A Purple Tie

It all began with a purple tie. I had seen it in my wardrobe the day before and decided to put off wearing it until a later time. When morning came, I knew this was the day to don the perfect outfit to express my style – though it was a bit much for the occasion. All I had to wear it to was a breakfast with some friends and possibly a museum. I was not aware that brekky with friends (as they say here in Sydney) would be a wonderfully drawn out affair followed up by an additional hour of sipping coffee at a nearby shop owned by a gentlemen I met at the church last week.
Purple Tie in Sydney
So maybe it wasn’t the purple tie that made my day so great, but it was a reminder that I can choose to act, appear, and live in a way that I want to – just because I want to – even if the occasion doesn’t necessarily call for it. I definitely enjoyed wearing the tie, but even more so, I enjoyed spending time with new friends, trying a huge Australian breakfast plate (an Aussie twist on the classic English with eggs, toast, tomato, mushrooms, and sausage), and learning how to order different kinds of coffee. I learned my first kind of coffee yesterday when I woke up craving a cup and was waved into a cafe by two girls in the street who offered me a free cup of coffee.
The long black is a basic cup of joe with sugar. Traditionally it is served with soda water to cleanse the palate for more enriching experience. Another great choice for those who want a sweet coffee is the ___white (I forgot the first part). It may have more milk than coffee but it is delicious. If you are into a cappuccino style of drink you can order a skim cap, soy cap, or probably any other kind of cap that’s drinkable.
Following the morning events, I walked with some friends from the south side of the city to the center where crowds gathered around musicians on the pedestrian streets, a Hare Krishna parade of dancers followed me around, and people bustled into the busy shopping centers that featured stores like Dior, Prada, Armani, and other high-end brands. The city malls filled with clothing, jewelry and accessories remind me of shopping in China where it was easy to find any top of the line brand name item, but very difficult to find a store like Target or Walmart to buy a laundry basket or other types of necessities. For these, I headed out to the suburban malls. Maybe this inconvenience reflects the fact that I am living in the largest city in this part of the world and a major tourist destination – lucky me!
Wedding Party
I stopped to reminisce at one of the less well-known spots overlooking Sydney Harbor on the way back  to where I live. At one end of my street is the harbor bridge; at the other end is a steep hill called “Observatory Hill” which features a telescope to see the stars at night, but is also covered with trees and sports stunning views of the harbor to the west. While I was there today a wedding caravan of three classic black and white cars pulled into the park for wedding photos and I think a ceremony. I feel rather fortunate to be living near and walking through such beautiful places on a regular basis – or even running through them to catch the train as I did later tonight to meet some friends for a birthday celebration downtown.
Maybe wearing my favorite tie helped to make this my favorite day in Sydney so far – I’ll never know. But what I do know is that I spent the last few moments before midnight sitting beneath the harbor bridge, looking across the water at the Sydney Opera house reflecting on how thankful I am to be here right now, in this place, with the opportunities that are before me: the friends, the studies, the church, the history, the food, the drinks, the train rides, and all the other adventures that await…if I will only have the courage to say yes to wearing a purple tie whenever I want to.
 Kevin with the Opera House

Creating Engaging Learning Experiences

One of my classmates shared this slideshow on how to make online learning into an engaging process for students and I thought I would share it here. The presenter uses the Moodle platform, but the principles apply to many different environments.

[slideshare id=40465062&doc=180minutesofelearninggbeevers-141019180756-conversion-gate02]

First Thoughts on Sydney!

Coming from the American culture, I am not used to the left hand traffic pattern. Thankfully there are signs written on the sidewalk to look the right direction for traffic.
I have never been to a city in the world where the populace follows the left hand traffic pattern so consistently. I have never even seen the right hand traffic pattern followed on the sidewalks the way it is here. However, I am quickly learning that walking to the left is what everyone here expects. Because I am studying multiculturalism, I wonder what would happen if I simply defied the order of the pattern. After all, the right hand pattern is just as legitimate of an idea. I think, for some reason that this would make the flow of people less efficient. By having a rule that everyone follows, society works together much better. People don’t crash into each other.
The city is beautiful and the house where I stay was built in the Georgian period (it’s really old) and is currently undergoing restoration. I will put up some photos of this soon. It’s gorgeous and it’s right in the middle of everywhere I want to be. The lights sparkle out on the water of the bay and just behind the house trains rumble across the iconic Sydney Harbor bridge to the north side of the city. These are the trains I will take to University when my orientation begins.
After wandering around for several hours, I finally found a place to buy some food and will probably be spending some money on sweaters and other warm things in the next couple of days. I have arrived on the coldest day in a long time (a nearby mountain received the most snow it has in the past 50 years!) so I will be waiting a couple days to judge the weather. Sadly, somewhere between the shopping mall and the train station my scarf slipped off and vanished into the city. Who knows what kind of adventures it will have.
If you want to give me a call here in Australia, send a message to my facebook account and I will give you my local number. Cheers!



