Scroll on!

catzI think I’ve mentioned before that blog posts are like buses: nothing for months, and then three come along all at once – and having noticed that I haven’t written any blog posts for a good six months I feel as if i should give an explanation. It’s not because I’m lazy, neither is it because I haven’t had the time. Quite simply, it’s because I haven’t done anything ‘blogworthy’ for a while.

I’m not complaining. There’s no need to PM me and ask if I’m OK (hun) because my life is dull and unrewarding. Far from it – I’ve enjoyed a beautifully hot summer awash with gin, friends and travel, been on some lovely walks both here and abroad, visited the biggest cavern system in Europe (in Slovenia), and spent some proper quality time with my family in Cornwall and Stafford, but my job has been unremarkable. Not uninteresting, not ‘bad’ – just unremarkable.

I could have blogged about the number of requests I get every day from staff wanting to be enrolled to modules on our VLE, or the drop in sessions I run around lecture capture, the day-to-day instructional design projects I’m working through, the technology strategy I’m writing for the school, the new curricula the School is currently putting forward to various University panels and boards that will be delivered using blended learning and the flipped classroom (hence the lecture capture training sessions)…but none of this is really exciting enough to blog about. And why would anyone be in the least bit interested?

But…and I refer you back to that first sentence…the past few weeks have seen a couple of things happen that I think are worth talking about. So look out for posts in the next week or so around the following:

The Wales Deanery Conference (Sharing Training Excellence in Medical Education) I was invited to speak at, which meant I got to visit the Cardiff City Stadium (rather than just drive past it, as I usually do)

The Festival of Enhancing Learning with Technology (FELT): an event I organised and ‘put on’ for School staff which, if nothing else, gave me the opportunity to buy a Fuzzy Felt kit in order to design the posters

And next week I’m going to Finland as part of an exchange / sharing good practice week, which should warrant a post, even if it is just photos of me at the Moomin Museum in Tampere…so watch this space (though you shouldn’t have to watch for too long…)

 

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Disgruntled from Cardiff Writes:

BBCEvery evening, at 6.30 I settle down to watch the local news, and (just about) every day, without fail, the lead story involves failings within the Welsh NHS. It’s disheartening, and is starting to feel like propaganda: designed to make the populace hate the NHS to the point where we will agree to a fully  privatised health system. That or I’m paranoid and need to lay off the George Orwell novels and stop listening to Russell Brand. Anyway, here’s what I had to say:

Dear Sir / Madam

I just don’t get it. I moved here almost 3 years ago from my native Cornwall having fallen in love with Wales, and now work at UHW, Cardiff. Not for the NHS, but Cardiff University. So I may not be a medic (I’m actually an elearning designer for health care students. But that’s neither here nor there), but I do see hospital life up close every day.

Ah, the NHS. Now there’s something you should be proud of. Your service here (despite what David Cameron may say) is fantastic. Your doctors and nurses are awesome. You have free prescriptions. GPs and receptionists alike are kind, patient and caring. And you invented it all. The Welsh are awesome.

So why are you so intent on damning it every single day? It started off as a bit of a joke in our house: we turn on the local television news at 6.30 and have a bet that the leading story will be about failings in the NHS. Inevitably, I win. Funny (and lucrative at 50p per bet) at first…but now it is making me pretty fed up. And my partner (who is Welsh) is starting to find it all a bit upsetting too.

The NHS makes mistakes. Though it’s so underfunded, understaffed, over-managed and overlooked, and staff on the frontline so exhausted and demoralised, it’s a wonder it doesn’t make more. What it needs is funding, but just as importantly, it needs support. And to have the same nation who came up with the concept of a National Health Service savage their own system every evening (and, in turn, planting the seeds and then fanning the flames of mistrust and anger in your audience)-it’s like me going back home to Cornwall and telling everyone that pasties are evil.

Flippancy aside, please would you consider turning down the relentless criticism? The NHS is having a terrible time across the UK as it is!

I’m not expecting to receive a reply, and I’m not the type to write letters of complaint – but bloody hell, I feel better for having had a rant!

Ignite Cardiff 

IMG_0323That’s not a plea to set fire to my current place of residence, but the name of a bi-monthly presentation night hosted at a The Glee Club in Cardiff Bay.  The premise is simple. 10 presenters deliver a talk about absolutely anything. But there is, of course, a catch: each presentation lasts no more than 5 minutes and is build around 20 Powerpoint slides timed to last exactly 20 seconds.

