Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taseday2010 - key message: Design for the Learner

Julian Ridden's key message that I connected with was "design for the learners".  Learners want engaging material.  E-learning needs to be more than a series of PDFs and a quiz.  Use videos, images and interaction to liven elearning up - not as bell and whistles but purposefully.  For example instead of converting an existing classroom quiz into a multichoice online version use some of the Moodle plugins and learning objects that are out there (on LORN or made yourself using ARED) to enrich the quiz experience.

As a trainer I like Moodle because its a great container to put all your learning material into at the same time as tracking a student's progress through it.  But as a learner I hate it because its a closed space that is separated/disconnected from the rest of my personal learning environment.  But apparently it doesn't have to be that way.  Using plugins like BIM you can allow students to link to their own blogs and there are ways to give the student some control over the look and feel - changing themes and colours.  Its a step in the right direction at least.

Other Moodle plugins that Julian mentioned were:

  • Sloodle - Secondlife integration (not a fan of Second Life myself but I can see that it would have its applications)
  • Lightbox - a way to provide a gallery of photos
  • Certificate - which allows you to produce a unique certificate when requirements have been met
  • Book - which is looking quite sophisticated in its latest form
  • Mahara Assignment - which gives Mahara some capacity to be used with assignments
  • as well as a number of quiz plugins and others that allow iPhone and Android integration.

A must have Moodle "block" for teachers in larger institutions is "ungraded assignments" which takes you directly to all the unmarked assignments that you are responsible for grading.

I would have liked to have heard a longer presentation from Stephen Downes as the time given only allowed a  quick skim look at the all the roles an "educator" can play these days. I hope if there is a fuller version of the presentation available in the future that it gets posted to

Always good to hear Leigh Blackall present.  The concept of Networked Learning (as distinct from Networked Teaching) needs more time spent on it a future workshop, maybe with a forum of actual learners talking about how it has worked for them. Someone in the Networked Learning session made the good point that learners need to know how best to learn this way and the assertiveness to demand it as a delivery method .

Saturday, September 25, 2010

PLENK2010: Transferring the connectivist model of a PLE to the workplace - towards a Personal Working Environment

The issues faced in helping learners to build more effective learning environments maybe is not so different to the issues faced in other areas of our lives.  For instance: are there or should there be equivalent models of learning management systems and personal learning environments in how we do our work.

Over the last decade or so we have seen the rise of the office intranet, initially as a place to share a bit of basic information about processes, the discussion forums, news, and event calendar and so on. Slowly other key systems became meshed with it and soon we could access it when we were out of the office using the same logon access we used in the office. Eventually we could access some of its features from the mobile phone browser, staying connected to the office when we were on the road or for the lucky ones; working from home.

Often Microsoft software dominates in the office, often times it is manadated and the ability to install anything else restricted as security and usage concerns rise.

For savvy users USB based portable software, cloud computing, news feeds, online social networks and access to what we want through our personal phones has given us a way to create a much richer personal working environment.

Enlightened workplaces of the future may awaken to the worth of employees that have the richer set of connections that an integrated online and off-line network brings to their work.

PLENK2010: Learning Management Systems versus Personal Learning Environments from a learner's perspective

As a learner the worth of a learning management system for me is that it is a single bucket of information about my course, essential readings, how I'm progressing, a place to upload my assignments and interact with my tutor and maybe some of my fellow students.  Possibly it also allows me to access or order materials from my learning provider's library and gives me a place to reflect and share ideas and give feedback. My personal learning environment includes the LMS but also gives me better ways to interact with others, reflect and share, source information on topics more broadly and basically tap into a much bigger network or connection both on line and with the off-line people and environment in my life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

isolating concepts

As a child I was taught to "love others as yourself" but doesn't the whole concept of "other" immediately create a mental boundary between yourself and the "other".  Maybe it should be "love ourselves as ourself".

In his 1981 book called No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, Ken Wilber did much to explore how we can progress beyond the artificially constructed boundaries that we are taught through our education and culture to conceive.

Perhaps what we need is a transition from Us & Them thinking to Us & Ourselves thinking. We need to extend this concept of "ourself" to include our whole environment and everything in it.  When trees are no longer something that grow "outside", somewhere in the country which is "outside" the city etc would we take more care with them.  When our "enemies" are part of "ourself" do we extend compassion to them, reflect on our behaviours and try to root-out the injustices in society? While we continue to treat things, people, plants and animals as separate to ourselves will we unconsciously undermine our good intent towards "others"

just musing...

