How’s married life?

Wedding Cakes

The cakes made by my new mother and sister-in-law

So, 2 months ago (to the day in fact) I married the father of my child. It was long overdue (said the best man in his speech) considering said child is now 7 years old and we’d already been together 3 years before she popped in. We made pretty much everything; stationary, bouquets, buttonholes, favours, cakes (well, his mum and sister did those) and decorated the venue ourselves which helped bring the cost down (though if I were to do it again I would buy the invites and table decorations because… TIME! STRESS! I’d probably still do my own bouquet because I loved it but the buttonholes and favours.. no way – buy ’em!)

 

I loved my dress, my step-mum was right, it was the perfect dress for me and I’m seriously gutted that I can never wear it again unless by some miracle a wedding dress party occurs while I can still fit in it – especially since I went down 2.5 dress sizes between ordering and wearing it; stress will do that to you!

Dress with day jacket

Dress with day jacket and the bouquet I made

The dress worn with the  evening jacket.

The evening look – collar made by my good friend Caroline

 

 

 

First false eyelash application

using false eyelashes for the first time EVER

 

 

 

 

 

I also loved what Johnella did regards hair and facial beautification – she talked me into trying false eyelashes: here you can see my reaction after the first one was applied: never have I felt so PRETTY! Seriously; I prefer pretty over beautiful. The groom looked good (he shaved!) The food was lovely, the venue looked fab (especially after the girls spent all evening the night before dressing the place and groomzilla added to it all in a panic the following day – I never want to cover another chair as long as I live!)

I am disappointed that we don’t have a single decent photo of us together with our daughter – not the photographers fault, she wasn’t playing ball – kids eh?! and there were too many of me and not enough of everyone else but the pictures we do have are lovely as you can see.

People keep asking me “How’s married life?” I usually respond with – the same as ‘living in sin’ life – but with added paperwork and more name confusion!

Not a lie but also not strictly true. I feel more settled in myself and more secure regarding our future. That little bit of paper is such a small thing; our relationship has in no way changed nor have our finances or living arrangements, yet for me just having that outward declaration of commitment officially signed and sealed has silenced a little stress niggle, that whimper of insecurity which clouded things and left me always feeling a little unsettled. Stupid, yet oh so true but something inside me has relaxed.

Bride and groom signing the registry

Signing the registry

I wonder if that would have been the case if we lived in a society where ‘marriage’ was not the expected result of committing to a relationship? It does make the point (for me at least) that everyone should be free to have this insecurity and doubt removed though – whether it be by a civil ceremony, church wedding or handfasting – whatever your beliefs you should be allowed the ‘last step’ that confirms what you already know in a way that everyone can understand that ‘this is it’. The people who still stand in the way of this happening for other humans are cruel and unthinking in their blinkered view of humanity and goodness.

Wedding breakfast set up

Wedding breakfast set up – I never want to cover another chair as long as I live!

Gift table decor

The gift table: the guest ‘book’ was ordered on ebay; the tree fit the theme perfectly.

New home; mostly unpacked.

So… It’s only taken me a year but I’ve finally imported my blog to the new host. I do have a great deal of decorating to do – and of course there’s the old ‘check out what’s new around the place’ seeing as I’ve not blogged in a while and WordPress appears to have a lot of funky new things to play with since I last looked under the floorboards.

Apologies for broken links and missing files and the like as things may have shifted somewhat in the move and let’s face it, as I had to go through 14 different storage items to find my backup file I may have uploaded the wrong one: it’s been over a year! But hey ho! I’m mostly home now and as I finally have a handle on my teaching role and things have settled down somewhat I may even get back into doing this on a more regular basis than pre-move..

Stupid assumptions

I’m currently doing my PGCHE certification and while I’ve passed the module necessary to obtain my AFHEA accreditation (ahhh thankyeow!) every day I’m on the course I am exposed to diverse learning and teaching theories, concepts and practice and while this is incredibly stimulating and great for professional development it’s more the conversations with my students that tend to stop me in my tracks and make me re-evaluate my understanding.

Yesterday a student complained that none of the feedback I had given her was positive; I was momentarilly stunned as I thought my feedback was ‘good’ and covered all the main points.
The assessment in question was a role play task and I had to write down feedback for both participants during the course of the role play. As this means writing targeted comments quickly I clearly addressed areas for improvement with positive suggestions on ways to do so but it seems the lack of approving comments with no application beyond a pat on the head detracted from the feedback so much that she did not want to engage with what I had said to her. I apologised for indirectly making her feel bad – obviously that is not the intention, I thanked her for the feedback and agreed that obviously this is an area in which I personally need to improve.

But the interesting thing here is that she then commented in a very surprised manner about the way I accepted the criticism; to me, feedback that can help me improve or show me how I could approach something differently is ALWAYS gratefully accepted (unless of course it’s given by family but we all have our blind spots eh?!) it was not so much the comment on how I handle it that stopped me in my tracks but her surprise on the matter; as though she had expected something very different from me.

I immediately saw then where I’ve been going wrong with some of my students this year.

I truly believe that my main goal in life is to become a better person; not just better with regards to skills and the application of knowledge but better in the sense of maturity and understanding of the people around me and the way I deal with them – I read a great deal and listen to the experiences of other people with several thoughts in the back of my mind; how can I use this? How can I improve? The blindingly obvious thing to come from all this reading and listening is that everyone is different and yet with my students I was still expecting them to have the same internal thought as me.
This is such a blinkered and false assumption – not to mention bordering on the idealistic that I kind of feel really stupid all over again for not realising I had it sooner; in my defence it isn’t that I consciously expect everyone to have the ‘how can I be better?’ mentality but when I give feedback I do it in the way that I would like; a way that would help me to do better next time; so it appears that I have fallen foul once again of the 1781 observations of Immanuel Kant that “we see things not as they are but as we are” as introduced to me 2 decades ago in a communications class at Daventry tertiary college – but hey; we can’t be BETTER all the time. I guess I just have to keep trying.

