Goodbye FE

Harold Wilson

For the last two or three years I have been involved in the mainstream (Further -FE) education sector as a part-time Hospitality Assessor.

But no more.

I left the college that employed me last week and I have no desire to return to the sector as it continues to eat itself up from the inside.

I know that I must sound like an old curmudgeon, but I have spent a good part of my working life in FE, and loved every minute of it – until recently, when the learners/students/apprentices (call them what you like) started to be seen as monetary outcomes, rather than souls to be nurtured, taught and encouraged.

This was just one of the reasons I had for handing in my notice, there were many more, but all were based around the fact that middle managers are squeezed so tight that they really have no time to manage their team, their time or their learners’ academic outcomes.

For the last four months my charges, all level 2 food preparation apprentices, were seen as outcomes to be achieved by half term, when their funded time is up. Their practical (and often pastoral) needs were ignored: well, not ignored exactly, but no one cared whether they were being taught the skills they needed – just that they came into college and that that TICK was put on the register. The permanent staff treated apprentices like vermin.

With that sort of attitude, unchecked by a management more interested in securing and receiving funding I had to leave.

So, goodbye FE, thanks for all the fish.

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Yos A mite

Yosemite Sam

Yesterday, I girded my loins and updated the operating system on my Mac Book Pro.

My Mac is a late 2008 model; when I bought it in May 2009 I hadn’t been informed of that fact, nor of the fact that a new model would be released that summer. It came with Leopard (OSX 10.5) installed, but I updated this to Snow Leopard (OSX 10.6) fairly soon afterwards as I was, at the time, surrounded by folks who could support me should things go awry. It was a smooth process and until yesterday I ran with Snow Leopard successfully and without issues. Also see: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2476004/mac-os-x/why-mac-users-still-use-os-x-snow-leopard.html

Over the last five years I’d avoided the transition to Lion, then to Mountain Lion and then to Mavericks, fearing:
A) my own competence in undertaking the task and
B)more importantly – that my Mac was too old to take a bigger, fatter OS. Both fears have been (apparently) unfounded and I am now proudly running Yosemite* (OSX 10.10). Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_OS_X

My brother in law had been using Mavericks on his reconditioned MacBook Air and told me that it was quicker and didn’t drain the battery as much than whatever his machine had when he took it over. Then, last weekend I noticed that he had upgraded again to Yosemite. At the time, I was getting messages from Gmail telling me that my version of Safari was out-of-date and no longer supported, all of which was making me think that my machine was ‘getting on a bit’. So – as I had to stay in the house yesterday – I set too!

First of all (Yorkshiremen note …) the upgrade is free – costs not a jot. The download is about 5.5gig – so it takes some time. I think mine took about an hour to download. But I was working on the machine at the same time so I’m not really sure. Then the time came to INSTALL. I drew my breath and clicked ok.

The installation took quite a while. Once again, I didn’t check the time too closely but I went out for lunch and when I got back it was done all bar the fiddly bits – which are what really took the time.

First of all Safari wanted some TLC. I think because I don’t use Safari as my main browser (I use Firefox and Chrome too)  it was sulking a bit and I had to work out what it was it wanted, before telling it how much I loved it but – no I didn’t want it as my main browser. It took all my bookmarks from Firefox without really asking if I wanted to do that and I had clicked ‘ok’ before I really knew what it was up to. As a result of that I still have a lot of work to do with Safari to make it feel like mine again.

Firefox then threw a sulk and I eventually had to update that too. Which is a good thing. I now feel more in control of my main browser. It settled into Yosemite easily and without changing too much of my interface. I’ve yet to tackle Chrome.

Anything else that needed updating then shouted at me and were easily dealt with, except a couple of Apple things, (3) iLife (products) and iPhoto. The iLife stuff: Keynote, Numbers and Pages are still shouting at me to be updated but when I try they say they are not registered to me (which is untrue – I paid good money for iLife 2009!) – so that’s an ongoing saga. iPhoto on the other hand is simply too old for Yosemite, so i had to go to the App Store and download a new version. Because I have almost 11,000 photos on iPhoto the process of new-version taking over old-version DID take a while, almost two hours. However, when it came out the other side, it did look cleaner, faster and more adjustable.

There are still lots of Yosemite tricks and facilities I have to explore, but I’m happy to have got this far. It promises ‘stuff’ that I can only imagine as I have not yet got a iOS8 phone but I’ll play with the iPad later and see how that goes.

