more, for each team member.
Everyone was scrupulously polite to each other. While this is necessary I found that by the end of the first week, this desire to not bruise other peoples’ egos actually inhibited the decision-making process and began to irritate me. There was a hesitance in suggestions for improvement that watered down the requests. I attempted to keep the focus on the project when criticisms and suggestions were made but other team members were still concerned about upsetting individual authors. At this level of study, there should be an ability to separate the personal from the professional. In team work, it is the project that is paramount. If people are precious about their own contributions, they should keep a copy of their original work so they can publish it without change elsewhere later.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Yet, with all this experience, including teaching an introductory course on how to create websites and having my own website, I found I didn’t know enough to feel confident in volunteering to set up the infrastructure of the website. I learned a lot with this process although I still don’t know how to use Dreamweaver and my own website is still a one-pager showing an ‘under construction’ sign.
Operating within the confines of the free web publishing site the group used was different in that the navigation structure wasn’t transparent. I had difficulty understanding how the pages were interconnecting because I couldn’t (or didn’t know how to) access a pictorial overview of the hierarchical structure. Having said that, I found web publishing site easy to operate within. I had no difficulty importing data, creating paragraphs or pages, inserting pictures and tables or hyperlinks. I did have difficulty trying to create ‘hot spots’. A hot spot is basically a hyperlink over a picture. I could get it to create a hyperlink to take me to a page with the pictures and from there a click on the picture took me to the correct page but I decided not to leave it that way as it was too cumbersome. The addition of an additional step just to get to another page of the web was unnecessary and irritating.
Communicating through the various methods was an interesting experience although the only advantage of the discussion forum for me was that each topic was identifiable by the subject heading and all posts regarding that topic were kept together. The discussion forum always meant more time for me as I had to go online to access it.
I find email to be my preferred method of asynchronous communication. I have several email accounts and forward all of them to one account with each message going directly to specified folders to make identification and reading easier. As I have this program open all the time, I don’t waste time waiting for connections and get and respond to messages very quickly.
The online chat provided a comfortable mode of real-time communication. I’ve used chat before and am comfortable with the fractured conversation threads although I am aware that many others aren’t. Because I can follow the conversations fairly easily I found I was often remiss in nominating who I was responding to, particularly in the early chats. As we progressed through the project, I remembered to do this more often. It helped others to recognise who was responding to which comment.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Over the next few weeks I'll share other experiences of working with this team.
Monday, May 7, 2007
I even had a bit of a chuckle by the end. I had told my team member to submit a personal reflection of the assignment process as part of the assessment and she did, without questioning it. It was obvious she'd never read the assignment requirements or she would have known it wasn't required!
I'm glad it's done, even though it was a week late and I spent the next week with one of the worst tension headaches I've ever had. Now I'm another week behind on my study and preparation for other assignments. Ah well, nothing I can do about that now.
Now all that's left to do with this team is the final part of the assignment - the research and final report. I've asked for preferences on what sections she wants to do and received the quickest response to any query from me to date - inside 24 hours. She said she'll be happy with whatever I tell her to do. I get the distinct impression she wants me to do the work and she'll play 'dumb assistant' - and hope to reap the rewards of my effort. Of course she might just realise that I know what I'm talking about - at least I've read the assignment requirements.
This time, however, I'll be preparing a detailed time log and keeping track of exactly what sections we each do and how much editing I have to do to her sections. At the end of it I'll consider applying for marks to be allocated on contribution. It irks me that she'll benefit from my efforts but I'm not prepared to drop my standards just because she's not stretching to them.
Who knows - perhaps by now she knows what the assignment is about and writes something that doesn't need major editing or referencing, or anything like that.
And now you see me glancing at the sky to see if the pigs are flying by.
Just to set the record straight - she's actually quite a nice girl and I feel mean saying all these things. I just have low tolerance for professional incompetence at this level of study. We're doing a masters course - formal academic writing and correct referencing should be given. As should keeping on topic.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
The biggest problem appears to be time. There are several factors that impinge on the time available and often it's the new technologies and using them in classes that suffer.
The curriculum needs to be taught and while suggestions are made in syllabi for various learning experiences for students, the how of presentation is left up to the teacher. Most teachers are highly committed professionals who try very hard to make their classes interesting and productive spaces that encourage learning at all levels. Lessons are planned and prepared, always with an eye on the time available. Deadlines loom. Homework is prepared and checked. Feedback is given on many aspects of students' work, often in writing and often individually. Exams are set, sat and marked. Individual feedback sessions booked and attended. Lunch times are made available to offer students extra help.
Behaviour management can often be time consuming. Every incident must be recorded and followed up. Set procedures must be followed. And mountains of records prepared to ensure each situation is treated individually and fairly. As the professionals they are, teachers do their job, but it takes time. Often writing anecdotal reports and phoning parents wander into the evenings.
Meetings are attended: general staff meetings, faculty meetings, subject meetings. Professional development is squeezed in, sometimes during school time but often after school, in the evenings, on weekends.
And teachers have a life too. There are friends and family, dinners and birthday parties.
When then, do teachers learn about blogs and wikis and RSS feeds? When do they put that learning to practice by adapting and creating things for their students to use? How many teachers have begun projects with the idea of using a blog as a reflective learning space for their senior students, or encouraged students to use wikis for their group assignment, only to find time nibbling away at their planning and support and the whole thing fizzling to a 'no show'. How many have managed to set things up, such as the blog, only to find students can't access it from school because of site restrictions that can't easily be changed?