Microteaching for #7EDU1024 – Teaching And Supporting Learning

This is the first module for my Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and although I have another day to go for the classroom learning element I can honestly say it is well worth doing if you want to be a good teacher in a higher education environment – which I most certainly do!

Today we all had our microteaching sessions and I will admit that I was ridiculously nervous about receiving my feedback as this is basically the second time I’ve ever had another lecturer present during my delivery (that I don’t also think of as a friend – friends tend to be less critical than others in your peer group) and there were 8 of them at once!

I sat through the morning with my stomach knotting increasingly tighter as each of the other members in my group delivered interesting and in 2 specific cases seemingly flawless 5 minute ‘lectures'(one of whom I really need to pinch the slides and microteach video off if he’ll let me have ’em) nearly everyone else in the group seemed to be brand new to teaching and in some cases never before having taught in a classroom environment. This knowledge just made me feel, if I’m honest, a little more sick; I’ve been doing this for a year now – what if they (very nicely) told me I suck? Eventually everyone else had faced their own personal ordeal and I finally had to get up and face mine.

Now, normally when I teach a class I’m not this nervous but there is just something about demonstrating knowledge or a skill in front of other practitioners that throws me into kinks and I guess I’m not alone in this feeling – but surprisingly, looking back at the video you can’t seem to tell. I look (even to me) fairly professional and ‘together’ so I guess the flipcam can’t pick up shaking hands if you keep ’em moving.

The most negative thing said during the feedback session was that I need to smile more (and it was a unanimous response so maybe my nerves were showing a little after all…) I guess I should be grateful about that but I know the geek in me was shuddering at the loose explanation given of internet technology; normally I do take more than 5 minutes over this and touch upon DNS and the fact that www is NOT the internet but a service like VOIP, file transfer and email which runs ON the internet using TCP/IP and that Tesco actually use TIE which is their EDI equivalent along with an explanation of how that works… But 5 minutes is not a lot of time and I did go over by about 25 seconds so I guess what I’m saying is that no matter how positive people are towards me I’m never truly happy with anything I do *sigh* guess THAT is what I really need to work on…

On the plus side almost every person in the room said they liked my house/ garden analogy to explain how an intranet is extended into an extranet so this is definitely one explanation to keep using. I also hadn’t realised how often I sum up as a way of reinforcing the points I make – it’s just something I now do naturally; seems motherhood is good training for becoming a lecturer because it was pointed out just this weekend how often I do this with elf.

The main things that I’ve taken away from this experience (outside of the knowledge that mutated proteins get sticky then bond together and cause disease or that gold is created at the heart of a supernova) are that I can boil down many of the core concepts I have to teach into 5-10 minute sessions like this and use them to break up my 3 hour classroom sessions. On a lighter note I’ve also learned that I badly want one of the document display OHP ‘thingummys’; being able to draw what I mean on a piece of paper where everyone can see it clearly on the smartboard instead of having to clamber on and off a chair to make full use of a white board in class would be awesome! I hate being short…

While trying to settle on a topic for this microteach I also thought of numerous ways of applying this technique to virtual sessions with videos and prezi presentations (as a kind of information treasure hunt) for 2 different modules and I know that it will make for a very interesting and informative class task to do with my students in another module; the constraints of the task itself made me look at my subjects in a slightly different way so I am completely sold on this as a method of teaching and peer review.

A parents duty

I’ve been concerned for a while about the achievement level of my 5 year old daughter, I’ve watched her friends as they read and write and count in the double figures and despaired over her complete lack of interest or attention span with these academic tasks and in the last few months have attempted to help her attain the skills I thought she should already have, but over the last 2 weeks I’ve started to feel differently about this.

I’ve finally stepped back and understood that I am not her academic teacher – I’m her mother.

Academically my teaching role in her world is a supportive one, it is not my place to insist she should know her ABC’s by now; it is my place to ensure she can dress herself, attend to her toiletry needs and be aware of the correct way to act in any given social situation, to help and support in an emotional fashion and see to her needs in the home.

She is pretty observant when it comes to the social side of things already and her verbal communication skills are (in my opinion) above average so the fact that she doesn’t always recognise her own name in writing should not bother me as much as it has done, she starts school on Monday and they will pick up in this area – I need to step back and let my little girl sort her own academic level or I’ll be spending the rest of her schooling life spoon feeding her answers and nagging about homework which will do her no favours later on when she has to plan her own schedule and take ownership of her own progress.

I need to chill. But it’s bloody hard to step back and quit worrying I can tell you that for nothing! My little girl is growing up but I need to enjoy the growing without worrying so much about the ‘up’.

I’ll get there, hopefully without driving her too far up the wall in the process…

What I do: the role of a teacher

Here the aim is to describe the role of a teacher within the subject area of computing and business at a higher education (HE) level; though a more accurate descriptor of this role may be ‘learning facilitator’ as in HE the student is expected to take ownership of their own journey and expand upon information provided in class.

The onus is on the teacher to be aware of how her particular module fits within the structure of the overall programme so that she may assist her department in providing instruction which fits seamlessly into the expected learning outcomes of each individual student. To this end the teacher needs to be aware of both the level of teaching and assessment required in order to support her students in realising their academic goals and to be aware of individual student needs that must be incorporated into her delivery and assessment methods. In computing it is the opinion of the author that a blended learning method is most appropriate. This is a method comprising both online and classroom delivery which may also extend into the way in which student learning is assessed; this could take place as computerised in class tasks or tests (both formative and summative) or the adoption of ‘virtual meetings’ for the sake of 1-2-1 tutorials in order to alleviate the financial burden/ time cost of lengthy travel into college.

