Common threads

By robynjay On May 24th, 2012

I’m not sure that I can remember the last time I conversed solidly for 2 days about things that matter. Not work things, life things.
It was a gathering of intelligent minds, varied lives and experiences with common threads: social justice, a desire for change, care for our environment and humanity, equity.

It grew from an increasing awareness that good people were butting heads with systems, values, leaderless bureaucracies, complacency etc. I’ve watched inspired innovators lose their ‘fire’ and burn out. I’ve watched the results of what I call the ‘shit floats’ syndrome: uninspired, conservative thinkers, rising to management ranks recruited by higher level bureaucrats who don’t want their own thinking questioned.

It struck me that we fight this within our own sectors and industries and areas of life but there is little opportunity to move beyond this and to look at the underlying issues, and the common threads that link us regardless of circumstance.

So we gathered, 8 of us, around a table with sustenance, heaters, blankets, and despite not knowing everyone well, a strong unspoken sense of trust and respect. The conversation pretty much flowed freely around areas of concern: the media, education, politics, environment/sustainability, change. The organisers among us brought us back to ground from time to time for refocus and direction, and I attempted to capture the essence of discussions with sketchbook and pens.

Many of us were self-described introverts so the size of the group and the ability to drop in and out was important.

A few of us began the weekend with 2 sessions at the Sydney Writers Festival – one on ‘D.I.Y.’ and one on Resistance -and the ideas raised were remarkably relevant for the weekend as a whole. Day 1 ended with a long walk and a chance to connect 1:1

We didn’t save the world but we did leave with a sense of connection and support that will continue. Michael summed it up well in a post-gathering message:
“The moment I left our little gathering on Sunday I had the feeling that we had just done something amazing. A group of people had spent the best part of 2 days just talking about what concerns us – without time constraints or a goal in mind. An aberration in this speedy world.”

It’s all about engagement: facilitating e-learning

By robynjay On May 3rd, 2012

I’ve enrolled in the new TAE50211 Diploma of Training Design and Development, and once again am busy gathering evidence for RPL. Its a good opportunity to look back over a career and reflect on what I’ve done and the changes I’ve made both in direction and thinking. A key part of RPL, I think, is reflection so I plan to use the blog to do this in a more public way so I can gain further input from readers.

It’s very difficult to tackle something that is your life, an integrated whole, in a segmented way i.e. unit by unit but I’ll see how I go.

I guess my first point of reflection about the unit ‘Facilitate E-learning’ is the unit authors view of what ‘learning’ is. Most of my work over the past 15 years has been in a range of staff development roles, and by this I don’t ONLY mean formalised training.

As educators we learn every day. We learn by reading, we learn by talking and debating, we learn by watching, and we learn through personal critical reflection. All of this can occur online and as a facilitator of learning for educators, my job has been to design spaces and guide processes to make that enjoyable, accessible, challenging and self sustaining. The goals have not changed over time. What HAS changed is the range of online spaces that allow individuals to create and drive their own connections with others.

Having lived and worked online for many years now, my first point of call was the web. If you Google your name what do you find? So, focusing on the online facilitation work I’ve done here’s a list of the most significant:

1. In what must have been the mid 90s I obtained funding to establish a space for the Far Nth Coast adult literacy network. While the site now makes me cringe it was quite ground breaking. Facilitation in those days meant talking to people, gathering ideas/content/needs via email/phone and uploading it. I can remember a lot of discussion about the audience and ongoing review about the effectiveness of the content. We’ve come a long way :) We went on to trial MOOs and MUDs for learning and networking but the platforms were simply too complex for most teachers.

2. From 1998 – 2004 I worked in a few roles on the North Coast supporting the Community Colleges and in particular the ELLN staff and programs. For general management communication and collaboration we used Sharepoint. ITs primary use was sharing of files and conversation around key issues in between regional face to face meetings. I set up and co-facilitated the space. Clunky but reasonably effective.

