Winter working

I’m writing this in the comfort of a delightful cottage, just off The Green, in Reeth, North Yorkshire. We’re here for a long weekend with friends and after a two hours drive, began the day with some shopping in the local Friday market followed by lunch in front of a roaring fire in The King’s Arms. Lovely.

On Monday (probably tomorrow, given my current lack of Internet access) I begin a hectic three weeks. I’m travelling to Maidenhead, where I will stay until Friday – working at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I’ve been asked to work with the college on training staff in the use of their new Moodle installation.

The following week I’m back in the south, this time working on face-to-face aspects of the TechDis Ambassador programme (follow on Twitter – https://twitter.com/TechDisAmbassad). I’m travelling to Lingfield on the Tuesday, to work with Young Epilepsy (http://www.ncype.org.uk/) on the Wednesday. I’ll then travel to Weybridge that evening before working at Brooklands College (http://www.brooklands.ac.uk/) on the Thursday. I’ll travel home that night, so I’m home for my birthday on Friday.

My TechDis Ambassador (follow on Facebook – http://on.fb.me/XS317i) work continues the following week with and overnight in Aylesbury, where I will visit Haydon Training http://www.haydontraining.co.uk/home.cfm. I will return from them on Tuesday evening and then set off again on Wednesday to Margate, where I’m visiting the Margate Adult Education Centre.

All of the projects appear to be wildly different at the moment, but we’ll see – watch this space.  Also see the TechDis Ambassador blog: http://jtdambassadors.posterous.com/.

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Signage

It occurred to me whilst we were driving up from Lyon to Sancerre that we really do rely a great deal on signs and signage in our lives. When one (like me) doesn’t have full command of a language, one has to rely on well-considered signage to receive relevant (and irrelevant) information, which might otherwise have been received aurally. The language I’m meaning could be just that – a language (in my case French), but it could also be anything new; anything that we are learning is just like a new language, so if we teach, we should also understand signs.

I’d been thinking of our stay in the hotel the previous night. Much of the signage around it prevented me from having to ask difficult (given my mastery of French) questions. The signs around the hotel and the restaurant had sufficient semiotic links to allow my full comprehension.

In the motorway service stations however, signage for the toilets were as obscure as ever with a great deal of thought being required before deciding which one to enter. It’s the same at home though, various places use toilet signage that beggar belief. How do we decipher these signs? What is it in our cultural make-up that determines the difference between one sign and another? No one ever taught me the difference between those male/female symbols (circle + arrow/cross) but I eventually worked it out and tested my theory against common practice. But that needed time – when you’re dying for a pee you have precious little time to decide whether the goat with horns or the goat without is Ladies/Gents!

I did however, work out the difference on the service station we’d stopped at for a coffee.

The two images were so similar that it took a short while to work out. The working out didn’t take too long but the checking my theory against practice took slightly longer as the door of my choice seemed to have women queuing outside. Still – full of confidence (not), I entered the loo and found a slightly shorter queue of women standing outside the cubicles, whilst the urinals stood empty. My theory had been proved by the sight of urinals but confused by the queue of women (and the small group: 2 men and one woman stood talking just inside the door).

The situation I found myself in reminded me that despite the short distance between our two countries, France and the French way of life is very different to our own: If the Ladies is closed for cleaning, then the Ladies will use the Gents – why not?

Health and Safety

Many readers will know that my work is both varied and interesting. Like other ‘e’ and ‘m’ Learning Consultants, trainers and mavens I strive hard to support the various teaching professionals with whom we work.

My work might involve elements of project management, of research and of direct training; all of which requires careful planning and preparation and each role is surrounded by untold amounts of administration. As I say – varied and interesting.

The work I enjoy the most is that where I come face to face with practitioners. I enjoy delivering training sessions and seeing the e-Learning lights come on. I thrive on the participant’s feedback and learn much from them in return.

However, much of my preparation goes beyond simple ‘session planning’. In many cases I also have to plan what ‘kit’ I might require and often have to take it with me. Many readers will have seen James Clay (http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com) with his ‘bag-of-crap’ and John Whalley rarely travels without his huge suitcase full of ‘stuff’. We all do it. In earlier times, before I became ‘green‘ and when I traveled more by car I used to have a garden trolley in the boot upon which I would stack all of my boxes of ‘stuff’ for wheeling about colleges and institutions around the country. It’s at times like this you realise the difficulties that those in wheelchairs face. You should try it sometime.

Anyway, train travel has become no easier.

For example, for my recent trip to Newcastle I took a medium sized suitcase with me. In it was my laptop (and power cables); three folding polystyrene pyramids (https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/blooms/) and appropriate labels; assorted ‘mobile’ tools (portable printer, PSP, voice recorder, portable projector), an extension cable, a projector, a set of speakers, a Gyro keyboard and mouse, six Busbi Cameras and sundry bits of ‘stuff’. I also had a backpack with back-up laptop (and power cable) and any paperwork that I needed. Tomorrow I will travel to Blackburn (by car thank Goodness) and will also take an assortment of other goods and books with me for participants to browse.

So, why am I writing about this? Well – as a warning to those others who travel thus.

The bags do not get lighter and the trains are filling up again. I can no longer lift my medium sized suitcase up onto the overhead racks – the last time I tried, I pulled a muscle in my back. This healed well and quickly, but wasn’t helped by having to pull the suitcase up and down staircases in stations that do not (yet) provide lifts. Many trains, especially the ancient commuter coaches operated by Northern Rail have no luggage racks to speak of and when full (as they often are) there is no where to put the baggage other than on the floor where people growl as they trip over it.

To avoid this problem earlier in the week (I had slightly less weight [less kit] but more bulk as I was also carrying 15 sets of headphone/mics and overnight clothes) I split the goods into two bags and my backpack. However, although easier to stash above my head on the racks, it was much harder to get off the train before it filled up and set off again. This was partly because I have pulled a muscle in my tummy (probably carting the big case around last week).

It also scares me that I feel the need to take such kit with me to institutions where I really should be able to just log on (guest internet access), plug in my USB stick and go. The demonstration paraphernalia is not that heavy but the laptop, projector and speakers are.