Give a damn day … avoiding the food miles

It’s the first of the month, so today is the second ‘give a damn day’ where I nudge myself out of my self-absorption into an outward focus on things that need attention … things at least, that I can deal with. I’m a great believer in personal responsibility, and little things building up over time into something greater.

Whether or not others join me is immaterial, though it would be nice if everyone in their own ways took time out to focus energies on making a difference for the better in whatever field they choose.

So, I’ve been engaged in building a garden over the past few months, and the harvest is coming in now the days of summer are with us. I’ve also been hearing about food miles and why we should avoid buying food that has been transported a great distance … it’s about sustainability of course, as well as freshness and you’d hope, your own health. The ACF (Australian Conservation Foundation) has a brief page on some of the implications of long-distance travel for food. Not tasty at all!

I was a little dismayed a few weeks back to see so-called fresh foods being made from imported ingredients in, of all places, the bakery section of my local supermarket. Their bread and pastries were freshly baked in their kitchen,  but were labelled ‘Product of the US’; ‘Product of Belgium’; ‘Product of Denmark’ and so on. The ingredients were imported you see.  For heavens’ sake! Why? Well, we know why … profit margins are greater at the bottom of the ledger using cheaper, imported goods.  Anyhow ..

My giving a damn today is about avoiding food miles and committing to eating a home-grown meal once a week while the produce is in. Yes, it’s going to  be vegetarian, I don’t have any chickens,  but that’s OK too. I have organically-grown veges in my patch and it won’t do me or my budget any harm at all to go vege for one day a week. I’ll increase my culinary expertise along the way … I hope. I’m going to ensure that I buy local produce when I can’t grow it myself, and look for locally produced foods where possible.

I love collecting frequent flyer points on my overseas trips, but not for my food.

There are a whole lot of related videos on YouTube and elsewhere about Food Miles. Check them out.

Here’s one

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Interaction, Conversation, and Reflection

Showing various components of ecosystem and th...Image via Wikipedia

Yes it’s been ages; my regular posting pattern has disappeared, and visits have dropped away. Those readers loyal enough to stay with me would have read between the lines of my last post some 3 weeks ago. It was a guilt-trip that I laid on myself for exploring a slew of social networking platforms and services, and playing long and hard at them. I’d neglected my ‘first-born’ … this blog … even though my productivity has been way up. If the truth be known, I had nothing much to say here until now. I’ve been saying it all elsewhere, and along the way continuing mulling over other ways and means of communicating using the various platforms I’ve discovered: especially Seesmic and Friendfeed. I’ve enjoyed the new communities I’ve wandered into, and the ways of interacting with them. I’ve found an amazingly diverse and technologically rich ecosystem along the way. I’m excited by the potential we now have to gather, shape and share our words, sounds and images in so many variations … to communicate, learn, and to create … together.

The backstory to all this is that I’ve also changed the pattern of my life with its rhythms and demands. I took a month off recently not only for a holiday but also to sever myself physically and metaphysically from a lifestyle dominated by full-time work as an academic. Now I can choose what I do and how and when I do it. Yes dear reader, we are speaking about what’s called ‘retirement from the workforce.’ You could say I am in transition, and loving it. So this was another thing I had to say … things have changed for me as has the way I now think about myself and what I do.

And what has this to do with blogging? Well lots as it turns out. What will I write about here? Spinning’s by-line has been ‘one academic’s adventures in e-learning with a Mac.’ I’m not a professor any more, but that doesn’t mean I’ll lose my adventurous spirit, curiosity and love for learning, or penchant for things Mac. So I will continue under a new by-line … you had noticed it above hadn’t you? You can expect to see some structural changes around the site, but they’ll sneak in and out until I can get the shape right; I’ll write about them too … it’s nice having more time to spend on such things.  I’ll also be talking more about e-learning and digital communication outside formal education systems. I would love to hear from you as always … .

And yes, they always say you’re never busier than when you retire. It’s true.