3. Around this time some virtual meeting rooms started to appear. For the Community Colleges most were over-priced, but one iVocalize proved accessible and was used for a number of years and varied projects. In 2005 I was on the executive of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy and acquired funding for the Literacy Live project. WE used the platform to connect adult literacy practitioners around Australia. It was used for meetings and guest presentations which I facilitated. I was also involved in running awareness raising sessions at conferences and training sessions for State ELLN bodies including QCAL

4. An then into my role as LearnScope manager etc for the then Australian Flexible Learning Framework. While our roles were largely management ones we also provided a range of e-learning awareness sessions and online resource information. Sessions were facilitated in Elluminate and ADobe Connect, a blog was published covering news, events, info and help, and we started a wiki as an information hub. The Framework then used a range of discussion forums and there were some rather interesting challenges faced by the national team around flaming and aggressive posts and how to deal with these.

5. In the past few years I have designed and facilitated a range of blended staff development programs. Typically these included a Moodle hub for content and ongoing asynchronous conversation forums, with face to face workshops and follow up conversation via Moodle and email if required. The material used for these outside Moodle is all freely available online via my Slideshare account and my wiki

6. Most recently I’ve developed the Designing for Flexibility blended workforce development program for Sydney Institute. We have used a mix of F2F, wiki, Facebook group and online Adobe Connect sessions. I facilitated the 2011 trial which has since been reviewed, updated and mapped against TP units, and we’re about to roll it out once again.

Each example has involved an ongoing process of review, evaluation and continuous improvement. In most cases this has involved a mix of informal feedback, team critical reflection, and the use of feedback surveys. In review the focus and emphasis will vary according to audience and purpose but typically will cover:

  • fit for purpose – applicability of content
  • accessibility – level of pitch and suitability of content for the level of skills
  • opportunities for engagement, feedback and ongoing networking and professional connections enabled
  • timing and access
  • suitability and effectiveness of the chosen platform or blend of strategies
  • follow up opportunities

Thankfully as technologies have progressed, and there has been a shift toward spaces that are increasingly easy to access and master, the interactive, collaborative element of learning and connecting online are becoming easier. It remains the case, however, that it is very very easy to teach (as opposed to facilitate) very very badly online. Whatever the platform, maximising engagement and focusing on business and learning needs is the imperative.

[CC FlickR image by Will Lion with acknowledgment also to Tapscott & Williams Wikinomics and Thomas Hawk]

 

getting unstuck

By robynjay On January 20th, 2012

The energy for creating new opportunities comes from the tension we feel between an inspired vision for the future and our current reality. When we feel stuck or unclear about our careers, often it’s because we are either compromising our vision or denying reality–sometimes it’s a little of both.

Michele Martin

This week in our Career Clarity Camp we’re exploring what we need to help us thrive.

We’re considering some 30 day trials, side projects, stretch assignments, courses, volunteering options etc. After a long week of ‘slog’ to overcome my procrastination I’m finally free to give this some attention.

As usual we’re inspired by some practical thinking (rituals in our lives) and great posts from Michele ( dreams ).

Interestingly (and perhaps thankfully) I had already begun down the enrichment/ visioning/ project path but I’m also inspired to trial a couple of other things that have been lingering in the back of my mind for some time. So here are my ideas for projects and experiments:

  • I’m already finding time each day to draw. This has become an evening ritual to relax after a busy day. Uploading to FlickR (something each day) is a driver but not an onerous one – if I don’t make it, I don’t!
  • I’ve applied for a small community-based contract – I if I get it, I know I’ll love working outside the regimes of formal education. I can see opportunities for REAL outcomes and opportunities for creativity within it.
  • I’m instigating a blog for creative kids activities – I’ll need input to make it sustainable
  • I’m going to have a go at creating a multimodal e-book publication and will use the next month to research production options. The new Apple releases are very timely, and
  • I’m going to test the water  to host a monthly conversational gathering for people I know think and/or work on the boundaries of or outside the mainstream. I see it as an opportunity to affirm non-conventional thinking, generate and share new ideas etc. Now for a name ….

