Inspiring People

On Saturday night I attended a presentation by two young men, Duncan and Jonnie Penn who are two members of the team called The Buried Life. These are four young guys who for the last few years have been traveling in a purple bus called Penelope to complete their “bucket list” of 100 things. They are the latest MTV Reality Show Sensation after being plucked from YouTube a couple of years ago.  There is no doubt that these guys are definitely entertaining with their “never say never” motivation to fulfill dreams that may seem impossible.

I would have walked away from the presentation on Saturday amused and entertained by their refreshing tenacity if it ended as all traditional presentations end – with a famous quote, joke or montage of footage from their recent exploits.

Instead the Penn brothers invited any member of the 300 member+ audience  to approach a microphone and declare their dream that they wished to fulfill before they die.

When this invitation to declare a personal dream was announced there was a rush of a few young girls to the microphone who predictably declared their dream to kiss one of the brothers on stage. But after the initial hugs and kisses were over, there was an uncomfortable transition in the evening.

Several young men and women tentatively described their struggle with mental illness, lost loved ones, abandonment and their simple dream to be healthy, or to be reconnected with people.  As I listened to one vulnerable story after another I became uncomfortable  because I was concerned with how the MTV  “hot shots” on stage would respond. My worry subsided as I marveled at Jonnie and Duncan’s tender, sensitive and sincere response to every person. They gave each young man and woman time to speak, weep, and find the words to express their heart’s desire. They took time to reaffirm each speaker’s struggle, pain, loss with a profound sense of empathy. Occasionally a clarifying question was posed or an encouraging statement was shared. Their responses were neither glib or patronizing. The MTV superstars on stage seemed to know this wasn’t about them it was about the people who bravely voiced their dream and those of us in the audience who were privileged to hear it.

This experience could have easily been a slick presentation to perpetuate the MTV machine but it became a catalyst event for everyone to consider themselves worthy of dreaming. Duncan and Jonnie showed compassion, wisdom and insight in their public interactions with each of the audience members who spoke. Instead of the the token 5-10 minutes at the end of presentation that is typically allotted for comments, 30minutes was given for people to share their stories and their dreams. This was one third of the entire presentation.

Walking out of the auditorium that night was like riding  a tidal wave of conversations, questions, declarations and laughter. People were actually talking- to one another!

And I experienced something I haven’t felt in awhile.


I realized that’s what I want in a presentation.

I’m done with sitting through and creating presentations with no or little time to connect with the collective inspiration of  those around us.

I’m done with technology tools that reinforce solo performances.

I want to create and attend presentations that promote the insights of others. I want to inspire people to really talk to one another againeven while in the same room.

Kudos to the men of  The Buried Life for not selling out as  just entertainers and for chipping out space in this crusty world to share the struggle and to dream.

© The Buried Life

Student Course Evaluations: Are they worthwhile?

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So I finally found the time and admittedly the nerve to pick up and read my student evaluations for EDCI 336 from  last term. I promised myself that I would set up the scenario with the following parameters:

1. Read evaluations while experiencing  a high self-esteem trend.
2. Have someone available on speed dial if I need to banter about the results.
3. Read evaluations just before or just after a workout, tennis game, or exceptional bottle of wine.

Why so tentative?

Before obtaining my evaluations I talked to someone who I admire and aspire to be like (Em that’s you!) She’s the kind of person who is your multi-vitamin of life. She is full of joy, wisdom, perspective and with the precious capacity to listen. She said that her student evaluations were “brutal” very critical and full of comments that she deemed to be less than constructive.

My fear of experiencing a similar plight?

I gave it my all.

I don’t think given the same circumstances I could have worked any harder during this experience. Despite my best effort what if I failed? What if I somehow missed the connection?

So I’m well acquainted with failure and I find opportunities to proclaim the opportunities that failure awakens but when faced with the possibility of a teaching debacle it is truly uncomfortable..particularly when the edge is so fine between a great teaching/learning experience and a dismal one.

Walking to my car with the manila envelope tucked under my arm I felt the tension building so much so that upon arriving at my car I threw open the door, tore open the envelope and peered at the results. A confusing array of columns and numbers didn’t give me immediate clarity. I had to comb through mean, medians, standard deviations to condense my overall impression.