PLENK2010: There is nothing that is outside of my PLE

Having had one of my early morning ah-ha moments it came to me that there is nothing that is not part of my personal learning environment.  Whatever is my current topic of interest I will often find something relevant to my learning about it in such obscure places as romance novels, something in a tv show, a seemly unrelated comment by a friend or the ideas I am considering go into that void called my subconscious where something happens to that learning and a day or so later or 3am in the morning it will all come together - perhaps the neurons have had time to run a few programs and reconnect in different ways.

Learning starts when there is something on your mind.  I've called it in my diagram a topic or interest but it can be anything, positive or negative that requires new thinking, problem solving, new skills or just a new approach.

The most obvious place to find learning is those things that directly relate to the topic but we do not exist in isolation from everything else going on around us.

For me, I learn something quickest once I can bring it into the mainstream of my life and start making wider connections.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

peer supported and networked learning

My interest in e-learning has been on the back burner since the start of the year. I think that's actually been for the best as its given me time not only to finish a Diploma in Library and Information Services that I've been doing but also I can now look at e-learning afresh.  I've been getting back into reading my favourite e-learning rss feeds as well as news about the latest technologies from Google and others. I've reinspired myself by re-reading some of the works of Ivan Illich which seem as relevant today as ever.  This time what I got out of his stuff was his emphasis on mentored and peer learning. For me this means finding people, either on-line or in person, who can help you learn what you are interested in.  Sure you can learn in isolation, to an extent, using the resources of your own brain, experiences and surroundings but when you want to take an interest to a whole new level, to go beyond old ways of doing things you need fresh stimulus and the input, encouragement, different perspectives of peers can be a way to progress your learning interest to a whole new level.

At the same time that I have been re-inspiring myself I've also been looking at the new light-weight compact digital cameras that can record HD Video in a format I can easily upload to Youtube. I have dabbled with some extremely basic videos about worm farming but I want to do more with this medium.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Flaxseed, Quinoa and Maca Vegan porridge

Its that bone-chilling time you get at the end of winter and I haven't been feeling like raw apple and amaranth sprouts for breakfast so experimented until I came up with the following porridge:

Grind about two tablespoons of flax seeds in a coffee grinder, add a heaped spoon of Maca, about two heaped tablespoons of quinoa or amaranth flakes. Mix together then poor on boiling water and stir some more until it thickens.  Put some no sugar jam on top or some frozen berries.  If you still need sweetener add agave syrup to taste.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sprouts for breakfast

Going vegan a few months ago meant that I needed to make sure I was getting a wide variety of fresh and nutritious food into my diet.  My initial interest was in growing Amaranth and Quinoa given their high levels of protein and minerals. Both tend to be bitter in their unsprouted state due to Sapoins.  Having had mixed experiences years ago with muslin cloth and rubber band covered jars I decided instead on getter some jars with the specially designed lids.  These have been great: easy to clean the lids between use and easy to rinse the sprouts - there is no nasty bacteria build up on cloth or rubber bands. Impressed with my first sprouts I ventured into trying mung beans and the much talked about broccoli sprouts.  The broccoli sprouts are nice to add to a summer salad as an added seasoning but you mightn't want to eat too many on their own as the taste is quite strong and the price is very high for even a small packet of the seeds for sprouting. I'm growing some broccoli plants now and will save the seed from them. The mung beans though sprout nearly as quickly as the amaranth and quinoa. I'm not a  fancy cook so I use my sprouts in fairly simple ways:

Breakfast sprouts:
Rinse some mixed amaranth and quinoa sprouts in cold water (to remove any residual bitter taste that builds up quite quickly)
Take a heaped spoon of the sprouts and add to a breakfast bowl with chopped up apple.  Top with no-sugar blue berry or cherry jam (or berries in season) and flaked almonds.

Stir fry mung beans
prepare a small frypan with olive oil and a little madras curry powder and or some cumin seeds and brown just enough to mix the spices into the oil
chop up and add one onion or if you prefer a milder flavour use two shallots
put a 1/3 of a sprout jar of sprouted mung beans into a fry pan
chop up a 1/4 of a sweet capsicum and add
stir fry until the onion is just cooked.
makes a very quick one person serving and is great if you've just come home and you're hungry.

I tried sprouting flax seeds which was a total failure - they just formed a gooey gluey mess.

A more recent success though has been sunflower seed sprouts which are lovely and crunchy and great to sprinkle on a salad or a tofu sandwich.  Whole sunflower seeds are actually quite hard to find in my part of the world.  I ended up getting mine from an agricultural supplies vendor very cheaply if you buy by the kilo bag.