Social Media for Learning

This week of learning through social media created a sharp contrast between the utility of the LMS (Learning Management System) used by my school and the free platform we enjoyed this week. If it were not for the convenience of grading tools, organizing assignments, and maintaining consistency of student experience, I would choose to learn via social media just about every time.

Social media is designed to be social. Information gets lost so quickly in the discussion boards on Canvas and Blackboard. The social media platform that we used (Schoology.com) brought forward the posts that I needed to see into a convenient newsfeed and was simple to navigate. It was also much easier to follow the threaded posts and upvote those things that I thought were important or interesting.

Notifications showed up whenever there was something new I needed to take care of and it was easy to interact with others in the predefined spaces. There was no boundary separating the information from the conversation. To me this seemed to create a more integrated learning experience.

In addition to these basic functions, it was simple to navigate to resources, easy to edit my profile, and there were other additional functions like blogging that were available if needed.

Despite all of this, I still feel like it will take some time for social media to overtake the entrenched learning management systems as the dominant platform for online learning. The reason for this is outlined in one of the thoughts we discussed this week:

It seems to me that there is a divide between learning and education. From our other discussion thread, it looks like many of us use social networks for learning on a personal level. When it comes to a more formalized learning experience, however, there are so many things to quantify that the simple interactions allowed by social networking tools are not sufficient for the classroom. Perhaps if learning facilitators could let go of the idea that every learner must go through the same experience and be measured by the same benchmark standards, then social networking tools could really be leveraged in a formal group learning setting. Until this changes, I think LMS will continue to dominate the distance learning scene.

A Majority Vote

“Does anyone realize what just happened?”, I wondered silently from the sidelines as the crowd in the auditorium slowly rose to their feet. Within minutes the applause had died down and the audience resumed their happy Sunday morning chatter. Nobody seemed to realize the decision they had made as a community to stay true to certain ideals would be just one small piece of an argument slowly assembling to challenge and perhaps change the political scene in their city and perhaps their nation. For a moment, the majority voice shouted a unison of ayes and no one dared speak up to question the decision. No one opposed the movement. In a decision so momentous shouldn’t there some question about the proper direction, said me disagreement, some sense of uncertainty?

I felt like I was the one person among hundreds that questioned the wisdom of the decision, but knew that my voice would be instantly discredited if I chose to dissent. I wasn’t a member of this group anyhow. If I was, perhaps I would think no differently than the others.
What worries me is not the logic of the decision. The rationale behind the vote made sense given the immediate context. What worries me is that it completely overlooked the negative implications that will come to light once the group recognizes the larger context in which they may no longer comprise a majority.
Outside of the building, how does the decision impact the image of the church? Does it undermine the core message and doctrine by choosing to emphasize a certain argument? Will people who disagree respect the process by which the corporate decision was ratified? Can the validity of the decision be supported simply on the basis of majority belief? Most importantly, though, what will be the impact of this decision?
 James Baldwin Quote

Race and Education

I think that in dealing with the subject of race most of us will run into the problem of defining our terms at some point in time. It is clear that there are differences between people, whether this is skin color, height, or age. Whether or not it is possible to argue that they are a result of genetic history or geographical history, physical variations do exist. The issue under question is one of how we respond to these differences.

This is a difficult task for individuals who inherit a historical and cultural context in which wealth and opportunity are often divided along the lines of certain physical features. For example, certain studies have shown that taller men have greater earning potential. Tall men who make more money and are able to afford a healthy lifestyle will most likely give birth to more tall men and pass on this genetic advantage. Similarly, individuals whose families have lived in cold parts of the world and adapted to this environment over the centuries will probably have an advantage in outdoor sports like skiing where their bodies can focus on performance and not simply on staying warm. If we lived in a society where skiing was the only mode of transportation and it was always cold, individuals with a certain genetic history would probably end up in control of resources and opportunities. Does this mean that people who don’t know how to ski are in some way less human? No. However, they are at a disadvantage to participate in a society that revolves around skiing.