After a few minutes I breathed a sigh of relief. I reviewed a range of results from “Very Poor” to “Excellent” with more results on the “Excellent” side of the teeter totter than the “Very Poor”.

. …Exhale…  “Well at least I didn’t suck.”

No, not very mature is it? But I think I reveal the gnawing insecurity that educators who start their career today and those who have been teaching for over twenty years experience each time they dare to engage with this mystery called teaching. The teeter totter of engaged learning can be very unpredictable.

Did these evaluations help me in my pursuit to provide the best learning experience? Well, given the number of written responses trashing Twitter I likely won’t spend as much time badgering students about tweeting pedagogy. Other than a few minor modifications I’m not sure these evaluations are a valuable means of improving my practice.

I’m discovering that every group of students I encounter has its distinct characteristics and needs. I need to prepare presentations and activities that respond to the unique disposition of the class and learning styles during the course- while it still matters not after course has finished.  The most invaluable feedback I received was at the beginning and midway part of the term when I distributed an online questionnaire about the content, delivery and direction of the course. With this feedback I was able to make some changes to both the preparation and delivery of the course material. Next time maybe I’ll plan to canvass the class three times during the term or look for “mini-forms”  of feedback to see if this maintains or increases their engagement.


Paying A Premium To Tune Out The World

I read this article over the weekend about highly educated ambitious people relying on paid subscriptions to applications such as Anti-Social and Freedom to prevent themselves from social networking distractions while working on their computers. Really? This reminds me of the time I first saw those tiny chocolate bars that you could purchase for more money than a regular chocolate bar but provided a relatively guilt free sugar hit. Why can’t we postpone the distractions until the work is done? Why can’t we buy normal food portions and consume what we need? Are we so detached from the present and so uncomfortable with solitude that we constantly crave online social interactions?  Kathy Gill from Washington University suggests that tweets,  status updates, blog comments etc.. raise serotonin levels so that some people are conditioned to rely on these stimuli like pathetic Pavlovian canines. I don’t get it. I’m on the outer reaches of the extrovert spectrum but I turn off all distractions when faced with impending deadlines that require long hours in front of this screen. Then again I’ve never bought a skimpy chocolate bar for double the price either. How about you? Would you pay for a tool that helps you tune out social distractions?

It’s Time To Break Some Rules

So I have been evaluating why I don’t seem to make time to blog and I realized that I outgrew my blog and that I needed to change it so that it reflects more of who I am at this point in my life. I spend a good deal of time  designing and evaluating educational technologies and online learning tools but this is only a slice of  life that I live. So despite the fact that blogs should be focused on one theme I’ve decided that the blog for me and one that I will invest some creative energy in is a smorgasbord of ideas and experiences. Speaking of smorgasbord why don’t we use this word anymore?
First up on the smorgasbord experience. An unexpected Victoria snowfall…Woke up motivated to continue my running regimen but not so fast…a foot of snow fell on Victoria snarling traffic and bringing Canada’s Lotus Land to a serene standstill. Check out my pics in my photo gallery.

Photo above by ©bayswater97

The Dark Side Of Technology

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So despite my absence in the blogosphere I have  spent more time than I care to admit in front of the computer in the last six months. That’s the problem. After spending 6-10 hours a day working on projects and tasks that I am paid to do I have no motivation or inspiration to spend my ‘free time’ sitting in front of this screen.  This is significant because the learning I have acquired over the last six months has been grueling and satisfying at times but does not feed the other technically creative side that inspired me to use technology tools in the first place. What would I love to do on this silly machine?  I still have two thousand photos that I would enjoy sifting through from my recent trip to Italy. I would like to find some fitness apps that I can download on my iPod touch to monitor pace and distance in running, I would like to extend my editing skills with video and dig deeper into Adobe Premiere. By this time of the day I’m tapped out. So I’m off for a run and then out to celebrate a milestone. I cherish my time away from the keyboard and the screen and I’ll try and figure out a way to carve out the creative pursuits that drew me to this digital world  in the first place.