Until a colleague mentioned Ignite, I had been aware of neither the presentation style nor concept of events based around them. However, I was aware of – and have used – PechaKucha, of which this is a variation.  I still have no idea what impelled me, but I found myself checking out the website and, on an impulse, applied to be a speaker. I truly believed that I would not be invited to speak, so was delighted when I was.

I abandoned my first presentation. ‘We’re not so Different, you and me’ looked at the many and varied similarities between Wales and Cornwall but my heart wasn’t in the subject so I couldn’t feel enthusiastic about the finished product. I spent many frustrating hours tweaking my slides, but only felt truly happy when I decided to change the subject completely and settled on a theme that I feel more comfortable with: Doctor Who, or more specifically, ‘How Doctor Who Saved me from Becoming an Evil Overlord’.

Having delivered dozens of presentations and addresses over the years I was surprised at how nervous I was. It’s easy to espouse the benefits of student analytics and QR codes to your peers and nerves have never been an issue for me. I enjoy speaking publicly (but, oddly, clam up in public when around anyone I don’t know) and a larger audience doesn’t intimidate me. This time though, I experienced a proper dose of stage fright, as you can see in my very nervy performance:

Though I wasn’t terrible, I certainly couldn’t compete with most of the other presentations I saw that night. But that’s alright. It has made me look at my delivery from the ground up and there’s certainly some stuff to I need to work on (pace, stance, language use and hair style being just a few). And I’ll tell you what: in a year I am going to ask if I can present at a future Ignite event, and if they let me I am going to be a whole lot better.

Media, Misogyny, Meh.

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I’m really not a feminist. I sigh when I realise that we still need to use the term ‘feminism’ because if things really were equal then the word would no longer need to exist. But I’m certainly not a feminist in the paid-up, card-carrying sense of the word. Indeed, I often find myself letting the sisterhood down when I see an example of bad driving and instantly assume that the culprit will be a woman (95% of the time I’m correct), and I shudder when I overhear baby talk, discussions based around the ‘squee-factor’ of shoes, chocolate, Internet memes featuring kittens, pink (the colour, not the popstrel. Though I’m not keen) and the merits of Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones over David Tennant’s floppy hair. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I do not find women in the slightest bit funny. Comediennes tend to make unfunny jokes about their weight, the menstrual cycle, baby talk, the ‘squee-factor’ of shoes, chocolate, Internet memes featuring kittens and the merits of Benedict Cumberbatch’s floppy hair over David Tennant’s cheekbones. Jo Brand has made an entire career out of saying ‘Yes, I’m fat’ and ‘ I like cakes’ in a sarcastic voice.

So often women often leave me staring at the ground, shaking my head and muttering “we don’t do ourselves any favours do we?”

But I will stand up for my gender when I think that we are ALL being mistreated with the same brush (to mix a metaphor). And, as a result, I am getting sick of the press and its obvious hatred of women.

Last week there were reports across the media that declared that experts at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists were concerned about the possibility of cosmetics, non-stick frying pans and domestic cleaning products harming unborn babies. Pregnant women who have already given up alcohol and smoking (admittedly, probably for the best) have also had to give up eating cheese, eggs and fish and are now being advised to stop wearing makeup. Well, that’s a step closer to making expectant mothers endure pregnancy in a darkened cave wearing a hessian sack and eating gravel. Ha! I can see those wartime propaganda posters now: You are gestating while terror is waiting!

Don’t think that if you aren’t pregnant there’s any escape. Yesterday I read with interest that professional women are 70% more likely to get breast cancer if they have a more high powered career. Admittedly, the report was in the Daily Mail (read it here) which has to be the most neurotic, out of touch and misogynistic newspaper this country is proud to publish. But a quick trawl through the online content of newspapers with opposing political views brings no relief: Here’s a link to an article titled: ‘It’s been a bad week for women’ and taken from the Guardian on the 31st May. The article is no more than a roundup of the week’s anti-women news from around the globe. Indeed, it ends as this post thematically started, with the following statement:

‘Last year’s “war on women” was written off as campaign rhetoric. But the problem is we’re still seeing similar issues crop up a year later. Men on major TV networks are belittling women’s roles and intelligence, and major media companies are reducing women to their appearance.’

