The #blimage challenge

blimageI saw this on my Twitter feed this week; “lf you don’t know where you are going you’ll end up someplace else.” (Yogi Berra) And so what? What if somewhere else is better than where you were going? And how much more might you learn on the way there? Travel broadens the mind, they say but your mind has to be open to being changed.

I had an interesting conversation with some language colleagues recently about this. We were in Spain, all recipients of a scholarship to study Spanish at Salamanca University. Our discussion was about how speaking a language helped to understand the culture of the country and the people. We all spoke at least one other language than our own and we had all travelled widely. Some of us had lived in other countries and we reflected that we all had the  “travel bug”. We wondered what prompts people to travel the world and to live in different countries. We do it to learn more about the world we live in , to learn about the people who inhabit our world, to learn about the history of the countries and how it has shaped the culture, the landscape, and the people . For adventure, for new experiences, to make friends , to meet new people.
robot woman looking at mirror imageblack and white drawing of torso of victorian woman  on top of an old fashioned cash register. Holding her head in her handsRobot high fiving a man wearing casual clothes in a  run down part of a city
On the plane from NZ to Madrid l watched two films which dealt with the idea of Artificial Intelligence – Chappie and Ex Machina. Just recently I read “For want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal which, like the films raises some fascinating questions about identity and how we learn about who we are and our place in the world.
How is knowledge given to the “machine” or robot? Where does the intelligence come from?  Whose intelligence is it? Can it “learn” or does it just acquire information or facts. Is it able to attach meaning to the information? Just like an online translation service the output is only as good as what has been input. The words are there but the nuances of the language are missing.
We can learn about the world from books, from the internet, we can “see” the world through the millions of photos , videos and TV documentaries and we can learn about cultures and people. But travel offers the chance to touch and feel and smell and taste and hear.  How do you transfer those tangible aspects of knowledge to a machine? These are the things that give understanding and compassion to knowledge.  Those two films and the book dwell on that idea of humanity. A sense of belonging to the world, of having your place in the world, interacting with people , the culture and the environment.

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” said Frank Zappa. So as those of us with travel lust stand looking out across the ocean planning our next adventure we have to be careful not to just “collect ” experiences like souvenirs. We mustn’t allow information to be simply stored in our database. We need to go out of our way, deviate from the norm, go off the beaten track, immerse ourselves and be open to having our perceptions challenged. To truly learn we have to connect with people and touch, feel, see, smell and taste and we must let those experiences inform who we are and make a difference to our lives.

#28daysofwriting Day 18: On language, grit and absurdity

Last night we contributed to the cause of redressing our work-life balance and went to see Eddie Izzard at Claudelands Event Centre.   There is nothing quite so good for releasing feel-good endorphins than having a really good laugh.  He really is a “Force Majeure”;  witty, intelligent, incisive humour that has a healthy splash of schoolboy, pythonesque absurdity and a strong sense of social justice. Just brilliant!
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But there are two things about yesterday’s show that prompted me to write; one is his complete support and passion for learning languages.  He can present his show in French, German and Spanish and is planning on learning Arabic next.  It is not just learning the language though, it is being able to reach out and connect with the culture and the nuances of language and understand the psyche of a people and what makes them laugh.  Somehow he can do that.

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The other thing is his down-to-earthness (not sure that is a word!), his sense of realism, of humanity, of social justice.  I was surprised just how much of himself he revealed in snippets during the show.  There were moments of very personal reflection amongst the silly noises and the insightful observations of life.  In his Q & A session after the show he was asked about how he trained for his challenge of completing 43 marathons in 51 days to raise money for the charity Sport Relief.  He said that he trained for only 5 weeks prior to starting and that the first 10 marathons were training for the next 33!  But his comment that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything struck me most.

We talk a lot about “grit”, about perseverance, resilience in education now.  But where does it come from, that picking yourself up after you’ve fallen down and keeping going?  Can we teach it? Can we learn it? Can we change the way that we are?  Is the ability to persevere an innate quality or can we develop it?  There are plenty of articles out there, if you google “teaching grit”.  In this Tedtalk Carol Dweck talks about how we can shift our mindsets, how our own beliefs about our abilities affect the way that we learn and approach life.

We hear the cliche about being able to do anything if you put your mind to it all the time but I believe it is true.  Anyone can put one foot in front of the other but there has to be a desire to start, and then a determination to succeed and a doggedness to keep going when the going gets tough.  But maybe you also need a sense of humour and just a little dose of absurdity?  I will put that theory to the test on 28th March! 

Ulearn13 – catching up

claudelandsA week back at school and the stimulating discussions, interactions and keynotes at Ulearn13 at Claudelands, Hamilton, seem to have faded into the dim, distant past.  My head is still in a state of confusion; the demands of what I need to do at work at odds with wanting to get to grips with the seeds of ideas sown at Ulearn and in the interactions since then on Social Media.  I wake up at night after dreams in which I am not really sure what is real and what is make-believe!