Some of the barriers to learning which exist may be a direct result of outside influences (family problems, financial issues, disabilities) and as previously mentioned a blended learning approach may help counter these, however the flip side to this is that it pre-supposes every student has both the necessary hardware and connection in a safe environment; while internet use is growing rapidly it is sadly still not the case that every household has the required tools necessary to interact in this fashion. For these students, a blended approach may be more of a disadvantage as they will be unable to use the time outside of class as effectively as other students can, for these instances it is for the teacher to adapt her materials in such a way that they are accessible by all, allowing each student an equal chance to succeed.

Welcome to my world…

Dashing down the stairs at Paddington underground station to see a train waiting at the platform with doors invitingly open, she dithered for a second trying to see some sign that it was the one she needed before jumping through the doors into a surprisingly sparsely populated carriage. Suddenly assailed by doubt over the possible direction of travel she turned and exited only to hear the words “…to Kings Cross..” from the tannoy.

Gracefully for once, she continued the turn and re-entering the carriage placed her bags down with a sheepish grin directed at the guy who had crossed glances with her just before the doors closed. Normally she wouldn’t notice people on the tube beyond a dismissive ‘cute’ or ‘nice hair’ or ‘I wonder where she got those earrings’, but this guy had definitely caught her eye, not just in the ‘eyes met across a room’ sense but in the ‘WOW he’s NIIII-IIII-IIIICE’ sense, so much so that she made a conscious effort to look in every direction but his; berating herself for smiling at him.

“Don’t talk to people on the tube” a lecture she’d heard many times from the father of her child. He disapproved of the ease with which she would initiate conversation with total strangers not seeming to realise that connecting with people was as natural as breathing – it was sustaining that contact over time that was difficult.

Despite knowing which direction this train was now headed she made a detailed study of the already familiar route the circle line would take, practically sounding out the remaining stops before Kings Cross in order to avoid the natural inclination her head seemed to have acquired in wanting to turn right. The target of this distraction continued to lounge across the seat and it seemed to her overly sensitive imagination that he was trying to reconnect that first glance by sheer force of will or personality but she held firm and continued to look elsewhere and put that imagination to better use, mentally scolding herself for such misplaced vanity.

Bracing against the swaying of the carriage she straightened up and pictured herself the captain of some marvellous ship – a space ship of course, it could be nothing else surrounded by metal and clanking and fluorescent lighting as she was. She imagined the current surroundings peeling away to reveal a scene of wonder and excitement before curiosity over what other passengers may imagine during their journey home brought her back to her real surroundings just as the door slid open onto Edgware road allowing other passengers to board.

From the corner of her eye she could see the guy looking in her direction but he could have been studying her or the reflection in the window behind her, without turning to see she couldn’t know for sure which it was. She pictured his face again as it had appeared when she entered the train, the look of almost shocked recognition and something else. As she struggled to categorise the emotion she wondered why it was so hard to decipher “hmm… Maybe he’d just been holding in a fart” she mentally chuckled to herself, whatever it was it was a little unnerving and poking fun was the easiest way to deal with the strange sensation that look had brought.

When the train started slowing down for the Kings Cross station the object of her thoughts suddenly got up and in a swift movement stood directly behind her, the swaying of the carriage for a single instant pressing him against her back. She wondered at his closeness as the carriage, despite the time of day, was not the usual rush hour sardine tin she had been expecting …and was it her imagination or did he seem to be sniffing her? Uncomfortably aware of her fragrant state due to the rushed journey from Bristol, she picked up her oversize shoulder bag and prepared her rolling overnight case for a swift exit and turned decisively to face him in order to forestall any pickpocketing attempt, he recoiled slightly backwards and seems to lose his balance and then she realised that his eyes which at first glance had seemed a startling blue were in fact red rimmed and the hair she had initially pegged as a dirty blonde was in fact a very white feathery mass of tufted curls, the shadows cast by the tube causing her earlier mistake as to the colour. “Ah…” She thought “…maybe he’s ill, or drunk” as he staggered a little to retain his balance in the swaying compartment. Almost as though he’d read her thought he shrugged backwards to stand as close to the doors as was physically possible allowing her some more space then, as they opened, he hesitated for a second before stepping out.

She had been scanning the walls as the train pulled in for signs to show the direction she needed to walk and striding confidently past him headed straight for the railway station, slightly relieved when he seemed to swing in the opposite direction before being lost in the crowds behind her.

That would probably have been the last he crossed her mind if she then didn’t suddenly glimpse him again from the corner of her eye, this time he was slightly ahead of her, how he had managed that without actually walking past her in the narrow tunnel seemed strange but dodging through the crowd, her small compact form aiding in speeding through the foot traffic she soon left him behind again.

Walking into Kings cross rail station she found the sardine tin effect previously expected yet not encountered on the tube, the crowd gathered before the departure board was swelling by the second as each train showed the dreaded delayed or cancelled notice. “Typical” She thought, glancing around for a coffee shop or somewhere to sit, as the voice over the tannoy announced there had been damaged overhead power lines and a blocked track along a main route ending any chance of a train for the foreseeable.