Television advertisements are also shudderingly sexist and awful – designed to make us feel so full of self loathing that we dare not even leave the cave for fear of being judged as too revolting and stupid to be allowed to live. Nowadays, every little bit of body fat has its own name (so we can be even more aware of its existence) and 1000 different (and useless) products are targeted at making women try to blitz whatever perceived evils our muffin tops / bingo wings / cankles /fat ears have. And whereas adverts for male beauty products promise to make the user ‘even more sexually dominant and manly than they already are’, women’s are designed to ‘make you less gruesome, because without this product, people WILL spit at you in the street. Which is all you deserve, you ugly, stupid bitch.’ And what’s with the ‘perfect family ‘ in adverts, which always consists of a gorgeous, skinny, compliant and dead-eyed mother, two belligerent children (one boy, one girl) and borderline-disgusting fat slob of a husband? Though I guess ‘The Flintstones’ got that particular ball rolling and shows like ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy’ perpetuate the myth…be this done ironically or with animated tongue firmly in cheek or not.

So…what do we do? My suggestion may not be a popular one.

Women need to stop feeding into this attitude by doing exactly the sort of things that just make them look ….well…vapid, vain, ditzy and as nothing more than bait ripe for the journalists feeding into this aforementioned war on women. Stop the simpering, the inane conversations about cupcakes and the trout-pout selfies on Facebook. Switch over from Britain’s got the X Factor on Ice once in a while and watch something with some depth. Learn something other than how to stick on false nails and hair extensions. Stop dwelling on how pretty you look / don’t look today or how big your breasts are / should be and think about the amazing mind you have. You can’t feed into the problem by screaming “Oooh, shiny thing” and fading out of the real world when you walk past a jeweler’s shop then bleat about inequality when you read yet another article about how rubbish women are.

We behave the way we are expected to behave. So the press keeps hammering home the fact that we are vapid and stupid and incapable of anything other than sitting in a cave eating gravel and giving birth. And instead of saying that this is not actually the case, we continue to act true to type, soak up all the anti-women crap that is thrown at us, then fill up Facebook with pictures of kittens and pink, sparkly, 6 inch heels. And this means the media is winning.

Meh.

Victoria Meldrew

It’s time to admit that I suffer from a very 21st century condition.  I’m not sure if it officially exists, or if anyone else suffers from the same condition.  My problem?  Pavement Rage.

Ok, so this isn’t my usual ILT-related post.  More a rant I suppose.  But today I noticed just how angry I get with other pedestrians.

I decided to walk to work today.  It’s about a mile and a half, it’s all gently uphill, and it’s about time I started getting fit again after a lazy and slightly Bacchanalian summer. (Can you be ‘slightly Bacchanalian’?  Isn’t that an oxymoron, like ‘friendly fire’ and ‘Microsoft works’?)  A couple of months of far too many vodka-based drinks, cheeseburgers, pub meals, rhubarb crumble ice-cream cones and slobbing in front of The Jeremy Kyle Show have left me feeling flabby and my jeans feeling a little tighter than they did 3 months ago.  I’m wandering into the realms of giving you far too much information (FTMI) and I’m digressing.  Walking to work today was the most irritating, frustrating and foolhardy journey I have made since I walked home from work yesterday afternoon and here’s why.

We’re all cocooned in invisible bubbles of self-absorption, and this morning that meant that, because I had to keep walking into the path of two way traffic for a variety of reasons, I ran the risk of being run over several times.  So (adopts Sir Jimmy Saville voice) guys and gals, here’s this week’s Top 4  of things I noticed that gave me Pavement Rage today:

  1. People walking towards me two or three abreast who wouldn’t temporarily re-arrange themselves and walk single-file while I was trying to pass them – so I had to step into the road to get around them.
  2. Pedestrians shambling and shuffling up the hill ahead of me so slowly that I thought they may be making Shaun of the Dead 2.  I looked around hoping to see Simon Pegg or Nick Frost…but to no avail.  Again, as I didn’t want to meander to work myself, overtaking meant stepping into the road.
  3. People tacking haphazardly across the pavement and back, their unpredictable path meaning that in order to overtake I had to…yes, you guessed it…step off the pavement.  Or to just get past if they were bobbing towards me.  And in every instance, the directionless meandering was caused by much concentration on mobile phone screens and frantic tapping away at miniature keyboards and no thought to where they were going.  I wonder how many accidents have been caused by people just wandering into roads or over cliffs through mobile phone fixation?!
  4. People dropping their children to school and parking on the pavement, so as to allow the road to remain clear for other drivers. Guess what I had to do to get around all the 4x4s lined up o the pavement of Charlestown Road?  Yep – step off the pavement…which is for walkers, not drivers.  (It’s like those rare, sunny days when non-smokers hog all the smoking areas outside pubs, then glare at smokers who come outside for a fag.  Especially if they’re eating.  You wanted us outdoors!  You segregated us!  Don’t use our designated area and then have a go at us for being where you sent us!)
Yep. I know, I know:  I sound like ‘Disgruntled of Chorlton-cum-Hardy’ and will now start ranting about the youth of today and how there are no manners shown in public anymore…but this seems to go deeper than that.  Plus, age doesn’t count, as there are as many guilty parties of pensionable age as there are people under 25.  So why is nobody aware of anyone else anymore?