Lastly, I know from Chinese medicine that I'm supposed to eat plenty of those little red adzuki beans but have avoided them in the past because I can't digest them to well.  Sprouted I find them quite digestible, especially if I cook them with a little bit of shredded nori. For a simple winter dish cook sprouted adzuki with some brown rice and then add to a stir fry of pumpkin, nori and shallots or onions.  This makes quite a tasty filling feed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My experiment with a vegan diet.

Increasing frustration with my worsening pre-menopausal drop in calcium absorption I hit the research - again - looking for options. My first question was "is eating so much dairy the best way to go (which is what I had been doing) or are there better foods out there that do the same?".  I'd already found seaweed calcium and was having ricotta at lunch and yoghurt with breakfast and supper, as well as the occasional hot milk or chai latte but my nails were still deteriorating and I didn't want to go down the path of some of the less organic calcium supplements.  And I can't eat cheese because of my allergy to molds and fungi. I get plenty of sunshine in the garden on my days off so the Vitamin D is good.  My reading around the subject showed me that most fruits and vegetables have calcium in them and that some seeds and grains like amaranth, quinoa and chia all have very high proportions of calcium in them.

Three weeks ago I decided to be brave and try out a vegan approach (I'd already gone back to being vegetarian about 15 months ago), keeping a close eye on my finger nails for any improvement or deterioration, with the fall back position of visiting the doctor for a blood check of my calcium levels if I had any doubts.

So far

  • my nails are holding out on their verdict - certainly not breaking but I need more time to see the quality of new nail growth to tell any changes for sure.
  • I have a sense of smell! - something that has only ever been a rare event for me in the presence of very strong smells - its a fascinating experience acquiring a new sense.
  • My sinuses are clear - which probably is the cause of the above regaining of the sense of smell and I don't know yet whether its a one-off but standing out in the cold waiting for the bus my eyes weren't streaming this morning
  • overall I seem to have more energy, better concentration but not sleeping as long as I used too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some Ideas on Dealing with Stress

The Australian SBS TV news a week or so ago had a short item about some recent research that had been done into reducing stress. We each tend to have habitual responses to certain stress triggers (almost like mini program along the lines of "IF blah THEN respond this way"). Such stress leads to changes in our mental and physical well being (ironically its usually we that suffers the adrenal overload and subsequent mind-body response, not the target of our anger or frustration). IF we can catch ourselves as soon as we start reacting to something we can ask ourselves three questions:
  • is it important
  • is my response level appropriate
  • can I change anything.
If the answer is "no" to any of these questions then its time to reflect and consider if its really worth getting stressed about.

I should have remembered all this when my credit card wouldn't work at the supermarket at the weekend and I ended up waiting in the ten deep queue at the service desk to get another go at paying.  Was it important? - well a nuisance but not big in the scheme of things - credit cards do these things.  Was my response level appropriate - no, because I got frustrated waiting in the queue and that only got me feeling off for the rest of the day.  Could I change anything? - no because there were only so many staff and thats not their fault, its the corporations and it was probably a bank or scanning error - none of which I could stop from happening again.

So when the subconscious program takes over and you don't catch yourself in time with those three questions what do you do to regain equilibrium? I watched a relaxation/self-hypnosis video on Youtube which contained an interesting thought - trance is a rhythm that you can learn.  That got me thinking that health and happiness must have its own rhythm too.  So then I visualized/mentally remembered how I felt when I felt right with the world and focused on that.  It took a few goes to keep bringing myself to focus on that rather than what had annoyed me but after a few goes it started to take root.  So for me it does seem that wellness/happiness does have its own rhythm and if you can remember how that feels and visualize it your body-mind will respond in reasonably short-time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Miguel Ruiz's "Mastery of Love"

I'm still working my way through Miguel Ruiz's books.  I've just finished "The Mastery of Love" which has me thinking the following:

We are told lies about love

  • Lie One: that you have to receive love from others
  • Lie Two: that you have to deserve love
  • Lie Three: that you have to earn love
  • Lie Four: that love needs a reason (actually this one is probably the main lie)
  • Lie Five: love is something thats difficult to do

The truth, for me anyway, is more like this:

  • Love is a simple conscious choice I make to do now, to feel it now through my whole being (I feel a lot of muscles relax in my body when I make this choice). Practice can make it a habit that's possible to do even under stress.
  • I don't need a reason to love I just choose to do it for no other reason than it feels good and I know its good for me and those around me.
  • There's an infinite quantity of love waiting inside me anytime I choose to tap into it I don't need to earn it and I don't need to save it - we're not talking about "supply and demand" or the "economics of scarcity" here.

The same above applies to happiness and forgiveness.  Applying this leaves one free to interact with others without giving off a vibe of "neediness" that might otherwise attract people looking for a co-dependent interaction or ongoing destructive co-dependent relationship.

