with grace he goes

By robynjay On January 28th, 2016

Today my beloved Steph leaves his workplace of 16 years for the last time. To those who matter, he will be remembered for his intelligence, energy, unending support, innovation and skills. Those that matter grieve the loss. It is of course not (only) about technical assistance. It’s about providing informed advice and guidance, patiently, generously, at any hour. It’s about designing effective learner-centred solutions to the issues and challenges that appear, often with little warning. Looking from the outside in, the programs Steph led were cutting edge; the organisation as a result, was seen to be a leader in the elearning field.

Despite this, he is ‘unsuitable’ for the reformed institution he has dedicated the bulk of his working life to. The fact that he is a ‘deep thinker’ is now seen as a liability.  Somewhere along the track, someone decided Steph was an IT guy; the person who managed platforms and upgrades. How did they get it so wrong?

He has no role in a space of vacuous agendas, stilettos and gym jocks. Few of the ‘old guard’ do. The Whitlam generation of educators that fought for innovative, learner-centred, service-focussed, life-long public education, driven by social justice and learner centred design, is either retiring, resigning or being retrenched. This brave new world of enterprise, business growth, efficiency, performance, risk management, competition,  and operating models has little regard for the values we hold dear.

Sometimes it’s best to just walk away; he will do this with grace and humility. When the pain has passed I’ll see this man’s spirit revived; I am certain of that. His skill and passion will find new avenues; his qualities will be valued. They know not what they do.

Steph at beach

a return to the fold

By robynjay On February 12th, 2015

OK, so it has been a long time since I blogged in here. It’s been 3 years in fact since I posted I am enough, and a lot has happened in that time.
I was back in a full-time employment role when my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Without hesitation I resigned to spend the little time we had left close by her, and to offer whatever support I could to her and her family.
It sucked losing my parents and then her in the space of 3 years.
I spoke to her about our dream to travel to the Kimberleys, and she confided that it was somewhere she had always wanted to visit but now never would.

So we did. In 2014 after months of preparation and saving, we hit the road. You can follow our adventures on the blog and in FlickR. Traveling in this way is life changing, there’s no denying it.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been home now for as long as we were away.

We returned to a VET system in disarray. To be honest it had been heading that way for some time. In a recent podcast we pondered this and the loss of trust, flexibility, innovation, social justice and the right to life long education.
Insufficient funding, overly complex bureaucratic systems, competition, incompetence and a lack of focus on the needs of individuals has led to a sector that has lost its soul and functionality.

Regardless I ploughed back on in to Seek etc. What I discovered was earth shattering, but perhaps my saviour. There’s nothing much there for me.
With public education in crisis most contracts and work are currently in the corporate space and it appears that (predominantly) coming from the public sphere pretty much labels you an outcast. Now this is an interesting discussion in itself …. why an experienced educator with a wide range of experience and skills would not be competent to fill a L&D type of role in business, but apparently that’s the perception [and a warning note here to all the wonderful educators finding themselves out of work].

The more I looked, the more I decided I didn’t want to be there anyway!

So with that as impetus I’ve retreated back to my first love – design. At school I studied art, and textiles and design. It was made pretty clear to me however that this was not a wise career choice, and so I detoured into education.
With a total change of direction it’s taking time to find my feet and my niche. Thankfully I have the resources to take this time. I’ve been trying out Spoonflower for fabric and paper design, Society6 for readimade textile and homeware products, and I’m investigating Etsy.
I’m weighing up adopting readimade goods or making my own – there’s not a lot of difference in potential income when it comes down to it and the former allows more time for actual design rather than construction.
The drop in the Australian dollar has come at a bad time for those of us importing goods from the US however!

So I’m starting a new category in here for Bunyip Designs and we’ll see how we go.
Thanks for sharing the journey!

and after the rain comes new life

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]

 

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.