Her eye was caught by a shock of white blonde hair to her right and she glanced up to find yet another man meeting her gaze, very similar in both dress and looks to the guy from the carriage, her initial thought was “there he is again” until she realised this one was a little younger, his features not quite as chiselled; though seeing the same coat, bag, hair style and expression she forgave herself instantly for the mistake. Then he glanced away and the moment was gone but she couldn’t help feeling that once again there had been an instance of sniffing despite the distance separating them. Feeling distinctly put out with her overactive imagination she rang home to explain the travel situation before walking over to information in order to enquire about changing her ticket.

Relieved to find that she would not have to wait for hours or travel too far along the tube she instead made her way across to St Pancras in order to catch a train to St Albans where her lift would be waiting. While standing at the end of platform B she saw in disbelief another white blond head coming towards her through the crowd, her mental comparison of similar coat and bag suddenly had her heart pounding in an irrational wave of emotion – excitement or fear she really couldn’t tell but an impression of being prey washed over her as she raised her eyes back to his face only to receive a shock as what had initially appeared to be white blonde hair became a dull brown. “I need my mind AND my eyes checked” she thought as he walked past her without a glance. “Of course I’d see people in the concourse who got off the tube at the station and c’mon, fashionable coats all look alike and everyone has those messenger style bags now” the pep talk helped a little and she ignored the niggly little voice in the back of her head whispering that yes, many coats and bags looked alike but that guy had definitely been blonde when he walked towards you.

Keeping an eye on the scheduled time and angling towards the most likely spot on the platform she continued her mental pep talk “Because, yeah, shape shifters and illusionists and all those things in those books you like to read are really real and suddenly YOU have caught the attention of the beautiful creatures and the world of darkness will be yours. Yeah, right…” Mentally continuing in this vein as the train pulled in and she and her fellow passengers boarded, she sighed wistfully at the reflection of herself displayed by the window “Oh yeah, almost 40, mumsy traveller with the oversize shapeless jacket and the functional glasses, of COURSE you’d be the one to call ‘em out of the woodwork.”

Deciding that her moment of vain fancy had passed she allowed herself to indulge in a ‘what if’ daydream; how would she feel if she was suddenly yanked into an existence where she would never be able to see her daughter again, where she couldn’t explain to the father of her child why she’d vanished and left them alone. Shuddering at the thought she mentally bathed herself in the love and contentment she had waiting for her at home and pictured again little moments from her memory archive of her daughters first “mumma” and the joy they together as a couple shared in watching her grow into the forceful little wench she was becoming. For a few seconds this beat away the fanciful moments of her London journey but then she started to feel dissatisfaction creep in, “what if I had the power to learn in a night what takes me years to do now? These memories would still make me feel the same way if I left now” Picking the ‘best’ fictional entries from her books she concocted a view of a world in which she sacrificed the life she knew in order to gain all the knowledge she had ever dreamed of, where she could walk the night without fear, where she had no more pain or weakness to contend with. A world where she was strong and in control but loved passionately by an equally strong man (a ridiculously beautiful strong man of course – though one who didn’t glitter in the sunlight) who would listen and appreciate and act upon her opinions or advice.

She could use her newfound knowledge to create things to help ease the world’s ills, to stop the pollution, the water shortage, the violence “Hang on” She thought, “If I were a creature of the night, suddenly able to do anything I wanted, why would I care about mankind’s problems?”

The slowing of the train jolted her from her reverie and once again confronted by her less than stunning appearance sighed wistfully. “forget your looks and age and all that crap, where was I?“ she mentally catalogued different ideas picked from authors such as Laurell K Hamilton, Lynsay Sands and Charlaine Harris and even Stephanie Meyer and said to herself “You know what, if emotions and feelings are enhanced with this change then I’d care even more about things, I LIKE helping people now so I’d probably like it even more then” Then as the train pulled into St Albans and she prepared to depart another thought struck her

“Hang on, what if it was my daughter they could smell and they’re following me to get to her because she’s some kind of ‘chosen one’ who is destined to do miraculous things” a wave of fierce protectiveness rose up in her and subsided just as quickly. “Actually, if they could help her to meet her potential then so long as I get to be involved would it really matter if it’s for the good of the world?” she mused to herself, turning the idea around. Punching the call button for the lift she finally shook her shoulders and as the doors closed behind her she consigned such thoughts to the ether and returned to the world in which the car containing the family she loved would soon be arriving to transport her home.

 

Having a whine…

So, the government are happy to cut this that and the other from those most needing help in society by claiming they need to cut the spending budget; they then fork out a stupidly huge sum for a state funeral that really needn’t happen.

Seriously, why should we, the tax payer, fork out for Maggies funeral? Fair enough if the need is so great for her family to afford something decent then if we have to contribute something maybe chuck in for a coffin and a decent plot by all means; but if you must have something available for every man and his dog to view then stream the service on the web; allow the live thing to actually be for friends and family only – like every other sodding funeral going.

Set up a just giving fund for those who want to literally pay their respects with gifts to go to whatever charity the ‘Iron Lady’ held most dear but spare me and everyone else the bullshit state funeral costs; that’s just forcing insult to injury to her detractors knowing that they are paying through the nose towards honouring the memory of a person they detested.

Yes. I’m in a bad mood.

It’s not just the government pissing me off of late, things closer to home are conspiring to ruin my day as well. The viewings have stepped up on our rented property which means every other day we have strangers stomping around our home and interrupting our routine. The fact that not all of them are investors means that we stand a good chance of being given 2 months warning before becoming homeless. This does not fill me with joy as you can imagine.

The couple today look likely to make an offer from the way they were talking; the lass was practically measuring up and couldn’t stop discussing where their furniture could go – and they stayed longer than any other viewer so far,they went around the flat at least 3 times verbally rearranging our living space to suit their needs.