“Before we can undo a knot we must loosen it to understand its structure;
pulling on it only makes it tighter.”

CC FlickR image & Tracy Luff cited in Kate’s Photo Diary

i am enough

By robynjay On January 16th, 2012

Despite all good intentions I’m dawdling with this weeks activities for our Career Clarity Camp. I HAVE been reflecting but I wanted to also write. So a bit of a catchup here…

We’re meeting online for 90 minutes each week. It’s an interesting mix of people from around the world and I enjoyed the diversity very much. We’re using a visualisation tool called The Image Centre – a service by VisualsSpeak . As a visual person I loved the platform but would have liked to be able to text chat to the group as they described their ideas. It provides a canvas on which participants can select and display images to describe their response to different trigger questions. Our last task was to select images in response to the question – If success was completely guaranteed, who could I become? We had about 50 images to choose from and about 3 minutes to complete the task. Here’s my response:

Then to the analysis.
I see myself as the fish in the top left (happily) swimming against the flow. My thoughts were around creativity, pathways, resilience, tenacity and choice.
We’ve been asked to seek input from others who know us well so I’d love to hear your comments.

I’ve revisited my post from a year ago untapped & unrecognised and realised that if self-employed, management of my skills and talents is entirely up to me! I AM able to combine them into the directions I take as well as drawing on the strengths of others to complement. The challenge is to think laterally about what’s possible and perhaps to create new possibilities, and to market those as worthwhile without falling into the trap Michele describes in her Dreams for sale post – making career decisions based only on what the market will bear. The questions posed in Michele’s post (from Peter Block & Michele) to help us step back from an ‘economic monoculture’ view of ourselves are useful I think -
* What does it mean when we lose contact or faith in our ideals, or our dreams and desires?
* Why would we give up the pursuit of our desires, of what matters to us, if the right offer doesn’t come along?
* Why have we placed our desires up for auction?
* When did we decide that we could live without what was important to us or postpone our desires until we have implemented an exit strategy?
* What would my career look like if I wasn’t worried about selling to the highest bidder?
* What really matters to me, regardles of how much someone else is willing to pay for it?

I’ve also taken time to think about Michele’s post Courage, Vulnerability and Being Wholehearted at Work and really enjoyed the TEdTalk from Brene Brown which I’ll share again below.

 

A few points that resonated:

  • is there something about me that if other people see it will make me unworthy of connection? 
  • whole-hearted people have the courage to be imperfect and the compassion for themselves in their imperfection and
  • they had authenticity–the courage to give up their image of who they thought they SHOULD be, in order to be who they actually are
  • in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen

I’m taking the last point forward into the next session.

what are universities for?

By robynjay On January 6th, 2012

In the past month two women I know employed by different universities in Sydney and who I know are passionate about students, learning and quality teaching practice have resigned.

I’ve blogged about the death of universities as centres of learning and teaching before but it seems to me rather than being addressed, the situation continues to worsen. It’s now two and a half years since Gerry Nolan’s post in the Australian; does no-one listen?

If universities are no longer places of learning then let’s be upfront about it. Give course funding to those who care, or (heaven forbid) the learners, and allow them to do it well. Use universities as research centres instead, pure and simple. If we’re serious about being a knowledge nation it’s time we focused on supporting REALLY good learning and teaching, and insisting that those paid to facilitate this are fully trained, equipped, supported and acknowledged for doing so.

[CC FlickR image by Daniel Morris]

in absentia

By robynjay On January 5th, 2012

I’ve been pondering Harriet’s post If you’re not present, you’re absent over at her Technology Twitter blog.

In the post she describes a period of creative reinvention – a ‘rich and a valuable time, productive and exciting, if challenging and complex’ ; one in which she shut off from her networks for personal reflection.
She says:

The creative process is wonderful – at the end.  In the middle I found it complex and contradictory.  My  online networks felt too public a place to expose such fragile thinking.  Do online spaces in their ephemeral nature provide pressure to present finished thought?  Is it really ok to be fragmented and indecisive?’

