Saturday, 18 August 2012

Closely Examined v2.0

This is an updated version of a blog I published on our internal HR site at work earlier this week.  I tweeted that I had published it and this stimulated a discussion with @elearningguy @MikeCollins007 @ChangeContinuum @DaveBrown2001 about what the differences are between internally and externally delivered blogs, and whether there should be any.

There were good reasons, I thought, for not publishing this blog externally.  It features my son and his educational challenges this year, culminating in him getting his AS exam results this week.  He has his own twitter presence and, as twitter is my main social media collaboration and communication medium, I didn't wish to embarrass him by 'cross-contamination'. However, no-one at work knows him, and the blog would have a much smaller audience (work to do here with regard to internal engagement with SoMe).

David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum) asked if Sam had read it himself.  He hadn't - and still hasn't. So he hasn't had the chance to say whether he was bothered about it or not. My bad.  If I publish this blog today, it will be because Sam has read it this morning and OK'd it.

So, here's the original blog, with an update at the end on how things turned out. Enjoy and please comment on anything you've read, be it internal v. external blogging, privacy, education systems, ICT, change, L&D... Enjoy.

Like many other young adults in England and Wales, my son will get his AS exam results on Thursday this week.
Sam seems remarkably sanguine about this, despite what has been quite a rocky road for him in his first year at 6th Form College.  As well as taking three AS levels, he also had to re-sit his Maths GCSE following a D pass in the previous year at school.

The 'rocky road' to which I referred really touches on a couple of areas of concern that I have had as both of my children have worked their way through our state education system.  Let me say here however that I am a passionate believer in state education, but I am saddened at how it has become a political football over the last several years and as a result, has become muddled, target-driven and seemingly unsighted on the real needs of our children.

Natasha seemed to find a direction and a focus for her efforts.  She had an aim in mind - to study Interior Design at University - and directed her energies to the subjects and grades that she required.  She is now going into her second year at Nottingham Trent University, studying Interior Architecture & Design.

Sam, on the other hand, didn't have a plan.  Neither his Mum nor I, nor his tutors, seemed to be able to offer the guidance and support he needed to help him find a path through Year 1.  In the subjects that he enjoyed, he did well all year - Music Technology and Film Studies.  However, in ICT and Maths, he floundered - he skipped classes, missed submission deadlines, was unenthusiastic whenhe did attend and generally got himself into a position where his behaviour and performance was jeopardising his continuing at college.  I'm pleased to say that he did eventually get back on track, began to see a potential plan for Yr2 (and maybe Yr 3 as well), and got his head down.  We await his AS and GCSE results 'with interest'...

Two things here: I remain unconvinced that 16-17 year old young people are ready for the 6th Form College environment.  I think it's too early.  I think they still need the more formally structured day of school.  Maybe, just maybe, girls are slightly more mature and can adapt to the new, personal responsibility environment more readily, but boys? I'm not so sure.

Secondly, Sam hated his ICT classes.  He found them boring and irrelevant.  OK, he is in the fortunate position of having two parents who work extensively with IT, and has access to his own kit.  But the ICT curriculum takes no account of how his generation are already using IT in the real world.  To them, it's not 'ICT', it's 'Life' - communication, connection and entertainment - via smartphone, PC, tablet, iPod etc.  It's facebook,Twitter, Spotify, YouTube etc.

But as I say, he got his head down eventually and worked to catch up and do as well as he could in his exams.  But he's dropping ICT now, to take up Media Studies and Drama in Year 2.  Not exactly an endgame plan, but some definite themes emerging.

But here's the ironic bit: It turns out Sam's got his own YouTube channel where he posts his own film review video blogs (vlogs?)!  He's been doing this for two years, has posted tens of reviews, has hundreds of subscribers, over 45,000 views and he's done it all by himself.  He's used his passion for movies, his desire to have a say and a discussion with his peers; he's learned by watching and listening to others' video blogs, by trial and error, by feedback from his audience and, as a result, he's found his voice and his confidence has increased dramatically.  And co-incidentaly, he's just got his first part-time job, after a year of trudging round Brighton and Hove with his CV.  His first two-part interview and he aced it.

I think there's a message here for us about what the future of learning looks like and what UK schools, further and continuing education/learning providers need to consider and act on.  Front-loading alone does not work.  We don't know best, but we can certainly help our learners to develop their curiosity, questioning and analysis skills.  And we need to provide relevance, context, curation, facilitation, empowerment, access and the media and technology channels to enable them to be applied.  It's beginning to happen and I'm excited by the opportunities.

If you have AS, A2 and/or GCSE results coming this week and next, what's been your experience?  I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.  Good luck to you and yours too!

Post Script: Sam got his AS results on Thursday.  Sufficient passes in Music Tech and Film Studies to allow him to carry them forward to A2, starting in September.  He's dropped ICT, so we can gloss over that result. Just Maths GCSE to come now on 23rd August.  We are quietly confident.

