Anyone got a bucket and a mop?

Listening to As it Happens on the CBC today, I was laughing out loud. It seems that in a public library in Ottawa, there was a complaint about the cleanliness of the men’s washroom. The complainee returned after an hour, and yet the brown mess was not yet cleaned up. At this point he contacts the office of the city counselor. A member from the office goes down to take a look – it’s only a couple of blocks, and such is the life of a staff from the city counselor’s office.

Once there, it’s not quite the apocalypse he’s been lead to believe, but the bathroom is indeed unusable, and the janitorial staff are shared amongst municipal buildings, or on a different janitorial emergency. Not available. So he asks around “anyone got a mop and bucket?”

Back in the office, his boss receives a phone call from a staff member at the library, warning him that his actions could be considered inappropriate, and that the union could file a grievance.

At this point I’m laughing out loud, and the interviewer is too, asking how this falls under his job description. “Do you ever watch the West Wing, with their Armani suits and $500 shoes? Municipal politics isn’t like that.” The killer line of the interview went something like this:

“There is a time to pitch in and get it done, and that wasn’t a time to write a memo or form a committee.”

I can’t make this shit up: listen to it here. (It’s the first story of part three.)

I like that guy. Even though his fifteen minutes of fame came from a toilet, he sure kept his sense of humour.


Make it so

I was talking with someone today about my first very own computer (that I took to university with me). It was an Apple Powerbook 100 with an external 3.5 disk drive, a trackball (that the cool kids replaced with a large marble). And it was great! I had a portable computer that I used for several years. Today I’m sitting in my living room, with wireless, full colour, downloading television shows in the backgroud. It’s rather obvious to say that we’ve come a long way.

And so when people make pronoucements on what can and can’t work, I remember when I couldn’t quite grasp the idea of the internet. I couldn’t understand what people could possibly want to access online – newspapers and books were my point of reference, and reading books online still hasn’t really caught on.

So no, I’m not really sure how you might use synchronous communications, learning management systems podcasting, blogs or wikis.

I know that we have to start with what the teaching or learning objectives are. Once there, ask questions, make adjustments, and personalize any medium that is chosen. Will students learn by creating and asking questions, testing things out, expressing new ideas or challenging other ideas? Once you start there….

Blogging is forever

I was giving a presentation on blogs at TA/TM day, and one of the participants said that they were hesitant about using blogs in education since there is a fear that a blog posting is forever. And I agreed, but that was wrong.

Blogs are not forever. You can edit posts, you can delete entire blogs when you are done with them. And besides, who says I can’t change my mind, get smarter (or dumber) and switch my allegiances. If you are not allowed to say something different today, then is there any point in learning anything new?

So I’m resolved to worry less about making the perfect posting, and write more about what’s going through my head.

creating complicated answers

Surveys are a great tool that I don’t use nearly enough. They are difficult to write, to distribute, to collect and analyze. A couple of times I’ve used free online survey tools such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey. So I was thrilled to see that ACS at SFU has created one for the SFU community. I can make it password protected, and choose from different categories of users, allow only those from chosen maillists or input individual WebCT ids.

I don’t know how widely used it is, however. Anyone that I’ve told has been surprised. Makes me wonder how much time we collectively spend creating complicated answers to work related questions.

Selecting adjectives

The introduction of the SFU U-Pass means that many more students are on the bus everyday. I listened half-heartedly to a conversation last week about what coat the student should buy. What struck me was her inability to choose an adjective. She preferred the more expensive coat, but I’m not sure why, since “it was, like, you know.” Since her friend knew, it didn’t seem polite to turn around and admit that I didn’t know to what coat qualities she referred.

The Centre for Writing Intensive Learning has recently joined the LIDC, and a welcome addition they are! If I understand their objectives properly, they are not working on developing grammar and spelling, but on integrating more and varied writing into the curriculum. I hope that a w-course, with it’s emphasis on writing and feedback will help her express herself more specifically in the future. The practice will have to help, won’t it?

When I entered the Co-op program as a student so many years ago, the coordinator took issue with my use of the word “very.” I must have said that I have very good communication skills, and she asked what “very” actually means. “Too vague!” she said, smiling. I’ve never forgotten that small, but very specific feedback, and I do my best to prove that I exhibit effective communication skills when I: use a wiki to track projects, email confirmations of work completed, outline specific questions in a logical manner and write meandering blog postings about the use of language.

We shouldn’t have to rely on Google

I was thinking about Blogs in Higher Education today (since I’m doing a presentation on them in January), and so I used one of my favourite research tools. Google. In searching “blogs in higher education”, the second link was a blog post that referenced how one SFU class had used blogs. It was great to see what I was thinking about in real life, and to read the students reflections on this (for most) new experience.

So I needed Google, with it’s infinite links and resources to take me full circle, and to something that’s being done at the university I work in. Why don’t we (SFU, the LIDC?) have some function to highlight these teaching innovations?

And more importantly, what am I going to do about it?

WebCT, Blackboard and Open Source solutions

I’m watching (and occasionally participating in) a discussion in the SCOPE community. The current discussion began on the WebCT/Blackboard merger, and quickly moved into the age-old (haha) question of: proprietary software versus open-source.

I find this dichotomy to be awkward: I don’t think that one versus the other (or any of the many other choices) is necessarily the “best” choice. Blanket pronouncements ignore the variety of different users. Some people only want a content repository to support their face to face teaching. Some want to focus on grade delivery, or discussions, or… The other major division is between those who want it to be simple and unchanging, and those that want to be able to tweak, add and change their LMS.

So one conclusion is to use a multitude of tools to deliver education, and that probably works to a point.

The question then becomes: what do we owe the students? Should they be able to expect a consistent platform in which their education is delivered? (and I’m not making a distinction between online, face to face or blended learning). Or should students accept that the world is an ever changing place, with multitudes of platforms and ways of doing things?

Would we be having this discussion if we could offer instructional design support to all instructors, regardless of the platform?