This may sound narcisstic, egoistic or selfish but in fact acts opposite to that as it places you in a position where you can interact more freely with others, without needing or wanting anything back.

Taking things one stage further you can get yourself in a relaxed state and visualize yourself all the way back to when you were in the womb and say to yourself  something like "I am loved, wanted and safe" and know that it is true because you undertake to love yourself (without conditions), to want what you are and to protect yourself.  Bring that awareness and knowledge forward all the way into the now.

Once you create that firm base you can then move to extending it to unconditional love and enjoyment of those around you.

Consider the average household cat - you don't expect them to be responsive to your needs, its nice if they want to play or be involved in what you are doing but mostly they are just there and you enjoy their company and them just being what they are. If you give your cat lots of affection as a kitten and don't hurt or scare it, feed it good food and give it a few toys you know that you will both end up having a better relationship in the long run. Try to control the same average cat and it will most likely make the cat equivalent of a rude gesture at you.  Treat it badly and it will leave.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Third Attention

To summarise Miguel Ruiz's "three attentions", I see them as follows:

The First Attention is when we are programmed by others (family, school, work, the media etc). As babies parents get our attention by holding up something or pointing to it and saying the word for it - this is how we start to learning the language and meanings of things in our culture.  This continues all through our life as various people try to get us to agree with their view of the world, with what they want us to do or with what they want us to buy. As soon as we agree with this word, definition, idea, religion or sales pitch we are successfully programmed. This is reinforced by further conditioning (positive and negative). It is usually so successful that not to agree gives us a guilty conscience, reduces our self esteem, causes self doubt, makes us feel alienated from those around us or even worse makes us ill.

The Second Attention is when you manage to deprogram yourself. You do this by changing your agreements to the above, being mindful that any discomfort is to be overcome.  You become a warrior in doing this.  Using Ruiz's "Four agreements" is a great tool for doing this. You can also play with the alchemy of opposites (check out the writings of  Robert Anton Wilson, John Lilly and Christopher Hyatt).  If you only use this to recreate yourself then you are only creating a replacement for your existing programming, although hopefully a better bit of software. If you do this to gain power over your own life the dangers are minimal but if you discover the inherent power in this kind of reprogramming you could use it to control the world around you (go over to the darkside as they say in Star Wars).  That is why until recently this path to enlightenment was hidden - because sometimes you don't release your programming/story altogether - just replace it with another that you control. The best tool I think I've found for reminding yourself you are not your program is to focus on enjoying your breath, as Miguel suggests.

True release from your programming comes when you reach the "Third Attention".  This usually comes through a near death experience. For me it came through the near loss of a couple of significant others in my life and I realised that I really needed to enjoy them as much as possible now as the future can change in an instant. Petty issues become something you chose to ignore or avoid because all you want to do is love them.  This is called getting to "the bones" of what is real, love. Tibetans get to the third attention by spending long periods of time in graveyards contemplating the illusory and transitory nature of what most people consider the world to be (which ironically is called Maya by the Tibetans and Indians as, for me, it seems to be the meso-americans (Mayans) who are best at explaining the way out of it).

The third attention is one of those intangibles that is hard to explain but I think these symptoms are an indication:

  • What you thought mattered doesn't matter anymore
  • The oneness of love and life which is at the core of all things (hidden by our layers of illusion) becomes the only reality
  • forgiving and loving become things to do without reason
  • fear dissolves
  • living in the immediate moment
I am not, by the way, claiming to be in this state of consciousness all the time - I'm just doing my best.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A new year - time for a different way of living and thinking

The end of last year saw me holidaying on the Murray River, Australia. Not wanting to lose the holiday in thoughts about the years successes or failures, worrying or planning for the future I decided the only way to do that was to let it go for the duration of the holiday and "enjoy the moment". Each time I caught myself at past or future focus thinking I just brought myself back to enjoying the beauty and people around me and enjoyed just being. Coming back home I didn't want to lose this.
One thing and another led me to reading Don Miquel Ruiz's "Voice of Knowledge" and now I'm reading "The four agreements". This has given me a few more tools to help keep the above perspective. simple things like:

  • enjoying breathing - just focus on one breath and enjoy it. Repeat, often
  • asking myself what story I am creating, is it a story I like - if not edit it.
  • ask myself if other people are creating my story - if so regain my rights as author of my own story.
  • Remembering that "the story" isn't the true me and that minus our stories we are all one - not only with other human beings but all other beings
  • don't take things personally - other beings are acting towards me from the perspective of their own stories.
  • don't believe my own or other people's stories as they are only illusion anyway - a kind of play or programming.