I could blame technology (to a degree) and our newfound reliability on it 24 hours a day:  I’m always hooked up to my iPod, but even when yodelling my loudest rendition of Morrissey’s Last of the Famous International Playboys I’m aware of other people, vehicles and wildlife on the roads / pavements, and adjust my speed / direction accordingly.  I don’t use my phone when walking (unless it rings) because I’m terrified of wandering off a cliff.  If I’m with someone else it’s automatic for one of us to drop behind the other when faced with oncoming pedestrians. So are we all now so self absorbed that we simply don’t notice anything anymore?  Or, more worryingly, so self absorbed that we do notice other people…but don’t give a toss about them?

Scary thought…oh, and normal service will be resumed next blog entry…

What I did on World Book Night

Before you read on, be warned.  This blog post contains nothing relating to technology nor does it explicitly talk about education, though it perhaps skirts around both topics. 

 

Still there? Excellent.  I’ll get to it.

 

This year I decided to get involved in World Book Night, something I was aware of but had never really explored. Now, looking at the frequency of my blog posts makes me realise that I am, fundamentally, a lazy blogger. This is most ironic, as a lazy blogger is an un-read blogger. But I really don’t have the linguistic prowess to answer your question: what’s World Book Night? I ramble, digress, go off topic and can’t keep things simple. So here’s what the WBN website says:

 

“World Book Night is a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift books in their communities to share their love of reading.

 

In 2012 World Book Night will be celebrated in the UK, Ireland, Germany and USA on April 23.

 

In the UK, 20,000 passionate readers will gift 24 copies of one of their favourite books to encourage those who don’t regularly read to fall in love with reading. In addition World Book Night will be giving a further 620,000 books over the course of the year directly to the hardest to reach readers through prisons, care homes, hospitals, sheltered housing, homeless shelters, libraries and through other partner charities.

 

Take a minute to remember what it was that made you first fall in love with reading: the incredible passion you felt, and still feel, for books, for stories; the excited feeling you still get when you pick up a book that you just can’t wait to read and think about the places it will take you, the people you’ll meet and the joy you’ll get from reading it.

 

Now think about the millions of people who have never been on that journey or who, somewhere along the way, have forgotten how incredible it can be. Think about the power of putting a book in to their hands and saying ‘this one’s amazing, you have to read it’.

 

World Book Night reaches out to those who don’t regularly read by using passionate book lovers around the country to become reading ambassadors and to do just that within their communities, book by book, reader by reader, hand to hand, getting the whole country reading.

 

25 titles are specially chosen and printed in World Book Night editions. Givers apply for a particular book (they get a first, second and third choice) which they must commit to gift to those who don’t regularly read, to share and spread their love of reading. Givers collect their books from their local bookshops and libraries, putting the very heart of our reading communities at the very heart of World Book Night.

 

It is difficult to quantify the value of reading on people’s lives, especially given the shocking statistics in the UK that outlines that one person in six struggles to read and write. Poor skills compromise health and well-being, confidence and employability. World Book Night’s charitable mission is to advance the education of the public by assisting in the promotion of literacy and the celebration of books and reading by creating unique moments which focus attention on adult literacy. By focusing on the enjoyment and engagement of reading we aim to reach and inspire those who have never discovered the value or pleasure of reading.

 

Over half of adults of working age (56%) have literacy skills below the level of a good GCSE; 16% are at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old.1  The report Literacy: State of the Nation found that one in six people in the UK struggle with literacy; a quarter of young people do not recognise a link between reading and success in later life; and men and women with poor literacy skills are least likely to be in full-time employment at the age of thirty.

 

Statistics show that:

•    22% of men and 30% of women with literacy below entry level 2 live in non-working households;

•    41% of employers are concerned about their employees’ basic literacy skills;

•    63% of men and 75% of women with very low literacy skills have never received a promotion at work;

•    Increased literacy rates improve the chances of using a PC at work from 48% to 65%;

•    Individuals with poor basic skills are much more likely to report being ‘not at all’ interested in politics (42% for men and 50% of women with poor basic skills compared with 17% for men and 21% for women with good basic skills);

•    Women with low literacy skills are five times more likely than those with average or good literacy skills to be depressed.