We find out next week where Elf has been placed for school, I’m praying I get my first choice; but then it’ll be sods law that we do and are then forced to move to another area completely where we’ll have to take whatever we’re given as a late admission *sigh* I REALLY hate this uncertainty regarding our living arrangements; it’s bloody stressful! …Which probably explains why the ME/CFS has started creeping back in to suck the life out of me over the last few weeks.

…And enthusiastic potential buyers means OF COURSE the elephant upstairs was completely silent while they were here – it’s only now when I’m trying to work that he starts the usual round of screaming for attention while attempting to come through the ceiling.

As for work; don’t get me started here. I’ll be whinging to twitter about that all afternoon if you’re really interested in my marking exploits. It’s just a shame that my work dries up between June-September which is just perfect timing if we’re forced to move out. So yes. Not best chuffed right now. *sigh* at least I have my brothers wedding to look forward to in 2 weeks right? No stress or drama expected there…

Are all governments stupid?

I’m seriously beginning to lean a little to the communist side I think because the way things are going in this country have me sitting on a slow burning rage.

The cost of living has risen to ridiculous levels and the average wage just doesn’t cover enough of that; if the government REALLY want to stop the cost of benefits to the treasury then they need to address the cost of living.

Set a basic rental level for each type of property (taking into account owner mortgage payments of course; perhaps mortgage payment +3-5% to allow for repairs etc) limit the cost of house prices by type for all new builds and establish a timetable of regular property checks to ensure the slumlord mentality doesn’t take effect; if having a roof over your head is a basic human right then if people are greedy enough to buy several properties they do not want to live in they should only be able to make enough from them for the basic maintenance costs to be covered – especially while paying off a mortgage.

Yes, I can hear people screaming already about this but look at it this way; you have to be rich to own more than one property yet most folks are struggling even to rent let alone buy; the housing benefit I do get pays for someone else to own a home that they don’t even live in and yet I can’t even consider buying my own home because even though a mortgage payment would be less than my rent I can’t afford to pay it without help.

How is that fair? I can’t get a government handout to pay a mortgage but someone else can through me and my housing benefit. Change THIS system and you immediately make things fairer.

And to ensure everyone in the population has access to an affordable healthy diet perhaps the government should start a national food store chain that allows us to buy locally sourced basics at an affordable regulated price (no alcohol though, class that as a luxury item)

So, the government would now have exact knowledge of how much each person/ family needs in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table because those basic rates are set and immovable – the only benefits needed above that are for bill payments + travel costs which could be set depending on where a person lives and the type of energy they use.

If the food store was set up as an internet based model then they could cut costs by emailing vouchers and shopping online; if it was set up properly then each household could just have their own account and even the need for emailed vouchers is removed; the family would automatically be credited with the amount they can spend each week/ month. I realize not every household has the internet but again, here the govt. could help by ensuring it is a necessity in every new build as part of their ‘no child left behind’ mantra; in a society where toddlers are being introduced to ipads in schools the internet at home IS a necessity.

In order to staff this enterprise without further cost to the government could mean allowing anyone to work on these without it affecting their benefits for a set amount of time each week (similar to the shelf stacking initiative fiasco but without the free labour going to a company that makes millions in profit off the backs of it) you would voluntarily sign up for your hours when you go to the job centre to sign on and instead of pay choose from vouchers to gain access to participating gyms equivalent to the hours worked or having the ability to get cinema/ theater tickets or other social/ entertainment incentives; the kind of things that they’d like to spend their money on if they had it. If they fail to attend their shift without a sick note/ evidence of job interview then just like with a normal job you get your pay docked.

The upshot? More ACTUAL jobs for people as management and some full time staff will be required to keep it running efficiently. People will be less likely to fall into the depression trap of having no work or purpose if unemployed for a lengthy amount of time as they would still have some kind of structure to their days. No food price changes means allowing families to budget properly instead of having to wait for sales and offers or bulk buys, just ensure each family gets vouchers that cover the weekly basics of a healthy diet, they can be spent individually or saved up and spent on a bulk buy according to the family needs – anything above the basic staples they can get from the normal supermarkets if they have the funds for it after paying for transport and utilities.

Obviously losing the stress caused by trying to just make ends meet will cut the number of people needing medical help and if those same people eat healthily then there is even less chance of them adding strain to the medical system thereby cutting NHS costs exponentially.

Once people have the basics covered then they are happier and hope is restored, that hope allows them to get on with life; people with hope are less inclined to turn to crime and happy people are less likely to turn to anti-social behaviour which means the strain on our police force would likely be reduced.

I know this is only the barest outline of what would be required to sort out our problems and set this in motion and I know that it would not run as smoothly as I envisage at first, but it’s still the simplest option to my mind of a way out.

Sadly this will never happen because the government only care about the rich because that is the way the world works, the rich come to power and those in power look at the ways they can make life better for themselves and their immediate circle; yes we all want the power to do that but 98.5% of us will never have the chance and the hope of a better life is getting increasingly smaller for everyone else with every year that passes.

All grown up.

I had a moment yesterday. One of those eureka moments that come when you least expect them.

I was at the vitality show in London, it’s been an annual event for me and a friend for the last 3 years; more an excuse for a girls day out than anything else but we enjoy it. This moment happened while I was waiting for her late arrival; a stall holder stopped me and asked “are you happy with your life and the direction it has taken?” And my unhesitating response was “yes.”

I will admit that there are aspects of my life that could be improved but I have no doubt in my mind that those improvements will occur in time.

The whole show up to that point had seemed a little disappointing; usually at an event of this type I will learn something new to enrich myself or empower myself in some way but this year, nothing. I’d heard it all before or was already doing it. That is when it hit me.