A message fro all this?  Don’t be afraid. Just do it 🙂

*That’s Yos em it ee b.t.w. like the park, not Yos A Mite 🙂

Keeping up

Three old foggies in BlackpoolI’ve been quite guilty of not keeping up to this blog page for quite a while now. For that I must apologise.

However, I’ve had so few opportunities to work over the last few months that I’ve had little or nothing to reflect upon (or pontificate about). And things are no better now.

I’ve decided to cut my losses and to stop doing face to face work nationally or regionally. I have a couple of half-promises for part time salaried work next (academic) year and the possibility of some online work too – so that will have to do. If the promises and the possibility come off, it will keep me out of mischief.

I’ve always enjoyed my face to face work and it’s what I feel I’m best at – but there is no longer any demand for my services. None of the national agencies that survive have the money to create opportunities and none of the colleges I’ve worked for can afford to buy-in e-Learning expertise. I know that others like me are struggling but they are younger and need to keep looking for work and for work opportunities. I’m coming to the end of my working life and I have no intention of leading myself into an early grave worrying about where the next job is coming from.

So EduVel’s WordPress page may not be published quite as often in the future as in the past. I still have an interest in education and educational technologies – but the current state of education and the institutions that deliver it fill me with rage – so I’m better off backing off (a little)

I intend to spend the spare time I might have learning Spanish and improving my French, and, as a means of keeping the grey matter up to speed, I intend to start researching an important aspect of European history – one that seems to have been neglected in schools (certainly, no one has taught me or my kids about it).

Watch this space.

Many thanks to everyone for contributing to this blog over the years. Your comments have always been welcome. Please feel free to contact me again through the blog comment area, or through one of my email/twitter/facebook contact addresses. I’m not going anywhere – I’m just working on e-Learning stuff a bit less 😉

Happy Summer.

New Flickr

screen shot of new flickr pageI really like my new Flickr page.

This just appeared one day last week, with little warning. It’s taken me a short while to find the things I use on Flickr, but overall I’m well pleased.

I’ve thought for a while that it would be nice to see my photo-stream full page, rather than in small windows. Now, I can scroll through the year quite easily.

E.g. The ‘Gavin’ Coke and picture of Sharon remind me of the weekend we had summer earlier this month. The picture of Kings Cross remind me of what will probably be my last work-trip to London and the various jig-saw pictures remind me of a new hobby.

Right back to Christmas and the inevitable Brussels Sprouts.

Sets and Favorites (sic) are now laid out in a more eye-friendly way too – I’d forgotten all about this picture of me and Danny Atwere; I just found it in my Favourites.

So, whilst I can’t always appreciate updates and ‘improvements’ just for the sake of changing something, I can and do appreciate this major change. Well done Yahoo!

So – Facebook; can you make updates and ‘improvements’ that work as well as Flickr’s?  

Arbeitslos

Arbeitslos 2013I have found this post quite difficult to compose. The subject matter is completely alien to me and I had to think long and hard about whether or not I should write it. I am doing so in the hope that it’s personally cathartic, as I don’t really expect any of the circumstances to change any time soon.

For the first time in over thirty years I find myself without work.

The last time this happened was in 1982 when, following several hard years of self employment a previous recession forced me to close the business I was then running. At that time we sold our delightful semi-detached home and moved into a fish and chip shop. This was good accommodation, but living ‘over’ the shop isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A fish and chip business wasn’t the most lucrative to have at that time either as all of the local businesses and mills were also closing – but we were able to keep a roof over our heads and to feed the kids.

It was following this experience that I moved into Education, starting as a part-time chef-lecturer at Dewsbury College.

I became self-employed once again; seventeen years later in 2005, when my ‘e-Learning Manager’ post at Dewsbury was made redundant. Since then, until the middle of 2011 it was ‘rock and roll’ – I was as busy as anyone else in this business and, I like to think, just as equally respected. Since the summer of 2011, things have slackened off remarkably. Without work given to me by the redoubtable Lilian Soon (at Leeds College of Music) and by LSIS (directly and via various routes), I would have struggled much earlier. I have had other work – not to mention that provided by TechDis (for whom I do still have some residual bits of work) and one of the RSCs, but now that LSIS are no more and the JISC are also tightening their belts, there is nothing on the horizon at all.

