TAFE Showcase – some cool use of technology in education

I love going along to the TAFE NSW Western Sydney Institute Showcases because they always have demonstrations of innovative uses of technology. It is great to hear practising teachers share how they are using technology to improve outcomes for their students and also to make their own jobs easier.

Often with limited budgets these teachers are being extremely creative, sometimes without much prior technology experience or skills. Today I saw an excellent implementation of moodle in an automotive parts course; good use of wikis for delivery of IT, fine arts and hospitality/tourism courses.

One really nice feature of this Showcase is the humility and openness to new experiences these teachers demonstrate. They appear to have a genuine lifelong learning style approach to their craft. I learned a lot today from the sharing of their real life adventures, tips and lessons learned.

I’d love to see more things like this happening in business.

The slides from my presentation this morning follow. Any questions please let me know.

ANZAC – a New Zealand view

A good example of the fellow feeling across the Tasman for ANZAC day and all that it means is the speech by the New Zealand Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, at the 2004 ANZAC Day Dawn Service:

“The presence of so many children and young men and women at ANZAC ceremonies is a stark reminder of the youth of those who fought for us. Look at them and wonder at the fears of their families, at their terror as they faced fierce fighting and watched their friends die. Listen to these words written to mark the evacuation in 1915, by a 23 year old Australian soldier-poet Leon Gellert, a combatant at Gallipoli.

[The Last to Leave, written by 23-year-old Australian soldier-poet Leon Gellert, a combatant at Gallipoli, to mark the evacuation of the peninsula in 1915.]
The guns were silent, and the silent hills
had bowed their grasses to a gentle breeze
I gazed upon the vales and on the rills
And whispered, “What of these?” and “What of these?”
These long forgotten dead with sunken graves,
Some crossless, with unwritten memories
Their only mourners are the moaning waves,
Their only minstrels are the singing trees
And thus I mused and sorrowed wistfully.

Lest we forget.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.”

ANZAC 2010 – Mapping our ANZACS

It seems appropriate this ANZAC Day to share a good online resource.

Thus I commend to people the Australian National Archives site called Mapping our ANZACS.

It provides a way to browse 375,971 records of service in the Australian Army during World War I according to the person’s place of birth or enlistment.

Using this site I was able to find out about one of the missing uncles from my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. It was strange that in her family stories there was this uncle who was just a name. Nobody talked about him apart from the occasional mention of his name.

He was one of the many uncles around the world who fought and died during World War One. I suspect that the pain of their loss had not diminished, even after all that time.

Rupert Alexander was 31 years old when he was killed in action on 26 September 1917. The records note merely that Rupert fell “in France or Belgium”.

He had never married and had no children. He’d worked as a plate layer in a sawmill prior to enlisting. My grandmother once mentioned that Rupert had the family look about him, standing about 5′ 9″ tall with blue eyes and brown hair.

His widowed mother received two pictures of his grave near Ypres in Belgium and a ‘victory medal’ from the authorities. Apparently she rarely spoke of him afterwards.

When I travel to Europe later this year I will visit Ypres and tour about the area where Rupert fought and fell. I might even try to track down his grave using the information located via Mapping our ANZACS. [Update: I did find his grave, it is pictured below.]

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Binyon: For the Fallen

What constitutes a well-lived life?

As I sat today during the funeral of a friend’s mother I pondered this question.

Is it simply achieving great age?

Is it leaving behind many who loved you?

What about the joy and love and laughter you shared?

What about the things you built – from great to small?

What does the work you did count in this assessment?

What about contributions to the common good?

And what of those who quietly live and die quietly?

No simple answers readily come to mind. Still pondering what constitutes a well lived life.

Time to drop the social and the media from our lexicon?

I was reading the article If Every Company is a Media Company…Then Who Owns Social Media? after seeing a Twitter conversation between @DesWalsh and @Trib.

The article author, Don Bulmer, notes:

Social media is no longer just a destination or a set of tools and features. It has evolved into a very power extension and dimension of life and work…a new way of thinking about how business is done.

Asking the question (today) ‘who owns social media?’ in business is like asking the question ‘who owns email?’ Everyone does.