My Grade Six Teacher Is Haunting Me

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One of my most irritating memories of Grade 6 was Physical Education classes. We had a teacher who’s idea of PE was a daily regimen of jogging and Netball. We never experienced a game of  tag, dodgeball, or capture the flag. The ubiquitous metal climbing gym (that adorned all the Vancouver schools of the 1970s that were later deemed as “death traps” by risk analysis consultants) remained entombed in chains  against the gym wall for the entire year of 1976.

The only thing worse than jogging in the Vancouver drizzle for ten months of the year was squinting through the sweat and freezing rain at my PE teacher who would just stand on the sidewalk in her long wool trench coat looking like she was waiting to take her seat at an opera rather than jogging herself and in turn modeling for her students how to develop physical fitness and a love of sport.

Why do I bring up this annoying memory? Well I have an opportunity to show a few people the value of blogging as a reflective, connecting, creative activity; however, if I am not willing to sustain a blog myself then I might as well don my own comfy coat  find a place on the sidewalk and watch those I’m working with blog around me. Sorry Mrs R…..from 1976 I won’t be joining you. I am going to carve out the time to write.

Is the Grim Reaper Waiting For Elluminate?

Is it just me or is anyone else frustrated with the way in which most presenters have been using Elluminate to express their ideas? I have seen about twenty webinar presentations  and most of the time presenters have adopted the traditional didactic practise of illustrating findings for most of the scheduled time, then allowing the remaining  five minutes of a presentation for questions and answers. During the course of their lectures I can’t help but wonder about the lost opportunities to hear from the other participants or in many cases…observers. Sometimes I have wondered whether webinars are just another expensive anachronistic device and my patience has been waning as a participant in this online experience but there is reason to hope! Hope for a truly participatory online experience arrived during a sixty minute presentation by George Siemens at LearnTrends 2009. In his presentation he harnessed the ideas of some of 100 participants by allowing people to contribute ideas regarding the challenge of finding balance in the apparent dichotomies of learning support structures. It was an engaging open ended discussion about these realities. Below are a few screen shots of the presentation.

After a brief introduction about his topic and the an explanation of how his presentation would progress, he provided a quick tour of the recommended Elluminate whiteboard tools that we should use then posed his first question to the group:

” What dualistic principles do you deal with when supporting learning in the workplace?”

As the whiteboard filled  with ideas someone eventually remarked (in the chat window) that this was too busy for them. George suggested that this was just ‘stage one’ in allowing ideas to be exchanged. From this initial template, ideas could be categorised and examined for emerging patterns.

In subsequent slides he asked participants to mark or remark on areas where they also experienced tensions in working with different perspectives.

It was fascinating to watch participants take ownership of this exchange. In the slide below George was trying to compare the continuum of perspectives we must hold in order to maintain relevancy with any implementation process. He said, “Just imagine that the left and right side of the screen are labelled with ‘Gladwell and Laskas’.” He had reviewed this same slide earlier in his presentation with the same clarifying comment and repeated this request again when he posted the graphic a second time but this time one of the participants just wrote words on the left and right side of the screen so that it would be clearer.

This session was an inspiring example of how to provide a context with which people can exchange ideas, doubts, needs, questions and insights. I highly recommend you watch this presentation if you are looking for an Elluminate best practice illustration.

How is Twitter Like The Diamond Head Game?


The Diamond Head Game was a unique American game show that aired for 130 episodes before it was sadly cancelled in July 1975.

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One of the highlights of the show was the “Money Volcano” in which contestants stood in an acrylic looking cage (more attractive than the one in this picture) while money spun around them at great velocities. The aim was to capture as many bills as possible in thirty seconds. Among the dollar amounts in the “Money Volcano” was one bill worth $10,000. I don’t remember anyone catching the elusive $10,000 bill but I always wanted to try out the “Money Volcano” for myself. I experienced something like the “Money Volcano” yesterday when I joined the Twitter session #lrnchat. As soon as I signed on to #lrnchat, hundreds of ideas, opinions, questions and links about learning and technology began to scroll down my feed page. At first it felt like I was floating in a moshpit of ideas but then I dove in and started to respond to inquiries that sparked my interest. As soon as I took time to draft an idea then thirty more tweets would scroll down the page. “Ahh…I can’t keep up!” I screamed. Is this what a distributed model for knowledge exchange feels like?