I finally fit in my own skin. I know myself and more importantly I’m happy with myself. I bloody ROCK! That was my take home from this years event and its the best yet. Who knew I’d be all grown up and matured by the age of 36? Not me that’s for sure. I’ll just clap my hands, do a jig and blow an imaginary trumpet for a while before getting some kip, long day of marking ahead of me but you know what? I don’t mind. Life is good people, you just have to live it.

I haz career!

That’s right people – no longer am I on probation as a teacher – I’m now officially a permanent member of staff.

I so like that word: ‘permanent’

…has a nice ring to it eh?!

Because the night…

…Does not just belong to lovers. Oh aye, it’s been a while but having just stepped outside to drop the rubbish round to the communal bins I was struck with how much more ALIVE I feel at night. It reminded me of all the times I would go for long walks in the dark by myself and how much I loved the feel of the night time air on my skin and the quality of that air in my lungs.

Yup – much as I adore sunshine these days I have to admit that I still prefer the night and were I the single lass I once was with no ties or obligations I’d doubtless still be taking those midnight-3am rambles through the dark. I know, it’s not considered safe – and yes, were elf ever to do such a thing I’d likely kick off into the stratosphere because motherhood makes you irrational like that but still, being outside under the stars feels like freedom.

It’s quieter, less crowded and that little hint of possible danger just heightens your awareness of everything around you making the limitless possibilities of life more apparent. Everybody needs a touch of that in their life I reckon. Except elf – she will remain in her tower until she finds a prince to carry her off away from her dragon of a mother.

Teaching influenc-ez…

I’ve realised today that I appear to have unconsciously imitated Mr Bruten.

This guy left an indelible mark on me (along with the knowledge of the meaning of ‘pugnacious’) he taught us English language in secondary school for one term and will always be one of my favourite teachers in memory. He was a pleasant enough guy but you put a single foot wrong and he would turn on you like a terrier with a rat. He peppered his lessons with random information (such as the meanings of long and seldom used words) and would do things like make us repeat him in a sort of sing song chorus in order to get his point across (I’ve yet to try this one with my guys but now I’ve remembered it I can see it happening).

He was friendly but demanded obedience, he made things fun but kept you on your toes with his mercurial moods, if he said he had a headache and didn’t want to hear a sound then (usually once Ricky McCormick had been forcibly ejected from the room) there was not a peep to be heard – if there was then the offender would usually be rubbing the part of their anatomy which had been struck by an accurately thrown piece of chalk; unless the question was one that had not been covered in the lesson delivery (I may have to institute a nerf gun policy for this purpose…)

There were also the days when we had pleased him so much that he’d just out of nowhere produce a pocket full of sweets and start handing them around at the end of the class.

I think the thing I liked most about his classes was the unpredictability of them; even when reading he would find some way of shaking things up. This is how I want to be. Learning should be fun, it should be something you look forward to doing because life is far too short to do things that make you want to slam your head through a window. Yes, I realise it is impossible to make things fun all the time – but it is also far too easy to make things boring; I refuse to take the easy route, I want my kids to take something from the class beyond the required material; I want them to start thinking as well.

This is why I’ve attempted to incorporate the use of chat rooms, in-class exercise contests and allow little bit of free chat where I will answer practically ANY question asked of me – OK so occasionally my response may be ‘is that really appropriate?’ but I think  a small amount of an ‘anything goes’ laxity within a moderated space is healthy; these guys come from all walks of life and incredibly varied backgrounds – if you can’t address that in some fashion in the classroom then what exactly are we teaching them beyond the requirements of an assignment?

I just hope I’m not quite as mercurial as Mr Bruten on the mood front; I will admit that he was a tad scary on occasion…

Apples for teacher…

It’s been an interesting few weeks as I get to grips with being a PAID lecturer, yup – got a contract and everything: finally getting cash for telling people what to do. Oh wait – I used to do that when I was a bouncer.. Meh, the more things change…

The main difference with the kind of teaching I’m doing now compared to the informal stuff I did with the various projects I was involved with is that I’m mostly delivering content created by other people a(one module being the exception) and having to deal with the admin side of things that previously I’d never even realised existed. You’d not believe the amount of paperwork a teacher has to deal with outside of the classroom – and I’m not just talking marking and registers!

I started off by being thrown right in at the deep end on a topic I’ve not looked at since my 1st semester on the FD for an FE class – a level I’ve never studied let alone taught – I don’t know the system, the marking scheme, the VLE navigation… Was quite nerve wracking trying to learn all of that AND refresh my memory on the subject to be taught from the supplied course materials.

Lets just say it was NOT a good first experience; I couldn’t get into the room because I’d been given the wrong key code, then I couldn’t get into the staff room to get help because I’d forgotten to bring the code for that room downstairs with me, then I couldn’t access the computer system in the classroom, then somehow my files had corrupted between the staff room and the classroom…

I basically fell to pieces and used up the extent of my subject knowledge in the first 15 minutes trying to busk it from the top of my head, got them to attempt the group task I’d carefully planned without the benefit of the slides I’d prepared (because I couldn’t follow the slides available on the VLE) then when I did finally manage to access the VLE had to use those slides anyway and probably just confused the poor kids as opposed to educate ’em because the stress of the situation kicked off the CFS induced ‘aphasia’ which meant I was clearly struggling to find every other word to describe what needed to be said.

So… Not a great start. In fact quite possibly the most embarrassing 3hrs of my life so far.

I had no issues with my first HE class though; probably because I know the subject well enough to teach without slides if need be, I know the VLE system intimately and it’s an age group I can (just about) relate to – so well within my comfort zone – the fact that they were a ‘nice’ bunch of kids may have helped – receptive, intelligent and obviously wanting to learn for the most part – they’re looking likely to be my ‘faves’ so far.