Perhaps with the exception of Twitter (which still can be archived and curated), I don’t think online spaces ARE ephemeral. That’s the problem. These are not fleeting remarks; they are there for good. They can expose mistakes, foolishness, naivety and raw emotions.

The public transparent nature of contributing online, which ever media it might be, scares most people. There’s a big difference between scribbling in a journal and posting to a blog. There’s a big difference in confiding semi-formulated ideas with a person you trust, or with yourself, and sharing them with the world or even an extended network. Gauging what to share online, when and with who is in itself a digital literacy skill I think. It will vary from person to person according to the issue, thickness of skin, and personal space needs but I’d certainly respect anyone’s right to withdraw at a time when intense personal reflection and introspection is needed.

Perhaps what we can share is metacognitive. Not the details as such, but an understanding of the strategies and processes. We DO need to encourage wacky creative thoughts, lateral thinking, risk-taking, and change. The final product often fails to illustrate the rich, turbulent and harried nature of the creative process but it is often after the process is complete and a result is evident that the significant moments along the way become evident. We do not, for example, see the working sketches of great artists before the final work is published.

From a personal perspective, whether I’m formulating creative projects or pondering life directions, I do most of it in private. When the change or project is substantial it will become all consuming. Shutting down to enable focused attention is a coping strategy and one to be acknowledged.

Best wishes with your new directions Harriet. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of your deliberations when and if you are ready to share them :)

[CC FlickR image by Invisible Lens]

CCC: getting started

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

Michele is kicking off our month long Career Clarity Camp with some personal reflection time and we’ve been asked to consider all or some of the following:

  • What questions are you asking yourself right now? What’s the stuff that wakes you up at night or intrudes during the day?
  • Where do you feel clear?
  • Where do you feel muddy  or confused?
  • How do you currently see yourself at work?
  • How do you spend your days?
  • What do you want more of at work?
  • What do you want less of at work?
  • Who are your colleagues? How do you feel about them? Are there people who are particularly inspiring? Particularly challenging?
  • How does your career seem to fit with the rest of your life? How does it not fit?
  • What are your overall feelings about your career?
  • How long have you been having these feelings?
  • What steps have you already taken to find some career clarity?
  • What steps are you considering right now?

A year ago I resigned from a well paid job to work for myself again. Looking back now at my last 2 employee positions I realise the importance of skilled leadership and talent management when supervising and supporting staff strengths. I experienced neither. It was soul destroying.
I love working for myself. Michele sums up the benefits here – 7 reasons most professionals should work for themselves

But it’s not easy! There are two things I battle with most and which keep me awake at night – uncertainty and focus.
That fortnightly deposit that magically arrives in your bank account regardless of effort, outcomes or even attendance is seductive.
How do I find a niche, or should I spread myself widely?

And of course there are archaic systems to stymie opportunity. Do you work with them or treat them as road blocks and head another direction?
Often acceptance brings with it an unnecessary waste of time and money. Probably the biggest road block for me at present remains the Certificate 4 in Training & Education but more about that later.
Right now I know I need to take time to promote myself better, to focus in on particular strengths as niche areas, and to find some detours around those road blocks.

[CC FlickR image by Irargerich]

I know my sanity depends on remaining artistically active, so I need to find the mental and physical spaces to enable that. I know my health depends on more exercise, and I need to allocate time and energy towards that. And when it all feels too hard I need the reassurance and support of a loving partner, and I’m blessed with that.

Mid 2011 those uncertainty fears drove me to begin looking for paid employment once again. What I discovered was a) when times are tight the public service closes its doors and recycles (often) ‘dead wood’ rather than bringing in fresh blood, and b) the private sector wants low paid work horses NOT innovators.
Already, with Michele’s encouragement I’m willing to refocus efforts on making self-employment work. Step #1

Over the next month I’m looking forward to making time for reflection and finding tools and strategies to move forward. Thanks Michele for facilitating this!

trade winds

By robynjay On January 4th, 2012

[CC FlickR image by nyoin]

Next week we kick of our Career Clarity Camp with Michelle Martin and I’m really looking forward to some dedicated time to reflect and set a fresh path.