After a few minutes I started to breath again and I didn’t attempt to keep up with all the random insights. I selected what looked interesting and hastily responded. I desperately felt the need for a better interface to review ideas and make more relevant connections with the numerous “conversations”. I felt like I was just grasping at ideas hurtling by me. Maybe there is a virtual sticky noteboard that illustrates a coloured note every time a tweet appears  so that I can categorize, save, respond to and easily retrieve tweets and responses. Otherwise, the chaos of rapidly streaming ideas obstructs the potential gems of deeper inquiry. Maybe it’s my beginner’s uncertainty with the ambiguous random direction of interactions. I’ll step inside the “lrnchat Volcano” next Thursday at 5:00 PST and find out whether it’s a meaningful exchange of ideas or a just a fascinating distraction for me.

WordPress Workout In Victoria

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So what happens when 100 people get together to share how they like to share? Is it like the quintessential campfire complete with perfectly roasted marshmallows, caramelized smores and Bono acoustically crooning in the background? Bono was a no-show but there were some sweet moments during the day. Here are some of them.

Cindy Stephenson provided some exemplary blogs to review if you are new to blogging and looking for ideas. Some of these blogs include:
Steven Rubel
KD Paine

If you ‘re interested in making some money from blogging or an online presence Cindy suggested copyblogger as comprehensive introduction.
On Cindy’s recommendation I checked out Chris Brogan’s blog and his book, “Edit Yourself” in order to obtain some guidance about sustaining my own interest in my blogging.

There are so many cool technology tools out there. The problem for me is I won’t bother to try them out unless I see how they can be used in a variety of contexts. Triss Hussey’s presentation provided a thorough explanation of how he uses a variety of tools to enhance his blog.

Just when I was beginning to think that this blogging experience was getting too intense for me Lorraine Murphy’s presentation provided an irreverent breath of direct plain speaking opinions about communicating online. My favourite quotes, “Don’t waste your time with side bar widgets, no one looks at them.” “If you’re after google hits go with not .org.” My all time favourite, “If I’m bored, I look for online plagiarizers and I report them.” Sorry if these quotes aren’t completely accurate Lorraine-please don’t report me!

Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega is living proof that how you communicate speaks louder than what you say. This guy is funny. He’s also passionate about using dynamic tools to enhance online communication. Check out his integration ideas. Better yet find out where he is speaking next!

Paul Holmes organized this amazing day and given the enthusiastic response another WordCamp Victoria may happen in six months. I’ll bring the marshmallows!

Limping Out Of Lurkdom


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For the last couple of years I have been part of the 90% of people who interact with blogs by simply observing the online dialogue. This is experience is contradictory to my face to face interactions in which I find myself comfortably and actively involved in small and large group discussions. I am a true extrovert and thrive in environments where I am meeting new people but in an online environment I am surprisingly guarded. I have been trying to figure out this inconsistency and here’s what I discovered so far.

Sometimes the prospect of contributing a reply or question to a blog feels like I am crashing a dinner party. This is because some blogs can appear to be cliquish if the same people are responding to the the blog posts week after week. It’s a little intimidating to post or respond if there is an ongoing pattern of communication between a few contributors. The online environment benefits specific communication styles that are concrete, direct and analytical. For those of us who are visual and relational communicators it takes an unpredictable amount of time to determine how and when to communicate ideas online because the visual parameters that provide clues about unspoken social mores are not available.

And just what are the rules?

Unlike many online bulletin boards, and forums that usually include a FAQ section that outlines the acceptable structure and content of the discussion, blogs don’t provide an introductory space for those who are reading blogs for the first time. The blog space is a much more individualized space,  a little like walking into someone’s home. Some guidance about how to actively engage in the space would be more motivating for those of us who are content to just read.

How do we lure lurkers to say something?

Here’s a couple of ideas I’m going to try to integrate with my own blogs:

Frequently invite people to respond and provide several possible ways to respond. Comments, questions, jokes, best title, caption, web links or even one word.

In the “About” section of my blog I am going to provide information about how people can interact. If it is an active blog maybe describe not only myself but who a little information about the frequent contributors.

How about you? Are you more comfortable lurking? If yes, why?

What other strategies could be used to encourage active engagement with a blog?