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!

i’m done with being owned

By robynjay On January 10th, 2011

Another academic year looms and info days are swarming with fresh faced enthusiastic new students. I feel like Mr Bean in the department store perfumery skit, holding my nose and warning them not to enter! I’m feeling quite disheartened with higher ed. Would I pay $30k + for a degree? NO – yet its a hurdle imposed en route to career. As consumers we need to start demanding value for money but instead we meekly accept the tripe.

I’ve been re-reading my FLL paper from 2003. 7 years is a long time and I blush at it’s naivety but there are important connections there I want to revisit. What I found then was that the most successful, innovative and engaging programs were happening in small community-based media, youth projects and community development areas. I suspect its still the case.

I grieve to hear stories of educators being told that research is top priority and that teaching should/must be compromised if necessary. Academics are told to walk into lectures unprepared if necessary, young innovators are told that their careers will go nowhere unless they stop focusing on learning and instead churn out papers and bring in dollars. It’s all about status and income; a factory line of knowledge. Good teachers who toe the line end up working 14 hour days; doing 2 jobs as researcher AND educator, and as a result get sick and burn out.

I’ve been feeling like the past two years were wasted but a flow of messages are giving me heart that I have made some difference. But I’m sick of battling from within the constraining shackles of being an employee; there’s only so much that can be pushed uphill. I’m hoping to skirt around the edges for a bit and find some new avenues to engage and affect change. For a start I’m heading on down to the Transmedia conference at ACMI in Melbourne and we’ll see if openings appear.

cartoon from gapingvoid

[ CC cartoon by gapingvoid ]

dream job

By robynjay On November 17th, 2010

Jeff Utecht has an interesting post – Online Community Manager: A New Position in Education – that resonates. It overlaps a little with my now redundant position but better represents what SHOULD have been put in place.

Here are the core roles, adapted a little to represent any educational setting…

1. Community Advocate
As a community advocate, the community managers’ primary role is to represent the school/college/university/project community. This includes listening, which results in monitoring, and being active in understanding what community members are saying on both internal and external websites. Secondly, they engage community members by responding to their requests and needs or just conversations, both in private and in public.

2) Evangelist
In this evangelistic role (it goes both ways) the community manager will promote events, student accomplishments and updates to community members by using traditional marketing tactics and conversational discussions. As proven as a trusted member of the community (tenet 1) the individual has a higher degree of trust and will offer help and support.

3) Savvy Communicator and  Shapes Editor
This tenet, which is both editorial planning and mediation serves the individual well. The community manager should first be very familiar with the tools of communication, from forums, to blogs, to podcasts, to twitter, and then understand the language and jargon that is used in the community. This individual is also responsible for mediating disputes within the community, and will lean on advocates, and embrace detractors –and sometimes removing them completely. Importantly, the role is responsible for the editorial strategy and planning within the community, and will work with many internal stakeholders to identify content, plan, publish, and follow up.

4) Gatherer of Community Input for Future Product and Services
Perhaps the most strategic of all tenets, community managers are responsible for gathering the requirements of the community in a responsible way and presenting it to the leadership team. This may involve formal recommendations from surveys to focus groups, to facilitating the relationships between stakeholders (in an e-learning setting this includes between IT and educators/ students). The opportunity to build stronger relationships through this real-time live focus group are ripe, in many cases, education communities have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.

Jeff outlines a set of responsibilities (school focused) and indicates his willingness to apply for any position that’s established.

Me too – it’s very nice!

CC FlickR image by baratunde

beauty matters

By robynjay On November 12th, 2010

Why is it that institutions think that it’s OK to position those who must participate in their business (as staff or students or patients etc) in soul destroying environments?

Day after day I walk down corridors and into rooms that do nothing but depress. Within these environments we expect people to thrive, to create, to innovate, to stay. If colour exists it’s dirty orange or polyester blue like the uniforms that successfully lead to uniformity. Florescent lighting remains on 24/7, air conditioning recycles the years viruses and windows are dirty or non-existent. We sit children on plastic chairs that can be wiped with disinfectant although a child’s natural position is on the floor. Hallways echo and lift-wells creak.