The other HE classes have caused me no issues for the same reason – though I did get a little riled at this afternoons lot but hopefully next week they’ll remember what I said and understand that when I speak they listen – I’m not wasting my time repeating myself over their chat!  ..But even the FE class this week was good – I managed to pull back and cover 2 weeks worth of work in the first session, go over their new assignment AND do a few 1-2-1’s after some group feedback on the 1st assignment.

Sadly it seems I took on more hours than I can really cope with. I’ll be honest, I only took into account classroom hours when I agreed to my timetable – I naively didn’t realise there was so much  more to being a lecturer than just tweaking my slides, showing up to impart knowledge and the odd bit of marking:

I ended up having an ME/CFS incident after my first class today and had to go lie down in the medical room for an hour to stave off the shakes and imminent crash. Brought home that I need to be careful at this early stage so it was either lose 2 HE groups or the one FE unit, thankfully it’s the FE unit I’m to lose so that’s going to free up a lot more time to allow me to pace myself; would be a total pisser if I finally get a job and get off benefits only to end up back in bed and on ESA for good.

The really annoying thing about losing the FE class though is that I nearly killed myself last weekend getting into London for a one-day passport appointment for the CRB check; cost me a sodding fortune as well! I don’t need a CRB for HE teaching so all that money and effort turned out to be unnecessary *sigh* always the way eh?!

So, one more week of pushing myself then I can dial it back a bit and settle into a routine. What’s really tickled me though is that the one thing that seems to have surprised some of the staff is my ability to keep a class under control – I can honestly say that’s never been among my concerns – I’ve chucked guys twice my age and size through a fire door so I have no problem telling a bunch of noisy kids to shut up and pay attention.

It’s weird though – I find myself slipping into my ‘mum’ voice if students displease me – the way I speak to Elf when she’s playing up is the exact tone they get *grin* seems motherhood is good training for teaching; either that or doing door work for 6 years was all preparation; mind you so were the admin and customer service jobs when I hit the staff room.. See, everything happens for a reason: I’ve been unknowingly training for this job my entire life ;0)

[insert interesting title here] my PhD studentship proposal

So today I handed this in along with my application form and two embarrassingly glowing references (which I honestly wish I could frame over my workstation to buck me up on THOSE days when I’m struggling to do a task I’ve set myself and am staring at the screen thinking “I’m so shit at EVERYTHING!”)

…But I digress.

Most of you will have no interest in the topic which has had me scouring google scholar for papers I could access (and to the delightful love who loaned me his athens details for the last few days I shall be eternally grateful as without that this proposal would likely never have been finished on time!)

But.. for those of you who ARE interested in VLE’s and PLE’s and actually know what they are – here’s my research proposal: (I know, the title could use a little help but if I actually do get the studentship I’ll have 3 years to work on it)

Developing PLE 3.0: a look at web 2.0 and the HCI considerations for use in an integrated composite based system

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the field of electronic learning (E-learning), prompted in no small part by the changes in our global economy and the different methods and technologies now freely available for educational resourcing. A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or in the case of large institutions a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) is arguably the most important component in the commercial E-learning delivery system.

Despite its long success, the commercial VLE has a number of problems in use as outlined in this observation from Vance Stevens in the electronic journal ‘On the internet’ (2012) who states:

“Even worse are the pedagogical implications of reliance on one-stop LMS. To varying degrees, both Bb and Moodle put course developers into a straitjacket when they call into play the same features over and over. This is not to say that neither program allows imaginative development, but it’s difficult for lay teachers to break away from templates that look alike and do exactly what they purport to do, manage learning. The problem is that too often, it’s the LMS that manages the learning and not the teacher as course designer…“

Seven years ago Siemens (2004) accurately described how the pre-packaged LMS ‘straitjacket’ approach is at odds with the rapidly changing demands on learners and those words are as true today as they were then:

“It appears that our real-life manner of learning is at odds with the design and implementations of most LMS. Strongly structured tools, with limited extensibility, face short life cycles in rapidly changing environments. Modularized approaches give the instructor or learner (not the administrator or organization) the control to follow the meandering paths of rich learning. Selecting specialized tools to achieve specific tasks – and being able to add them to the learning environment quickly – are critical to rich learning ecologies.”

Debate still continues about the best strategies for the management of online learning resources and the student experience resulting in newer technologies and a slow rise in educators breaking away from their institutional MLE’s to create a more personalised learning environment (PLE).

This occurs even in cases where the institutional MLE allows the use of in-house versions of the desired web 2.0 tools, as we discovered during the CABLE 3.0 ‘To build a virtual learning community across the Hertfordshire HE consortium’ project in 2008 (which first piqued my interest in the field of E-learning and VLE’s in particular).

We also learned while presenting at various conferences (University of Hertfordshire International Blended Learning conference 2009, 2010 and 2011 and University of Greenwich ‘Future Learningscapes’ 2010) that, due to their ease of use, blogging platforms such as WordPress or blogger are increasingly being chosen for use as e-portfolios across different disciplines.

The supposition of this proposal is that the main reason for such a migration is that there are Human Computer Interaction (HCI) issues within the use of the institutional offerings which make migration a more attractive solution to educators than simply learning how to use the in house options. This theory is based primarily upon findings made during my involvement in the CABLE 3.0 project, and observations shared whilst part of the ESCAPE and the HEA Inclusive cultures projects. Conversations with members of my extensive personal learning network on twitter, specifically regarding the use of blogs and wikis, alongside a recent in depth literature review on VLE design characteristics support the theory that it is indeed HCI considerations which are leading to PLE uptake:

“…For example, interface, respectively, screen design is found to show an impact on users’ perceived functionality of a VLE (Cho et al., 2009). That is, the better the visual appeal of the VLE’s graphical user interface is, the more users perceive the VLE to exhibit appropriate system functionalities.”