Anyway, as I am the world’s best procrastinator, instead of writing my reports or processing all the data from the medical forms for Year 10 camp that looms in Week 7, I have spent today in the garden, at the Hockey Club AGM and presentation (my youngest gained an award and I ended up on the committee – what is it about my hand that seems to have a mind of it’s own!?) exploring BlendSpace and other tools I found out about at Ulearn13 and thinking about how I could use them to help me synthesise my thoughts.

One of the sessions I went to at Ulearn13 was “10 tips to socialise sustainability of elearning” which was facilitated by Megan Iemma and David Kinane.  It was affirming to realise that I already knew and used most of the tools that they talked about but I was pleased that I also learned of some new ones.

image of Blendspace - digital presentation

A colleague had decided not to go to Ulearn this year as she has been before and felt that she wouldn’t learn anything new and that someone who hadn’t been before would benefit more from being able to go.  Another who was very excited at her first conference last year realised that she needed to pick her sessions more carefully in future as this year she ended up attending similar sessions to 2012, and she has come so far in her own learning that she was ahead of many of the other attendees.   My perspective is that there is always something new to learn, the conversations that you have are invaluable and the opportunity to share and to learn is infinite.  However, I am also aware that the cost to schools to send teachers to conferences such as this is huge.  This year we were lucky as there were no accommodation costs as Ulearn13 was here in Hamilton and so we could send 8 teachers.

Picking breakouts is a fine art and I think there is an evolution.  The first year everything is new and you are so overwhelmed by the choice that there is an element of potluck.  Having said that the descriptions now are more specific and it is easier to filter the different sectors.  I know that in my first year I ended up at some very specific Primary sessions at which I found little that I could adapt to Secondary.  Nevertheless, it is always interesting to know what is happening in early years, after all they are our future students.

In subsequent years, when you understand the system better, you can be more judicious in your choices.  I can now recognise speakers’ names, identify sectors and spot themes.  I also don’t feel obliged to book every breakout – the interactions in the Social Media space and in the Trade Hall are just as valuable as the Breakouts, Spotlights and  Research Papers. The Twitter chat backed up with blogs and reviews and videos of Keynotes and presentations on Slideshare and websites allow more people  to “virtually” attend conferences, but nothing really beats the face to face interactions, connections, and shared experiences.

I have also had a play with Martin Hawksey’s TagsExplorer which I encountered whilst I was doing my MOOC in January.  The visual display of tweets is fascinating and so I decided to create one for the EdchatNZ last Thursday evening.  It took me a while but I eventually got there ( just not good at following instructions!)  It only picks up tweets within 7 days so when I tried to do one for Ulearn13 it only aggregated the tweets from Friday onwards.  Interesting to note though the level of interaction over the weekend following the conference.

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So, where to now? I am still processing ideas, still following tweets, trying to keep up with schoolwork, wondering how to maintain my focus on the day to day stuff and keep my thoughts from flying away and being lost somewhere in my hyperactive brain so that when the holidays come, I can retrieve them.  Watch this space!

#edcmooc “Inbox”

Boy jumping off high diving board at swimming pool“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” —Mahatma Gandhi

I found this quote as I was reading through some of the blogs featured in the edcmooc news.  It has no real relevance to our theme of Utopia and Dystopia but I like the idea of learning for as long as you live and living life as fully as you can.

Living in the here and now – is that what the characters in the “Inbox” were doing? Making the most of a random opportunity, responding to a situation, communicating, connecting, building futures?  Utopian or dystopian? Once the connection was made there was hope, when the link was broken, hope remained. Makes me think of La Condition Humaine – Man’s Fate – an existentialist state where man chooses his own path, his own destiny, which dictates how people communicate with each other and how they interact with the world.

“Existentialists believe that when someone or society tries to impose or demand that their beliefs, values, or rules be faithfully accepted and obeyed it destroys individualism and makes a person become whatever the people in power desire thus they are dehumanized and reduced to being an object.” 

So where am I going with this?  I’m not really sure but I have a glimmer of something in the back of my mind that is glinting that I can’t quite grasp!

Does technology, do the shiny, pretty things, the gadgets and gizmos, the tweets, FB, the constant updates impose rules, beliefs, values on us that we don’t want to accept?  Do we risk losing our individualism and our personal freedom?  Or do they offer us the opportunity to discover ourselves, to find out who we are, to unlock our potential, and find happpiness?  Or is that just too black and white?  Are there more shades of grey?  Do we need to recognise that life is an essential mixture of utopian and dystopian experiences?

Communication, connections, webs, networks …..