I would like to suggest a logical transition from this scenario to one of our own. Individuals who grew up in a tropical jungle may find it difficult to adapt to the corporate jungle. This does not make them inferior, but if they attempt to compete in an environment they are not familiar with, they are at a disadvantage…and vice versa. The corporate individual would be at a disadvantage trying to survive in the jungle. Does this mean that there is a problem with the jungle or with corporate America? Not necessarily.

The problem comes when individuals have no opportunity to learn how to survive and compete in environments they were not necessarily prepared for. This is where education comes into play: offering individuals the opportunity to overcome the natural disadvantages they inherit that are beyond their control. How can a short man learn to stand tall? How can a jungle native learn to develop a fashion sense and table manners? Through education. Education is the key by which these individuals can open access to experiences beyond their reach. But if education as a system is designed to only serve the needs of individuals who are properly prepared, it has failed in its responsibility to society. It has become an inaccessible outcome rather than a process of preparation. The question I am left with from this week is how to create an environment of education in which individuals from any background can prepare to succeed in the real world?

Using Wikis in Education

As part of my class on learning and technology, I had the objective of creating a learning experience for my classmates that introduced them to wikis and blogs. With this wiki project, my partner and I wanted to give students the chance to experience building a wiki. If someone decides to use a wiki in their teaching field, we thought it would be important for them to understand what their students will go through.  After working together building the wiki, we can understand the process our students go through in using wikis for their learning.

After choosing a popular wiki platform, the challenge was how to design a week of learning that would be both accessible, but also valuable. We also wanted the project to have residual value to encourage a deeper level of participation. This reflection demonstrates the difficulties and hurdles we encountered in making this a successful project and includes some suggestions for future projects.

Looking back on the learning experience, I think it is possible that we made the project a little bit too complicated for the week-long time frame. Additionally, we were not necessarily prepared for the psychological hurdles that individuals would have to overcome to participate.

There are plenty of details on how to build a wiki, but very few on the thought process behind it. Participants in developing the wiki project incorporated information on how to create a successful wiki-building culture. However, this was an aspect that first escaped our notice. This is one benefit of the wiki: that it can expand organically in ways outside the scope of the initial authors.

Another challenge turned out to be that individuals have a very difficult time relying on their own judgement to delete the work of someone else and replace it with something better. It is difficult to create  a strong enough objective to empower individuals to do this.

Another challenge of using a wiki is that it forces every individual to take ownership of leading the project. There is no one individual who has more editing and creative power than anyone else. This may indicate that before a wiki can be successful individual class members need to be comfortable with their ability to work together toward a common goal.

Because of this, our class easily learned how to navigate the new platform for discussion, but did not have the necessary cultural background or thought process to make the most of the wiki functions. Yet despite this hurdle, everyone became familiar with the challenges and benefits of using a wiki for teaching.

To view the wiki project, please click here.



Colors of Desire

In silence, my heart is changed. My mind ceases to run and begins to consider another way. Amid the dreams of greatness, a dream of quietness begins to grow. Or that I had never seen before. 
Why have I assumed that only one direction may be called the right and every other less? Perhaps the many were the right and very few the less.

What if I make the choice to be a person less than everything defined by life as greatness I could be?

Is that not what my heart has begun to wonder?

There is a blessing and a freedom in poverty that is unknown to those of wealth privilege and responsibility.

Where the endless pursuit of security destroys the blessings that it might secure.

A less admired, yet not more lovely life could be the one unknown by man or king. Whose simple existence none could bear save few that fall within the silent square. 

Where the living by right of life find joy and pleasure. Simply to be. Pursue the joy of food, of fire, of drink. Perhaps of laughter, the reward of friendship, and skill, the reward of practice.

Is it that I long to feel the earth beneath my feet and hear the sound of water or the air running through the trees? Not knowing what tomorrow may bring. The adventure for survival, the search for something beautiful, moments of peace, the sweat of work.

Here in this imagined place, I am one with what I am made of. My spirit loosed from the chains of civilization, the bondage to society, the slavery to survival.

Yet lost in time the great rewards of love of sacrifice that can only be wrought when one must live a life among others of this world. Perhaps it is not the pursuit of such rewards, but the careful crafting of such nature as could win them should fate blow their need my way. Simple care to be the best in this moment of time, to take what I can from what I am given. To dreaming given only as to a dream, never living where I must only wonder.

How do I take and find the way between these many varied colors of desire? The simple life, the one of fame, the love and responsibility with the joys of friendship, the deep beauty of solitude. That which is unrecognized does not have less value. Perhaps my light could run another way, uncelebrated, effective, beautiful, and well loved by one. If ever by more, only of their choice, no greater value bestowed on that already found worth living. Alone.