Mueller, Daniel and Strohmeier, Stefan (2011) p2511

The definition of a PLE as given at a conference in 2011 would suggest adaptation of a large legacy system to allow for such integration may be more time cost effective than attempting to change the institutional offering to attempt to match user expectations and the more specialised web 2.0 tools.

“From a technological point of view PLE can be defined as an integration framework that incorporates 2.0 technologies, supports interaction with other learning contexts, facilitates interoperability with other existing systems (such as learning content and resource repositories and VLE) and provides monitoring systems for learner’s activity.”

Conde et al (2011)

As this conference paper shows, work has already been undertaken to allow such integration to occur in LMS platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard, but from my observations of conference presentations over the last 4 years it seems WordPress is steadily gaining ground as the chosen content management system (CMS) at the heart of these PLE’s; purely because of the gentle learning curve for new users and its flexibility with regards integration with web 2.0 tools.

To add a pertinent example; my Bachelor of Science final year project was to build a website for a peripatetic music teacher that allowed some VLE functionality and her request was specifically for a WordPress installation for the perceived ease of use.

Therefore it seems reasonable to extend and develop this work and look at the ways in which a managed learning environment could integrate with this type of WordPress based PLE; perhaps by using an industry standard such as Basic LTI in a similar manner to the work on Moodle as highlighted at the 2009 CETIS conference. The beauty of such an approach is that there would be no reason for the institution to change the VLE, this would just allow the incorporation of web 2.0 tools to allow more flexibility for its users.

However, before this could occur there needs to be a PLE which reflects the reasons for migration from the institutional MLE and to discover which web 2.0 tools are currently being used in such a manner and for what purposes.

It is not the intention to suggest any company or institution need replace their current VLE in favour of the proposed PLE model, the final aim of the proposed PhD research is to provide a clear indication of the areas where integration with readily available web 2.0 tools is more favourable than further development of standalone ‘plugins’ thereby reducing the time cost of VLE design and maintenance in line with the Agile principle of eliminating waste.

To this end, the main questions this PhD research proposal seeks to answer are:

  1. What are the staff and students reasons for migration to PLE from MLE?
  2. What are the preferred web 2.0 tools?
  3. Why were they chosen?
  4. Of the most popular, which tools are best suited for inclusion in a ‘one-stop’ PLE model with a view to allowing MLE integration?

At a global level, this data would enable a component based system to be modelled that allows for an adaptable web based ‘PLE 3.0’. Having a PLE model would give educators the ability to ‘plug in’ the most suitable web 2.0 components for the course needs without having to do a lengthy search and suitability evaluation process themselves. In effect, this would give them the advantage of a commercial VLE without the lock-in of a template driven course design.

Having such data available would also be of use to the open source community who are responsible for the design and maintenance of many of the web 2.0 tools in use by educators. This would hopefully lead to improvements in such products and possibly even an interest in making such interoperability for VLE integration a priority in future versions.

A web 2.0 PLE model would also likely be of value to the commercial sector as it would mean small businesses could set up training packages using such tools in this manner with minimal cost and effort. At a corporate level, this would likely be an attractive alternative to current commercial VLE offerings as it would mean using tools already utilised in their every day workflow thereby cutting down on training overheads.

Future study would seek to answer the question of how such integration could take place and which would be the best method to use.

 

Resources:

Stevens, Vance (2012) “Learner-centered Do-it-yourself Learning Management Systems” The electronic journal for English as a second language: On the Internet 15(4) p 2. Available [online] at http://tesl-ej.org/pdf/ej60/int.pdf accessed 15th June 2012

Siemens, George (2004) “Learning Management Systems; the wrong place to start learning” Available at http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/lms.htm accessed 15/06/2012 accessed 15th June 2012

Cho, V., Cheng, E. T. C., & Lai, J. W. M. (2009). The role of perceived user-interface design in continued usage intention of self-paced e-learning tools. Computers & Education, 53(2), pp216–227 Cited in: Mueller, Daniel and Strohmeier, Stefan (2011) Design characteristics of virtual learning environments: state of research Computers & Education 57(4) pp2505-2516 available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131511001461  accessed 20th June 2012

Personal Learning Environment conference (2011) Merging Learning Management Systems and Personal Learning Environments. Proceedings of the PLE Conference. Conde, Miguel A. and García, Francisco J. and Alier, Marc and Casany, María J (authors) 10th – 12th July 2011. Southampton, UK. available at http://journal.webscience.org/559/  accessed 17th June 2012

JISC CETIS (2009) Composing your learning environment: new models. Proceedings of the JISC CETIS conference; A Brave New World. Kraan, Wilbert and MacNeill, Sheila 10th -11th November 2009. Aston available at http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/index.php?title=Composing_your_Learning_Environment%3B_new_models&oldid=18201 accessed 14th June 2012

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So, if you got this far you either REALLY like this field or you’re in complete procrastination mode at work – if the latter then SHAME ON YOU *cracks whip* get back to work! …If the former – whaddaya think? I obviously think of this as an interesting topic for research and I’m dying to get the lowdown on what web 2.0 tools people use in their course delivery – I’m even more interested in learning WHY those specific tools were chosen, how they’re being used and what the opinion is of them in use.

Somehow 3 years doesn’t seem long enough for this project when you look at it like that.