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Class Blogging: getting started

This is a comment ‘upgraded’ to a post. The original was in response to an inquiry from a colleague in the US. She asked for some tips on using a class blog. My response got long, and by the end I thought it probably could do with a dust-off and a reshaping into a stand-alone post. So here it is in the hopes that you too might find it useful.

The first thing is to find out what your school’s policy is on blogging. Do this before you begin. If there are queries raised by any authorities (from colleagues, principal through to school board members), be ready to respond. Last year an Australian colleague (who was a genuine pathfinder in his use of blogging in education) ran into difficulty with a state education authority. The potential for child abuse weighs heavily on the minds of all people of good will, and bureaucratic organisations sadly have little choice but to wave over perfectly innocent projects like this one with a ‘stop’ sign. Subsequently educational bloggers here debated the issues which revolved around the banning of that particular class blog: perceived bureaucratic heavy-handedness, professionalism, pedagogy, the use of children’s images online, the open-ness of the blogging platform and so it went. It was a good if at times emotive discussion, and one that had to be had. It began and ended with everyone fully supportive of the teacher in question, and his approach to class blogging.

What platform should you use for a class blog? I’d use Edublogs, which has built in administrative capacity for large numbers, and which has been designed for educational use. It’s bolted on to WordPress so you know you are getting a great ‘back-end.’ There are built-in widgets and an online help + great community of fellow educators to help out if you get stuck.

Next thing sketch out how you see the blog being used by you and the class and design accordingly. Will it be an all-in, everyone-respond with you (or an assigned student) leading the topic discussions? If so, you are not going to need individual pages or blogs. I’m using the term ‘class-blog’ to mean a blog that provides individual students with an opportunity to contribute to a class-focussed project or theme.

If you require each student to have his/her own page, then you could go the way I did with a reflective blog on a group project. I set up the blog, assigned an individual page to each student and they wrote their own entries as they went. Individual pages can be password protected for confidentiality with students sharing their passwords with you. This approach is a tad more complex in terms of organising entries, and you will need to spend some time teaching students the difference between writing in their ‘pages’ rather than creating entires as ‘comments.’ This might not matter to you.

Edublogger gives the teacher as blog administrator the opportunity to create individual blogs for each student. These can then be linked to a class ‘home-room’ page via the sidebar. Each student has the freedom to design his or her blog to suit … a great exercise in aesthetics, design, and organisation in itself. Students can password protect their blogs as they wish, and each blog is just a click away. Meantime you as the administrator can keep the focus on the main page with your own posts and general comments to everyone. Student blogs have the potential to become a student portfolio over time, or a precious journal or photo-album. This is the way I’d go next time I set up a class blog focussing round a group project.

You should also organise how you want students to respond in terms of style and frequency of posting: text, photos, videos etc., but I guess this is no different from the way we’d set up expectations in terms of material assignment submissions.

Lastly, I’d take the students step by step through the process you have used. Show them how you went about choosing which approach to use and why, and introduce them to how the whole business of blogging works. Demystify the whole back-end thing, so that they are confident about the tools they are using as well as their content. We tend to take pencils and paper for granted, but there is still a lot of mystery and anxiety aka digiphobia hovering around e-learning and its tools.

Add-ons like widgets can be used as you and the students see fit or find useful. You probably don’t need any to start, but there are plenty already available in Edublogger if you want to play. Blogging etiquette including commenting and other bloggy practices like tagging are learned as you go. And that’s how it should be.

I’m sure others will join in here with their tips. Check out also Sue Waters’ Edublogger site. Sue is a prolific and supportive e-learning mentor, and the site is full of great, easy to follow and above all practical support with lots of ‘how to’ information.

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Serendiptious thinking and a new endeavour

Michele Martin and Tony Karrer are two writers I enjoy. Their individual contributions to the sphere of workplace learning come together in their new endeavour WorkLiteracy. Check it out and engage if you can.

One thing I’ve come to believe in the past 6 months or so is the power of the serendipity of our connection and writing in this field. Michele and I have often been mulling over and writing the same things within the same 24 hours. I read Tony’s entry in his post Personal Value and Change today, a couple of hours after I’d written much the same thing in a comment here.