Seeing it put like this made me realise that what we’ve been talking about is really just communication.

Nobody actually owns communication in general. But what people and business entities do own is many of the communication channels and platforms. They also own certain kinds of protected content – like copyright, patents, trademarks, etc.

What we are seeing is a democratisation of corporate communication. In the past special departments of ‘communications’ were created to craft corporate communications.

The platforms and channels of communication were unwieldly and required specialist skills and training. Communications were split between internal and external. External communications were often outsourced to professionals like advertising agencies.

You don’t just let gifted amateurs loose on your multi-million dollar television communications program. After all they would not know how to buy the media space to get the advertisements run as and when required.

But the internet has changed all of that. Any person with broadband and a webcam can create video content and have it up on YouTube in a few minutes. The gap between the professionals and amateurs has suddenly narrowed.

Then I watched the Jeff Jarvis talk on Privacy, publicness & penises, where I picked up the insight that it might be better to think of the internet as ‘place’ rather than as ‘medium’.

If the internet is a place, and a place where humans congregate, then it is implicitly social. To keep nattering on about ‘social’ this that or the other is a bit mad. We don’t continually reference the social nature of places like bars, restaurants, football games.

So is it time to finally retire the words ‘social’ and ‘media’ from our lexicon and simply start thinking about the internet as a place?

Freedom – price or cost?

Many people have told me that freedom has a price. While others have told me that freedom has a cost. It got me thinking about the difference between a price and a cost.

While pondering about this I recalled the Oscar Wilde quote: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.”
Perhaps value is only perceived in relative rather than in absolute terms? How do we know freedom is a good thing unless we know that repression exists? Freedom is precious. But the true value of freedom is only known in relation to un-freedom.

Starting with a dictionary, the definitions are:

Price: “agreed exchange value, that will purchase a definite quantity, weight, or other measure of a good or service”

Cost: An amount paid or required in payment for a purchase; a price. Or the expenditure of something, such as time or labor, necessary for the attainment of a goal.

Thus it seems that both groups of people are right when they talk about freedom. It has an agreed exchange value (a.k.a. price), which is the expenditure of something (a.k.a. cost) to attain a goal.

But since freedom is not tangible (sometimes it is easier to see freedom by its absence) and it can easily be whittled away without us noticing.

Freedom is under attack all over the world. Rules, laws, things meant to protect us all chip away at freedom. Each little chip has a plausible reason, when taken in isolation. However, the sum total of the overall pattern is reduction in freedom.

What have you done today to defend, protect or extend freedom?  What is the price of freedom?  And what cost are you willing to bear?

Where have all the iconoclasts gone?

Or how do we escape the ‘experts‘ in the echo chamber? Inspired by @jeffjarvis, whose recent post on TEDxNYed: This is bullshit got me thinking about this whole ‘expertise‘ thing again.

Iconoclasts are the people who tear down the idols of faith. Traditionally this has been a religious activity, but the growth of a secular society has seen the development of secular idols of faith. And social computing has already developed many of the trappings of a religion, with its own priesthood and idols.

But one of the big learnings of recent times is that experts don’t always have all the answers and that we can learn a great deal from engaging in sharing of knowledge for general benefit.

Admittedly, in some cases, only an expert will do. Some examples: if I’m having brain surgery a group of opinionated and gifted amateurs is not who I want on the case; nor do I want my accountant or lawyer to be inexpert.

But in the case of emerging applications for social computing there are not really any experts. There are people who know enough to give a perspective of the technology, the affordances of that technology, and possibilities inherent in it. But once that is out of the way there is a lot more value in shared discourse than in monologue.

I often facilitate sessions with educators and we discuss how social computing is changing the landscape for both teachers and students. And I always come away from those sessions humbled by the amount that I learn.  Not because these people know more.  Rather it is because they are inquiring and asking questions.  It is in the questions and attempts at solving real world problems that we uncover new approaches.

Real people sharing experiences, prompting new ideas and the connecting of dots drives experimentation and adoption of new ideas and new ways of doing things in social computing.  This is no clearer than in the various coffee mornings (e.g. NSCM) around Sydney, where people sit and talk over coffee.  They share ideas and experience and many come away energised and buzzing with new ideas to try.