I know that I’m not the only one as I’ve seen several status updates on Facebook and on Twitter from respected, often eminent e-Learning gurus – saying the same thing: where is the work?

It would seem to me that at this time; when colleges are being forced to re-think the way they operate due to massively reduced funding streams, that the creative, thoughtful and effective use of e-Learning would be most necessary – but there’s no evidence of that.

I spent a full week in a college last month delivering ‘basic Moodle training’ (17 x 90-minute sessions) to as many of the staff (teaching and non-teaching) as could make those sessions – almost the entire staff body. And, that’s a good thing – but there is no cross-college, management inspired plan to back up the basics with anything more advanced. Yet, with just a little more guidance, some input on ‘other tools’ and a modicum of ‘this-is-how-to-make-online-work’ – next year’s intake mightn’t be faced with meaningless lists of files – or the scroll of video death*.

Cartoon image, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearmancartoons/Yet another college will soon move into a new build. As far as I’m aware, there will be no (or much reduced) physical file storage there and everyone will ‘hot-desk’. But I’m not aware of any training being delivered to help staff to cope with the necessity of storing online or of the benefits and challenges that this will bring.

After talking with other ‘e’ friends, some of whom are in a similar situation to me, I feel that much of the ‘e’ progress we have seen (and been party to) over the last 10-12 years is in danger of being lost – or at the very least stalled. Which is a real shame, because learners still need to be well taught – but nowadays in less time and with less face to face guidance.

So, although I’m fairly sanguine about my personal future – I do feel for those ‘e’ colleagues who have families to support. I just need to sell my house (it’s been for sale on and off for over two years already) and any immediate pressure will be off – but the reason for it not selling is much the same as the reasons for reduced funding across Education – and I don’t want to fall out with anyone by going into THAT!

🙂

*Now that I’ve shown teachers how to ‘embed’ videos in ‘labels’ (also in ‘Book’ – but that’s a step extra) I expect there to be a repeat of the days when teachers first saw PowerPoint and immediately adopted that – for everything, for ever! Leading to the original ‘death by …’.

Credits:

Cartoon image, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearmancartoons/
Main image original courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/evaekeblad/ [links to original]

Rewarding

This is a longish post – please bear with it 🙂

Picture of Chirk aquaductHow many of us ever know what becomes of our students once we’ve finished teaching them? How many of us ever care?

I still see many of my ex-catering students on Facebook: they ‘friended’ me years after I finished teaching them, which was years before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were ever thought of. They are all getting on with their lives, working, bringing up families and doing all the normal stuff I probably did myself when younger.

But not all of my ex-learners are able to function quite like that.

I’ve known Larry since he was born; his father and I went to school together.

I’ve known Larry professionally since he was 16 when his class came into college on a Friday morning for a 2-hour cookery class. Larry has some minor disabilities and a moderate learning difficulty, but these didn’t prevent him from taking part in the class – in fact his SLDD school classmates were often unable to take part at all without someone to one help them one to one. Larry was more able.

When he left the SLDD school at 19 he came into the college ‘foundation studies’ department and eventually, when that particular funding stream ceased, he came to me in Catering:  We had created an NVQ level 1 catering course especially for learners similar to Larry. The cookery part of the qualification wasn’t beyond them; the ‘realistic working environment (RWE)’ wasn’t impossible and we could go to town with the life-skills aspects – something my team believed in passionately.  We squeezed two years out of that funding stream and taught them basic maths, basic English, work skills and IT – all of these were coordinated and where a learner was weak in one subject, but strong in another, we paired them up and they helped each other. It was a brilliant course which I was happy to hand over to the talented, tenacious, energetic and inspired Sarah Mowet when we created a level 2 course for them to roll onto.

Snow up Golcar 2013

We knew that the learners would not be quite as successful at this higher level because the cookery requirements were just too complex, but we could still help them to improve their life chances by continuing the basic skills tuition and food service skills until funding once more (finally) kicked them out. For level 2 we needed them to have work placement experience and it was Sarah who found Larry his position at the local Pizza Hut. She fought for him to get the placement and Larry fought to keep it – twelve years on he’s still there. Thank you Sarah. Thank you Larry.