Here’s Tony:

At one point, I was much more positive about the prospects for adoption of web 2.0 tools and cited the technology adoption model:

Adoption Rate = Perceived Usefulness (PU) * Perceive Ease of Use (PEOU)

And with how easy these new tools are, the PEOU is going to be high. So, it will come down to their Perceived Usefulness (PU). So …

It’s first and foremost about personal value.

There’s also a factor of the individuals feelings about their capabilities related to the system.

And here’s mine … much shorter but eerily similar:

‘Ownership’ is a great term. I think when we claim to own something, it’s because we see value in it, and because that value has meaning of some kind to us.

I’ve found that if a student/colleague finds value in one of these tools then they will attempt to claim it and own it for their own use.

Good luck Michele and Tony. Work Literacy looks like a great enterprise.

Love this web thing.

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On personal branding and being a small business on two legs

You know how the old saying about mothers goes …. they’re sociologists, counsellors, tutors, managers, chauffeurs (add your own personal favourite). So it is these days that I find my role as a university lecturer diversifying in the oddest ways. Now this has probably got more to do with the nature of the discipline field … theatre, and preparing young artists for a professional role in the entertainment industry. Most of my classes are involved with training students for careers as actors. Yes, I teach and direct, but also and for nearly 10 years now as the industry has changed its face, I’ve been training them to think about themselves and their work in a business-like way. Empowering them to engage in what the economists like to call disintermediation, and which in the arts industry means extracting yourself from the middle man and the control they can have over your work (aka agents of all kinds). The jury’s out on whether or not it’s a good thing to cut the painter entirely, and let’s face it, actors wouldn’t be actors if they didn’t have an agent to blame for most things.

You know how the old saying about mothers goes …. they’re sociologists, counsellors, tutors, managers, chauffeurs (add your own personal favourite). So it is these days that I find my role as a university lecturer diversifying in the oddest ways. Now this has probably got more to do with the nature of the discipline field … theatre, and preparing young artists for a professional role in the entertainment industry. Most of my classes are involved with training students for careers as actors. Yes, I teach and direct, but also and for nearly 10 years now as the industry has changed its face, I’ve been training them to think about themselves and their work in a business-like way. Empowering them to engage in what the economists like to call disintermediation, and which in the arts industry means extracting yourself from the middle man and the control they can have over your work (aka agents of all kinds). The jury’s out on whether or not it’s a good thing to cut the painter entirely, and let’s face it, actors wouldn’t be actors if they didn’t have an agent to blame for most things. Continue reading “On personal branding and being a small business on two legs”

Organisational Change and the Power of Collegiality

Rugby_scrum.jpg

There’s been something of a theme running through the last half dozen or so posts here. I guess it’s a function of the time in the new academic year … beginnings and the raising of issues that are challenging us all. I was at another faculty meeting last week where e-learning was discussed. You could feel spines stiffen a bit as the topic went round the table. The conversation went something like this: ‘People won’t (make an effort/change their way of doing things/appear to be even slightly interested in innovation or … add your own phrase here) unless they are made to.’ Now the ‘people’ being referred to are academics. I’m moved to ask what happened to the spirit of intellectual inquiry and the desire to develop one’s scholarly practice? Well that’s another matter, but for now there’s a management imperative that has to be addressed by individuals in the faculty collective, and fast.

Rugby_scrum.jpg

There’s been something of a theme running through the last half dozen or so posts here. I guess it’s a function of the time in the new academic year … beginnings and the raising of issues that are challenging us all. I was at another faculty meeting last week where e-learning was discussed. You could feel spines stiffen a bit as the topic went round the table. The conversation went something like this: ‘People won’t (make an effort/change their way of doing things/appear to be even slightly interested in innovation or … add your own phrase here) unless they are made to.’ Now the ‘people’ being referred to are academics. I’m moved to ask what happened to the spirit of intellectual inquiry and the desire to develop one’s scholarly practice? Well that’s another matter, but for now there’s a management imperative that has to be addressed by individuals in the faculty collective, and fast. Continue reading “Organisational Change and the Power of Collegiality”