 

This is at a time when adult engagement in literary activity in the UK is low. A 2005 Book Marketing Limited study showed that ‘‘a third of people have not bought a book in the previous 12 months and 34% of people never read.

 

Research into libraries’ use of reading for pleasure with adults with literacy needs establish that simple interventions such as World Book Night can make a real difference to people’s motivation to learn, as well as in developing their confidence and skills.

 

World Book Night are committed to reaching the hardest to reach potential readers. In 2011 we worked with Lemos and Crane to target prisons with a pilot programme which saw 7000 books delivered in to more than 90 prisons and young offenders institutes around the country. You can read a brief report on 2011’s prison programme here. Books are supplied not just for prisoners but also for prison staff and prisoners families so that shadow reading is possible, creating the opportunity for shared experience and understanding. In 2012 we’re substantially increasing our reach in to prisons with almost 70,000 books being delivered in to more than 110 prisons and young offenders institutes. We are also working with English PEN on a series of prison visits by writers and with Prison Reading Groups on close prisoner reading support.

 

April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature. It is both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, as well as the death day of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist. It is in their honour that UNESCO appointed it the international day of the book and that we choose it to celebrate World Book Night. April 23rd also marks the city of Barcelona’s celebration of St George’s Day. St George is the patron saint of Catalonia as well as England and traditionally, to celebrate this day, Spanish gentlemen gave their ladies roses and the ladies returned the favour with a book. Considering the rich literary history of this day, it seemed more than fitting that April 23rd should be chosen as the day of celebrating reading and the giving of books.”

 

So what’s not to love? If you’d like to find out more, and maybe think about becoming a giver next year, visit the WBN website here. Or take a look at what I did this year below. It was a fantastic experience and I’m really looking forward to struggling home under the weight of 24 books next year!

 

 MY WORLD BOOK NIGHT BY BEX FERRIDAY, AGE 41

 

STEP 1: Pick up my allocated books from St Austell Library.  Take them home, almost giving myself a hernia in the process.  (It’s a mile and a half from my house to the library and I do not drive.)

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STEP 2: Unpack books, then write my name, the location the books were picked up from and each book’s unique identifying number.  Sadly, my handwriting is just nasty, so I’m hoping people can read the numbers at the very least…otherwise there will be no way of tracking where the books have travelled to and how many people have read them.

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STEP 3: Give the books out to a variety of places – the first being the Learning Centre at Cornwall College’s St Austell campus…

STEP 2: Into town now with the rest of the books.  First stop, STAK: St Austell’s soup kitchen

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STEP 3: Second (and final) stop: the Go! St Austell Shopmobility Bookshop. Do check this link – to find out more about the Shopmobility scheme and the bookshop.

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And now for Something Completely Different…

Unlike other enthusiasts and educators working in the learning technology sector, my blog isn’t completely ILT-centric.  I think it’s because I don’t quite see myself as the font of all wisdom when it comes to technology – just someone with a natural curiosity and enthusiasm who has landed on her feet and now does something she genuinely enjoys. I read posts of other, more established Learning Technologists out there and their knowledge blows my mind, and leaves me crawling, Luddite-like, to my armchair looking for a quill pen and a piece of parchment on which to scribe my next blog post.  As a result, today’s wittering has nothing to do with ILT – other than the fact that the images included were taken on my iPod Touch then played with using Instagram.  But, as always, I digress…

A guy who lives across the road from me has decided to do something with the huge, dead tree stump that sits in his front garden.  Has he chopped it down and used it as firewood?  Nope.  He has employed an artist with a chainsaw that Leatherface would be proud to weald to turn it ito a scultpure of King Neptune. Not only that, but he has actively invited people to take photos of the work in progess.  Importantly though, the local blacksmith has installed a collection box into the stone wall next to the tree so that people can show their appreciation by donating their spare change to charity. (Yes!  I live in a village with a local Blacksmith!  It’s like Downton Abbey with the Internet!)

This has really brightened my day.  It’s great that a rotting old treestump has been recycled and gone from eyesore to work of art.  But the really heartwarming stuff is the fact that the owner is delighted to have people take photos – and he’s not just doing this to make his garden look nicer.  He’s doing it to raise money for the local children’s hospice too.  It’s made me like the human race just a little bit more – and as we fall ever deeper into the Recession Without End (TM) these simple, beautiful gestures make me feel warm and happy inside.  And god knows, we all need a bit of warm and happy at the moment.

So here are a couple of photos: one taken on the day work began, and one taken yesterday, about a week into the project.  Apparently there’s a couple more weeks to go as the more detailed, finer work starts, so I’ll update this post with more photos as the work progresses.

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