In preparation Michelle has asked us to journal some reflections on our current state but before posting on the past year I thought it might be interesting to look back on where I was at 5 + years ago. Towards the end of 2004 I was privileged with an Adult Learners Week NSW Innovation in Learning award. A week before the ceremony our contract positions with the Community Colleges were axed due to Government funding cuts to an already way under-funded sector, so my speech was seriously deliberated over!

Here’s an excerpt…

Its innovation that allows organisations to adapt to the constantly changing conditions.
Without innovation, an organisation stands still while ideas, technology and pedagogy move forward around it.
It’s about knowing how to make new ideas highly infectious;
It’s also about rocking the boat, and stretching the business as usual mentality and it requires passion, persistence and an open mind

However, innovation does not occur in a vacuum – it requires a dynamic healthy environment that is empowering and flexible, that honours new ideas, tolerates risk, identifies and celebrates champions, and encourages fun.
Innovation is a catalyst – but only one ingredient in a process that must be sustainable to be of value.
In education, the lasting value of any innovation is measured by its uptake by teachers and learners.
Teachers really are the key – unless they are given opportunities to critique, reflect, research and learn new skills; to feel encouraged, supported, and positive about their roles and skills, and are shown strong leadership we will not meet the changing needs of our communities.

In a climate of funding cuts it is tempting to slash easy targets such as Professional development and research
However…. It is at these times that we need skilled innovative staff most of all.
Difficult times are a spur to innovation…. It is the time when organisations must think analytically and creatively

I’m passionate about making that happen – about enabling passionate teachers, about designing innovative solutions. What drives me hasn’t changed and I’m glad.

”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

the art of giving

By robynjay On December 26th, 2011

In a culture overrun with commercialism and gift one-upmanship, its tempting to react by simply not engaging. But was does this mean for kids?

I grew up in a home where creative pursuits were both encouraged and valued. As the last child at home and living out of town I was never bored. When I wasn’t roaming rocks and gullies or inhabiting the secret nooks of our shed, I was creating. Paper craft, painting, sewing, clay, puppets, drawing, sculpture projects were resourced and guided. The best times were when I worked alongside my mother.

My products, however humble, were admired and valued. There was never a suggestion that gift cards would be purchased. ‘Works of art’ were the most valued gifts, given pride of place.

The act of gift giving is a precious thing; an opportunity to thank and an opportunity to share something of ourselves. For children its about reflection and humility; taking time to consider another and give time to create something that is lovingly wrapped and delivered. Its about connection and relationship.

As adults we can encourage this by valuing hand crafted produce above factory produced, by appreciating the efforts of kids as they develop the self-confidence to create that many adults lack, and by providing the time, resources and guidance for kids to stop consuming and take time to put themselves in the shoes of others.

starting afresh

By robynjay On December 17th, 2011

It’s been an unproductive year for me blogging-wise. I’m not really sure what caused my lack of inspiration. Perhaps time needed to rethink my position and direction after a couple of soul-destroying years career-wise. Michele Martin would perhaps tell me that my reflection could have more productive had it been shared so I’ll do my best to summarise my years thoughts in coming posts.

But first of all I’m biting the bullet and moving any worthwhile content from my wikispace over to this site. I’ve been talking about it for a year but being a long-term wikispace user have been hesitant to actually make the change. Essentially my wiki has been a personal portfolio space and while the wiki format has meant easy editing etc, it has never really been used as a collaborative space for multiple authors so there’s little point in using a wiki platform. Having everything together in one place has its appeal.

So once the move is complete my aim is a post a week (to be realistic). Michele has inspired me to undertake a more structured approach to my personal reflection and I’m looking forward to participating in one of her Career Clarity Camps in January 2012. I can’t think of a better way to kick the new year off.

[CC FlickR image by koshyk]