Very occasionally however you enter a space that inspires productivity and creativity and conversation. I entered an office like this this week. It wasn’t expensively decorated. It had large windows that looked out onto trees and allowed natural light in, the windows opened to allow fresh air to enter, there were potted plants, a few prints on the walls, fresh clean colours, inviting workspaces that were comfortable and practical enabling personal work and collaborative conversations. It was a beautiful space.

We are burdened with the heritage of factory focused schools and workplaces and lecture theatres. Yet instead of redesigning and rethinking the spaces in which we learn and work, we continue to pump them out. The colours may be a little fresher but on the whole they do not change.

In a recent podcast Ken Robinson noted that if you are doing something that does not resonate, 5 minutes will feel like an hour. In the same way we cannot expect creativity, productivity, happiness, well-being, collaboration and innovation in toxic environments of ugliness. In fact for many jobs and tasks we should not be demanding face to face presence at all… but that’s another post.

follow the leaders

By robynjay On January 22nd, 2010

Don’t be a martyr Mike!

Early-adopters, ground-breakers, risk-takers – call them what you will, bu most workplace leaders and innovators I know cannot remember the last time they themselves had any substantial professional development opportunities.

Their ongoing issue is that they are constantly developing the skills and knowledge of others. Typically local events and conferences, and workplace learning strategies are designed for the bulk of employees interests and needs. It is the so called ‘early-adopters’ who run the sessions and inspire the attendees. They also mentor and provide constant informal support within their units and Faculties.

But read my lips!!! – leaders and innovators require exposure to new skills, ideas and technologies too, and they shouldn’t be left to outlay personal funds and time to meet this need.
Unless this happens people like Mike burn out and find a space where motivational interaction and learning occurs. The success of in-house support etc depends on keeping leaders and skilled employees happy and motivated. They need to be actively encouraged to engage online and they need to be supported to identify and attend at least one inspirational event each year. The trickle-down benefits of flying a person to an international event are significant.
Yes we are FAR better off now with online connections and events, but there’s nothing quite like actually physically mixing with and conversing with like minded innovators.
Mike captures the loss beautifully when he says “It’s the feeling that I’m missing out on the excitement, the creative energy, the showmanship, the passion and the fun – missing out on the incredible aire of enthusiastic jubilation that makes for an incredible collaborative learning environment.”


cc licensed flickr photo shared by deserttrumpet

calling for a moratorium

By robynjay On January 15th, 2010

My last post highlighted the current Edge project exploring how the internet is changing the way we think.

One of the contributors is Sherry Turkle, psychologist from MIT who studies the culture of the internet.

In her post she refers to Erik Erikson who argued that adolescents need ‘an experience of “moratorium,” a time and space for relatively consequence-free experimentation. They need to fall in and out of love with people and ideas’.  She herself argues that while ‘the Internet provides such spaces and is thus a rich ground for working through identity’, it has become clear that ‘the idea of the moratorium space does not easily mesh with a life that generates its own electronic shadow. Over time, many find a way to ignore or deny the shadow. For teenagers, the need for a moratorium space is so compelling that they will recreate it as fiction. And indeed, leaving an electronic trace can come to seem so natural that the shadow seems to disappear. We want to forget that we have become the instruments of our own surveillance.’

Very interesting.

Certainly I agree that ‘in democracy, …  everyone has something to hide, a zone of private action and reflection, a zone that needs to be protected.’ So how is this privacy ensured?

We are still in a space where employers are lauded for finding their employees out. Recruiters dig up all they can on prospective employees. Naive employees find themselves sacked. But when are we going to draw the line and allow individuals some rights.

A good first step is to make these practices transparent. If used in recruitment, individuals must be told. If used to monitor staff, they should be made aware of this potential and have the freedom to act accordingly.

[CC FlickR image: publik16]