The answer might be in a complete change in classroom management. The teacher can no longer be ‘the font of all knowledge’. S/he is metamorphosing into the Learning Facilitator, encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning and the direction that takes. This might mean that classrooms become more mobile, both inside a room and around the school environment. Classrooms could be full of students all studying the same subject, perhaps working on the same topic, perhaps not, but all working at different stages along their learning journey. The days of the teacher standing at the front of the room talking to the whole class are numbered, if not already gone. Instead s/he will be seated with a small group of students discussing and discovering as they are, then moving to another group.
The key to success in this type of environment, I believe, is organisation. Forward planning and preparation on a detailed and long-term scale is absolutely necessary in order to free up the time required during semester to allow dynamic learning to take place. Without that thorough planning, we’ll revisit the classrooms where the teacher walks in and says, ‘Open the text at page …”
I hope we never go back there.
Friday, April 20, 2007
To give the update: I met with my team partner yesterday. Her two weeks reading constituted four articles and a one page diagram which was her notes. I even worked out why she was basically uncontactable for two weeks. In her head, 'next week' means the week after next. I'll remember that for next time and be more specific.
There I go again - the masochist in me saying there'll be a next time.
I've spent most of last night and today doing research she should have done already. I've emailed her a list of about twenty resources to locate and read although I'm surprised she wasn't able to find anything herself. It is a masters course, after all. I haven't heard anything from her since the meeting, even after I asked her to make sure she checks her email at least once a day while we're working on this assignment and to keep in touch.
I don't think she gets it. I really think in her head she thinks she's working well. I don't think she has a clue what constitutes an efficiently operating team. And I think she has selective hearing. I don't know how much clearer I could have been at our meeting yesterday. Most people would know that when I say "Check your email often and keep me updated on where you're at" that that would at least mean to respond to my emails. Isn't that a reasonable thing to assume?
That's it. I give up. I've been doing the reading for myself and accept there's a possibility I'll have to finish the assignment by myself. If I had known that from the beginning I'd be much further along than I am now and my writing wouldn't be so disjointed because I'm distracted and cranky.
And that ever-present damned optimist is still sitting there reassuring me that these difficulties don't occur with every team. Next time will be better.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The answer is - 'of course'.
I find I'm working on an assignment with a late-comer (someone who didn't have a partner and had no idea where to start with the assignment). What was I to do? Of course I said, 'yes, come and join me'. And without checking anything. So now after two fruitless weeks trying to contact my team member to arrange a meeting and find out what she's been doing I find the assignment (5000 words) is due the day after tomorrow and not a word has been written. (My section relies heavily on the basic research which is, you guessed it, her bit.)
Apparently she's been reading but I'm not sure what. I don't even know if she's aiming at the same level I am (or capable of it). I have a horror of getting a result way below what I'm used to. A high distinction is my norm - a distinction causes angst. Anything less brings out hives.
I've had to remind myself about fifty times over the last 24 hours that 'I'm an optimist and I work well under pressure'. My family says I'm beginning to sound like I belong with the Stepford wives.
That's what happens when I have to work hard at not losing my temper. There'd be no point - the girl's uncontactable most of the time and seems to ignore most of what I say anyway. With the lack of contact, I don't think she's even aware there is any tension. I hate to burst her bubble, but this kind of pressure I can do without.
I've put the word out - next time I start behaving compassionately, someone will have to hit me over the head with something.
And after having said all that, the optimist inside me pops her head up and says, 'Just give it another day or two. It'll work out.'
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
First I have a disrupted night's sleep. Call me odd, but I simply can't focus on study with my eyes closing every two seconds. That was two evenings when there was no study.
Second, I started getting emails from my uni partner that told me clearly that anything we'd discussed at our last meeting has been disregarded. Her original ideas stood. My input wasn't in the mix at all. I get a little uptight about being so summarily dismissed. The bottom line is that we're now only working on one assignment together, not two. I hadn't done a lot of concrete work on the assignment we're no longer working together on but I had done some reading and spent a lot of 'thinking' time on it, getting it clear exactly what it was about and what my part in it was. Now it's all irrelevant and I have to think of a new topic and start from scratch - four weeks work down the drain. I'm actually not upset that we aren't working together on this assignment. Now I can choose a topic more to my liking. I'm just surprised that she would get so far down the track with the organisation of it all and then just walk away.
Third, things never turn out the way you plan them. We had a weekend away. I took my reading material with me and every time I was still and quiet for more than a few minutes I took it out and did some work. Then the car broke down. No problem, I thought. I'll use the hour waiting for the RACQ and do some reading. I managed about 10 minutes before a sandstorm blew through the area and covered everything in a film of gritty, sticky sand. I'm still shaking it out of my hair and books.
Three strikes and you're out. I think I'll write this week off as a bad joke and start again tomorrow. Who knows, I might actually accomplish something this time round.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Now, on top of everything else, I have a blog to maintain. Why do I do it?
The answer is threefold yet simple:
I haven't done it before,
I like learning new things,
I have an innate 'need to know'.
This blog has been created in direct response to a course I'm doing at university so it will probably be used as a reflective space. With a bit of luck some of what I write here will be able to be used with different components of various assignments. So not only will I be avoiding boredom, I'll be saving time by using things in more than one way.
Don't you love efficient use of time?
Hopefully as I learn more, the space will also become more visually interesting.