Larry has kept his job at Pizza Hut – two days a week – despite the ever changing managers and other Pizza Hut personnel. He has kept it by sheer force of personality, hard work and the ability to adapt (even if slowly, over time) to changing job roles. He has never worked front of house and has always had to carry out some of the more mundane tasks in the kitchen: making up the pizza boxes, washing up etc. But he has never ceased to learn.

Through all of this time, Larry has lived with his parents. He’s in his mid-30s now and last week he moved into his own ‘pad’. It’s not quite sheltered housing, but there is someone on site (a complex with around twenty other similar pads) in case there’s any real difficulty. Larry’s pad has a shower/wet room, a bedroom, a living room and a small kitchen; all of which he will look after on his own. He is responsible for his own cooking and cleaning; he even has a washing machine.

He’s been greatly excited as his new home, which he will share with others in similar positions to him, was being made ready. Because of his slight visual impairment, he has a large T.V. and when we moved him in, we made sure that this would function as a monitor for his laptop – it did, wonderfully. He had a remote keyboard and mouse and can control his computer from the settee, along with his music. We also fixed up his Wii – so he can continue to exercise.

Prior to him moving, mum and dad had been working with Larry to consider what he would eat, when and how best to prepare it. The majority would be frozen meals that he’d either bought or that he or parents had cooked ready for him to use. They agreed between them, a five-week menu that meant Larry had a varied diet and which would help him to plan what he would take out of the freezer before going off about his daily business.

And here’s the crux of my post.

More snow up GolcarI spoke to Larry after his first week there and he said it had been ok (in his Yorkshire bred, understated way) and then I went walking with his dad on Saturday.

Dad told me that they’d been wondering how he was going on (and I think they’d been missing him too) and popped around for a cup of tea on Wednesday. They found him sat on the settee; he’d re-connected the laptop to the T.V. and was working on a document (it could have been either Excel or Word – I don’t know) that looked really complex. When asked, he said it was an inventory of his freezer’s contents. The table contained all of the food types to be found in his freezer and the two end columns were titled: Yes – No.

Dad asked him what it was for he said he’d made it himself so that when he went out shopping he could see from his stocktaking which things he would need to buy to replace things in the No column.

I loved that story – which is why I’ve written so much background (because without context it might not mean much). Larry was always good with IT and could always follow careful instructions but creating an inventory and then stocktaking are two things we’ve never taught him. He’s taught himself that.

And that’s rewarding for everyone concerned.

Larry isn’t his real name.

Jigsaws

Picture of jigsaw. Old fashioned train and bus passing milk churnsUntil this New Year, I’d not completed a Jigsaw puzzle for about a million years.

Last year I had played with a few iPad Jigsaw puzzles, but although I enjoyed doing them, I found the process difficult and frustrating, due to the limited space.

Early in the New Year, when we stayed in a Staffordshire cottage with Karen and Dave, Karen and I had a go at one she’d been given for Christmas (or which she found in the cottage – who knows!) Now, I enjoyed that and found it quite relaxing.

Another friend, Carol, who does Jigsaws all the time, insists that they help to maintain our memory function as we grow older, I do hope so! They certainly help with concentration. Carol gave me a puzzle to get started with – and off I went. The first, Jigsaw-1, was hard … I liked the subject but the colours were quite dark and it took most of January to complete.

I bought another one in late January whilst I was up in Kendal. I’d arrived early for my meeting at the college (I was their LSIS LiT Grant Project ‘critical friend’), so I had lunch in the town and wandered around the charity shops. This one was Jigsaw-2, it cost me £2 and took an age to build. I did have help though – Karen and Dave popped over for a weekend and she filled in some of the blue-sky bits; Carol and John are always popping in so Carol couldn’t resist doing some of the white bits.

When I published the picture of Jigsaw-2 to Flickr, Claire responded from Ibiza – saying that the view was of Santorini, in Greece. And so it was – just search for Santorini on Google and compare those images to the Jigsaw.  The colours were vibrant and it was sad to be finished with it. However, I now had the bug, so I bought another in Slaithwaite’s own charity shop for 50p. (50 pence!!!) which became Jigsaw-3.

Now, this one had lots of blue sky and it took a while to complete but even so, it was very very relaxing. When you’re faced with a sky full of blue, the technique is to look at the shape of the piece and compare the slight changes in shading – as I say, this improves concentration. Still not sure about memory though.

Anyway, I’m going to try and do one a month this year. Watch this space 😉 (or Flickr).
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