Post Post Script (23/08): Sam got his GCSE Maths result today - Foundation level 'C' Pass, highest achievable on that grade!  We are all dead chuffed! Thanks for your interest.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

What I FELT on my Holidays

We've just come back from a week's break in North Yorkshire and are now on the second week of our staycation at home. I'm reflecting on the whole experience here, not from a learning blog perspective, but from a FEELING perspective and have focussed on five moments, each different, but all significant in their own way...

Family: We spent an evening at my Brother's home in Sleaford on our way up North, with my Brother Malcolm, my Sister-in-Law Diane and my Nephew, Daniel.  Always good to meet up with them, but there was added significance in the turn of conversation.  I blogged back in December about passing the age my Father was when he died, and the realisation for me that I had been gifted the time that he never had.  At one point in the evening, over coffee, Malcolm said, "Not sure whether to raise this or not, but sitting here looking at you, Niall, is like sitting here looking at Dad. You look exactly now as I remember him before he died."  My Sister-in-Law chipped in, "I only knew him for a short time, but he was the age you are now when I did, and it's spooky how much you look like I remember him".  I was profoundly moved by this, as it resonated with my feelings when I wrote my blog on that topic in December Age - Appropriate.  It's nearly 30 years since we lost our Father, and Malcolm and I haven't really talked about him since then.  This evening, we all spoke of our memories of him and our regrets at what he missed in our family growth.  For me, this was also a healing experience, as things were difficult between my Brother and his then fiance and our Mum and Dad at the time he took ill and died.  I felt that we had finally put that time and those feelings to bed and had collectively honoured my Father during our visit.

I FEEL closer and better connected to my family.

Theatre: When Mandy and I were in Scarborough, we went to the theatre to see Alan Ayckbourn's new play "Surprises".  Scarborough is the home of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the cradle of his play writing and directing for many years now. I was totally caught up in the drama and humour of the piece, totally engaged with the characters and thoroughly enjoyed the faultless performances of the ensemble cast. The three acts flew past.  At the end of the piece, as the cast took their bows, I found myself applauding enthusiastically, but with tears streaming down my cheeks. I was moved and sad at the same time.  Why?  Because - if you didn't know this already - I used to be a professional actor.  I went to Drama College and graduated with the intention of becoming a Drama Teacher.  However, I elected to follow the theatrical path and became an actor, a career I pursued for some 12 years, until other priorities (like earning a decent wage, being able to pay the rent, save for a house, start a family - you know, that stuff), became more important and I stepped away and moved into training.  But I remember the feeling of performing, being part of an ensemble, interacting emotionally, exercising and developing my first choice craft, and, yes, soaking up the applause at the end.  I still miss it.  I need to find that passion and inspiration again in my work life.

I FELT torn - enthralled and energised by the play, but sad that my first choice career never worked out.

Trains: We spent a day on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, travelling from Goathland to Grosmont, then all the way to Pickering and back. This is without a doubt the best working 'heritage' railway I have ever visited.  Mainline steam trains travelling through stunning scenery for up to an hour-long journey.  The trainspotter geek, the inner free child and the nostalgia fan in me were all fully immersed and satisfied in the joy of a day with steam trains.  Mandy said that half of her enjoyment of the day was the pleasure of seeing me enjoying myself so much, and in fact, she tweeted a photo of me expressing my excitement, which I reproduce here, for your enjoyment/amusement.  You can see the pictures of the day, as well as the rest of our holiday, on my new Flickr site at

I FELT unalloyed 'free child' joy and happiness.

Marriage: Throughout our holiday, Mandy and I are spending quality time together, without considering the day-to-day issues of work/life imbalance, financial worries, managing the household, etc.  We walk, we talk, we laugh, we dine out, we drink, we read, we argue, we smooch... 

I FEEL a deeper love for and connection with my wife.

Olympics:  During the home-based week of our UK staycation, I am watching a lot of the London 2012 Olympics, and am genuinely and pleasantly surprised at how much I am enjoying the experience.  I have watched so many different sports, and really got caught up in the excitement and the emotion of each and every one of them.  I am so impressed and inspired by the passion, commitment, strength and athleticism of these young people - and, having been a bit of an Olympics sceptic beforehand (impact on London commuters, G4S, ticket lottery and empty seats), have been completely won round by the logistics and the organisation of the whole event.  It's a pleasure to see the athletes and the public united in enjoying this unique event in London.

I FEEL proud to be British. 

(On further reflection, that Olympics paragraph ties in with the concluding contrary remarks of my last, rather downbeat, blog, "We're only little - and our time is short"- "I actually think that there is much to love about us humans; that we can do remarkable things and show astonishing creativity, compassion, generosity, mindfulness and tenacity.  That's why I'm in Learning and Development.")

So, why are all these experiences resonating?  Because in each case, I was/am caught up in the emotional, sensed moment - not intellectualising, not over-analysing, just being.  And that's a damn good reason for making sure that  we have a lot more holidays and tune-out time, in the gift I have been given of the time that my Dad never got to enjoy.  So, to conclude...