But missing from the equation in social computing (or what some people call social media or new media) are the people who are willing to identify the secular sacred cows and call bullshit.

Too many of us are sitting at the feet of the experts (or gurus, ninjas, rockstars, gods and goddesses) waiting for them to deliver the answers from on high (possibly on the new HP tablets if not stone tablets).

Perhaps it’s time for some more social media iconoclasts?

What do you work for?

Had an interesting conversation with some friends recently and it got me thinking about what we work for.

In Western societies many of us work, in addition to money and sustenance, for self-actualisation (in a Maslowian sense).

Many of us pick work that is meaningful to us and which meets our aspirations. But many also toil away in work that has no significance beyond a steady paycheck.

In the past, for most of us, our toil was over by the time we had reached 40 years of age. As Hobbes said of life in his day: “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

But for many of us life is no longer like that. Instead we face long lives of comfort and ease. And this very longevity calls us to a different approach to life. As C. S. Lewis noted: “How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.”

Since mere survival is not the only thing we face in modern society, it is worth questioning what we work for over the course of our life.

What regrets will we ponder as, in old age, we face the end of this life? What things should we do now to minimise those regrets?

Will it be too much work that we regret? Will it be that we made too much money? Or will it be the human experiences of joy and sorrow that we missed, the relationships that slipped through our fingers while we toiled?

Risk management and real communication

I was reading a post by Dave Snowden that really got me thinking.

In his post, From oratory to the soundbite, he discusses the changes in how our politicians engage with us.  Noting the change from the days of Lloyd George, who would speak for an hour without notes and engage with hecklers in the audience, to that of the manicured and controlled soundbites of modern politicians.

It also got me thinking how we have become conditioned to manicured and carefully prepared speeches and presentations in many areas of our lives nowadays.  And this shift is all about risk control.

This shift to carefully manufactured communications can likely be attributed to the way you can sound easily sound stupid or ill-informed if speaking off the cuff (cf. Barnaby Joyce).  Then that comment can be amplified endlessly (and often mercilessly) via social media.

In the days of Lloyd George his engaging speeches were not recorded for posterity.  They were ephemeral.  Nobody pored over the transcript and excerpted poor phrasing to regurgitate for weeks afterwards in media releases and media interviews.

Our ability to document every happening is changing how free we are to express ideas and opinions.  No longer can we have an amusing interplay with a heckler at a speech that is heard by only those present.  That interplay can now be taken out of context and used as a weapon against you by people of ill-will.

This is one of the reasons I believe we are seeing the growth of the politics of NO. In the past oppositions and governments could make bipartisan stands and it was hardly known by the populace. But now a new transparency means that it is easier and simpler for oppositions to stand against things than to work together for the common good on issues.

Perhaps once people understand how transparent things are becoming we can evolve new ways to communicate in less manufactured ways?  But for that to work we do need to accept imperfection.

Random acts of kindness

I’ve been reflecting on the people who’ve influenced my life. The ones who have shaped my thoughts and helped me to work out what kind of person I am and who I want to be.  There’s a lot of them.

They range from family members, to friends and colleagues.  Many dsc00078-150x150of them never even realised what they were doing.  They did not realise that their casual conversations and encounters with me were shaping my life.

It’s a big responsibility when one considers that even casual daily interactions are shaping other people’s lives in similar ways.  Thus the creation of the future really is in our hands.

It is there in simple everyday things that we say and the actions that we do.  Our actions and words help to shape other people’s future development.

And, for those who believe that words cannot hurt people, there is some research that indicates that the feelings of pain recollection are stronger for social pain than physical pain. It does seem that words and acts of social exclusion can wound.

I’d like to thank all the people who have been kind, truthful and encouraging to me over the years. You have helped me to become a better and kinder person.

In a strange way I’m also grateful to those who were cruel, unkind and vicious – you’ve also taught me a great deal. From you I have mostly learned what I do not want to be.

What are you doing today to create loving and peaceful futures?